Futurist Thomas Frey: A few weeks ago I got into a discussion with some friends centered around this question. “What, in your mind, will be the most powerful entity in the world 100 years from now?”
As we look around us today, it’s easy to point to a single nation as being the most powerful. But will that still be true 100 years from now?
The most powerful entities in the future could be large multi-national corporations, giant associations of people, companies, religious groups, clusters of countries such as NATO, perhaps some new entity that controls technology like ICANN, or something entirely new.
Adding to the confusion of this question, what actually defines power? Is it money, clout, influence, an ability to control a large military, or some combination of all of these?
Will the notion of power be defined differently in the future than it is today?
These are all important questions to ask because powerful entities define who the powerful people are. And it is the underlying systems and technology that will determine status and clout.
But maybe this is the wrong way to think about it. The most powerful entity in the world 100 years from now may very well be a band of trillionaires.
With their level of influence, the trillionaires may very well determine the clout, power, and status of nations as well as the standing of other groups.
So where will these trillionaires come from? Are they simply billionaires in an inflated global economy? Perhaps. But it becomes a rather intriguing question to consider what industries, systems, and business models will have the potential of generating 100X more income that anything in the world today.
Another way of asking this, what are the products or services that are sufficiently scalable, transportable, and in-demand to produce $1 trillion in revenue in a short period of time?
To put this number in perspective, if 7 billion people on earth each spent $143 on the same item, it would yield $1 trillion. But since gross revenue is a long ways from profit, and profit is generally several multiples of an individual shareholder’s wealth, the money spent per person would likely have to be in the neighborhood of 100X more.
With that backdrop I’d like to explore the question of which future industries have the potential of producing the first trillionaires?
A few notable billionaires, from top left – Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Ted Turner,
from bottom left – Michael Bloomberg, Larry Ellison, George Lucas
World’s First Billionaire
No one seems to know who the world’s first millionaire was, but the first time the word ‘millionaire’ was used was in an obituary describing the life of New York tobacco manufacturer Pierre Lorillard II in 1843. Others believe John Jacob Astor or Cornelius Vanderbilt were more likely to have achieved millionaire status first.
John D. Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire. He broke into the billionaire category in the early 1900s as a result of his investments in Standard Oil. Rockefeller was at the top of his game in 1912 when he earned a loft $900 million in a single year.
According to Forbes Magazine, there are currently 1,645 people who qualified as billionaires in 2014, with Bill Gates leading the pack with a total net worth of $78 billion.
Thinking Through the Path to becoming a Trillionaire
The most valuable corporations today are Apple $683B (software, hardware, Internet), Exxon Mobile $410B (petroleum), Google $367B (software, Internet), Microsoft $395B (software, hardware, Internet), Berkshire Hathaway $361B (investment services), and Johnson & Johnson $277B (medical equipment and services)
Corporations with the most assets, include ICBC $3.13T (China bank), HSBC $2,67T (British Bank), BNP Paribas $2.48T (French Bank), Mitsubishi UFJ Financial $2.46T, China Construction Bank $2.45T (China bank), JPMorgan Chase $2.44T (U.S. Bank), and Agricultural Bank of China $2.41T.
These companies fall primarily into the tech and banking industries.
For any industry to produce 100 times more value than today’s corporations, it will need to be:
- Rapidly scalable
- Global in nature
- Products or services with strong demand
- Transportable to anywhere in the world
- Highly profitable
- Extremely influential
Thinking through the path of future industries
Top 18 Future Industries Most Likely to Produce Early Trillionaires
Stepping through these future industries, I will mention a few disclaimers. This is a highly speculative list with several wild-card industries added to the mix to keep things interesting. Many of these are still waiting for the initial breakthrough to occur before the industry can even get started.
At the same time, future industries will be able to leverage tomorrow’s technologies far faster than anything today.
They will have the ability to quickly adapt, rapidly influence, and perform nearly instantaneous transactions. For these reasons, it is entirely possible for a breakthrough to occur that launches an entirely new industry, and with highly leveraged processes, start producing trillionaires in less than ten years.
“…it is entirely possible for a breakthrough to occur that launches an entirely new industry, and with highly leveraged processes, start producing trillionaires in less than ten years.”
With this in mind, here are the future industries that rose to the top along with a brief explanation as to why they were chosen.
1.) Cryptocurrency – The first global currency will likely be a cryptocurrency. Since they operate outside of the realm of highly regulated, nation-based economies, cryptocurrencies will have the ability to fill the gaping needs left unanswered by today financial systems. To put this into perspective, 2.5 billion adults, just over half of the world’s adult population, do not have bank accounts, nor do they use any formal financial services to save or borrow. The opportunity here is huge.
2.) Asteroid Mining – When the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander made it to the surface of Comet 67P, there was a sudden renewed interest in going to space. However, the most valuable near-term space industry will likely stem from extracting resources found in near earth asteroids. While proving that both water and oxygen can be manufactured in space will be the first order of business, our growing need for platinum based metals could result in entire asteroids being dragged back to earth, each valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, shortly thereafter.
3.) Instant Learning – Today’s learning processes occupy entirely too much of the human lifespan. With Nicolas Negroponte’s prediction that ingested learning (eating a pill and knowing French) is right around the corner, and a host of other technologies showing promise, the concept of “instant learning” is only one breakthrough away from becoming a trillion dollar industry.
4.) Internet of Things – On the surface, the Internet of Things, where devices talk to other devices may not seem like a good candidate for becoming a trillion dollar industry, but consider having devices that improve your health, energy, stamina, and thinking ability by 100% or more. Or perhaps having devices that can communicate with plants and animals. How much will those capabilities be worth in future dollars?
5.) Cure for Human Aging – If every person had the option of paying $10 a day to make aging stop and live forever, how many would choose that option? A billion people paying $10 a day would amount to $3.65 trillion a year in revenue. You may want to invest because this may be one of the few industries capable of providing you with the solid income you’ll need for the next 1,000 years, if not longer.
6.) Flying Drone Services – We are currently just scratching the surface of all the services that drones can provide. But consider the notion of having solar power drones that fly at extreme altitudes of 80,000 feet or higher, above weather patterns, and never have to come back down. Well maybe every 5 years for service and repair. Google and Facebook both bought companies like this. Now consider using these drones to provide a better grade of telecom services all over the world.
7.) Controlling the Weather – Is controlled weather a good thing or a bad thing? Well, we know hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, and major hailstorms can be very destructive, so there are already major costs associated with our current weather systems. So consider how much it would be worth to farmers to have extra rain, a guarantee of no hail, favorable temperatures and good sunshine? How much is it worth to homeowners to not have to water their lawns, or never have wind or hail that damages their roofs? How about guaranteed wind above 300’ altitude for all wind farms?
8.) Instant Sleep – Similar in some respects to anti-aging technology when you ask the question, “how many people would be willing to pay $10 to use an ‘instant sleep’ device to add an extra 8 hours of productive time to their day?” $10 may indeed be too cheap for this service, so maybe $100. Would 100 million people a day be willing to pay $100 to avoid sleep? There are many combinations of these numbers that could amount to $3.65 trillion a year in revenue if not more.
9.) Controlling Gravity – It’s hard to imagine a technology that will be more disruptive than gaining control over gravity. At this point though, we still struggle to understand what it is, why it exists, and how it works. So in some respects, it could be the least likely of all on this list. At the same time, as with most of these, we are but one key breakthrough away from this becoming the most valuable of all industries.
10.) Ultra High Speed Transportation – Traveling faster, more efficient, and for less money is normally a recipe for a massively disruptive technology, leading to a less valuable industry. Yet, tube transportation, as proposed by Elon Musk and Daryl Oster would have just the opposite effect. When global transportation becomes easier and cheaper, people will travel more – much more. And with a more efficient system, the margins will be far greater.
11.) Controlling Time – When the topic of controlling time is brought up, most people instantly start thinking about time travel. The next conclusion, naturally, is those who can jump across time will never be around, always choosing to experience some new era. But controlling time could also mean the short-term manipulation of time. Knowing something 10 minutes before the rest of the world could be worth billions, maybe even trillions.
12.) Instant Disassembling of Matter – When it comes to working with raw materials, we are very limited in the number of tools we can use to extract the actual substance we want. Digging, crushing, grinding, pulverizing, and blowing things up are all on the material science short list for getting to the core material inside. But consider a process where large boulders can be instantly disassembled into a pile of molecules, simply by breaking all the molecular bonds. How much would that be worth?
13.) Human Cloning or 3D Printed Bodies – Our bodies wear out. If we could somehow transfer who we are into a younger, stronger, better looking version of ourselves, how many people would jump at that opportunity? For this to enter into the “business of trillionaires,” the process for growing or 3D printing replacement bodies would need to rapidly scale up to the range of producing a million replacement bodies a day. Is that even possible?
14.) Personal Swarms of Swarmbots – Even though fully functional gnat-sized flying bots are still a few generations from providing value, the versatility and utility of having a personal swarm of swarmbots will some day be off the charts cool. The same swarm that dries us after a shower, applies makeup, and fixes our hair, will assemble themselves as our clothing, our body armor, and function as our personal tech. Not only will this exoskeleton formed from particle-sized drones amplify our strength, the swarm will also enable us to fly from place to place.
15.) Robotic Services – Robots are coming. They may not look like “Rosie” on the Jetsons or C3PO from Star Wars, but robots are destined to remove the “routine” from routine living. The race to find the killer app for robots and robotic services, something equivalent to social media for the Internet, is destined to become the ultimate quest of bot startups everywhere in the very near future.
16.) 3D Telepresence Avatars – How many times have you heard someone say they need to clone themselves? 3D telepresence avatars are the digital equivalent of cloning where life-size representations of ourselves can interact with others in the same fashion as being there in person. These avatars could attend meetings, file reports, engage in water cooler chitchat, attend little league games, and even keep your boss busy, all the while, extending your overall capabilities and earning potential several fold.
17.) Artificial Intelligence – Even though AI has quickly emerged as the poster child of future technology gone wrong, artificial intelligence is destined to become a game-changer on almost every level. It’s difficult to imagine any industry that couldn’t somehow be improved, and improved exponentially, with the addition of narrow AI applications.
18.) Energy Storage – We gotten to the point of being relatively good at generating power, but when it comes to storing power from one day to the next, we find ourselves still in the Neanderthal stages of development. Anyone who finds a super efficient way of storing power will quickly become the master of the energy universe.
Existing Industries that Could Become Trillion Dollar Industries
Yes, it may indeed be possible for existing industries to climb to the lofty heights of producing trillionaires, but less likely. Most of today’s industries are already parsed into competitive segments, and that in itself limits scalability on many levels.
Some of today’s wealthiest industries that could conceivably find ways to ramp up to the trillionaire-maker level include insurance, banking, investing, mining, oil and gas, Internet, software, and data storage.
However, for any of these to scale past the trillion-dollar threshold, they will either need to find or create highly profitable new products or services, open up new untapped markets, develop accelerated business processes including transaction speeds, and leverage future tech in a big way in the process.
After considering all the possibilities, the first trillionaire will likely have his or her money in multiple industries. I cringe as I say that, because that’s far less interesting than considering which industry will emerge as the maker of future kings.
The intent of creating this list has been to help open people’s thinking about the vast possibilities that lie ahead.
My one disclaimer is that earning money is at best a poor way of keeping score when it comes to assessing the true worth of an individual. However, if the wealth is derived from unleashing an entire new industry with innumerable benefits to humankind, it can indeed be a win-win arrangement.
Again, this is not an exhaustive list and I’d love to hear your thoughts about either the validity or erroneousness of these assumptions as well as some insight into the ones that I’ve missed.
Author of “Communicating with the Future” – the book that changes everything