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New technology and innovation will be a big part of accelerating U.S. economic growth to 4%, the pontificating pundits proclaim. Usually, though, we never get around to mentioning what all this new stuff actually will be. That’s because most of us don’t have a clue. Now, thanks to tech journalist Michael S. Malone’s recent article in The Wall Street Journal, we can glimpse a bit of the wondrous things lying ahead. Waiting in the wings, Malone writes, “for when we get out economic policies in order are a mounting number of stunning discoveries, inventions and technological breakthroughs that could set off a burst of growth and wealth creation as big as any in living memory.” He lists four fields in which promise already is visible: nanotechnology, cloud computing, 3D printing, and what he calls “self health.” The extreme miniaturization of nanotechnology will spawn new medicines, new materials, and tiny supercomputers, he writes. “Indeed, the range of emerging applications for nano materials is so wide-ranging and important that, together, they suggest an impending turning point in high tech as important as silicon and integrated circuitry were half a century ago.” Cloud computing, already familiar to Amazon shoppers, is headed for a major revolutionary development, Malone writes. Instead of individuals using supercomputers to process masses of information, mass applications of individual data — for instance, tracking a billion sensors in real time to monitor weather across a continent — “could ultimately have an impact as great as mass production did more than a century ago.” This “Big Data,” as he calls it, will affect “science, business, medicine and almost every other sector...” 3D printing creates objects “by laying down layers of material or carving away from a block of existing material.” It “rewrites the very notion of economies of scale.” Malone says, and could reduce or eliminate “the current cost advantage enjoyed by developing countries and [bring] jobs back to the U.S.” “Self health” is the use of apps and diagnostic/monitoring devices to improve drug regimen adherence, early identification of events such as heart attacks, better maintenance of chronic diseases such as diabetes, and online connections to live, on-duty health professionals. Collectively, they could boost the productivity of the health-care system. Crystal balls are nice, but execution and implementation are what make reality. Still, it is a relief to know that there is more than wishful thinking leading us into the future.
2012 Economic Growth Fellow
John Prestbo is retired as editor and executive director of Dow Jones Indexes. Previously he was markets editor at The Wall Street Journal. He has co-authored or edited several books over the past 30 years. The most recent is “The Market’s Measure: An Illustrated History of America Told Through the Dow Jones Industrial Average,” published in 1999 by Dow Jones Indexes. His column, Indexed Investor, appears on the highly regarded “MarketWatch” business and finance website. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Northwestern University.Full Bio