Last year, the world changed.
In the wake of COVID-19, our society came to a standstill.
Nonessential businesses were closed. Entire cities were quarantined. International flights went empty. Entire hotel buildings were shuttered. Cruise ships sat dormant at their ports.
And many of these halted industries are only just beginning to reopen…
We could spend all day listing how COVID-19 has changed our world over the past year.
But today, I don’t want to spend time discussing how this virus has changed our past and present. Instead, I want to show you what it means for our future.
Things are getting better… rapidly. The world is already starting to get back to school and work.
But the world we experience going forward will be very different than the one we left when society entered “self-isolation.”
That’s because this virus is the catalyst that technology companies have been waiting for.
Our slow, gradual digital transformation is over. Technologies that were once “nice to have” are now vital to businesses’ survival and have even become a part of our lives outside of work.
Few have realized the long-term impact that COVID-19 will have on how we work, socialize, and entertain ourselves.
So today, I want to show you the three biggest transformations I see coming.
Transformation No. 1: Making Manufacturing “Antifragile”
As production ground to a halt in China in early 2020, it didn’t take long for supply chains to be disrupted.
Around 80% of the drugs taken in America and Europe have key pharmaceutical ingredients made in China. What if people don’t have a supply of life-saving drugs?
What if pharmaceutical companies don’t have the ingredients to produce more?
What if medical device manufacturing companies don’t have the key electronic components required to make ventilators?
Suddenly, the world has realized how fragile its supply chains really are.
Today’s centralized manufacturing models are vulnerable to these sorts of black swan events.
I believe that this experience is a catalyst for changing where and how products are manufactured. Rather than having a highly centralized manufacturing infrastructure primarily in mainland China, companies and countries will look to bring their manufacturing back onshore.
The reality is that the labor cost differentials just aren’t that large anymore.
And with technologies like 3D printing, computer vision, robotics, artificial intelligence, and automated manufacturing, companies can now affordably produce products in developed markets.
I’m envisioning a future where goods will be “printed” or produced at smaller manufacturing sites close to the markets they serve.
Not only would this reduce the risk of supply chain disruptions, but it would also cut logistics costs and speed up delivery time.
The reality is that this massive shift had already started during the tense trade negotiations between the U.S. and China. The global pandemic simply kicked this into high gear.
And contrary to what many people think, this new revolution in manufacturing will create jobs, not eliminate them. Millions of new jobs will be created to build and maintain this next generation of manufacturing facilities.
This is a decade-long process with a completely new manufacturing infrastructure that needs to be built. We are being forced to rethink and reinvent how and where the world produces the things that it wants and needs.
Transformation No. 2: AI-Powered Health Care
In March 2020, an early-stage biotech company called AbCellera received a blood sample from a patient who had recovered from COVID-19.
AbCellera’s mission was to screen the blood sample for antibodies that helped the patient fight the virus. Knowing which antibodies are effective against the virus is invaluable data. And it helped researchers create an effective therapy against COVID-19.
Typically, this process would have taken years. But AbCellera screened more than five million immune cells. The company then identified 500 antibodies that were effective against COVID-19.
And it did it all in just 11 days…
Their secret weapon was artificial intelligence (AI). The company “unleashed” an AI on the sample and got results in under two weeks.
This is incredible. These antibodies were found in a fraction of the time thanks to AI.
Eli Lilly stepped up to partner with AbCellera in May 2020, and by November, the antibody treatment they developed, bamlanivimab, had already received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
And AbCellera isn’t alone in its feat. Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna produced viable vaccines in a similar period of time.
The entire biotechnology industry is moving in this direction. The pace of development is unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The exponential growth of COVID-19 has taught the world that we can no longer wait years or even decades to develop effective therapies. And thanks to AI, we won’t have to.
In the future, AI will make the world nimbler when reacting to new viruses like COVID-19. And it will accelerate new drugs and therapies to cure diseases the world over.
Transformation No. 3: 5G-Powered Remote Applications
When businesses shut down their offices, legions of workers – some for the first time – began learning to navigate videoconferencing and teleconferencing technologies.
And businesses are realizing that cloud-based applications are no longer just convenient pieces of technology to have. They are essential to continuing daily operations.
Even as some offices reopen, these technologies will continue to be utilized.
I’m not saying that we’ll never go into a traditional office again, though that may be the case for some companies. But I predict work weeks will change. We will spend fewer hours at the office. All business travel will be reconsidered. Anything that can be done remotely will be.
And technology like augmented reality and telepresence – even the use of holographic images – will only speed up this shift in how and where we work. Imagine having a holographic version of yourself “broadcasted” into your next staff meeting.
That day is fast approaching.
But these technologies have one thing in common. They require exponentially more bandwidth. And today’s wireless and wired networks simply aren’t up to the task.
Nokia released data during the height of the pandemic saying that most 4G wireless networks around the world see 30–45% growth in traffic over a year. But peak usage had jumped 20–40% over just a few weeks.
The European Union (EU) even asked companies like Netflix, Disney+, Zoom, and Facebook to reduce the quality of their videos to ease the strain on the networks.
And that brings me to the third transformation. Countries are racing to adopt 5G wireless technology as well as upgrading their fiber-optic networks and data centers. Otherwise, it simply won’t be possible to handle all the traffic.
5G will be 100 times faster than the global 4G networks. It will support the bandwidth needs of these applications that are being adopted so rapidly. It will also support a new generation of applications using these high speeds and virtually delay-free connections. A 5G-powered world is close at hand.
Events like COVID-19 don’t happen often. But they do happen. And while they are painful, events like these can be a force for radical change.
When the dust settles on COVID-19, the world will be forever changed. There’s no going “back to normal.”
Many industries are going to suffer. More airlines will go bankrupt. Hotels will shut down. Rental car agencies will face tough times ahead.
But other companies – particularly in the tech sector – are already thriving and will continue to do so. And for well-informed investors, it will be the best investing opportunity of this decade… and perhaps of our lives.
In fact, I’ve discovered the perfect way to position ourselves for the future…
Editor, The Bleeding Edge