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25th Anniversary series: Sunrise Industries

September 30, 2015

The economist Carlota Perez wrote a fascinating book,[1] just after the dotcom bubble burst. She describes five surges since 1770 that have created new wealth, new industries and institutions, starting with the industrial revolution, up to the ICT revolution.

Sunrise Industries

There appears to be a similar structure in each of the revolutions she describes. For instance, it is not the invention of a technology that dates the surge, but the point at which the costs drop to enable mass usage. So, the model T Ford ushered in the era of the automobile, the Intel chip, the computing era.

What will be the next sunrise industry? [2]

Certainly the post-carbon fuel era will continue to develop new industries – around hydrogen fuel production, large sale energy storage, low loss electrical transmission systems. Each requires new technologies to achieve cost reductions to extend mass usage.

Leisure and tourism will continue to push new barriers with space tourism, and with massive planes reducing costs. Saturation of travel destinations will lead to virtual destinations – replicas or new destinations. A better Taj Mahal? And not in crowded India but in the spaces of the Middle East?

But probably the biggest cluster of sunrise industries will be in biotech. The most visible applications will be directly related to humans.

The cost of genetic testing will drop to almost nothing.  Everyone will have their genetic profile in their electronic medical records and the metadata will be used to identify many health conditions. The new industries that come from this will tackle human ageing, chronic diseases,  inherited diseases, and lifestyle diseases.

Synthetic biology is the design and engineering of biologically based parts, novel devices and systems as well as the redesign of existing, natural biological systems. It is a rapidly developing technology applicable to a wide range of biological systems, and could help to solve a number of major global challenges including in the fields of healthcare, energy and the environment. A deeper understanding of genomics, coupled with computational biology, is leading to the ability to hack life itself and build organisms that never existed in nature…to make an engineering field out of biology.  In production now – hamburger grown from stem cells[3].

When will costs reduce to support a mass market? Probably first applications will be use in industrial functions, from manufacturing pharmaceuticals to detoxifying polluted land and water. In medicine, it offers prospects of using designer biological parts as a starting point for an entirely new class of therapies and diagnostic tools[4].

Augmented humanity refers to the application of nano technologies to improve human performance, eg, healthier ageing as well as mechanical (cyborg) enhancements, and drugs to amplify mental alertness, acuity, and intellectual performance, eg

BP’s CTO, “By 2057, every employee of a Fortune 100 company will need to be augmented.”

Direct neural interfaces between computing devices, infrastructure, and the human brain provide medical opportunities, include the reversal of paralysis or blindness, and treatment of brain disorders: for instance cyborgs as artificial limbs, extra-skeletons for disability, as well as the potential for advanced applications in warfare and social manipulation. The sunrise industries using direct neural interfaces may start with military applications but quickly move into wider use to tackle ageing and disability.

A thought – as the amount of information storage globally increases, and with it the amount of energy involved in the Cloud, when will information storage on DNA be cost-effective? Scientists can encode vast amounts of digital information onto a single strand of synthetic DNA. In 2012, George M. Church encoded one of his books about synthetic biology in DNA. The 5.3 Mb of data from the book is more than 1000 times greater than the previous largest amount of information to be stored in synthesized DNA.[5]  A similar project had encoded the complete sonnets of William Shakespeare in DNA[6].

Written by Gill Ringland, SAMI Fellow and CEO.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

[1] Carlota Perez , “Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital”, Edward Elgar, Cheltenham, UK, 2002

[2]One that is new or relatively new, is growing fast and is expected to become important in the future.

[3] Connor, Steve (1 December 2014). “Major synthetic life breakthrough as scientists make the first artificial enzymes”. The Independent (London).


[5]Church, G.M. et al. (2012). “Next-Generation Digital Information Storage in DNA”. Science 337 (6102): 1628. doi:10.1126/science.1226355. PMID 22903519

[6] “Huge amounts of data can be stored in DNA”. Sky News. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 24 January 2013.

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