December 30, 2021
It seems as though the word Covid will forever precede the number 19 as the pandemic, first affecting the world in 2019, is marked down as a watershed in global history. The Covid-19 coronavirus startled individuals, communities, and nations into taking a fresh look at lifestyles and values. Holidays in lockdown forced many to abandon get-togethers, traditional celebratory meals, gifts, and entertainment, impacting the national economy as rarely seen before.
With the easing of restrictions going into Cyber Week/Black Friday and Thanksgiving, and heading towards the 2021 Christmas/New Year festivities, the importance of holiday spending is again the focus for assessing the health of the US economy. Consumer purchasing is the single most important driving force in the economy – increasing manufacturing and production, creating and maintaining high employment levels, and thus sustaining a buoyant economy. An estimated 70% of Gross Domestic Product is made up by consumer spending with 30% of that figure occurring in the November/December holiday months.
This being so, the importance of holidays to the economy cannot be understated. This boom season generates demands for goods and services, creating many jobs in production, distribution, retailing, restaurants, entertainment, and travel. Some economists may point out that the increases in spending will be balanced by thrifts in January and February, but these are the coldest months in most states. While some retailers may have to rely on the boost of the preceding holiday period, sales in heating and fuel, gasoline, winter breaks, and warm apparel will remain high. In years when holiday sales are good, even a lean New Year will be well tolerated.
Before the unique pandemic phase, the holiday season (beginning in October and reaching a crescendo in the weeks just before Christmas) represented one-fifth of all yearly retail sales and around 30% of individual retailers’ annual revenue. Despite Covid restrictions, holiday sales in 2020 still totaled $1.2 trillion, with increases anticipated this year at around 9%. Even before Covid, the rising star was e-commerce, with over half of holiday purchases and bookings generated by online purchases. The pandemic temporarily skewed all figures but digital shopping has continued in the ascendant and shows no signs of falling off over the 2021/2022 winter season. However, the pandemic has undoubtedly made an impact and continues to surface problems.
Marketing may be affected by many factors, but the human response to national or international events surely has to be factored in. During lockdown, people learned to be creative in dealing with the situation, including working from home and ordering everything for their daily professional, personal, or family needs online. Consequently, e-commerce skyrocketed but with it came supply and distribution blockages and shortages. As the pandemic spread, even e-commerce giants like Amazon began to face problems. Already this year, shoppers have been buying early, anticipating further supply chain problems and rising prices.
The other two big issues this holiday season, along with supply chain concerns, are sticker shock and inflation. Inflation is running high and sticker shock is threatening to limit consumer spending, with some financial advisors warning that this will be a very expensive Christmas. So far, this does not seem to have deterred consumers. During the pandemic, many people were able to put away savings from home-working and limited social life. As the Delta variant of this devastating virus seems to have been abating, job vacancies and attempts by employers to lure back workers have forced higher wages and better conditions for many. Inflation is also fueling demands for higher salaries. Benefits have added to funds available for bumper spending this year and, perhaps, most significant of all is the national feeling of being free to share the festivities with friends and family again. The e-commerce boom continues but many shoppers are enjoying the ability to buy at brick-and-mortar stores too. With the vaccination campaign in full swing, restaurants and hotels are re-opening and travel is once more part of the holiday budget for communities emerging from the Covid nightmare.
With inflation escalating prices in almost all goods and services across the board, there are notes of caution underlying this holiday mood. Basic food bills are up by about 12% with the US Department of Labor indicating an overall increase in consumer prices at 6.2% over the last year. Already, consumers may be shunning expensive goods like autos and domestic appliances for cheaper items or less expensive models. Looking forward, there may be a sharp pullback after Christmas with smaller retailers benefitting against luxury goods providers. A local study in a California district finds shoppers already cutting back on regular groceries as sticker shock starts to bite into the weekly bills. One woman claimed that her food and groceries had more than doubled in price.
President Biden has taken steps to address the supply chain problems with ports operating at all hours to clear backlogs but nobody can predict with accuracy how the pandemic will affect the situation next year. Overseas, supplies may fail to keep up, national shortages in trucking staff may hold up deliveries, and another wave of the virus may ground the nation again. Those encouraging figures for travel, restaurants, and entertainment may take another nose-dive. For now, consumers are spending and e-commerce is likely to continue as a buffer against any downswing.
No question though, Covid-19 is going to leave an indelible mark – lifestyles have changed. For so many people, the effects of the pandemic have meant suffering and loss, and it is not possible to be joyful over an emerging new era with these tragic facts in mind. However, the human spirit that has prevailed throughout this grim phase in history will doubtless grasp the positives and adapt to new ways. Holidays will remain enormously important to the national economy.
December 21, 2021
When Bitcoin became a reality in January 2009, it revolutionized global economics. Bitcoin, and the hundreds of cryptocurrencies that came after it, have offered individuals a completely new way of envisioning and conducting everyday financial transactions, as investors use it as an alternative currency, hold it as a store of value, and trade it as a financial instrument. And thanks to the versatility and decentralized nature of cryptocurrencies, investment in them has taken off, sending the prices to the moon, but all this growth hasn’t been without some problems.
You’re probably aware of the People’s Republic of China’s love-hate relationship with cryptocurrencies, which has influenced the market’s volatility and quick bear-bull cycles. One of the earliest bullish proponents of Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies was Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who made the unprecedented move on March 24, 2021, of accepting Bitcoin payments for his company’s electric vehicles (EVs). The move sent Bitcoin prices and Tesla stocks soaring, but “as the lord giveth he taketh away”, and on May 21, Musk made an about-face, announcing that Tesla would no longer accept Bitcoin as a form of payment. The announcement caused the bottom to drop from Bitcoin, and most cryptos in general, from which the market has still not quite recovered.
Many crypto investors were furious with Musk, accusing the entrepreneur of manipulating the market for his own ends, but the truth is that he expressed legitimate concerns about the crypto mining process, which requires enormous reserves of energy. Many in the crypto community believe the answer to the costly and potentially environmentally hazardous process of crypto mining is to transition to proof of stake (PoS) coins, and as young, environmentally conscious investors enter the crypto market PoS coins are certainly worth considering.
One of the most interesting aspects of Bitcoin and most other cryptocurrencies (but also the most problematic in many people’s eyes) is how new coins are produced. Crypto coins are produced by way of a process known as mining, which involves either a graphics processing unit (GPU) or an application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC). The mining process can be done by anyone, anywhere, provided they have the proper computers. The computers connect to the blockchain where they attempt to solve complex equations. The first computer to do so receives a new block of crypto.
This process is known as the proof or work (PoW) distributed consensus algorithm. These same computers (and those who use them, known as “miners”) also validate crypto transactions on the blockchain to prevent the double-spending of coins. In addition to Bitcoin, some of the most popular cryptocurrencies use the PoW process, including Bitcoin Cash, Litecoin, and Ethereum. The PoW process may seem complicated, but it is highly effective and efficient to a certain degree. The issue that Musk and many other crypto investors have with it, though, is the high amounts of energy it consumes.
The high energy consumption of PoW coins is the result of the competitive nature of the mining process combined with a worldwide increase in Bitcoin’s popularity. As more and more people invest in crypto, more and more people also want to mine it. To put this into perspective, in 2017 miners were using 29,05TWh of electricity annually, or about .13% of the world’s annual energy consumption. This may not seem like much, but it’s more what than 159 countries produce combined.
And this trend will only continue, as more and more countries continue investing resources into creating massive mining pools where hundreds of ASIC computers run nonstop. The PoW system has been blamed for contributing to rising energy costs and making it difficult for independent miners to get into the game, but there’s also been a growing chorus of crypto enthusiasts who want to limit the process’ carbon footprint. Due to all of these problems, crypto developers introduced the proof of stake (PoS) system in 2012.
The PoS system works to validate crypto transactions, get consensus, and ensure that coins aren’t being double spent, but the key difference is the lack of mining or miners. With PoS cryptocurrencies, “validators” replace miners by validating new blocks in the chain based on how much stake is owned. For every new expected block to enter the chain, a validator will be “nominated” by participants who hold a stake by owning a certain amount of the blockchain’s coins. Once the validator solves a transaction, a verification process takes place.
So how does the PoS system relate to cost efficiency and carbon footprints? Well, the most important part is that the powerful mining computers that form the backbone of the PoW system aren’t needed. Because the digital coins are created in the network with PoS systems, they only need enough energy to power their blockchain’s core software, which means that they use less energy, create less of a carbon footprint, and are ultimately more cost-efficient.
For all of these reasons, PoS coins have become popular with younger and environmentally-conscious investors, and also with investors who have discovered some of the unique financial benefits of the nominating process.
In addition to holding PoS crypto coins, investors can stake their coins for validators to use in the process. Investors nominate validators who then complete the process of validating new blocks in the chain, which then pay dividends to the stakeholders. There are a number of PoS coins that have become more attractive as investment opportunities. This is due to both their overall value and their potential for staking.
Currently, the top PoS crypto available is Cardano (ADA). Since its debut in September 2017, Cardano has taken the crypto world by storm, selling briskly and earning a market cap of nearly $73 billion. This amount is good enough to place it just behind crypto giants Bitcoin and Ethereum. Cardano is expected to produce staking yields of nearly 3% for 2021, making it a good investment to hold or stake.
Also founded in 2017 (and just behind Cardano with a market cap of $71.5 billion) is the PoS coin Binance Coin (BNB). Binance Coin is the official PoS coin of the largest online cryptocurrency platform in the world, Binance, which – at least for the near future – should assure the currency’s relevance and value in the market.
Two other notable PoS coins to keep an eye on are the somewhat strangely named Polkadot (DOT) and Solana (SOL). Solana has performed well recently, with a market cap that hovers between $50 billion and $45 billion, while Polkadot is just behind at around $34 billion and gaining. Trading in Polkadot has become particularly popular on the Ledger Live trading app, which is the proprietary crypto app of the Ledger hardware cold wallet.
There is no doubt that cryptocurrencies are here to stay. Governments may try to ban them and many people may not understand them, but that doesn’t diminish their importance or ability to change the nature of economics and finance in the 21st century. And as the nature of economics and finance has evolved in general, so too has the nature of crypto.
As energy costs and environmental concerns grow, expect the more cost-effective and environmentally friendly PoS cryptos to grow in popularity. PoS coins currently comprise four of the top 10 cryptos in terms of market cap, and ongoing open-source development continues to transform Ethereum into a PoS coin. When these factors are considered, along with the fact that many PoS coins are a good way to earn passive income, the future of crypto does seem to be much greener.
December 16, 2021
As NASA’s physical exploration of space has diminished in recent years, other organizations have picked up the slack. The Russians, Europeans, and Chinese have all increased their presence in space, but so too have a number of corporate entities. In fact, the recent popular (and media) interest in space exploration has largely been spurred by three billionaires and their organizations – Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic – leading many to term this new era of space exploration the Billionaire Space Race.
The Billionaire Space Race grabbed headlines in the summer of 2021 when Bezos and Branson flew in their creations to the lower limits of outer space. Their programs have been around for several years, and this has created plenty of debate about the merits, or lack thereof, of this new space race. The reality is, though, whether you think space exploration by private organizations and individuals is a good idea or not, it’s not going to stop any time soon, so it’s important to critically examine this new space race and how it will affect all of us in the future.
A few particularly important things to consider include the technology used by these new space vehicles, how they are different than the vehicles of the first space race, and how those changes are beneficial. The Billionaire Space Race’s impact on everyday consumers and investors is also considered here, in particular how private space exploration can help alleviate some of the challenges we face on Earth and how investors can benefit in the process.
The technology that these new private space exploration companies use to power their vehicles is important because they yield both immediate and long-term implications. Blue Origin and SpaceX use similar vehicles to launch into space, so let’s start with them. Both companies power their vehicles with rocket propulsion technology utilizing different types of engines and fuel depending on the payload and particular mission. Blue Origin uses six different types of engines for its rockets: BE-1, BE-2, BE-3PM, BE-3U, BE-4, and BE-7. Blue Origin designs its rockets for reuse and, depending on engine type, the company uses the following propellants as fuel: Peroxide, kerosene and peroxide, liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, liquefied natural gas, and liquid oxygen.
Founded in 2002 (two years after Blue Origin), SpaceX uses similar technology in its rockets. The Falcon 9 rocket, which is partially reusable, is the core workhorse of the SpaceX fleet, and is fueled by liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene. SpaceX also utilizes the Falcon Heavy rocket for larger payloads, and the Dragon, which ferries humans and cargo into space. The Dragon was the first private spacecraft to transport people to the International Space Station and is currently the only spacecraft capable of returning significant amounts of cargo from the Station to Earth. The third entry in the Billionaire Space Race, Virgin Galactic, oversees a fleet of very different vehicles – and reasons – for exploring space.
Virgin Galactic bills itself as the “world’s first commercial spaceline”, and its primary vehicle clearly resembles a plane much more than a classical rocket. The “spaceplane” currently used by Virgin Galactic, known as SpaceShipTwo, is sent into the lower levels of space by the WhiteKnightTwo carrier. SpaceShipTwo uses a hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) fuel and liquid nitrous oxide oxidizer that propels the motor after it is released from the carrier aircraft. Upon reentry and landing, it uses no propulsion. SpaceShipTwo made it officially into space, more than 50 miles above Earth, in 2018.
All the players in the Billionaire Space Race have used existing technology to model their new vehicles, although they’ve also added a few important innovations. Blue Origin and SpaceX have utilized the technology of expendable launch systems or vehicles (ELSs/ELVs) as the bases for their vehicles, with the notable exception that their vehicles are partially or completely reusable. This may not seem like an important difference, but ELVs are much more costly and environmentally harmful. Both of these concerns may play a role to entice consumers, companies, and investors in the future when commercial space travel and exploration become more common and lucrative.
Although very different than SpaceX and Deep Blue’s vehicles, Virgin Galactic also more or less primarily draws from pre-existing NASA technology. In 1986, NASA began the Rockwell X-30, also known as the National Aero-Space Plane (NASP), which was meant to be a passenger, suborbital space liner. Like SpaceShipTwo, NASP was envisaged to take off from the ground, avoiding the need for a large rocket booster system, but the project was ultimately canceled in 1996 before a prototype was built. The vehicles of the Billionaire Space Race are definitely bringing new innovations to the field of space exploration, and as the race evolves, many long-term implications for general consumers and society have developed.
The tycoons who own these space programs and the army of scientists they employ are constantly thinking of new ways to use the technologies they’ve developed to turn a profit and offer some benefits for greater society. Some of these benefits take place in space, such as the development of more and increasingly sophisticated satellites.
SpaceX is in the process of creating a satellite network known as Starlink. Starlink was first launched on May 23, 2019 with the goal of putting up 12,000 satellites to provide broadband internet for underserved parts of the world. The other companies have shown interest in following this trend as well as developing other satellite programs for business ventures that include tracking shipping movements or locating valuable natural resources.
But the Billionaire Space Race also has the potential to help alleviate terrestrial problems such as hunger. According to the World Economic Forum, the technology described above can also be used to image large areas of agricultural land and help bring clean water to people by monitoring reservoirs. The success of such endeavors will ultimately rely on the willingness of the CEOs and boards of these companies and how much capital they have to spend, which is itself dependent upon investors.
The numbers show that there’s plenty of investment opportunities, and interest, in private space programs. In 2009, total funding in private space exploration exceeded $20 billion, which continued to grow in the following years. More than $1.7 billion in equity was invested into corporate space companies in 2019, or nearly double from the previous quarter. The profits are also expected to grow. The current $350 billion in revenue captured from private space exploration is expected to grow to more than $1 trillion in 2040, giving any ambitious investor a unique opportunity.
And future investment in private space exploration will likely be driven by lowered costs in the industry. Morgan Stanley recently reported that thanks to the reusable rockets used by SpaceX and Blue Origin, the cost of launching a satellite has declined from about $200 million to $60 million. Satellite mass production could further decrease these costs to about $500,000 per launch. As decreasing costs will likely entice more investors (including non-industrial, “main street” investors), increased competition among the private space programs will drive innovation.
Just as the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union led to amazing scientific innovations in the original space race, the urge to be first will likely create new discoveries and bring down costs in the Billionaire Space Race. Where the race ends and how many new discoveries are made are only dependent upon the deep pocketbooks and egos of the tycoons involved, not public opinion or government bureaucracy.
In many ways, the Billionaire Space Race of today resembles the original space race between the US and the USSR. Similar to the original space race, the parties involved in current space exploration strive to be the first among their peers to grab the glory and associated profits. Yet there are also some notable differences – namely the cleaner, more efficient technologies that are propelling these space vehicles.
When the Billionaire Space Race is put into a wider perspective, it’s clear that it offers a number of benefits for consumers, investors, and society in general. The expansion of technologies to alleviate problems on Earth is perhaps the primary selling point of these private space programs, but these programs also offer investment opportunities today and in the future. Finally, the competition between these private space companies will eventually lead to better technology and lower costs, which in the end will bring more benefits to consumers and greater society.
December 9, 2021
If there is one positive effect that has resulted from the pandemic lockdowns it has to be TIME. All those things that needed sorting. That feeling that hard-earned cash could be better spent, better distributed. So many domestic chores left for a never-to-come day when there would be time to do them. Then there is quality time with loved ones and valued activities. For those fortunate enough to have an overstocked clothes closet it’s time for re-evaluation. The major fashion trend for 2021-2022 starts here. Less is more or put another way, quality over quantity are the current watchwords. New lifestyles have emerged from Covid-19 restrictions that are likely to influence sales for some time ahead. Intelligent brands will be looking at those changes.
Working from home, learning at home, staycationing – all these enforced ways have for many become long-term choices. Comfortable cozy loungewear is a must but sharp enough to make a quick trip to the office or the store. Nobody wants to go out in their pj’s. Quality fabrics like silk or cashmere are desirable but blends may be more practical and still attractive. Lightweight, washable but stylish to take on that ever-growing choice of spa days or weekend breaks offered at the nearest deluxe resort hotel.
Customers have become more aware of the ethics and reputation of brands. Political correctness, social values and environmental concerns all impact fashion choices today. There has been a noticeable shift towards sustainable materials in fashion items and furnishings. Organic fabrics like natural cotton and linen or various wools have had a revival in interest although balanced by the easy-wash, no-crease quality of polyesters. Brands that offer acceptable blends may see an uptick in trade.
Many customers have lost employment or experienced reduced income levels during the pandemic and will be looking for durability and value for money items. This is where home brands can cut in on the inexpensive ‘wear once and discard’ items from cheap labor countries. Many Asian textile producers are facing crisis situations and they too are looking for increased home sales to survive and thrive again. The market for quality second-hand and resales is also likely to increase with advertisers using beguiling terms like ‘seasonless’ garments.
This is also a time when smaller home brand names can become more significant, connecting directly with their customers, their styles, budget and specific needs. Fashion analysts feel that women (rather than men) prefer to build a trusting relationship with smaller local brands.
The sportswear market is likely to become more buoyant after the general slump in retail sales as Covid conditions took effect, mitigated only to a degree by internet shopping. Outdoor sports and the reopening of fitness centers will naturally fuel sales but the quality of fabrics is also an important trend that crosses over into daywear. The demand for clothes using breathable natural fabrics that are also durable and stylish is currently impacting brand design.
Most of these trends were already emerging before Covid hit and are likely to continue with renewed impetus into 2020.
December 9, 2021
Advances in AI have gathered speed so rapidly that even the savviest businesspeople are scrambling to catch up with the trends. Chatbots have the potential to rocket businesses into a new age of superb customer service and sensational returns on investments. By the end of this year, it is predicted that every type of industry and public service including healthcare and education will be implementing integrated systems responding quickly to innumerable client needs every minute of the day.
The dream of a robot capable of responding in a natural human way remained the stuff of fiction until the 21st century. The world is already used to robotic responses online and ‘conversing’ with virtual assistants but now we are at a development stage of Natural Language Processing (NLP) that could fully realize the fantasy. Advanced chatbots, more accurately described as conversational AI, are able to ‘learn’. They memorize and absorb information from human responses, allowing them to improve their conversation techniques.
Is it time to take a step back and question where this is leading society? Is this development exciting or frightening? For the young and in commerce there are brilliant opportunities ahead, no question, but for the elderly or those of an alternative mindset, views of these technological wonders may not be so positive. Of course, some will embrace the benefits while others may find the complexities of the technology to be a minefield best avoided.
Enthusiasts of chatbots point out the benefits to people with health conditions or impairments, the very elderly, and – most importantly – the lonely of all ages. There are those who wonder if AI and the chatbot revolution will make the enforced social distancing of the recent pandemic a permanent way of life that may not be altogether beneficial. Chatbots can help relieve long hours of loneliness and even assist in carrying out essential daily tasks but may also mask underlying needs that only human contact can supply.
Aside from online apps, robotic innovations include virtual pets that use the same idea of voice to ‘pet’ that develops a relationship as with a real dog. It is well known that pets can be important therapeutic aids so when there is no possibility of buying and keeping a live animal this technology may be helpful. The difference is that AI chatbots cannot ‘feel’. To date, it has proven challenging to create chatbots that respond to mood and react in an appropriate and helpful way to the user.
Designing conversation agents to counter loneliness is an important development in AI and one that saw real-time testing during the lockdowns and restrictions of the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic resulted in millions of people of all ages simply being cut off for long periods from direct contact with work colleagues, friends, family, and everyday interactions on the street, bus, train, or at a local store. This was unthinkable in the pre-Covid-19 pandemic era. During the pandemic, many connected online via Zoom, Skype, Meet, and/or a host of other online chat and meeting services. This allowed individuals to maintain a connection to others. Some – experiencing long hours of loneliness – increasingly also signed up for AI chatbots to compensate.
For a growing number of individuals, loneliness is a way of life beyond pandemic conditions. This is a problem AI chatbot developers aim to address. One such company is Replika. Replika offers users the ability to creates an avatar capable of developing characteristics of the user it picks up from every ‘conversation’. Replika’s AI companions present themselves as friends who are always there to listen and talk. What is significant and somewhat interesting is that many reviews indicate young people are attached to this kind of AI chatbot. Does this show a hidden and worrying level of loneliness in our younger generation – or simply a new generation willing and able to explore the manifold benefits of new technologies? Perhaps we haven’t grown up beyond talking to our favorite teddy bear, a constant friend. How long can a chatbot engage a user once they realize it is not a real human? In other words, how close can a chatbot get to passing the Turing test?
Introduced in 1950 in computer scientist Alan Turing’s “Computing Machinery and Intelligence”, the Turing test caused quite a stir. The proposed test led to the ELIZA program (published by Joseph Weizenbaum in 1966), which appeared to convince users that they were conversing with an intelligent being. In fact, the program was an early example of the chatbot technology used today focusing on keywords and phrases and pre-programmed responses. Since over half a century since these innovations occurred, this technology has only snowballed into the 21st century and shows no sign of slowing down.
The technological explosion of the digital age is tremendously exciting. It’s gratifying that there is still so much ingenuity and creativity in the current age, with many potential benefits for humankind. Companies and public services stand to benefit from improved customer services and can garner vital feedback for the future. Healthcare bots may facilitate better information and communication between patients and health workers. Chatbots have a clear role to play in security and home-alone situations.
The downside is that at this stage there are still many chatbot fails. Misinterpretation of words or phrases, inappropriate responses can be hilarious or disastrous. Other issues include out-of-context replies and assorted other malfunctions. These are all crucial problems to be sorted.
For the foreseeable future, the implementation of chatbots will continue to be an important area of focus for commerce, government, and public services. At the moment, chatbot content development, problem-solving, system development, and training make for highly sought skills. Virtual assistants are no longer a novelty. Perhaps we shall all get a personal chatbot avatar one day. Replika counts over seven million users already, so it’s not too difficult to imagine a time in the near future when it is as commonplace to have such a system as it is owning a smartphone. I just can’t see it replacing the teddy bear, though.
About the author: Rudly Raphael is the Founder and CEO of Eyes4Research. He has more than 15 years of experience in the market research industry, implementing primary and secondary research for a number of high profile clients. He’s a frequent blogger and has published a number of articles in various online journals, magazines, and other publications.
December 9, 2021
In the last year, the world has become so focused on working from home that we have almost forgotten that the need for physical labor is still necessary for the production of essential daily supplies. Our ‘virtual’ lives don’t obviate the need for farmers, for example, to actually plant, cultivate, and plow the fields. Cannabis production is no exception.
The cultivation of marijuana, legally or illicitly, has provided employment for many workers among even the poorest communities. Attempts by governments to restrict production and distribution have affected manual workers far more than entrepreneurs or narcotraffickers.
The very real concerns about the recreational use and abuse of drugs, especially by young adults, may have led to the unemployment and potential suffering of families dependent on cannabis production and trade. Research into the medical benefits of cannabis/marijuana and changes in social attitudes give the impression this means the relaxation of illicit trade laws and increased legal production of the plant. Not only that, but the industry has branched out into other legitimate fields such as culinary and pet products (CBD oil). According to recent research, the industry is expected to increase by about 14% by 2025. These are indeed blessings to those relying on pain relief from the drug as well as manual workers, investors, marketers, and entrepreneurs. The curses remain for individuals and loved ones of those addicted and negatively affected by the abuse of cannabis and other recreational drugs.
As with everything in life, getting the balance right between use and misuse is a difficult one to achieve. To prohibit something beneficial because of potential abuse is a hard choice, but it is also soul-satisfying to know that allowing it to be available is leading to the relief of suffering. It is this compassion that is, in part, the reason why many states in the US (and countries around the globe) have eased prohibitory laws on cannabis. The knowledge that this ‘weed’ may have the ability to relieve chronic pain and mental health issues has been the determining factor in legislation in favor of decriminalizing the drug.
On March 31st 2021, New York legalized recreational cannabis, joining 17 other US states. Medical cannabis is legal in 36 states to date. More will undoubtedly follow suit. So, as the ‘weed’ becomes an admired flowering plant, employment predictions also become a lot healthier. The industry needs researchers, cultivators need a workforce, and marketers need strategists and developers, advertisers, social media experts, administrators, and more. At base, of course, there is and will be a great need for funding. This may be one of those moments investors dream of – a time to get in on a rapidly expanding industry for seriously good returns.
As the world moves outside again after the life-changing conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic pass over, surely some ‘virtual’ experiences will remain. Homeschooling, virtual shopping, entertainment, even medical examinations and (weirdest of all?) virtual dog shows. Distance was shrunk by video link and time truly seemed to become relative. The internet became a dual-charactered deity dispensing help and charity to many while dishing out corruption and sleaze to others – blessings and curses again.
One benefit of increased reliance on digital communications is the upsurge in crowdfunding, where small amounts and many people make much difference. Now we have crowdgrowing. To date, the legal cultivation and marketing of cannabis have been limited by a raft of laws and licenses. Cultivating a marijuana crop for profit requires land, resources, and workers at several levels, usually relying on significant financing to even begin the venture. Crowdgrowing (or e-growing) uses the crowdfunding method to leverage communal investments to cultivate and market legal cannabis crops.
The innovative part of this concept is more like adopting and sponsoring in that investors may purchase and cultivate plants they never actually touch or see. Professionals will grow and market the plants for many virtual growers who in turn receive a percentage of the profits. Juicyfields is the main promoter of this type of investment, but there are others (like Cannergrow). Reviews are largely positive but some still regard these companies as scammy. Time will tell, but the underlying fact is that the cannabis market is expanding rapidly and is an exciting prospect for investors and entrepreneurs.
The place of women in the cannabis industry has pretty much followed the history of women in any other industry. At one time, women could find jobs working at planting, picking, and packing cannabis/marijuana. Few achieved management, executive positions, or parity in the workforce. Activists have railed against gender discrimination and for greater safety in the workplace. In some areas such as finance and research, where there are more liberal attitudes and fewer glass ceilings, women are making a positive impact in the industry. The impact isn’t just in the workforce.
A report on findings in 2019 indicated that over 60% of women supported legalization of marijuana. Furthermore, they are the dominant force driving sales of the drug. This survey also suggests that women are more interested in using cannabis for medicinal rather than recreational purposes, and are open to purchasing new products containing the substance (such as sprays and creams). These facts are hardly surprising when much has been made of the pain relief possible in many female medical conditions and yet is balanced by parental concerns for the wellbeing of their children. Drug consumption among young adults is a highly emotive issue, but the potential medical benefits in such serious conditions like epilepsy make a strong case for decriminalization of cannabis.
In the minds of most people, the cannabis trade has been a clandestine affair controlled by drug lords. From the 16th century, it had been a legitimate source of income in the US where the hemp source of the drug was produced only for the industrial use of the fiber. These early crops contained low levels of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and it was only later, as levels of this psychoactive ingredient rose, it began to be widely used recreationally. New controls led to illicit trade until now, when decriminalization in many states has – full circle – restored the plant’s economic place. Whether these changes are due to liberal attitudes on recreational use or the potential medical benefits, for the industry it means one thing: Just business.
About the author: Rudly Raphael is the Founder and CEO of Eyes4Research. He has more than 15 years of experience in the market research industry, implementing primary and secondary research for a number of high profile clients. He’s a frequent blogger and has published a number of articles in various online journals, magazines, and other publications.
December 9, 2021
Earlier this year, Wohlers Associates, Inc. published its annual report with current figures for the additive manufacturing (AM) industry. The report showed a surprising expansion of 7.50%, upwards of $12.80 billion in 2020, despite the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic. Growth was way down in previous years, but with many other industries struggling to survive and revive from global lockdowns, the trend still looks positive. The report also indicated growth in diversity of application in areas that could have dramatic benefits for humankind.
Why then is there a neo-Luddite movement that is so opposed to this new technology? Should we be taking that step back we all need sometimes and question where these developments are taking us? Or should we just embrace these astounding technologies?
As the industrial revolution in Great Britain marched on into the early 19th century, workers in the textile manufacturing industries became alarmed as machinery threatened their jobs. Fears that machines would make them redundant led workers to form a secret oath-based organization dedicated to stopping this advance of industrialization. The society, known as the Luddites, smashed up machinery, caused disturbances, and even physically attacked factory owners to hold back inevitable progress.
They may have been shortsighted (and their methods unacceptable) but the fears of these workers were real. These workers had no trade unions or social security benefits to assist them were they to become unemployed. They and their families could face destitution. The sad fact was that they were playing King Canute, who in legend tried to hold back the waves. The industrial age rushed on regardless. Even so, their stance – in time – led to social changes, and the revolution they feared brought benefits to their children and grandchildren.
There are obvious parallels with the rapid advancements in our current technological age. AM may threaten the employment of many workers but they bring potentially enormous benefits. The neo-Luddites may try to halt the progression but they are unlikely to stop it. Still, they may help balance the disadvantages, echoing the pattern of the earlier industrial age.
AM is now thought of as almost synonymous with 3-D printing, a technological advancement that utilizes digital processes to create and recreate lighter, stronger parts and systems. 3-D scanners employing computer-aided design (CAD) software continue to improve their ability to produce complex geometric shapes by way of a layer-by-layer technique that builds up material into the desired object. The benefits are manifold and many industries now employ the technique. Multiple parts can be created rapidly and accurately without the need for a large physical workforce. Here is the point of argument for Luddism.
For investors, following the general trend in manufacturing of smaller companies gaining traction over long-establish market giants, AM is at the moment on an upward trajectory. Wohlers in particular highlights applications in the food industry, electronics, and in the medical field. This latter category is perhaps the area that may convince neo-Luddites that these technological changes do not conflict so strongly with their own philosophies. These are applications of this new technology that have very clear benefits.
Whatever premise we start from, all we’re concerned about is our longevity and quality of life. AM and 3-D printing have made significant advances in the health sector that have created a positive impact in those two areas of anxiety. Education and surgical planning from diagnosis to treatment using living tissues created by this technique make for the areas most heavily investing in 3-D this year. The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for these new technologies, yielding an almost overwhelming demand for medical equipment. AM has sped up supply production while other companies have used the technique to satisfy an increase in orders for personal protective equipment.
Research and development using AM have no limits. For example, it will ultimately end animal testing. The challenge to create organs without donors is ongoing and the technology is used in cancer research and treating epilepsy. Cranial reconstruction and joint replacements can be achieved far more rapidly with this new method. Commercially affordable prosthetics and implants are making a positive impact on poorer societies and individuals. The benefits are adding up, and they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. It is certainly hard for anyone to ignore them.
3-D printing is revolutionizing education, the preservation of cultural heritage, fashion and transportation industries, dentistry, and food. In the automotive industry, parts are being manufactured at a remarkable speed. This includes Formula 1 racing, where replacing something like a wing now takes only 10 days (instead of five weeks). AM can produce lightweight, strong parts for aerospace that now include parts for commercial jet engines. The tide of these technological advances cannot be stemmed.
Today, neo-Luddism converges with green philosophies in rejecting most modern technologies. Sustainability is an area of great concern for environmentalists. Manufacturing processes, unchanged for an era, are being revolutionized by additive 3-D methods, leading to greater efficiency and fewer required materials, equaling less waste. The capability to produce parts on-site rather than in factories miles away means reduced transport costs and carbon emissions. Lower costs enable poorer sections of society to benefit from advances in healthcare, education, and food manufacturing.
It may be possible (and wise) to take that step back and consider where technology is taking us. But as the world emerges from the pandemic, these innovations continue to arrive as a tidal bore that nothing is likely to stop.
Of course, there are problems and glitches to work through, and this will continue into 2021 and beyond. AMFG, a company aimed at providing additive manufacturing solutions, outlines a number of ongoing developments that will press AM into the next phase. Software must update and adapt more effectively to the needs of these new technologies. Software and hardware will have to integrate and connect more positively with the production floor. A broader use of AI technologies at all stages of AM also makes for a major trend for 2021.
Additive manufacturing allows greater freedom of design by creating layer-on-layer and encourages innovation. The pandemic raised awareness of the benefits of AM in areas such as sustainability, diversity, and in production accuracy (including improved distribution times and reduced costs). A 2020 survey of US manufacturing engineers across 7 top industries ranked AM highly for investment following the pandemic. That time has been slow in coming, but as 2021 progresses AM technology continues to overtake traditional manufacturing processes. Concerns for job losses in time may be compensated by more demand for new technology skills and innovators. Environmental warriors may need to change tack against this new age and embrace 3-D printing for its benefits to green issues and sustainability. Neo-Luddism may give way to the layer-on-layer revolution.
Rudly Raphael is the Founder and CEO of Eyes4Research. He has more than 15 years of experience in the market research industry, implementing primary and secondary research for a number of high profile clients. He’s a frequent blogger and has published a number of articles in various online journals, magazines, and other publications.