December 15, 2015

Keynote Speakers Give Much Food for Thought

The future was on the minds of two keynote speakers who presented some sobering and fantastic predictions about the future during the Western Growers Annual Meeting in San Diego in November.
Provocatively, former chief futurist for the technology firm Cisco, Dave Evans, current founder and CEO of Stringify, said many people think that the first human to live to be 1,000 years old has already been born.  Noting gains in life expectancy over the last generation or two, Evans predicted that the average person born today could easily live 200-300 years.  His hour-long discussion of his favorite subject — the future — was filled with delectable ideas.
For example, he said that in 50 years, 95 percent of everything humans know will be discovered during that time period.  Only 5 percent is already known.  Illustrating just how technology advances in a relatively short time, Evans said the first real computer, which debuted in 1946, had no more computing power than what we find today in a greeting card that plays a tune when it is opened up.  That 1946 computer took up 18,000 square feet and costs $4.4 billion to build in today’s dollars.  Yet it can be replaced by a simple chip that cost pennies to make today.
Turning to agriculture, Evans believes vertical farming will be in play in the not so distant future and that “robots will be the farmers of the future.”  By 2032, he said robots will be developed that are mentally superior to human beings.  And it will only be in 2020 when they are physically superior to their human counterparts.
He also sees 3D printing making leaps and bounds with regard to technology.  It won’t be too long before farmers will be able to “print” a new tractor, and shoppers can go the store, buy a cartridge, take it home and print dinner.  Evans believes the world is only at the dawn of technology with an explosion of knowledge happening in very short order.
Business journalist Stuart Varney, who currently plies his trade on the Fox News Network, also talked about the future but in a much more cautionary way.  He first talked about the economic crash of 2008 and pointed to several factors that caused it and have exacerbated it.  He is clearly no friend of President Barack Obama and believes the president’s government spending policies have led to what is a historically slow recovery from this recession.  Varney expects a Republican president to reverse this trend by enacting individual and corporate tax cuts and bring billions of corporate profits back into the United States for reinvestment.
But he devoted a good portion of his talk to the declining fertility rates around the developed world.  Varney said a calculation of birth and death rates reveals that to keep population stable you need a birthrate of 2.1, which means the average reproduction rate of the women in a country is 2.1 children.  Varney noted that many countries around the globe currently have fertility rates of 1.3 or less.  He says that means a declining population of workers taking care of a growing number of senior citizens to the financial ruin of their economy.
In many countries, Varney said more than half the population will be over 65 by 2020.  That, he said, is unsustainable, and will lead to more failed economies.
The United States, however, is not one of those countries.  According to Varney, only 29 percent of Americans will be over 65 in 2020.  Our numbers are good because of immigration and the generally higher birth rates of immigrants.  That sector is now and will continue to fuel the U.S. birth rate.  Varney advocates for increasing the number of immigrants allowed into the United States legally to keep our economy humming.