A Technology Driven Future

Jan 12, 2018   //   by Bruce Mason   //   Weekly Market Update  //  No Comments

Markets pushed higher yet again this week, continuing the momentum that picked up going into the end of last year.  We won’t have long to wait for confirmation of record holiday sales as companies begin releasing earnings in just a few days.  While it is likely a lot of the good news is already priced in at these levels, there will undoubtedly be some surprises awaiting us.

Let’s start with what is presumably good news.  Holiday retail sales smashed all expectations.  The National Retail Federation reports U.S. retail holiday sales increased 5.5% year-over-year to $692 billion to top by a wide margin the forecast for a 3.6% to 4.0% gain.  Online and other non-store sales were up 11.5% to $138.4 billion to account for 20% of all sales during the period.  The flip side of the coin is that before the holiday season even started, U.S. credit card debt stood at $808 billion as of the end of the third quarter.  That’s $280 billion more than the previous high hit in 2008, at the height of the financial crisis.  We all know how that ended.  The real benchmark is $1 trillion and it is probable it will be reached this year.

Among the things that I spend a lot of time considering is what the future holds.  While much of that time is spent on market levels and economic data, the real fun is considering the trends and advancements in technology.  In that light, this week the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) brought us one step closer to a future of talking toilets and snuggling robots.  Kohler introduced an Internet-connected toilet that can respond to voice commands.  For a mere $5,625 you too can have a toilet that you can tell to lift the seat or play your favorite soundtrack.  Plus, it keeps track of water usage.  For $600 you can purchase a robot by Somnox that just wants to cuddle.  It is a bed companion that simulates human breathing and is marketed as a tool to alleviate anxiety and help you get to sleep faster.  Perhaps most intriguing is the idea of a robot that folds laundry.  Two companies each introduced robots that tackle this tedious chore.  Foldimate promises to fold a load of laundry in 4 minutes, while Laundroid folds a whole drawer of clothes.  Sadly, neither can tackle socks or bedsheets yet but can be had for $980 and $16,000 respectively.  Self-driving cars are so old news.

In company news, a class action lawsuit against Starbucks was thrown out by a U.S. federal court.  The suit alleged the company was cheating customers by under-filling drinks and overloading them with foam.  This isn’t the first court to strike down a motion against Starbucks’ portions.  Pro tip: Ask for no foam.  IBM topped the list of U.S. patents for the 25th consecutive year.  It received a record 9,043 patents in 2017, while Samsung came in a distant second with 5,743.  Other members of the top ten include Canon, Intel, LG Electronics, Qualcomm, Google, Microsoft, and Taiwan Semiconductor.  IBM’s patents include 1,900 for cloud-related tech, 1,900 for artificial intelligence, and 1,200 for cybersecurity.  IBM has now surpassed 100,000 U.S. patents issued from 1993 to 2017.

In closing, since we’re talking about the future in this week’s installment, let’s talk about drones.  We learned both the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and New York State Police will start deploying drones this year.  New York State Police launched its first aerial drone program to help support law enforcement missions like public safety, disaster response, and traffic safety.  The LAPD plans to use drones of varying sizes and capabilities depending on the mission, but were more ambiguous with the details.  The use of drones is a contentious issue for law enforcement and one that has Orwellian overtones.  Technology has impacted our lives in millions of ways, from how we communicate to how we shop.  But, it may soon be used in ways only previously seen in sci-fi movies.  Just this week I heard a report of a company looking at using artificial intelligence to prevent crimes before they happen.  I couldn’t help but think about the movie Minority Report and the TV series Person of Interest.  While the future holds great promise, and technology will undoubtedly usher in a better tomorrow, it is worth paying attention to the impact technology will have on our future.  Now you know.

January 12, 2018

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