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The Next Big Thing?

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People need something to hope for. As it has become clear that the internet may be making money for our descendants but not necessarily for people now old enough to shave, those of us who want some big lucre in the here and now are growing increasingly despondent. Hence no huge upside bubble in the market. When even Warren Buffett announces disappointing earnings and talks about a recession, you know our financial system is in serious need of some feel-good hugs and drugs.

The fact is, there are several huge areas of exponential growth on the horizon that, for wise investors, just might represent the next great wave of stupid money. Let's look at just a few, in the kind of depth that this format allows:

o Robotics: A dedicated issue of Scientific American talks about all the great things that are coming here. While it may be slightly discouraging to keep on reading about robots whose functions are limited to making dashboards and vacuuming rumpus rooms, several adjunct professors of august institutions prognosticate machines that are smarter than we are by 2050. Of course, by 2050 we may dumber than ATMs anyway, but there's no question in my mind that smart investors could pump up a big, translucent profit bubble in this heavily fertilized field.

o Nano-technology: Big money for very small inventions is clearly on the way. Tiny living creatures will be bred in itty-bitty labs for a variety of purposes from dispensing medication via ingestible tablets to the construction of desk chairs that give you a back rub. The future is as yet unclear, but if you simply use the word "nano" either in conversation or in a white paper of any kind, people looking to lose money line up like it's Starbuck's at dawn. That's the kind of credulous enthusiasm the market needs to vault us into the next level, or possibly even to remain on this one.

o Greenware: When the next generation takes control in a few years, the true passion for the environment will finally slam into gear. Gen-Y feels about Earth, Wind and Sky the way that their elders felt about Vietnam and Civil Rights - it's their issue, the thing they care about the most. Any baby boomer who has failed to recycle a cardboard box in front of a 12-year-old knows the level of contempt the younger generation holds for such miscreants. Windmills that generate power... mulch farms... firms that figure out ways to reduce our carbon shoesize... solar solutions to our need for energy... all will be recipients of passionate investment by a society far more enlightened than ours. Those who get on that elevator early will be at the fiduciary penthouse while others are standing around in the lobby waiting for the next available car.

o Human genome schmutz: Nobody wants to get old or worse, appear old. And forget about dying. That's the ultimate bummer. Genetic research has been held back recently by a series of disasters too terrible to mention in this venue, or even look up right now, since we're very busy. But the three-headed midget sheep problem will be solved by 2014 and recombinant DNA, stem-cell and mitochondrial transmogrification technology will begin making inroads into the problem of aging, extending human life to its ultimate limit and even beyond, particularly for really rich people who are on everybody's nerves already. Another enormous opportunity for confabulators here.

o Electronic wetware: Right now we all have to walk around with little gizmos sticking out of our pockets and our heads, and tote around heavy wallets jammed with plastic. One day all those accoutrements will be surgically implanted. The companies that figure out how to get that done without infecting the entire neural system of the recipient will be in for some big asset appreciation.

o Fried chicken: People will always like fried chicken. Since the invention of the chicken, in fact, people have been looking for a better way to fry it. Hey. It's as good a shot as any, I figure. Even if none of this other stuff pans out, there will always be room for fried chicken, right?