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The futurist: The rise of the trillionaires

Thomas Frey //December 2, 2014//

The futurist: The rise of the trillionaires

Thomas Frey //December 2, 2014//

(Editor’s note: This is the first of two parts.)

The most powerful entity in the world 100 years from now may very well be a band of trillionaires.

With their level of influence, the trillionaires may very well determine the clout, power, and status of nations as well as the standing of other groups.

So where will these trillionaires come from? Are they simply billionaires in an inflated global economy? Perhaps. But it becomes a rather intriguing question to consider what industries, systems, and business models will have the potential of generating 100 times more income that anything in the world today.

Another way of asking this, what are the products or services that are sufficiently scalable, transportable, and in-demand to produce $1 trillion in revenue in a short period of time?

To put this number in perspective, if 7 billion people on earth each spent $143 on the same item, it would yield $1 trillion. But since gross revenue is a long way from profit, and profit is generally several multiples of an individual shareholder’s wealth, the money spent per person would likely have to be in the neighborhood of 100 times more.

With that backdrop, I’d like to explore the question of which future industries have the potential of producing the first trillionaires.

World’s First Billionaire

No one seems to know who the world’s first millionaire was, but the first time the word ‘millionaire’ was used, was in an obituary describing the life of New York tobacco manufacturer Pierre Lorillard II in 1843. Others believe John Jacob Astor or Cornelius Vanderbilt were more likely to have achieved millionaire status first.

John D. Rockefeller was the world’s first billionaire. He broke into the billionaire category in the early 1900s as a result of his investments in Standard Oil. Rockefeller was at the top of his game in 1912 when he earned $900 million in a single year.

According to Forbes Magazine, there are currently 1,645 people who qualified as billionaires in 2014, with Bill Gates leading the pack with a total net worth of $78 billion.

Thinking Through the Path to becoming a Trillionaire

The most valuable corporations today are Apple $683 billion (software, hardware, Internet), Exxon Mobile $410 billion (petroleum), Google $367 billion (software, Internet), Microsoft $395 billion (software, hardware, Internet), Berkshire Hathaway $361 billion (investment services), and Johnson & Johnson $277 billion (medical equipment and services)

Corporations with the most assets, include ICBC $3.13 trillion (China bank), HSBC $2,67 trillion (British Bank), BNP Paribas $2.48 trillion (French Bank), Mitsubishi UFJ Financial $2.46 trillion, China Construction Bank $2.45 trillion (China bank), JPMorgan Chase $2.44 trillion (U.S. Bank), and Agricultural Bank of China $2.41 trillion.

These companies fall primarily into the tech and banking industries.

For any industry to produce 100 times more value than today’s corporations, it will need to be:

  • Rapidly scalable
  • Global in nature
  • Products or services with strong demand
  • Transportable to anywhere in the world
  • Highly profitable
  • Extremely influential

Top 18 Future Industries Most Likely to Produce Early Trillionaires

Stepping through these future industries, I will mention a few disclaimers. This is a highly speculative list with several wild-card industries added to the mix to keep things interesting. Many of these are still waiting for the initial breakthrough to occur before the industry can even get started.

At the same time, future industries will be able to leverage tomorrow’s technologies far faster than anything today.

They will have the ability to quickly adapt, rapidly influence, and perform nearly instantaneous transactions. For these reasons, it is entirely possible for a breakthrough to occur that launches an entirely new industry, and with highly leveraged processes, start producing trillionaires in less than 10 years.

“…it is entirely possible for a breakthrough to occur that launches an entirely new industry, and with highly leveraged processes, start producing trillionaires in less than ten years.”

With this in mind, here are the future industries that rose to the top along with a brief explanation as to why they were chosen.

1.) Cryptocurrency – The first global currency will likely be a cryptocurrency. Since they operate outside of the realm of highly regulated, nation-based economies, cryptocurrencies will have the ability to fill the gaping needs left unanswered by today financial systems. To put this into perspective, 2.5 billion adults, just over half of the world’s adult population, do not have bank accounts, nor do they use any formal financial services to save or borrow. The opportunity here is huge.

2.) Asteroid Mining – When the European Space Agency’s Rosetta spacecraft and Philae lander made it to the surface of Comet 67P, there was a sudden renewed interest in going to space. However, the most valuable near-term space industry will likely stem from extracting resources found in near earth asteroids. While proving that both water and oxygen can be manufactured in space will be the first order of business, our growing need for platinum based metals could result in entire asteroids being dragged back to earth, each valued at hundreds of billions of dollars, shortly thereafter.

3.) Instant Learning – Today’s learning processes occupy entirely too much of the human lifespan. With Nicolas Negroponte’s prediction that ingested learning (eating a pill and knowing French) is right around the corner, and a host of other technologies showing promise, the concept of “instant learning” is only one breakthrough away from becoming a trillion dollar industry.

4.) Internet of Things – On the surface, the Internet of Things, where devices talk to other devices may not seem like a good candidate for becoming a trillion dollar industry, but consider having devices that improve your health, energy, stamina, and thinking ability by 100 percent or more. Or perhaps having devices that can communicate with plants and animals. How much will those capabilities be worth in future dollars?

5.) Cure for Human Aging – If every person had the option of paying $10 a day to make aging stop and live forever, how many would choose that option? A billion people paying $10 a day would amount to $3.65 trillion a year in revenue. You may want to invest because this may be one of the few industries capable of providing you with the solid income you’ll need for the next 1,000 years, if not longer.

6.) Flying Drone Services – We are currently just scratching the surface of all the services that drones can provide. But consider the notion of having solar power drones that fly at extreme altitudes of 80,000 feet or higher, above weather patterns, and never have to come back down. Google and Facebook both bought companies like this. Now consider using these drones to provide a better grade of telecom services all over the world.