Horizons newsletter – Week 17 // 2017
Horizons is a bi-monthly Dasym Research initiative to show you how the Dasym themes have been in the news. We publish the Horizons on our website and as an email newsletter. If you wish to receive the email, please contact Investor Relations.
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Reaching for the stars
Space travel is about to be brought to the masses, at least if commercial space companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic have a say in it. To make space flight affordable, these companies are experimenting with reusable rockets. Following several setbacks including a severe accident, SpaceX finally managed to successfully launch a reused Falcon 9 rocket into orbit last March. This type of reusability could be an enormous cost saver since today the majority of launch costs are derived from building the rocket – which only flies once. Less expensive access to space could result in unprecedented spinoffs. Current space technology such as satellites have improved communication, navigation and weather forecasting, which in turn have benefited countless other industries from entertainment to agriculture. Facilitated by lower launch costs, future space technology would not only enable space tourism, but also new communication systems and scientific platforms. For example, if scientific space experiments cost less, more elaborate and higher-risk experiments with higher pay-offs are possible, resulting in scientific breakthroughs that consequently could propel new space industries into orbit.
Speech recognition for mental health care
Recent developments in speech recognition allow technology to be used without smartphones or keyboards. Moreover, speech produces valuable data that cannot be produced through screen interactions, such as tone of voice. One area where the data-richness of speech recognition technology appears to be valuable is mental health care. Research shows that depressive patients use ‘flat and negative’ words and speak with a monotonous tone. Speech recognition can therefore help to diagnose depression by using machine-learning algorithms that map the quality of speech in patients. One example of a start-up active in this field is Cogito. Cogito created a mobile app to passively monitor smartphone sensors to detect symptoms from voice recordings. Another example is the Ginger.io app that doctors use to measure vocal tone to peer into patients’ psychological well-being. Since – according to the WHO – depression is the leading cause of ill health worldwide, speech recognition can be a promising support for health care. In the past, we called the doctor to make an appointment, in the future, calling one might be enough.
Doubting the debt
Current credit ratings are crumbling: the number of ‘AAA’-rated countries is the lowest since 2003. In addition, following the S&P rating cut of Exxon Mobile last year, only two ‘AAA’-rated U.S. companies remain, compared to 98 in 1992. The common denominator in the deterioration of credit ratings is the increasing level of debt. Governments actively battled the financial crisis by going on a spending spree. Today, the average government debt of countries with the highest credit ratings has increased by 15 percentage points between 2007 and 2015. In the U.S. alone public debt will jump from 77% today to 150% of GDP by 2047 if the current law remains in effect. Budget cuts and austerity programs are unlikely, since most governments are wary of the populist threat. In corporate debt, ultra-low interest rates are to blame, encouraging companies to finance debt with more debt: between 2008 and 2016 corporate U.S. debt doubled. This period of debt-financing is ending, though, and higher yields and interest rates could then turn credit ratings into a new source of comparative advantage.