Brown Advisory colleagues recently gathered with clients to explore how disruption in technology and other fields calls for bold, even-handed decision-making and what we call moral courage.
The idea that great power demands great responsibility seems especially valid today. Consider the implications of these advances:
- Bioengineers can pinpoint genetic abnormalities to curb disease, but such capabilities, when misused, could alter genetic traits of future generations and put individual autonomy at risk.
- The military currently deploys drone aircraft and is developing robots to aid in combat, but questions remain unanswered that are essential to ensuring public trust, including who would be accountable if these systems goes awry.
- Digital technology has made launching a business increasingly “frictionless,” but in some cases such unprecedented efficiency will disrupt companies that are no longer needed in an industry’s supply chain.
- Advances in communications, trade, finance and transport have made the world’s regions more interdependent, but cultural misperceptions persist in public attitudes toward vital global actors, including China and many Arab nations.
We invited our clients to explore these compelling contradictions with us in Washington at Navigating Our World (NOW) 2016, our fifth biennial forum in the U.S. The conference, subtitled “Moral Courage in a Time of Disruption,” focused on emerging trends in technology, resources and geopolitics that pose global challenges and therefore influence our investment thinking. We brought our clients together with bright, provocative thought leaders to learn in depth about tough political, social and national security issues, aiming to understand the implications from various possible outcomes so we can be better prepared both as citizens and as investors.
The advances that our NOW speakers described are enthralling. Neurologists, for example, are making strides in aiding recovery from stroke by outfitting patients with a device conceived with the help of animators and computer gamers. Using an exoskeletal robotic arm, patients simulate the movements of a dolphin, thereby strengthening the brain through exercise.
Another example is driverless cars, which, linked to the Internet, could reduce costs to the consumer and prove 10 times more energy efficient than vehicles on the road today. Such “autonomous vehicles” may be rolled out on a large scale as early as 2018.
In public policy, U.S. schools in impoverished areas—while not always successful in adopting the best teaching methods of wealthier school systems—have made gains by ensuring that instruction takes into account the trauma suffered by students and by conveying a constant message of hope.
Some NOW speakers balanced their descriptions of progress by cautioning that institutions created to safeguard equality and societal well-being need to keep up with the pace and extent of change. Indeed, we believe that the capacity to adapt decisively and equitably to change requires moral courage. We think that trait is essential for people in a position to influence policy, public opinion and the direction of capital investment.
The idea that advancement brings risks and requires greater responsibility is nearly as old as our written history—Icarus of Greek mythology perished when he ignored his father’s warnings and flew too close to the sun. Yet we believe that never before has technological advancement burst forth at such a rapid pace across so many disciplines while touching so many lives. In short, the extent and stakes of this progress are unprecedented.
Our NOW forums are intended to expose our clients to stimulating speakers on topics that expand our thinking and point the way to new opportunities.
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