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2012: The Year of the Baby Step

Posted by Devin Cole  January 9, 2012 03:11 PM

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Child walking.jpg

Sean Dreilinger/

There are some big predictions out there. The Economist is expecting the mechanisms of cancer to be understood in 2012, for example. But my crystal ball reveals only piecemeal changes. Nonetheless, these changes are part of longer term trends that will make the world look different in 10 years time.

Ever since radiotherapy was invented a century ago, the history of cancer has been replete with predictions of its imminent demise, and one joins the chorus at one's peril. But the immense increase in biological information that we are now gathering will lead somewhere. For example, metabolomics allows us to match biomarkers to particular goings-on in the body. Companies such as InfanDx are leading into the fray. This German company has the technology to diagnose brain damage caused to some babies at birth due to a lack of oxygen. They use an ordinary blood sample to find a particular set of bio-markers, the presence of which correlate well with encephalopathy caused by neonatal asphyxia. Such diagnostic use of bio-markers will increase drastically in 2012.

The Boston startup world is all agog with mobile opportunities. Something will come of this, but what?

Location based services (LBS) will surely win in the long term, and maybe the way to go is gamification of LBS, pioneered by SCVNGR right here in Greater Boston. In general, big data will move towards center stage, although no big breakthrough is imminent. Still, companies such as Jana, also Boston based, that has the ability to reach 2.1 billion cell phones including the ability to give them minutes, will make a big difference to the world's poorest already in 2012.

Our energy organizations will yet again exemplify that change occurs only in order to avoid even greater change. Still, there is enough political will to reform the regulation of utilities. Currently, utilities have no incentive to take on any risky investments, but because we really need such investments in order to get to a smarter grid, the incentive structure provided by regulation has to change. We will go a long way towards this in Massachusetts in 2012, and other states will follow. And Cape Wind will start construction in 2012. The project took the hurdle of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court upholding the power-purchase agreement with National Grid, and this hurdle will be the last. The PPA means that financing can finally be put into place and construction begin. In the US in general, the big energy story will be shale gas, where a slew of confrontations between drillers and local communities will lead to shale becoming a particularly shrill topic in the presidential election.

Arne Hessenbruch is a Danish expat and the founder of Boston Denmark Partnerships, where he connects Danish companies with an interest in doing business in Boston.

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