Archive for 2012

The Most Fascinating Tech Breakthroughs from December

9 | By Michael A. Robinson

There’s good news for Alzheimer’s patients after all…

This news comes at an opportune time. Just last summer, the whole effort suffered a major setback.

That’s when three Big Pharma firms said they were halting development of Alzheimer’s compounds because the medicines simply didn’t work. No doubt, that was a blow for both patients and investors in Eli Lilly & Co. (NYSE:LLY), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE), and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ).

But this month we learned that a research team at Johns Hopkins has for the first time implanted a promising device into the brain of a U.S. Alzheimer’s patient. It seems to combat the effects of Alzheimer’s by providing deep-brain stimulation. It works very much like the pacemaker that’s normally used in the heart.

Over the next year or so, a total of 40 patients will receive the implants under a federally funded trial.

This is a big move with very promising potential. You see, doctors have used a similar device to control Parkinson’s disease for about the past 15 years, with some 80,000 patients receiving the implants. They report having fewer seizures and needing less medication.

I believe this very well could be the bridge technology we need until a true “cure” for Alzheimer’s is found. Right now, the chances look good that this interim step will succeed.

“This is a very different approach, whereby we are trying to enhance the function of the brain mechanically,” says Dr. Paul B. Rosenberg. “It’s a whole new avenue for potential treatment for a disease becoming all the more common with the aging of the population.”

As high-tech investors, we need to keep an eye on this research and be ready to pounce when a medical-device maker gets it to market.

I don’t know just when that will happen. But when it does, you can bet that I’ll drop you a line.

Meantime, I have four more fascinating developments to share with you this month.

Take a look…

My Favorite Hunting Ground for High-Tech Profits

4 | By Michael A. Robinson

At one time or another, I’m sure that we’ve all been outraged by stories of rampant government waste – especially in areas of aerospace- and defense-related research.

But today I’m going to tell you about a NASA-related tech program that led to a big payoff. In fact, investors who knew what to look for could’ve turned $10,000 into $41,900 – a 319% return – in just 29 months.

I’m relating this story for a couple of reasons. It shows you why I spend so much time looking at the research that’s underway in labs at both the university and national level. And it also explains why I write to you so frequently about cutting-edge science where I believe there’s a big potential payoff.

My ultimate goal, you see, is to tell you about profit opportunities like this one before they occur.

Why This Hiring Coup Could Jump-Start Google’s Stock

5 | By Michael A. Robinson

Futurist Ray Kurzweil is one of the world’s busiest people.

And that’s no surprise. A best-selling author and subject of a major documentary, Kurzweil has an unmatched talent for explaining how cutting-edge technology is going to change our lives. That means this “A-list” speaker is always on the go, traveling the globe as he spreads his futurist technology gospel.

That’s why I made sure to buttonhole Kurzweil at the recent Singularity Summit technology conference. As he headed into the San Francisco lecture hall to share the newest insights into how the brain works, I was able to walk along with him and have a quick chat.

As we talked, little did I know that Kurzweil was working on something that would stun the tech world in a manner that’s usually reserved for one of his predictions.

No, I’m not talking about the buzz that’s been generated by his new book, How to Create a Mind, the Secret of Human Thought Revealed.

Kurzweil, as it turned out, had accepted a major position at none other than Google Inc. (NasdaqGS: GOOG), the Web giant that is to search what the tech futurist is to prognostication.

And Monday was Kurzweil’s first day on the job as the company’s new Director of Engineering.

A lot of investors have glossed over this news. That’s a big mistake. As I see it, this single hire speaks volumes about how Google views itself, and how it intends to keep building shareholder value.

If you’re interested in Google, this is a bit of strategic intelligence that you absolutely have to know. Here’s why: With this single move, the world leader in Web search is telling investors like you that it intends to remain a growth company. This also tells us that Google wants to invent the types of technology that will change the world and make money for investors – even if it means breaking free of the Web itself.

I defy anyone to identify another leader in the tech field who will have more of an impact on the world in the Era of Radical Change. I’ve followed his career for years now and know firsthand that many of his predictions that people dismissed as crazy have actually come true.

Kurzweil began pushing the tech envelope as a teenage inventor and has literally never looked back. Along the way, he has invented dozens of new products, penned groundbreaking books on the technologies of the future, and altered our view of what is possible and even probable in the Era of Radical Change.

I can guess what the naysayers are already saying – that Kurzweil won’t fit in at Google because the company is so darn huge. Or that Google, with a market cap of $235 billion, can never recapture its free-wheeling days as an early-stage startup.

That’s high-tech balderdash.

Two Ways to Profit from the Speed of Light

10 | By Michael A. Robinson

If you could find a way harness the speed of light – 299,792,458 meters per second – in computer processing, processors could handle massive amounts of data at mind-numbing speeds.

At the very least, it could lead to computer speeds that are up to 100 times faster than those in use today.

That’s why industry leaders have been pursuing the promise of optical computing for decades now.

Indeed, we’ve figured out how to pump light through fiber optics for super-high-speed communications in computer networks and the Web. That’s become routine today.

But still, no one could find a way to solve the challenge of focusing light in tiny spaces like computer chips. It’s a brick wall known as the “diffraction limit.” Simply stated, it means that once you get into tiny spaces – like the postage-stamp size of a semiconductor – you can no longer focus a light beam.

Until now…

Two teams of computer researchers have just announced major advances that promise to make optical computing a reality in the very near future.

One comes from a famous tech leader whose shares are publicly traded; the other out of academia. Of course, major advances in the lab often make it to market in ways that mean profits for early investors. This is one of those rare cases where a breakthrough happens at a prestigious university… and you could literally invest in the field today.

So let’s start with the breakthrough from Caltech.

A Huge Breakthrough for Biotech Investors

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

Synthetic biology is now set to have a major impact on the whole biotech industry. And that’s just for starters.

You see, creating artificial genes in the lab or factory also will at the very least play a role in the development of new drugs and the bioengineered fuels of the very near future. And all three of these areas could mean big profits for tech investors.

Here’s the thing. Drug, chemical, and biofuel firms are relying more than ever on artificial fragments of DNA — the building blocks of life — to invent new products. Trouble is, the process is so complex that it can take days to synthesize these man-made genes, usually in small batches.

Not only is it time consuming, but it requires the use of costly robots and other advanced gear. Simply stated, if someone came along with a breakthrough that greatly speeded up the development of synthetic genes, it could affect several industries at once, not to mention its own value in the market.

Allow me to introduce you to Gen9 Inc. The company is blazing a trail in the development of scalable technologies for synthesizing genes. Gen9 formed last summer around a unique new device that greatly speeds up the process, while at the same time cutting the costs of synthetic biology.

This is where it gets interesting…

Intel’s Stock Program Signals Trouble Ahead

0 | By Michael A. Robinson

With the world going through so much fast-paced change, high-tech execs need to keep their eyes clearly focused on the future.

Sadly, some are still looking in the rearview mirror.

Take the case of Intel Corp. (NasdaqGS:INTC). The world leader in PC chips has just announced it’s borrowing another $6 billion.

Of course, borrowing money isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s the purpose of the debt that matters most.

Here’s the thing. Intel is taking on more debt to help it buy back more of its flagging stock. See, the senior brass think that at $20 a share, this is a great value. And on paper, they’re right.

After all, Intel has strong profit margins. Not only that, but its 15% return on assets is solid. It means that for every dollar the firm invests in assets, it earns 15 cents.

Try getting that rate on a bank CD. Or a T-bill, for that matter. Pretty much, it’s impossible.

No, the problem for Intel and its shareholders is the stock has become a “value trap.” In other words, investors buy the stock because they see they only have to pay nine times earnings and think it’s a great bargain.

But, as I like to remind tech investors, a $20 stock that goes down is a lot more expensive than a $200 stock that goes up. Look at it this way, if you had simply bought an index fund tied directly to the S&P 500 you would have made a nice 12% return so far this year.

Holding Intel, however, would have cost you more than 19% as of the market’s close yesterday. By buying its own stock, Intel isn’t getting anywhere near the return it could by simply buying a basket of equities.

And it’s actually much worse than it seems. This next number will blow your mind…

What the Gene Patent Case Means for Biotech Investors

11 | By Michael A. Robinson

The U.S. Supreme Court has just agreed to hear a landmark case that could have extreme money-making ramifications for biotech investors like us.

Next June, the nine justices are expected to settle – once and for all – whether companies can patent human genes in the United States.

The Patent and Trademark Office has been issuing patents on DNA for nearly 30 years, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. Roughly 4,000 of the 22,000 human genes now have some form of patent. But the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the practice in Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics. Now that case will go to the highest court in the country.

At heart, the legal question sounds simple: Does Myriad Genetics Inc. (NasdaqGS:MYGN) have the right to patent two genes that signal whether a woman is at higher risk of getting cancer of the breasts or ovaries?

Myriad of course did not invent or create the breast cancer predisposition genes, referred to as BRCA genes. But it did create something called the BRACAnalysis test that looks for mutations on these genes. Those mutations are associated with much greater risks of breast and ovarian cancer. Usually firms cannot get that kind of market protection for something that is clearly a product of nature. But in this case, Myriad has developed a process of extracting a gene that makes the resulting molecule novel and chemically different from DNA that naturally occurs in our bodies.
And, after all, it took Myriad 17 years and $500 million to develop the test. Without barriers to entry, other firms could simply come in, take advantage of all that costly effort and sell a knockoff for less money.

Even if that weren’t illegal, it’s obviously unfair.

Let’s dig into the case and why it matters to you…

November’s Fascinations of the Month

7 | By Michael A. Robinson

When it comes to a sense of smell, it’s hard to beat a dog.

Scientists say canine noses are at least 10,000 more powerful than ours. That’s tough to quantify, but this might help. As Alexandra Horowitz, dog-cognition researcher from Barnard College, wrote in “Inside of a Dog,” most humans notice if their coffee has a teaspoon of sugar added to it, but “a dog could detect a teaspoon of sugar in a million gallons of water, or two Olympic-sized pools’ worth.”

That’s why police forces around the world use “sniffer” canines to detect and find explosives, drugs, and even cadavers.

Inspired by that feat of nature, a team at UC Santa Barbara has just developed a nanotech chip that is every bit as accurate as a dog’s nose. Only better.

These chips are so powerful, they can “sniff out” the differences between two molecules that to dogs or humans would smell the same. They’re capable of distinguishing between certain substances at concentrations as low as one part per billion. Oh, and they never steal meat off the counter or get sick on your carpet or whine to be taken out for a walk, of course.

According to “Electronics News,” the chip uses microfluidic nanotechnology to mimic the biological mechanism behind canine scent receptors. This new chip packs a lot of punch into a small space (it’s about the size of a fingerprint). Microchannels inside the gadget are 20 times smaller than a human hair. Once a tiny laser excites the absorbed molecules, a computer database detects the exact substance in question.

So what does it mean for investors?

Quite a lot, actually.

“The technology could be used to detect a very wide variety of molecules,” said team leader Carl Meinhart. “The applications could extend to certain disease diagnosis (from someone’s breath) food spoilage, ornarcotics detection, to name a few.”

They’re cheap, too. Though team members didn’t cite a cost for producing “sniffer chips,” they said the small devices will become so cheap that, in the near future, they could be as abundant as smoke detectors are today.

I have more exciting new cutting-edge technology to share with you this month.

But first, many of you have asked for a recording of the webinar I held Wednesday night. Just click on the video still below to find out which fascinating military technologies I think will change the world. It ended up being about 30 minutes long. I hope you enjoy it.

Five Advanced Military Technologies That Will Change the World

Now, you might be grossed out by this next fascination. But if you hold your nose and take a close look, I think you’ll see some incredible investment potential.

Click here for the whole story.

Shield Your Portfolio with Israel’s “Iron Dome”

16 | By Michael A. Robinson

Israel has a radical new ballistic-missile defense system, known as the Iron Dome, and it has saved countless lives during the last couple of weeks.

The Iron Dome is not a literal “protective bubble” set up over a city.

But it might as well be…

This portable system is made up of three components: 1) a detection and tracking radar system, 2) the Battle Management & Weapon Control (BMC) – basically a computer control center – and 3) units that fire missiles.

The radar detects incoming missiles and tracks their trajectories. Then, using this data, the BMC calculates where the missiles will likely hit and determines whether they pose a threat – and only then does the firing unit launch an interceptor (also a missile). In this way, they take out the incoming rockets in midair, where it’s safe to do so, far before they can reach their target on the ground below.

This is no easy feat. Think of standing in a field with a bow and arrow and trying to shoot down another arrow launched from a few hundred yards away. What’s more, the system can handle multiple threats simultaneously and works in any kind of weather (day or night).

Designing something that complex boggles the mind, as does the fact that it works so well. Thanks to an unending stream of breakthroughs in computing, sensors, radar, software, and guidance systems, we’re at the point where one “arrow” can now shoot down another in a matter of seconds.

The Iron Dome is a clear game-changer in defense technology.

And the investment potential is just as big…

Proof It Doesn’t “Pay” to Listen to Just Anybody about Tech Stocks

9 | By Michael A. Robinson

Loose lips sink ships. Or at least they try to…

Take the case of 3D Systems Inc. (NYSE:DDD). Investors who bailed on the stock recently – and there were a lot of them – missed a great rally yesterday. That 8.5% gain on heavy volume put the stock among the top 20 gainers of its exchange.

It’d be easy to chalk that gain up to the market’s overall rally. No doubt, investors were thrilled to see evidence that Washington just may solve its budget impasse before we go over the “fiscal cliff.” But that’s not what’s really going on here…

As I see it, DDD’s rebound yesterday was sweet justice indeed.

Or perhaps even revenge.

See, the stock had recently come under huge selling pressure after the financial advisory website Seeking Alpha slammed the company last week. An article on Seeking Alpha questioned the firm’s huge recent sales growth, accusing management of “hiding something.”

I’ve analyzed publicly traded firms for more than 30 years and I can tell you – that is a very serious charge.

In response, yesterday, 3D Systems made the unusual move of holding a conference call to dispute Seeking Alpha‘s critique. Senior managers gave analysts an on-the-record look at the firm’s accounting practices. This call ranks as a key event in the recent history of 3D Systems’ stock, which is up more than 185% so far this year. (Like I keep saying, you really can make a lot of money in this field.)

That’s why I’m telling you, you have to be very careful who you listen to about tech stocks. So, let me take a moment to tell you what’s really going on with DDD.

Here are three reasons I think DDD has the potential to blow that 185% gain out of the water.