The Future is Almost Here

February 2013 Editorial

If you’re a sci-fi buff like me, you’ve probably seen Ridley Scott’s 1979 film Alien multiple times. In my view, part of the enduring appeal of the movie is the realistic and easily relatable milieu it presents of space travel and space ventures decades in the future. The crew of the Nostromo is not off to rescue the princess or save the galaxy. Rather, they are more like interplanetary merchant marines, hauling mineral ore for a massive nameless corporation. The little comic relief there is in the movie is provided not by a befuddled android, but by Yaphet Kotto’s Parker and Harry Dean Stanton’s Brett; two wage slaves that whinge about overtime pay and extra duties.

As we prepared our special report for this issue on insurance and the commercial space industry, it struck me that as the commercialization of space proceeds apace, the fictitious future in Alien is now a lot closer to reality. Planetary Resources, for example, is a company that exists today that is developing technology to mine asteroids near Earth for precious metals, which sounds a lot like the company in the movie.

While Canada is an important player in the space industry, we risk being left behind. A few years ago, when the auto industry in Canada was falling off a cliff, the mantra that observers repeated was that Canadian manufacturers should abandon trying to compete with low-cost jurisdictions and re-focus on making highly-engineered, expensive parts for high-tech industries like aerospace where we have the natural advantage of an educated workforce.

I believe that the same principle can apply to the ancillary industries that service the high-tech industries like space. As our report points out, the space industry relies heavily on insurance due to the massive investments that are required. Could Canada become a centre of excellence for providing insurance solutions to high-tech industries like spaceflight companies? I see no reason why we shouldn’t try. Despite policymakers paying lip-service to the idea of shifting Canada to a knowledge-based economy, we still mostly rely on our natural resource exports for our wealth. If we want to be taken seriously as a tech nation, their needs to be focus and investment not just in new technologies, but in the ancillary industries like insurance that support them. And it needs to come now or our economy will remain stuck in the ground.

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Copyright 2013 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the February 2013 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine.

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