Amy Webb. Photo by Kaylin Balderrama

 

A Look Back: Amy Webb

Step into the future with the latest emerging tech trends

“In order to see the future of one thing you have to simultaneously pay attention to the future of many things.”

Quantitative futurist Amy Webb is a professor of strategic foresight at the NYU Stern School of Business and the Founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. At SXSW 2018, Webb presented the 2018 Emerging Tech Trends Report, the Future Today Institute’s 11th annual report which has drawn more than six million views. Take a look back at this illuminating session from this past March to dissect the anatomy of a trend and peer into your tech future before Webb returns to SXSW in 2019 with more trend forecasts.

Each year, new and improved technological devices hit the market, and while the media may often swarm, it’s not always apples-to-Apple in the true trend-sphere. In 2017, ICOs became the new IPOs, AI toilets flushed on voice command, and the concern that robots are coming for our jobs grew. While all these might seem to land on the tech trend charts, Webb notes the on-going challenge is how to distinguish between something that is trendy and what is a real trend.

Webb delves into the ineffable quality of emerging tech trends noting that the ones you should pay attention to are hard to encapsulate in buzzwords and may not always seem important at first. This is how so many smart people and leadership teams miss big events in technology, which Webb refers to as the “Senior Leadership Cycle of Doom.” One of the biggest problems is not looking at the trends outside of one’s own industry. Webb poses that the only way to escape this cycle is to pay attention to and know how to identify emerging trends, since they are “the waypoints that route us to the future.”

“Knowing what the tech trends are isn’t enough. The whole point of this is you have to make connections early between the trends otherwise you miss things.”

Featuring 225 emerging tech trends and 10 weak signals across 20 different industries, the 2018 Emerging Tech Trends Report explores emerging technology trends that will influence business, government, education, media, and society in the coming year.

The Future Today Institute uses a data-driven, forecasting methodology that identifies weak signals and maps their trajectories into tech trends through ten different lenses they refer to as “10 Modern Sources of Changes.” After identifying weak signals at the fringe and pattern recognition, the trends are used to build models for possible, plausible, and probable future scenarios which help measure the trend’s velocity by calculating risk and opportunity. “We’re not just interested in what happens with bitcoin,” Webb uses as an example. “I’m much more interested in what are the implications of bitcoin – the second, third, fourth order implications – as this technology and the mindsets change, the regulations change, and all of these other dependent factors change…what does that future look like?”

One key finding from the report is “2018 is the beginning of the end of smartphones.” To set up the scenario, Webb walks back through time to 1998’s tech prime from portable DVD players and floppy disk camcorders to bulky laptops and digital music players. If we thought then that in twenty years all these products would be in a singular device that fits in your pocket, Webb jokes, “You would have laughed at yourself.” Traveling back to present day, with declining smartphone sales, tech products have started to retreat from one device into multiple devices that serve similar functions. While the smartphone may still currently sit at the core, new devices like fitness trackers and smartwatches show the deviation.

Going on to explore the artificial intelligence ecosystem in 2018, Webb states that when it comes to AI, there is a tremendous amount of misplaced optimism and fear that stems from imposing biological characteristics on the ecosystem. “AI itself is not one of the tech trends on our report, and it hasn’t been for a long time, because AI represents the next era of computing.” The first 27 trends of the 2018 report, however, all deal with different facets of AI from advancements in “voiceprints” to replace passwords and massive data mining built around “faceprints.”

The importance of human data continues to grow as a valuable natural resource for AI because these systems cannot work without such data. While data is being coined as “the next oil,” not everyone agrees on how our data should be mined and used. Webb dives into the trend Splinternets, looking at the future of regional internets and regulations across the globe. “What concerns me about this is that if you think we have had a problem with fake news in the past year, you have absolutely no idea what’s coming.”

With a passion for working towards a more connected and human-centered future, Webb open-sourced her IP in 2017 to put all her work and research into the public domain to encourage open collaboration. At the close of her 2018 SXSW session, Webb turns to the audience with a call-to-action for everyone to fight for the future you want to live in and be the hero of your own story.

“We are confronting a vast amount of unknowns going forward, things are going to get more complicated, not less, and I want everyone to be making better decisions.”

Join us at SXSW 2019 for the latest trend forecast from Featured Speaker Amy Webb as she unveils the 2019 Emerging Tech Trends Report and walks us through what’s next for the future of business, governing, and society.

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