Amy Webb Launches the Emerging Tech Trend Report at SXSW 2024
Amy Webb's SXSW conference focused on the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI), connectables (networks of interconnected devices), and biotechnology, which she collectively terms the "technology super cycle." Webb emphasizes the profound impact these converging technologies will have on society, the economy, and our daily lives. She discusses how AI, now a foundational technology, will continue to evolve and integrate into various sectors, driven by the need for more diverse and substantial data. This evolution will see the emergence of large action models (LAMs) and a Cambrian explosion of devices designed to collect this data, termed "connectables."
Webb also delves into the future of computing, highlighting biotechnology's role in moving beyond silicon-based systems through the development of organoid intelligence (OI) and biocomputers. These advances promise more efficient, powerful computing but also raise ethical and practical concerns about sourcing and rights.
The conference raises alarms about the centralization of power and influence among a small group of tech leaders, warning against a techno-authoritarian future. Webb advocates for proactive planning and adjustment from governments, businesses, and individuals to ensure that the technological super cycle benefits humanity broadly rather than leading to negative outcomes like exacerbated digital divides, loss of privacy, and ethical dilemmas.
To combat these challenges, Webb calls for strategic foresight, the establishment of departments of transition to manage societal changes, and for businesses to map their value networks to anticipate and adapt to disruptions. She offers resources, including a comprehensive tech trend report and workshops on strategic foresight, to empower attendees to actively shape a positive future amidst the technology super cycle.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): Webb discusses AI's current state, highlighting its evolution from simple tools to foundational technologies that influence every aspect of our lives. She points out the growing need for diverse data types beyond text and images to advance AI further, suggesting the emergence of Large Action Models (LAMs) that predict actions rather than just responses. This evolution underscores AI's integration into everyday devices, making it an "everything engine."
Connectables: The talk covers the explosion of devices equipped with sensors and internet connectivity, designed to gather vast amounts of data to fuel AI's growth. These devices, ranging from consumer wearables to industrial sensors, form a network of "connectables" that not only collect data but also act as interfaces between humans and AI systems. Webb illustrates potential future devices and highlights the privacy and security implications of ubiquitous data collection.
Biotechnology: A significant portion of the presentation explores biotechnology's role in transcending traditional silicon-based computing, introducing the concept of "organoid intelligence" (OI). This involves using biologically grown materials, like brain cell organoids, for computing, promising more efficient and powerful processing capabilities. Webb raises ethical considerations regarding the source of biological materials and the implications of biocomputers that might possess cognitive functions.
Throughout her talk, Webb expresses concern over the centralization of power within a small group of tech leaders, warning of a future where technology exacerbates inequality and undermines democratic values. She criticizes the "techno-authoritarian" vision propagated by some and calls for a more inclusive and ethical approach to technological development.
Strategic Actions and Recommendations: To mitigate potential negative impacts, Webb offers concrete steps for governments, businesses, and individuals. She advocates for forward-looking governance, strategic foresight, and the establishment of frameworks to navigate transitions in work and society. For businesses, she suggests regularly mapping value networks to anticipate and adapt to changes brought by the technology super cycle.
Empowerment and Resources: Webb concludes by encouraging attendees to actively engage with the challenges and opportunities of the technology super cycle. She provides resources, including a comprehensive tech trends report and workshops on strategic foresight, aimed at equipping participants with the knowledge and tools to shape a positive future.
Expanding on the strategic actions recommended by Amy Webb during her SXSW conference presentation, it's clear that she emphasizes a multi-faceted approach to navigating the challenges and opportunities presented by the "technology super cycle." Here's a deeper dive into the specific strategies she suggests for governments, businesses, and individuals:
For Governments
Establish a Department of Transition: Webb calls for the creation of government departments focused on managing societal transitions due to technological advancements. These departments would be tasked with modeling the impact of the technology super cycle on various industries and the overall economy, aiming to mitigate negative outcomes and promote equitable benefits from technological progress.
Create a Hospice for Businesses: Recognizing that some jobs and businesses will become obsolete, Webb suggests governments should facilitate a smooth transition for affected entities. This includes providing support mechanisms, such as tax-deferred savings accounts, to help individuals and businesses pivot to new opportunities in emerging sectors.
Promote Trade Skills: In light of the changing job landscape, Webb advocates for a reevaluation of educational and career pathways, emphasizing the value of trades and vocations that are less likely to be displaced by technology. This involves adjusting societal perceptions and educational policies to support diverse career paths.
For Businesses
Map Your Value Network: Businesses are encouraged to map out their value networks, which include all the partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders involved in creating value within their ecosystem. This strategic action helps companies understand how technological changes might affect their position and relationships within their network, allowing them to anticipate disruptions and identify new opportunities.
Adjust to Value Network Dynamics: Recognizing that value networks are dynamic, businesses must remain agile and ready to evolve their strategies as their ecosystems change. This includes being open to forming new partnerships, exploring emerging markets, and continuously innovating to stay relevant.
For Individuals
Engage with Strategic Foresight: Webb urges individuals, especially those in leadership and strategic roles within organizations, to actively engage with the principles of strategic foresight. This involves thinking critically about long-term futures, considering various scenarios, and planning for uncertainties.
Leverage Available Resources: She points attendees to the comprehensive resources provided in her tech trend report and related materials. These resources include frameworks for strategic foresight, guides for mapping value networks, and other tools designed to help individuals and organizations navigate the complexities of the technology super cycle.
General Recommendations
Fight for the Future: A recurring theme in Webb's presentation is the call to action for all stakeholders to actively participate in shaping a future where technology serves humanity's best interests. This means advocating for ethical technology development, inclusive policies, and equitable access to the benefits of advancements.
Continuous Learning and Adaptation: Emphasizing the rapid pace of technological change, Webb highlights the importance of continuous learning, adaptability, and openness to new ideas and paradigms as critical competencies for the future.
By delineating these strategic actions, Amy Webb provides a roadmap for navigating the transformative and potentially disruptive effects of the technology super cycle. Her recommendations aim to empower governments, businesses, and individuals to take proactive steps toward a future where technological advancements contribute to a more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous society for all.
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