Amy Webb has built a career as a futurist on identifying tech trends, but as she told an audience at SXSW in Austin, those halcyon days have ended.

“Trends are always forming but it feels like there is something different about this particular moment in time. I’ve modelled it, I can see it, and my hunch is that a lot of you sense that something about this moment is different too.”

Webb seemed to signal a paradigm shift, as she stated “What’s happening right now, what we are all a part of, can no longer be defined by trends alone.”

Entering what used to be the wildest science fiction, Webb envisions the following scenario in the near future based on research already underway in Australia. “Researchers at the University of Sydney have made a cap that can record your brainwaves and convert them into text using an AI model called D-Wave. Theoretically, you could send that as a prompt to MidJourney and use some open source desktop applications along with a 3D printer and print out a functional guitar. Which means that the command line is your thoughts!”

Such potential led Webb to declare “Today, right now, is the worst that our technology will ever be. This is an exhilarating time to be alive! Artificial intelligence is the present.” Pointing to her wrist, Webb said “I am basically wearing a Star Trek tricorder on my wrist. Everybody is thrilled about all the technology we are making, and they’re thrilled about all the people making all of that technology. It’s not just abject excitement, it’s like the technology rapture. Take me!”

Innovation Will Reshape Human Existence

Webb identified three primary areas of technology that have been game-changing in the last 5 years: artificial intelligence, the connected ecosystem of things, and biotech. “What’s happening is so pervasive that it has started to impact every segment of our economy. Each one of these is now a General Purpose Technology (GPT), one that has the potential to radically shape the economy and society.” To put this in historical perspective, Web listed three GPT’s that transformed the world: electricity, the steam engine, and the Internet.

A couple of years ago, explained Webb, the game-changing technologies she identified “started converging. Those convergences have created this flywheel of big leaps, which has led to a Technology Supercycle – an extended period of booming demand that elevates prices and assets to unprecedented heights.” The three GPTs she identified “already connect in some way to every other technology that exists: science, technology, sports, to every business and every person sitting in this room. Which means that the wave of innovation that’s coming is so intense and potent and pervasive it will literally reshape our human existence!”

Gen T

Reading this you might think Webb is merely a cheerleader for tech, but she is not oblivious to the potentials. She elaborated that this reshaping will take place “in ways that are exciting, and absolutely terrifying. Here’s the problem: the people in charge of making decisions are stuck. This is the most complex operating environment I’ve seen in 20 years of business. Instead of planning cycles being further out, they’re shrinking down to the next couple of quarters. Uncertainty is crippling our leaders: they are now making decisions out of fear. Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt are now pervasive.”

You have all heard of Gen X, Gen Y and Gen Z. Now that we have run out of letters, Webb is taking a step back. “Collectively we are all going through something momentous right now. Which makes us Gen T: we are the transition generation. Everyone alive today is part of a great transition, which means that our society is going to look very different after this transition has completed its cycle.”

What IF?

Webb explored many scenarios in her fascinating presentation. I will give just one here. “What if,” she posed, “somebody uses AI to create a deepfake event? Not an image, not a single video. What if it creates all of the assets using thousands of fake accounts, preloaded with authentic-looking videos, with human-sounding comments about those posts, what looks like government information and press releases, and newspaper articles? All the assets that make something look and feel like an event had actually occurred. If there is enough content all released at the same time from what seems like a variety of sources, it would take us a while to figure out it wasn’t true.”  One can certainly see some evil genius like Putin doing that!

Finally, Webb warned against techno-authoritarianism. “I’m not OK with that! We don’t need someone to save us, we just need to do better at planning for the future.”

For more on this years’ event, visit

By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.