Digital identity in the metaverse, robots smarter than humans, synthetic biology to make chickens from stem cells, and climate change are some of the key trends futurist Amy Web discussed at South by Southwest on Sunday morning
Webbs is 15 this yearth The annual trends report is 668 pages and covers 574 longitudinal technological and scientific trends and is divided into 14 reports. But trends alone aren’t enough, Webb said.
“You have to use trends to reimagine the future,” Webb said. “To help you influence the future.”
The biggest problem the world faces right now isn’t creating Web3, the Metaverse, or AI robots to take over the planet, Webb said. The biggest threat has to do with a climate emergency, she said.
“Even since the 19th century, before industry began to boom, the earth has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius, or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit,” according to the Environmental Defense Fund. “While we’re feeling the effects, we’re already on our way to 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, by 2030.”
Rising temperatures lead to extreme weather events
worldwide. And when the world hits the 2 degree mark, those weather events will only get worse, Webb said.
“We’re not making enough changes,” Webb said. “We’re not doing enough about it. We are not taking any action.”
It’s not enough to know the data, Webb said. People need to take action now to change behavior for better future outcomes, she said.
The key trends Webb talked about centered on artificial intelligence, Web 3, the metaverse, and blockchain and synthetic biology.
AI advances are happening fast, Webb said. In 2012, a neural network taught itself how to recognize a cat. Today, these networks can create clones of cats that look identical to reality in a matter of seconds.
Image recognition and generation are now seamless, she said.
AI achieves other benchmarks, such as figuring out how to beat humans in complex computer games. Google’s DeepMind has developed an AI Agent 57 that beats humans at classic Atari games. Recently, an AI agent named GT Sophy beat some of the world’s best drivers in the PlayStation racing simulation game Gran Turismo Sport.
“We’re approaching the day where AI networks will make their own decisions without a human being on top of it,” Webb said. “And if that freaks you out, you’re not the only one.”
“AI is starting to change the way we communicate,” Webb said. “You can dictate what we mean, not just what we say.”
Webb showed an example of an AI-generated summary of their report. She gave the AI a prompt with instructions, and she wrote the summary herself from her data.
“We generate data that can be mined and refined by AI systems,” Webb said.
And it’s not just about facial recognition anymore. AI can recognize people based on their breathing patterns or heartbeat.
“If you don’t want to be recognized, it’s not like you can stop breathing or stop your heartbeat,” she said. “AI systems don’t need your face to see you and know who you are.”
The scary thing is that people trust AI-generated faces more than real faces. AI can pull all qualities of trustworthiness, friendliness and create faces that don’t exist.
Next, Webb talked about the next generation of the internet called Web 3. It’s real and very important, she said. But digital collectibles, called non-fungible tokens, are not the long-term game, she said.
“The next version of the internet will be more embodied,” she said.
The Metaverse is part of Web 3, the next version of the Internet. The problem is that there are currently no common protocols for the metaverse.
“If you think managing passwords is a challenge today, imagine having to manage different synthetic versions of yourself scattered throughout the metaverse,” Webb said.
Eventually everyone will have a digital ID, she said.
In the Metaverse, a digital ID is like a driver’s license, but it controls your data and you are responsible for it, and you can distribute different versions of your data as you see fit, Webb said.
A Canada-based company called Secure Key is already creating digital IDs to protect data and information and give consumers pseudo-anonymity, she said.
Excitement around NFTs will subside, Webb said. Digital collectibles are valuable because of scarcity, but now the market is saturated with them, she said.
“The visual arts analogy doesn’t fit,” Webb said.
Webb also warned people to be careful when entering the metaverse as they are much more vulnerable to influences. That’s why regulation is needed, she said. Web3 is about transparency, interoperability and trust, she said. But it needs regulators to ensure the virtual world evolves in a healthy way, Webb said.
Finally, Webb discussed advances in synthetic biology such as making chickens from stem cells. It is already available in Singapore. In Singapore, lab-bred chicken is served.
The same big tech companies, Microsoft, Google and Facebook, are working on the biology, Webb said.
There are many products made from DNA. Microchips are being made with DNA that can be used to reprogram the body and extend life.
China has most of the world’s DNA. The second and third largest owners are Ancestry.com and 23andMe, Webb said.
Key takeaways from Webb’s presentation are: “We are in a period of acceleration,” Webb said.
“The bias is still there and we need to fix that,” she said. “Decentralization will benefit some but not all. We have no guard rails or national plans.”
And finally, “we need to define what ‘real’ is,” Webb said.