Stephanie Murray October 6, 2017

Futurist Amy Webb is concerned about the future.

For the 10th anniversary of her annual talk on Saturday, futurist Amy Webb is sharing more than just tech trends for the year ahead. She’ll share her whole body of work with anyone who wants it.

“I’m open-sourcing all of my IP all of the tools that I use. All of my stuff is currently sitting in a Dropbox folder, and I’m going to give everybody my body of work over the past 10 years,” Webb said Thursday.

Webb forecasts the future by modeling data with a strategy called strategic foresight at the Future Today Institute. Webb’s “Tech Trends” talk at ONA a draws a large crowd every year. Many consider her the bellwether for the way the tech world will turn, from “ambient proximity” to augmented realty to crowdlearning. And she says the future does not look good for news.

“I have yet to build a model where, if things continue in the direction they’re headed, news organizations as we know them today still exist 15 years from now,” Webb said. “And I believe that journalism is critically important to a modern democracy so I am concerned enough that I am tired of having the same conversations over and over and over again.”

Webb said her anxiety about the future was spurred two years ago when she was at the State Department advising an undersecretary about Russian bot networks and the spread of fake news.

“And that’s just the fake news issue,” Webb said. “All of this goes back to misinformation and the value of journalism in democracy being undermined, and that is problematic for society.

“But once society stars questioning the value of their news organizations and we have tech companies that are building completely different tools for distribution, news organizations have a sustainability problem.”

Webb emphasized she forecasts the future rather than predicts it. The word prediction means a best educated guess, but Webb’s tech trends are built on data models. Webb pointed to the emergence of voice interfaces, visual computing and artificial intelligence, called AI. She forecasts that within the next 10 years, we’ll be at the beginning of the end of the smartphone, something that “profoundly changes how people get their news and information.”

Once people get news by talking to machines like Alexa, Webb said, it will pose questions about where and how consumers get news, and about monetization for news organizations. And right now, she said, no one is doing anything about it.

“I’m hoping the leaders of news organizations feel the same amount of anxiety that I do and that they decide to start doing the work themselves. I’m giving everybody these trends, I’m giving everybody the tools. I want them to go use those tools,” Webb said. “At some point we have to stop fetishizing the future and talking about the future. We have to start working on the future.”

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