At SXSW, Futurist Amy Webb Declares 2018 as the Beginning of the End for Smartphones

Amy Webb at SXSW, Photo courtesy of Getty Images

By Laura Lorek
Publisher of Silicon Hills News

It’s the end of an era for smartphones and the rise of cryptocurrencies.

Those are just a few of the trends Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, sees emerging.

In a completely full ballroom on a Sunday morning, Webb took to the stage at South by Southwest to give an overview of tech trends.

In the 11th annual Tech Trends Report, Webb and her team have identified 225 emerging tech trends, 20 weak signals across 20 industries.
Among her predictions, she declares “ICOs are the new IPOs.”

Initial Coin Offerings or cryptocurrencies are the big thing. The chairman of Uber is launching his own cryptocurrency, she said. Even Kodak is launching a cryptocurrency, she said.

Toothbrushes and toilets have built-in artificial intelligence, Webb said.

“The robots are going to come and kill us all but not before they take over all of our jobs,” Webb said.

Robots are not just able to drive cars, they are able to drive trucks, she said.

“The challenge we face in 2018 is how do we distinguish something trendy from a real trend,” Webb said.

Trends share four common characteristics, she said. The first is trends are driven by basic human needs, they are timely but tend to persist over long periods of times, trends evolve as they emerge – they are not static and tech trends have dependencies and appear at first as outliers.

Emerging tech trends are easy to dismiss at first, she said. It’s important to pay attention to trends to avoid the cycle of doom which ultimately can lead to companies going out of business.

Webb and her team look at quantitative data from all kinds of different sources and they look for pattern recognition to spot emerging trends. They also build models for possible, probable and plausible trends for the future.

In her latest report, Webb declared that the first key finding is 2018 is the beginning of the end of smartphones, Webb said.

The demise stems from new technology bubbling up from the horizon like digital assistants, natural user interfaces, faceprints and voice prints, she said. The sales of smartphones are starting to drop off year over year because people are not upgrading their phones as frequently as in the past because they are just seeing incremental benefits.

Wearable devices like smart glasses, combined with earbuds, smart wristbands and watches are where the trend is heading next, Webb said.

By the year 2021, 50 percent of people in developed nations will interact with machines using their voices, Webb said. It will replace what we do with our fingers and some of our gestures, she said.

Machine reading comprehension is a big trend combined with voice prints that are evolving to become smarter.

Passwords will go away, and biometric fingerprint scans will go away in the next decade, Webb said. And they will be replaced with Faceprints, she said. A person’s face can be turned into a 3-D rendering.

Machine learning, data mining and voice prints can also be used to generate fake videos.

Pay close attention to technological developments in China, Webb said. Face++, based in China, is a leader in facial recognition technology, she said. In China, the facial recognition technology is being used for financial transactions.

“In China, you can smile to pay,” she said.

The technology is also used to catch jaywalkers and for public shaming when photos of lawbreakers are posted to social media, Webb said.
Magic Leap is another company to watch, Webb said. The company has a lot of patents and innovative technology, Webb said.

And Artificial Intelligence is not a trend.

“AI is already here,” Webb said. “It turns out we are all using AI every single day.”

People don’t recognition AI technologies as groundbreaking technologies because they are just part of our lives, Webb said. For example, cars with anti-lock brakes, Spotify playlists, airline security systems – all of that is AI, she said.

It’s not just about terrifying smart robots and HBO’s WestWorld, Webb said.

“When it comes to AI there’s a tremendous amount of misplaced optimism and fear and partially that’s because we’ve imposed biological characteristics on the ecosystem,” Webb said. “And the thing is AI is not one of the tech trends itself in our report and it hasn’t been for some time. That’s because AI represents the next era of computing.”

The first era of computing was tabulation, the second was programmable systems, the third, which we are all in the middle of right now, is artificial intelligence, Webb said.

Webb provided a link to download the full report here.

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