Glimpse the Future with Amy Webb @amywebb (Thanks @TWiT)

The last couple days I’ve been listening to the latest TWiT podcast, hosted by Leo LaPorte (@leolaporte) and featuring guests Amy Webb (@amywebb) and Greg Ferro (@etherealmind). Wow have I ever loved their conversation and the insights they shared on a variety of topics including AI, the ascendency of China, Amazon, EU anti-trust law, and more! I highly recommend this show to you. In this post, I’ll share a few of those insights to (hopefully) clarify my own thinking and encourage you to delve more into these issues and referenced resources.

First, if you are not already, follow Amy Webb (@amywebb) on Twitter. I’ve just purchased her book, “The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream,” and can’t wait to immerse myself in more of her thinking and informed vision of the future. Her next book, which she briefly mentioned on this TWiT podcast episode, is about AI and the 9 companies which are vying to control it globally. That book (which has not even been released yet) is already banned in China (via the rights purchaser who is blocking its sale and distribution) and that fact alone ought to get everyone’s attention. Amy has the pulse of a great deal that matters in our society and with technology, and is a voice anyone with an eye to our collective future should listen to.

Dean Shareski (@shareski) posted a thought-provoking article recently (“Flogging the Dead Horse of RSS”) which brings to mind a question related to the ideas in this TWiT podcast: How did I serendipitously come to find and listen to this show?

The answer is I’m subscribed to the TWiT podcast, along with about 100 other podcasts, using my favorite podcatcher app on my smartphone, PocketCasts (@pocketcasts). I also now love being able to ask one of the Google Home Minis in our house, “Hey Google, play the latest episode of the This Week in Tech podcast,” and have it immediately start playing. Virtually “discovering” or encountering Amy Webb isn’t an act of random serendipity for me, it’s rather the result of intentional and deliberately plotted serendipity. I love to highlight this strategy and others in a conference breakout session I usually title simply, “Discovering Useful Ideas.”

In this podcast, Amy Webb is unequivocal that China is the ascendent nation on our planet, and will be the dominant force economically, politically and culturally in the 21st century. This is a prediction I’ve glimpsed myself in four visits to mainland China dating back to 2007, and as I consider the academic choices of our youngest daughter in high school (whether to continue studying French or to switch over to Chinese) as well as our future / prospective schools to work in as professional educators, this gives me pause. If your school is not offering Chinese as a language choice today in 2018, it should be and that needs to change. If you or your child has an opportunity to study Chinese and potentially become fluent in the Chinese language, definitely give it a try. If you or those you counsel / advise have the opportunity to live, study, and/or work, or at least travel in China, DO IT. Of course ours is a big world, and there are many of pathways to a satisfying and “successful” life which do not involve the Chinese language or China, but increasingly our lives as a globalized society will intersect more. This also makes me consider the importance of translating the books “I have inside me” and want to write and publish in the years ahead into Chinese.

I also found Amy’s points in this TWiT podcast about the short-term thinking (generally) of U.S. society, businesses and government leaders relative to other nations and regions of our planet very provocative and important. I think it is common today for many in the United States to take our global position as economic and hegemonic leader for granted, and assume our status quo will be maintained into the future. This isn’t a safe assumption and warrants reconsideration on multiple levels.

One of the blog posts which I’ve been thinking about writing for several months now would address things I’ll likely term, “Our Grand Challenges.” As a society in the United States and more broadly on our planet, we’ve got some important things to figure out and change.

  1. How are we going to provide for the health and medical needs of ALL our citizens? (Hint: It’s not by continuing to let insurance and pharmaceutical companies write the legislation which becomes our laws.)
  2. How are we going to fundamentally change our political culture, so elected officials in Washington D.C. don’t have to spend most of their time fundraising and pandering to wealthy donors, and instead can learn about issues, listen to each other, and seek political compromises on a wide variety of important issues?
  3. How are we going to change our behavior to sustainably care for and “serve as stewards” of our planet, rather promote the short-term interests of corporations and investors?
  4. How are we going to manage our information and media landscape, so the voices of extremists and actions of “bad actors” do not dominate our collective attention and exercise such out-of-balance influence over our shared political agendas?

I could go on (and likely will when I finally write that post), but I’ll stop and note that Amy’s analysis in this TWiT podcast got me thinking even more about the importance of LONG TERM thinking and strategies for our society and institutions. We need more long term and “long game” thinkers and leaders. This can and should start and be fueled by conversations in our classrooms tomorrow.

Finally, Amy’s commentary in this TWiT podcast got me thinking (as I often do) about the importance of understanding technology, understanding code, and embracing rather than fearing the challenges as well as opportunities which are presented to us today in 2018. I’m reminded of Virginia Postrel’s (@vpostrel) outstanding 2011 book, “The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress.”

We need more “dynamists” (rather than “statists”) in our communities and households, as well as more informed optimists like Amy Webb. I won’t pretend to have a picture perfect view of the future through my own metaphorical palantir, but I definitely feel like I’m seeing further than I could before after listening to Amy. I’ve added her to my Twitter list of “yodas” I follow via Flipboard. You should too!

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