Well there I was, like a kid in a candy store, sipping a cold beverage, and talking with Bruce Sterling… for a full 90 minutes. Bruce Sterling is a Texas born American science-fiction author. He wrote a plethora of best-selling books, novels and short fiction and is one of the fathers of the cyberpunk subgenre. Since 1976 Sterling amazes the world with provocative and accurate visions of the future. Above all, and since I was a teenager, he is one my favorite authors.
We talked about post-Trump, pre-Trump, Putin, China, the Metaverse, the Zuckerverse, vulcanoes, robotized gardening disasters, Austin, COVID, Elon Musk, the future, broken kitchen chairs, oligarchy, Abbott, cyber warfare, actor-presidents, united European armies, bullshit economics, resistant forces, design, asbestos in post iron curtain Ukrainian buildings and death. That summarizes about the first 15 minutes of our chat. I’ll share more about Bruce and his razor-sharp vision after his keynote on Wednesday.
Nothing really matters
A typical Sterling oneliner hit me like a torpedo midships : “The future does not matter when you’re broke, broken or death.” Bruce Sterling got a severe hit by Covid and admitted writing his will while suffering. “And you can feel the same in this festival”, he said: “It’s rattled and shaken to its very roots. It touched death, it is slowly recovering, but it has seen despair in the face. The world has changed…”
Shaken, not broken
You can indeed feel it. The festival, the speakers and the audience are shaking the grim drips of COVID like a wet dog reemerging from a cold, salty sea. You can feel that the optimistic innovative future vision of SXSW got hit hard. It is gathering steam, accelerating bravely towards destination blue sky, but the dent in the trust and the hurt are still there.
But, this is day three… the fists of destiny might have grazed the Texan congress, it is still standing, and it standing tall.
The world according to Amy Webb
Nothing better than a double dose of Amy Webb on the rocks to feel energized. The nuclear powered Amy Webb advises CEOs of the world’s most-admired companies, whispers three-star admirals and generals in the ear, and shows the senior leadership of central banks and intergovernmental organizations the ropes. The SXSW veteran is founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures. Amy Webb was named by Forbes as one of the five women changing the world, listed as the BBC’s 100 Women of 2020, and in 2021 was ranked on the Thinkers50 list of the 50 most influential management thinkers globally. Her latest book, The Genesis Machine, explores the futures of synthetic biology.
Celebrating her 15th annual trend report, Amy Webb and her team decided to go for the full monty. The report is 668 pages long, its wisdom goes oceans deep. 574 longitudinal tech, societal and science trends are covered. The whole is served in a most digestible format of 14 sub-divisions.
RE-perception is key
“I’m proud of the report. But the report alone, the trends by themselves are not enough,” Webb said: ““You need to use trends to help you re-perceive the future. Re-perception is the very base of insights that move the needle, of change that matters. Re-perception helps you influence the future, and change it. People and organizations need to take up responsibility and conduct actions right now to change behavior. The future outcomes need to be better.”
Words matter, certainly in the fast-moving and solid squared thinking world of Amy Webb: she suggests that we all stop talking about Climate Change. We need to call it what it is: a Climate Emergency. The biggest problem facing the world right now is not creating Web3, collecting NFT’s, pondering about whether or not the Metaverse makes sense , or panic over AI Robots taking over the planet. It is about making changes about this emergency fast, and thorough. It might just save us.
The future is closer than you think
Webb highlighted three blocks of trends at SXSW: Artificial Intelligence, Web 3/the Metaverse/Blockchain and Synthetic Biology. “We’re getting closer to the day when AI networks do make their own decisions without a human in the loop. And if that has you freaked out, you are not the only one.”
Enter the metaverse at your own risk, you will be vulnerable to influences. Regulation is needed, but not there yet. The de-centralized web should be bout transparency, interoperability, and trust. But someone will have to guard and police it.
If you realize that 725 million chickens need to die each year just to answer the American need for chicken wings during the Super Bowl, you’ll understand that labgrown chicken meat is no luxury. Synthetic biology serves us chicken meat directly made from stem cells. Enjoy your meal.
You can see the complete key-note hereunder. It is well worth your time. You can download the full report on this link, for free. The level of detail, the clarity is beyond amazing. Amy rocks!
Grow an island
Let me end this day with another Bruce Sterling quote: “While I was ill, I followed the news regarding the explosion of the volcano in La Palma. It created itself from nothing, burned stone into an island that was paradise to people for thousands of years. And now it is growing more land for us to live on. All change is finally for the better.”