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Mystery Guest

Jan 12, 2018
Originally published on June 8, 2018 8:02 am

Amy Webb has an interesting job that incorporates data and advice. Can you guess what it is before Ophira and Jonathan?

Heard on Luka Kain: Pikachu, Strike A Pose

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

OPHIRA EISENBERG, HOST:

While Justin and Kate get ready for the final round, it's time for us to play a game. This is Mystery Guest. A stranger is about to come onstage. Jonathan and I have no idea who this person is or what makes them special, but our puzzle guru Art Chung does.

ART CHUNG: Well, that's right, Ophira. You and Jonathan will work together as a team to figure out our Mystery Guest's secret by asking yes-or-no questions. Mystery Guest, please introduce yourself.

AMY WEBB: Hi, my name is Amy Webb. And I have a very, very interesting job.

EISENBERG: OK. Interesting job - Amy, does your job take place outside?

WEBB: Outside which realm?

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Yes.

JONATHAN COULTON: Whoa.

EISENBERG: Yes.

Amy, does your job involve you manipulating something with your hands?

WEBB: No.

EISENBERG: OK.

COULTON: Does your job involve customers, people that you - provide a service or...

WEBB: Yes.

COULTON: OK.

WEBB: Many, many.

COULTON: Many, many customers.

EISENBERG: Fine. Amy, are your customers human?

WEBB: Some of them are human.

COULTON: Are they animals? Are others animals?

WEBB: They are not human. And they are not animals.

EISENBERG: Yep. That's what I was looking for.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Does your job involve technology?

WEBB: It does involve technology.

COULTON: Computers - as in computers?

WEBB: Computers and other technology.

COULTON: And other kinds of technology.

WEBB: Yeah.

COULTON: All right.

EISENBERG: Would you say that your job is in helping people?

WEBB: I like to think so.

EISENBERG: OK. But not sure?

WEBB: Well, not all...

EISENBERG: OK.

WEBB: Not all the people listen to me. So...

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK, got it.

COULTON: Do you write things as part of your job?

WEBB: I do. I write quite a bit.

COULTON: Are you providing advice to people?

WEBB: I am.

COULTON: Do they ask for advice?

WEBB: They do.

EISENBERG: Are you a psychic?

WEBB: You know, interestingly enough (laughter) - sometimes people mistake the job that I have for something that involves, like, a crystal ball. But in this field, there is no crystal ball.

EISENBERG: There is no crystal ball.

WEBB: There is none.

EISENBERG: OK. Are you a travel agent?

WEBB: No.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Are you an advice columnist? Or...

WEBB: I mean, I give advice that's based in data.

COULTON: Based in data - advice that's based in data...

WEBB: Quantitative data.

COULTON: So I'm interested in the data. Are - the data that you're getting, is this sort of questionnaires and surveys from people? Is that where the data's coming from?

WEBB: No, people are very, very bad at answering questions in a truthful way, so no.

EISENBERG: Tell me about it, Amy.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: So it's computers and other kinds of technology.

WEBB: And other kinds of technology.

COULTON: What does that mean, phones?

WEBB: Artificial intelligence is sort of my current wheelhouse.

COULTON: Are you a futurist of some kind?

WEBB: I am a futurist.

(APPLAUSE)

CHUNG: Amy Webb is a futurist, which is someone who forecasts trends in technology, business, culture and more. She's the founder of the Future Today Institute and the author of the best-selling book "The Signals Are Talking: Why Today's Fringe Is Tomorrow's Mainstream."

EISENBERG: OK.

(APPLAUSE)

EISENBERG: Honestly, Amy, I would've never come to this in a million years. I can understand why people are like - oh, you must be psychic. But you're interpreting facts.

WEBB: Yeah. So I'm a quantitative futurist.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

WEBB: It's a field that actually goes back over a hundred years. And there's no crystal ball. Those of us who do this professionally - we collect data. We model out scenarios for the future. And then we try to figure out, given what we know to be true today, if this is where we're headed...

EISENBERG: Yeah.

WEBB: ...What should we be doing differently? And so...

EISENBERG: OK. So what should we be doing differently?

COULTON: (Laughter).

WEBB: One thing that we can all be doing differently is to stop fetishizing the future. And rather than sitting back and marveling at all of the different technologies that are coming down the pipeline or being concerned that somehow it's going to turn into weaponized robots that'll kill us all or robots that'll take all of our jobs, we could all slow down for five minutes and think through - does it make sense for us to, you know, use technology the way that we do? We do a lot of advising for the federal government and of...

EISENBERG: Oh, yeah.

WEBB: ...The military.

EISENBERG: Yeah.

WEBB: So you know, after we've - we sort of think through the second-, third-, fourth-order implications of a lot of what's happening now. Is that a direction that we all want to be headed in? So we just - we have to be smarter consumers and just smarter people and maybe develop a different set of digital street smarts that we don't currently have.

EISENBERG: OK. Yeah, yeah. I'm with you. I want to know more.

CHUNG: One trend you told us was that you think smartphones are going away. What's that about?

WEBB: Yeah. So...

EISENBERG: How soon?

(LAUGHTER)

WEBB: Ten years, given what we know to be true today. This is probably the beginning of the end of smartphones. So we've got things that we'll stick in our ears and things we'll stick over our eyes and rings and wristbands we'll be wearing. So we all got really comfortable and used to just carrying around a single smartphone. And those of us who are old enough remember carrying pagers and digital cameras and MP3 players and MiniDisc players and everything else. So we're probably going to be going back in that direction, where we carry a bunch of stuff before we converge once again and have a single thing that we're wearing that connects us to each other and to information and also sheds all kinds of data that we may not be comfortable with.

EISENBERG: What if we don't want to connect?

WEBB: Well, if we don't want to connect, you know, I guess you don't have to, but...

COULTON: See you later.

WEBB: See you later.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: OK. What are the more personal kind of clientele that you deal with?

WEBB: I, actually, was myself a client. I made myself a client many years ago. So I was kind of playing around with data, and I was having a difficult time with, you know, dating. And very, very long story short, I manipulated data on a particular website and gamed it so that I was the most popular person on the site and met my husband who's over there somewhere.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: So he bit. When did you reveal to him that he was a fish that took the bait?

WEBB: Right. So this is always the tricky part - revealing what it is that I do when I meet people. So I told him on date number four, but part of the thing that I did involved using different pieces of data. And one of the pieces of data that I used required the person that I met to appreciate the beauty of a great data set and spreadsheet. And he met that criteria. And I kind of was like - well, you know. So he was down with it.

EISENBERG: Cool.

WEBB: He was DTS - down to spreadsheet. Is that a thing?

COULTON: Yeah.

(LAUGHTER)

COULTON: Oh, yeah.

EISENBERG: So what kind of data do you review that, you know, you sort of see these trends going forward and you find it scary?

WEBB: So the kinds of things that I find most interesting are things like automation and computer systems that make decisions for us. But that's also the most terrifying because there's all kinds of bias and problems that are already seeping into these systems because the people who are creating them, for the most part, are pretty homogenous. There's not a lot of - there's unfortunately not enough people of color. There's not enough women who are building out the systems of systems and creating networks that connect and work together, so yeah.

EISENBERG: Fascinating. Oh, I had no idea. I want to learn. I need to know what's going on in the future. I need...

WEBB: Do it.

EISENBERG: ...To know what to prepare for. I mean, is it going to be bell bottoms? Are those coming back? I can't handle that.

(LAUGHTER)

EISENBERG: Please, everybody, give a huge round of applause for our mystery guest, Amy Webb.

WEBB: Thank you.

(APPLAUSE) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.