Amy Webb advises Chief eXperience Officers (CXOs) of the world’s most-admired companies, three-star admirals and generals, and the senior leadership of central banks and intergovernmental organizations. Founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading foresight and strategy firm that helps leaders and their organizations prepare for complex futures, Amy pioneered a data-driven, technology-led foresight methodology that is now used within hundreds of organizations. Forbes called Amy “one of the five women changing the world.” She was honored as one of the BBC’s 100 Women of 2020 and is ranked on the Thinkers50 list of the 50 most influential management thinkers globally.  Amy is the best-selling author of several books. Her latest book, The Genesis Machine (PublicAffairs / Hachette 2022) examines the futures of gene editing, biotech, and synthetic biology. Synthetic biology is the promising and controversial technology platform that combines biology and artificial intelligence, opening up the potential to program biological systems much as we program computers. 

In today’s podcast, we talk with Amy about strategic foresight, emerging technologies like synthetic biology, and what she sees as vital implications for the U.S. Army.  The following bullet points highlight key insights from our interview:

There are always three stages of work, whether in government or private sector, when it comes to foresight: Inputs (forces, signals, and trends), outcomes (scenarios describing plausible futures), and some form of action or backcasting (reverse engineering a preferred future).

Synthetic or engineered biology consists of modifying or manipulating biological code to give it new or enhanced purposes.In the “read, edit, write” analogy, synthetic biology gives the user the “write” function to make sweeping changes with more control. This is not limited to human biology as it can be applied to plants, viruses, and any other biological material.

Access to synthetic or designer biology may create a new class of genetic haves and have-nots. Wealth will be a restricting factor, but religious beliefs may also prove to be less tolerant of these manipulations and changes, thus hard-coding specific social values into the DNA of the future

Policy and regulation do not adequately address the synthetic biology issue in a cohesive way. In some countries, genetic screening for certain types of diseases is employed, but it is generally unfavorable to screen for attributes that correlate to higher intelligence.  However, in some countries it is not illegal, and there are commercial entities offering to screen for cognitive ability.

There are many implications borne out of a democratization of synthetic biology technology that will affect the U.S. Army in the future. Researchers are developing a device similar in size to a mobile phone that, in a battlefield environment, could screen for and sequence a novel pathogen. This will allow Soldiers to identify w

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