Episode 31

Looking Outside Synthetic Futures: Amy Webb, Quantitative Futurist

Published on: 14th February, 2023

We kick off Season 4 bravely with the visionary Amy Webb, Quantitative Futurist, CEO of the Future Today Institute, professor at NYU and author. In this episode, as in Amy’s book The Genesis Machine, we discuss the paths towards synthetic futures and the methods in creating more credible focus on the long term future.

Amy speaks to her journey coming into the "esoteric" field of futures, from a fact-based background in economics and journalism. Fortuitously, she meandered on the rocky path to foresight, from a pragmatic background that fuels her drive to make foresight more impactful.

Passionate about the need for foresight, now more than ever before, Amy describes the fourth era of foresight we are in, the actioning era as she calls it, driven by technology. This comes after three eras of extrapolation and imagining, calculation and war gaming and most recently (or currently, for many futurists), design fiction and crafting future alternatives. The mission to move foresight from government to corporations effectively is one Amy feels is leveraging ineffective tools; ones that don’t lean enough on data and mathematical modeling. This has led to a dilution of foresight’s impact and deluded futurists.

Jo and Amy discuss ways to create changed mindsets and commitment to action in businesses, moving beyond inspiring to problem solving. It’s a contentious topic in the field of foresight, which is still largely government-integrated and academic, to move past creative extrapolation through scenarios, to mathematically driven models of the future. (A perspective Amy has copped some flack for.)

Amy then takes us into the future, and the topic of the latest book she co-authored with Andrew Hessel, The Genesis Machine, explaining how over 13 years of researching AI she noticed something profound happening in the synthetic biology space. General purpose technologies have the potential to fundamentally alter society and impact the economy, like electricity and the internet have, and while Amy concedes scaling it is a ‘ways off’, we should be paying attention, and planning for synthetic biology to act as the next generative purpose technology – transforming medicine, the environment and our food systems.


To look outside, Amy goes outside where cycling helps clear her busy mind. A familiar face on the conference circuit, Amy also makes a point to attend and learn from conferences and events that have nothing to do with her role or field of expertise. This broadening of perspective brings both a chance to learn and to gather surprising new topics to research.


Founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute (FTI), Amy Webb pioneered a data-driven foresight methodology that is now used within hundreds of organizations worldwide. She built FTI into one of America’s fastest-growing companies –– FTI has been ranked on the Inc 5000 list for two consecutive years. Amy helps CXOs of the world’s-admired companies achieve long-term growth, and she shows businesses how to spot disruption early enough to create new revenue or to mitigate risk. Amy also advises the leadership of government, military and central banks on risk and opportunity.

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.


Looking Outside is a podcast dedicated to exploring fresh perspectives of familiar business topics. The show is hosted by its creator, Joanna Lepore, consumer goods innovator and futurist at McDonald's. Find out more at looking-outside.com.

Connect with Jo and join the Looking Outside community on LinkedIn.


All views are that of the host and guests and don’t necessarily reflect those of their employers. Copyright 2023.

OBOY and Ghost Beatz music features in Episode 31.

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About the Podcast

Looking Outside
Fresh perspectives on familiar business topics.
Looking Outside is for curious business leaders looking for a fresh take on familiar topics. Each episode is a conversation with an influential and original thinker, diving into well known areas in a new way.

Hosted by Jo Lepore, business innovator and human-centric futurist.

About your host

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Joanna Lepore

Joanna Lepore is Global Associate Director at Mars Wrigley. She leads foresight for the North American market. An experienced CPG innovator, Joanna is an advocate for collaboration and curious (but critical) thinking.