January 6, 2020

On the Fringe – Gender

Amy Webb // WTF GENDER

The future might not be female. Or male, for that matter. New technology and science breakthroughs are starting to blur the lines between gender and identity. What the Future asked quantitative futurist Amy Webb to give us some ideas of things to watch.

1. Synthetic content –– You’ve probably already encountered synthetic media, such as virtual Japanese pop star Hatsune Miku (she debuted in 2007) or the British virtual band Gorrilaz, a project by artist Jamie Hewlett and musician Damon Albarn that released its first track in 1998. What’s next is algorithmically created or modified media. There are a number of synthetic influencers with very large fan bases. Lil Miquela is a sort of Beyoncé of synthetic stars, with millions of followers. She is a model for brands like Prada and Calvin Klein, a musician with popular tracks on Spotify, and a paid brand ambassador with deals from enormous global companies such as Samsung. And she has friends who don’t conform to traditional gender stereotypes. In many ways, these stars are the antidote to teen icons like Lindsay Lohan and Shia LeBeouf who, for one reason or another, stray from their carefully crafted public images and cause headaches for their agents, managers and the brands or projects they represent. Synthetic stars don’t sleep. They don’t eat. They never get tired, even if they’re pushed 24 hours a day. They don’t drink alcohol or use drugs. They would never say anything off-message, and their mug shots would never go viral on the internet. (Unless it was planned, of course. Over the summer, Bermuda, another CGI character, posted her own mug shot on Instagram to “get ahead” of the press.)

2. e-athletes break the mold –– Forget what you think you know about professional gamers. They aren’t all men tethered to their computers. Women make up about 35% of Fortnite’s player base, and in 2020 an all-women professional esports team will compete on the international circuit. Dating app Bumble and esports organization Gen G collaborated to form Team Bumble, which includes an impressive lineup of Kristen “KittyPlays” Valnicek, Madison “maddiesuun” Mann, Tina “TINARAES” Perez, Carlee “Carlee” Gress and Hannah “Hannah” Reyes. Gaming requires physical strength and stamina, which means that professional gamers often work out in the real world, too.

3. Biology ownership –– Who owns your biology? You’re shedding biometric data every day, either intentionally or unwittingly. Every time you speak to Alexa, use your fingerprint or face to unlock a device, or allow a photo to be automatically tagged when you upload it to social media, you are voluntarily sharing your bioinformation with for-profit companies. What legal right do they have to change end-user agreements? Who is the ultimate legal guardian of that data? Can a company take ownership of your DNA and other biodata forever? Can it be given the perpetual, royalty-free worldwide license to your data? Importantly, how could that data be used to categorize you by gender and sexuality? These are big questions companies and regulators will be debating well into 2020.

Amy Webb
Future Today Institute
She, her, hers


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, Founder, Future Today Institute |

Amy Webb is the founder of the Future Today Institute, a professor at New York University Stern School of Business, and author of “The Signals Are Talking.”

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