Why we need to ask questions now about our high-tech future

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to another in our Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask interesting people to describe their passions.

Tonight, author and futurist Amy Webb offers us a glimpse of things to come in the world of tech. Her latest book is "The Signals Are Talking: Why Today's Fringe Is Tomorrow's Mainstream."

AMY WEBB, Futurist: We don't stop to think about it, but if you really want to freak yourself out, and you own a cell phone, go to Google and look up your personal information, every single place that you have been since you have been online.

While we don't think about those digital bread crumbs, there are lots of third parties out there that are happily scooping them up and doing something with that data.

If you stop to think about it, your phone knows you better, has a more intimate relationship with you than whoever it is that you're sleeping with, than your loved one. This is for PBS, isn't it? I can't say that.

NARRATOR: You can say that.

AMY WEBB: We are entering a period in which you can be expected to talk to machines for the rest of your life.

The thing that's coming is artificial intelligence. It won't just be you talking to a machine. A lot of it's going to be invisible, and it's going to make our lives easier. It's going to allow scientists to leapfrog ahead in their research.

And I do believe that, within my lifetime, life as we know it on this planet is probably going to look a little bit different than it is today. There's some really interesting bioinformation tools that are coming to market.

So, one big trend is, how can we prevent against hackers? No matter how hard we try to tell people, you have got to change your passwords, most people don't change their passwords. What if we no longer had passwords, but instead we are using our own biometric information?

You're probably already doing that if you have a newer phone. You're using your thumbprint as a way to make payments. Some of the interesting things on the horizon are things like heat maps. All of the capillaries of your face are in very slightly different places, which means that your face sort of gives off this unique heat map. And that unique heat map is one way that we can authenticate you.

One of the challenges with technology is that, as it becomes more sophisticated, it also becomes more hidden. If you look under the hood of a modern car, you see what looks like a flat surface. Not every person who drives a car needs to be Lewis Hamilton's F1 pit crew boss, but I do think it's dangerous for us to continue going forward without having some of that lexicon.

We have to be able to have conversations with each other and with the people creating these devices, because, if we can't have the conversations, then we can't ask the questions. And if we can't ask the questions, the problem is that, 10 years into the future, we're going to look back at this moment in time and wish that we had done things differently.

My name is Amy Webb, and this was my Brief But Spectacular take on the future.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you can watch additional Brief But Spectacular episodes on our Web site. That's PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.