The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future:
“No matter how long you have been using a tool, endless upgrades make you into a newbie – the new user often seen as clueless. In this era of becoming everyone becomes a newbie. Worse, we will be newbies forever. That should keep us humble. Kevin Kelly
Are you ready to be a newbie?
Do you ever find yourself frustrated at having to constantly update software on your PC or smartphone, holding it off for as long as possible until it slowly grinds to a halt?
Kevin Kelly has been a documenter of technology for over 30 years in his roles as journalist, author and founder of Wired magazine and even he used to try and avoid it. His view now is that we need to get used to this state of flux. The cycle of obsolescence is accelerating – the average lifespan of an app is 30 days – so we won’t have time to master anything. Instead of getting cross about it, we need to try and embrace this discontent because it will bring us a better future. In Kelly’s view, we are in a state of becoming, rather than heading to a fixed destination. We need to see that we are in a process – things will get a little better every day, technology will constantly change itself, transforming other things along the way. We will be solving old problems while creating new ones.
Our greatest invention in the last 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the scientific process itself – once we have a method we can create thousands of other ideas. While our first impulse when we confront new technology is to push it away – banning the inevitable, like copying music or movies, is in the long term counterproductive
Known as a digital prophet, Kelly believes that most of the important technologies that will dominate our lives 30 years from now have not yet been invented. What we do with them is also up for grabs. The internet was inevitable as soon as the planet discovered electricity and wires, but Twitter was not. And the kind of internet we have was not inevitable either. Whether it became international, national, open or closed, commercial or non-commercial were all choices that we made.
The 12 key – and overlapping – future trends that Kelly predicts are:
- Becoming – The internet is still at the beginning of its beginning – the greatest inventions are ahead of us. Things like artificial intelligence (AI) or virtual reality contact lenses and downloadable avatars are only just emerging – it is the best time ever to be part of it.
- Cognifying – We will have an ever more complex relationship with robots. AI will drive a million inventions. It will be cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, giving you as much IQ as you need. Everything that we previously electrified – like a pump or a hand-wringer – we will cognify. Kelly predicts that because every time we google search for something we are teaching it what the answers are, by 2026, Google’s main product will be AI rather search. And just like farming has been largely automated, Kelly predicts that 70 per cent of today’s occupations will be replaced by automation. You will be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots
- Flowing – The internet is the world’s largest copy machine. The flow of copying everything from music to movies is now in real time – instantly streamed and available in small chunks such as a chord or film clip if we want to re-edit them. But we have only just started – what is happening in digital media will also happen with our routines and infrastructure – fixed objects like shoes or refrigerators will have a digital essence too
- Screening – More than 5 billion digital screens illuminate our lives today with 3.8 billion new ones made every year – nearly one for every human every year. Watchable screens will be used on any flat surface. The battle of real books against screens is still being fought but screens can now be made so thin and flexible you can bind them together like a book. Eventually e-books will be liberated from their publishers and be easier to copy and link so that reading will become social – Wikipedia is the first example of a networked book and soon we will have a universal networked library. As well as us looking at screens, screens will be watching our hands and eyes a lot so that they know what information we want more or less of, or to send us adverts or messages just for us. Screens will be all around us every waking hour
- Accessing – Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb or Uber all let us enjoy things without actually owning anything. Instant borrowing means you have no responsibility to clean, repair, store, insure, upgrade or maintain your possessions. In the next 30 years the trend towards dematerialisation, decentralisation and the cloud will continue unabated – as long as the costs drop – and there will be just a few crafted items you choose to own
- Sharing – Sites like pinterest, flickr and foursquare demonstrate our incredible willingness to share. Creative Commons – the global nonprofit organisation that supports creative sharing through copyright licenses – has already enabled more than 1 billion permissions for use. This eagerness to share will only grow – most people will not want to work for corporations but for themselves with, for example, other engineers as a co-operative. Every time the idea for the widget you work on is used, you receive a micropayment so you are happy to keep on sharing. You also know by now that you should be sharing failures in the process as well as successes because that way you will learn and reach success more quickly
- Filtering – Every year 8 million new songs, 16,000 new films, 30 billion blog posts and 400,000 new products are made. To deal with this escalation of choice – we need someone to edit, filter, advise us where to put our attention. Amazon, Netflix and Spotify are already doing this – if you like this, how about this? – but the danger is you will never go outside your comfort zone or learn new things. Your attention is now a commodity – in the future could you be paid for reading an email? While the cost of goods and technology will continue to head downwards – the cost of experiences which can’t be copied, or your precious attention, will rise
- Remixing – We are in a period of remixing. Even though some media still follow the traditional format (the 4 minute song, the 30 minute TV show) we are increasingly reinventing and transforming the originals. From the millions of fan fiction works – taking the original book and writing your own sequel – to 140 character tweets to 6 second vine video clips or animated gifs, we are breaking down original work into chunks and adding our own spin. It will only get easier to hyperlink from film or tv extracts, so that in 30 years time the most important cultural works will be those that have been remixed the most
- Interacting – Totally believable virtual reality is just about here. Kevin Kelly himself predicted that VR would be ubiquitous by the year 2000 but the costs and quality were barriers until smartphones arrived. Augmented reality (seeing an image projected into your own room rather than looking through a screen entirely) is also becoming an everyday reality with Microsoft and Google funding commercial light fields. Wearable devices – glasses, watches, clothes – are already here and the next step will be not only on our skin but under our skin. There won’t just be heart or brain monitors for people who need it medically but for healthy people too. In the future, we won’t even need goggles or glasses to enjoy VR environments
- Tracking – Ubiquitous surveillance is inevitable. We can’t stop the system from tracking us but we can try and make it more mutual, both technologically and through social norms. All bitcoin transactions are made public, and are therefore accountable. Meta-information – the information we generate from information – such as devices like Fitbit which not only track how many steps you take but your location and your heart rate at the same time – is growing faster than the underlying information and is almost unlimited in scale. Navigating these zillions of bits will need entirely new fields of mathematics, software algorithms and hardware which Kelly sees as a wide-open opportunity
- Questioning – Could we see a future where collectiveness – evidenced by the strength of Wikipedia – becomes ever more powerful – making textbooks, music, laws or even political governance? New technologies may also unleash damaging cyber events. Because there are no international rules for cyberconflict worldwide disruptions of our entire systems are inevitable. Humans ask the internet 2 trillion questions a year and the internet gives 2 trillion – pretty accurate – answers back. Because answers are becoming cheap and plentiful, the best questions to ask are ones that do no not lead to immediate answers. In the future, technologies that help generate clever questions will be valued more
- Beginning – Kelly predicts that we will look back at this time as an amazing moment – when we linked together our collective intelligence, machines, nature and whatever behaviour emerges from it to make what he dubs Holos. This global system is not a utopia – there will still be inequalities – but we will all be in it. AI will not get so smart that it enslaves us, but humans and machines are converging at amazing speeds and together we are moving towards a complex and unstoppable interdependence
These 12 deep trends provide a fascinating roadmap for the future. The inescapable technology train is already transforming so much of our working and daily lives. Our only way to master it might be to hop on board and enjoy the ride.
About the author
Kevin Kelly helped launch Wired magazine and was executive editor for its first seven years – he now describes himself as Wired’s chief maverick. He has written for The New York Times, The Economist, Science, Time, and The Wall Street Journal among many other publications. His previous books include Out of Control, New Rules for the New Economy, Cool Tools, and What Technology Wants. He is also founding editor and co-publisher of the popular Cool Tools website, co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. Kelly lives in Pacifica, California.
“Anyone can claim to be a prophet, a fortune teller, or a futurist, and plenty of people do. What makes Kevin Kelly different is that he’s right. In this book, you’re swept along by his clear prose and unassailable arguments until it finally hits you: The technological, cultural, and societal changes he’s foreseeing really are inevitable. It’s like having a crystal ball, only without the risk of shattering.” David Pogue, Yahoo Tech
“How will the future be made? Kevin Kelly argues that the sequence of events ensuing from technical innovation has its own momentum . . . and that our best strategy is to understand and embrace it. Whether you find this prospect wonderful or terrifying, you will want to read this extremely thought-provoking book.” Brian Eno, musician and composer
Author: Kevin Kelly