We’re living in a time in which the landscape is changing quickly. Thanks to technology, the steady jobs that provided a living for our fathers and grandfathers no longer exist, and jobs that didn’t exist ten years ago are now providing paychecks for hundreds of thousands of people. Even the way we consume has changed in the past ten years thanks to digital streaming services and rental services like Uber and Airbnb.
But where are these technological trends taking us? How will they shape the future 10, 20, and even 30 years down the road?
Well, my guest today has written a book where he lays out his idea of what the future looks like. His name is Kevin Kelly. He’s the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine, and a former editor of Whole Earth Catalog, and he has spent his career thinking and writing about how technology, particularly the web, intersects with culture, business, and politics. In his latest book, The Inevitable, Kevin takes a look at 12 technological forces that are shaping our future and he provides a glimpse of what that future might look like.
Today on the show Kevin and I discuss the process he uses in making predictions about the future, the misconceptions he thinks people have about artificial intelligence, why people will likely own less stuff in the future, and the business opportunities that will emerge as time marches on. We also discuss the technological trends that worry Kevin the most.
If you’re looking for a roadmap to navigating the brave new world we’re entering, then you don’t want to miss this podcast.
- Kevin’s process in envisioning where technology will take our culture
- Why it’s a waste of time to try to predict specific outcomes and events
- How society is moving from products to processes and systems
- How technology forces everyone to become lifelong learners
- Why humanity shouldn’t aim for utopia, but rather protopia
- Should we be worried about artificial intelligence?
- How artificial intelligence and humans can work together
- The various types of artificial intelligence that will come to inhabit our society
- How society can deal with the laid off workers that AI will eventually create
- How constant streaming and upgrades have changed consumers’ expectations
- The problem with filtering, and why we should seek out things we disagree with
- Will curators and editors still be around the new technological economy?
- The future of screens, and how they’ll come to surround our existence (but why it might not be as bad as it sounds)
- Why it’s important to experiment with new technologies
- The future of ownership
- Some of the concerns that Kevin has about the future of technology
- How technology will actually make our world a better place
Resources/Studies/People Mentioned in Podcast
- Why and How to Become a Lifelong Learner
- The Kaizen Effect
- Amazon Echo
- Utopia is Creepy by Nicholas Carr (look for a podcast episode with him coming up later this winter)
- The Skynet
- Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk on artificial intelligence
- Centaur Chess
- The first trip made by a self-driving semi-truck — a beer run
- Reviving Blue Collar Work — even robots need to be fixed!
- Today’s Featured Wikipedia Article
The Inevitable was a fascinating and fun read that forces you to think about how you might approach the future. If you’re a business owner, you’ll definitely want to pick up a copy. Lots of fodder for potential business ideas.
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Recorded on ClearCast
Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: Welcome to another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. We’re living in a time which landscape is changing quickly.
Thanks to technology, steady jobs provided a living for our fathers and grandfathers no longer exist, and jobs that didn’t exist 10 years ago are now providing paychecks for hundreds of thousands of people. Even the way we consume has changed in the past 10 years, thanks to streaming digital services and rental services like Uber and Airbnb but where are these technological trends taking us? How will they shape the future in 10, 20, and even 30 years down the road?
My guest today has written a book where he lays out his idea of what the future looks like. His name is Kevin Kelly. He’s the founding executive editor of Wired Magazine and a former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. He’s also a consultant on Minority Report as a futurist and he spent his career thinking and writing about how technology particularly the web, how it intersects with culture, business, and politics.
In his latest book, The Inevitable, Kevin takes a look at 12 technological forces that are shaping our future and provides a glimpse of what that future might look like. Today on the show, Kevin and I discussed the process he uses in making predictions about the future and misconceptions he thinks people have about artificial intelligence, why people are likely going to own less stuff in the future and the business opportunities that will emerge as time marches on.
We also discussed the technological trends that worry Kevin the most. If you’re looking for roadmap to navigate the brave new world we’re entering. You don’t want to miss this podcast. After the show is over, check out the show notes at Aom.is/inevitable. Kevin Kelly, welcome to the show.
Kevin Kelly: Hey, it’s my pleasure. Thanks for inviting me.
Brett McKay: I’m really excited to have you here because you came out a new book called The Inevitable and it’s all about the 12 technological forces that are shaping our future, and before we get into the specifics of your book. Let’s talk about your career in general because it’s fascinating. You worked for Whole Earth Magazine, you were the founding executive and an editor of Wired magazine, so you’ve been spending your career thinking and writing about technology, particularly the web, and how it’s influencing culture, economics, business, law, governments, et cetera.
Often times you make predictions about where you see these trends are going to take us. I’m curious as a futurist, as a prophet which is a hard job to have. What’s the process you go through when you lay out your vision of where these trends are going with technology and how it’s going to shape our future because it’s easy to get wrong.
Kevin Kelly: That is very likely that I’m wrong even today. The general rule of thumb would be anything specific is basically inherently unpredictable. What I’m trying to look at are the bias, the leaning in technologies which derive from the fact that they’re physical systems and that they run according to the law of physics or chemistry and that constraints where they can go.
I look for those biases which will shape the larger form and direction and that’s all that you can really predict, so I would say in a certain sense like a quadruped, four legs on an animal. That’s something that’s inevitable and just like we have four wheel vehicles, that larger form is inevitable particularly quadruped like a Zebra is inherently unpredictable.
Telephones were inevitable once you had electricity and wires, but the iPhone was not. The Internet was inevitable and would occur in any planet and any political regime once you have telephones but Twitter is not. What I’m looking for are these inherent trends, biases, leanings that occur in their crimped directions and I’m trying to identify those, and where I look for those is in places where the technology is unsupervised, outlawed, prohibited or used unsupervised.
My kids, it’s sort of where you can listen to it, be what it wants to be, and it exhibits its true color so to speak. You can listen to where it wants to lean. That’s sort of I’m looking. I’m looking at the edge of technology to see where the center will go.
Brett McKay: Right. You’re not looking for specifics because that’s hard to predict.
Kevin Kelly: It’s impossible to predict. If people are no, well, is Apple going to succeed? Well, continuous, we cannot tell. Nobody can tell. It’s there so many variables that impact on that. Business decisions, executive, personalities, market weather, that those are inherently unpredictable. If we can say what’s the general direction of mobility or phones in general or screens then we can do something with that.
That’s actually very powerful. If four years ago you had truly believed in Moore’s Law that for the next five decades computers would get twice as fast and half as cheap every 18 months the next 50 years, if you truly believe that. That’s all you needed to know. To make a lot of money, to invent lots of things, to bend the culture, to harvest tremendous abundance.
If you just really believed that that was the direction it was going and you worked on that and that was all you need to know anything about, IBM or Apple or you just needed to know that every year they’re going to get twice as fast, half as cheap, and half the size. That was the trend. That was beginning to show itself back then. That’s the kinds of things that I tried to identify in my book.
Brett McKay: Okay. Let’s talk about some of these trends in detail. The first one you talked about is becoming is the trend. What do you mean by that and how does becoming manifest itself today in our technology?
Kevin Kelly: The general large scale trend that that’s either a sign of or subset of is the fact that beginning at least 50 years ago, we have been moving to a world that’s becoming more liquid, more about processes rather than products, services rather than products. Things that are constantly changing, being changed, the version numbers. The idea that you buy something as version one and then you get version two, that’s a very contemporary recent idea.
The idea that the thing itself remains the same and it changes itself over time, it gets its updates, it’s updated, that also is part of this shift. A large scale, from things that are static and fixed to things that are moving and updated well and becoming something else. There’s a sense in which everything is mutable, everything is pliable, everything is upgradeable.
Instead of trying to produce a fixed product like a car, we think about transportation services, it’s like you don’t really care. You just want to move from A to B, how you get there, not as important to what the actual form or shape of that is not as important as the other benefits. In general we’re moving away from things that are tangible to the intangible.
This another way of talking about this de-materialization where the value of the things we find most valuable, the things that are not fixed in a rigid physical form but actually more of the values in the intangible aspects. Part of that shift means that one that services become more important than products and two, everything is being upgraded all the time.
That’s a new relationship that we have to come to terms with the stuff that we have, that we’re in this. That is always, that when you buy something, you’re just going to assume that’s going to get better or improve or change. I just bought an Amazon Echo Dot, which is this little thing, it’s an AI interface basically that you talk to. I know that there’ll be firmware updates and the thing will get smarter over time.
In some sense, I’m anticipating that, I’m banking on that. The way the cars are going these days, it’s not just your phone will upgrade itself. It’s that even cars will get these upgrades over time and we have to understand that, because there’s also downsides to that which is that if you don’t upgrade everything together, something will break.
When you upgrade one thing, it usually requires that everything else in that ecosystem also comes along so we’re in this constant state of having to keep. It’s like gardening. It’s having to keep everything going and weaving and having hygienic purges and cleaning things, and there’s this active guarding approach to things rather than just owning it.
The third way that it changes is that it forces us, whatever our age is to be a newbie, a perpetual newbie. We’re always having to learn in some cases kind of relearn these basic techno-literary skills, where how to use a phone, how to use a computer. We think we know it today but there’s a massive upgrade or a new platform shift, and we have to re-learn where there’s a very complex software thing and two years later they moved the menu and we have to learn again.
Where there’s a new brand new programming language that we have to learn even thought we thought that we had mastered the last one. There’s this state of being life-long learning of always being the newbie in having to start from scratch again. That is going to be the default for everybody in the future, where it’s just not, if you’re 60, it’s like even if you’re 16, you’re going to be learning something new next year that you didn’t have to know the year before.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I thought that last point. I’ve even noticed that in my own life. I’m 30, as 30 year olds often make fun of our parents. Why don’t you get the Internet, why don’t you get email, why do I have to come over and help you, but even now I’m noticing there’s like Snapchat for example.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Brett McKay: I tried going on Snapchat, I don’t know how this works. Can you show me how this works? I felt like how it’s probably felt.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. Exactly. You’re like I’m not going to bother with GAB or whatever it is. You’re be opt-out things, and you’ll be seen as old fuddy duddy because you didn’t even try and bother to try it.
Brett McKay: With all these constant upgrading. Is this eventually going to lead us to some sort of Utopia, I know everyone thinks Utopia sounds great but whenever I see Utopian futures I’m like “Nah, it looks really boring.”
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. That’s why most of the Hollywood movies about the future are all Dystopian because it’s dramatic, it makes good story-telling, and in fact, I think the future will be boring because it will work. I don’t think it’d be Utopia. I think as you say I think if we try to imagine Utopia as everything perfect and static and it would not change every much and we’d be totally bored out of our minds, but it also simply doesn’t work. That’s the reality.
There’s really no fear of it, but I think that it’s an incorrect vision of where to aim for. I think a better vision of where to aim our efforts is what I call Protopia which is this idea that we’re just trying to progress, to move forward in an incremental tiny creeping improvements and that minor improvement every year when it’s compounded over decades or centuries become civilization so this is a big thing.
We won’t even see it really except in retrospect because it’s a 1% improvement in the world is drowned out, overwhelmed by the news of disasters and all the other ills that are present and there are many of them. A lot of them are actually brought about by the new technology themselves. It’s hard to see a 1% improvement overall on average.
Yet that I think that is something good to aim for is that if we can keep improving 1% a year on average overall then we compound that annually and we have something magnificent over the long-term.
Brett McKay: The Kaizen effect, from Toyota, the manufacturers improve 1%.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Brett McKay: As you’re talking about the maintenance and upgrading. That seems like there’s an opportunity for a business possibly.
Kevin Kelly: Absolutely. There used to be an old joke in the dawns of the software industry, which was the software is free but the manual is $1,000, and that’s still true in a certain sense. This is another kind of trend where you can’t stop the copying of things copies themselves or ubiquitous, perfect and basically worthless so you have to sell things that you can’t copy well.
The idea of training or guiding or giving guidance to things that are coming that may be free, and that the value, the thing that’s in short supply. The things that becomes precious is the context to understanding what to do with it. Yeah, you can get this thing, cost nothing, but how do you use it, how do you maximize it, how do you make it beneficial to you. That actually maybe something you’re willing to pay for.
Brett McKay: Right. All right, so let’s talk about the next force which is the cognition. What you call this? Artificial intelligence.
Kevin Kelly: Cognifying.
Brett McKay: Cognifying. Right. Artificial intelligence. This is freaking a lot of people out. Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, they’re saying that artificial intelligence could possibly be the last inventions humans make because it will destroy us. I’m kind of freaked out about it. We have an Amazon Echo on our family and it’s really weird to see my kids talk to Alexa, asking her for the weather, and asking her for jokes.
It is weird and just congruous. Should people be freaked out about artificial intelligence, like that it can destroy all the jobs, and it will become sentient and Skynet will be born.
Kevin Kelly: I have divided somewhat arbitrarily these trends into 12. They’re like braided tributaries of a river, you can cut them in different ways. I think by far the most important, the most fundamental, the most disruptive, the most beneficial of all those trends is this cognification, cognifying, which I use as the word to make thing smarter.
We have a lot of intellectual cultural bag around the idea of artificial intelligence. The main distraction of that word is that we tend to think of it as a human-like intelligence. One of the things I really try to stress in the book is that AI for various scientific reasons is not like human thinking.
The only way you can have human-like thinking is if it runs on human-like tissue, and as these run along other things, the emulations not perfect because of time and space, and therefore, these intelligences are different and that’s actually their benefits. The reason why we wanted to put an AI into our cars to self-drive is because they are not driving like us.
Humans last year, the last 12 months. Humans around the world killed one million other humans driving. Humans should not be allowed to drive. We’re just terrible drivers. We want these AIs to drive because they’re not being distracted, worrying about whether they left the stove on. They’re just driving, and they’re engineered and optimized to drive well.
That’s an inhuman way. Your calculator is inhumanly smart in arithmetic, more smarter than you are. Google is inhumanly smarter in its memory. It has memorized every single word on six trillion web pages, that’s how we find stuff. We’re going to add further levels of complexities. Our own minds are basically a suite of a symphony of different modes of thinking.
There’s deductive reasoning. There’s inductive. There’s symbolic reasoning. There’s long-term memory. There’s dozens of different modes of thinking that go into our minds and will add more types and will invent whole new types of thinking just like we invented new ways of flying. We made artificial flight not by imitating the flapping wings for bird but we make a flat barn door and put it on a jet engine and you can do flying that way. That’s a new way of flying.
We will invent new ways of thinking and these will all be different than humans. The first thing is that we are likely to invent hundreds, maybe thousands of different species of thinking and they’re all alien to us. That’s the virtue because in this new economy. The real wealth. The real values is being driven by thinking different.
This is increasingly difficult challenge when we’re all connected. The more we’re connected together, the more difficult that is to think differently. The more valuable is it, and AI is actually are going to help us think differently because they fundamentally think differently. They will be very creative. Their creativity will be a little bit different than ours, and that’s actually going to be an advantage.
We are going to employ them. I think these different kinds of these alien intelligences, sometimes to solve problem in business or science that are basically beyond our own human capability of intelligence to solve by ourselves, so we’ll have a two step process. The first step is we’re going to invent a different kind of mind that together will work with us to help solve these problems.
This idea of working, teaming up with intelligence, it’s actually has a term now. It’s called a centaur, that’s being used in the military, it was invented in the chess field where you could have an open version of a chess match where you could play as a AI, you could play as a chess master, or you could play as a team of AI and human, and that was called a centaur.
The remarkable thing is in the last four to five years that the best chess player on this planet is not an AI. It’s a human. It’s a centaur. It’s a team of AI and humans. That is a model that we’re going to have with the AI as they already, as I’m suggesting smarter than we are in certain dimensions, but intelligence is not a single dimension thing.
It’s not like, it’s like a decibel getting louder like IQ, it’s multi-dimensional and we have versions of it already, smarter than we are. We’re going to be working with them to solve all these problems, and much of what we do in our lives or our daily work can be turned over to these other intelligences but there’s so much still that we don’t know what we want. That we are going to rely on our own selves, our own humans to discover these new things that we want and to make these new jobs and tasks, that we will then give to the robots.
I think the vision is yeah, they’re getting smarter and smarter, but there’s a different kind of intelligence and we’re going to be working with them together to keep inventing new things that we want to be made efficient and productive and we give them to the bots. In a certain sense, the job for humans becomes to invent new jobs to give to robots.
Brett McKay: I think an interesting point you made too is there’s not going to be a single AI, because I think that’s what a lot of people imagine. It’s going to be like the machine stops. Central computer that just does everything. You say there’s going to be multiple types of AIs.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. There will be these big AI companies or they’re Google or Amazon, they’ll be something like that. They’ll be some network effects where the smarter the AI is, the more people who use it, the more people who use it, it gets smarter and smarter, so there’s this network effects, it’s snowballing avalanche where everybody is getting drawn to a few winners in a particular kind of intelligence.
There will certainly be a kind of AI that you ask questions, and that’s what it does, and so that would become the ubiquitous presence like Alexa that’s always there. That we’re constantly asking questions or having it do things like personal assistant. That’s just one type. Even though they’d be ubiquitous and common and everybody will know about it.
There’ll be another kind of AI that maybe is really good at doing science of working with scientist and trying to understand, detect these patterns of reality to understand what’s going on. There’ll be maybe another AI that would be optimized for driving and it could be entirely different mixture types of thinking. The thing about this is there’s an engineering maxim that holds true here which is you cannot optimize everything in a system.
There’s always trade-offs, because the reality of fixed times, and resources, and energy, that you can’t make something. An AI that’s optimized in intelligence in every dimension at once, that’s just an engineering fallacy. There’s always these trade-offs, where this particular one will be better here and because it’s going to be a little bit less in this department and for this function, that’s good.
You can’t have an organism in life that’s optimized in survival and every direction. That’s just not how reality work. The same thing with these AIs is that they’re all be different ones optimized for different purposes. For answering questions. I think one of the mistakes is this idea of a general purpose intelligence.
Healing intelligence is often pointed to as a general purpose intelligence. Healing intelligence is not general purpose at all. It has evolved over millions of years for our survival on this planet. When we begin to pop away the space of all possible intelligences, and we do that by making different kinds of thinking in AI and maybe some day we’ll discover other ones in the universe but as we imagine the space, we’re going to find out that our intelligence is not like at the center.
General purpose is actually way out in the corner. It’s a very specific niche kind of intelligence. I think the thing that misleads us, the incorrect notion is this idea of general purpose intelligence. That’s like I explained it, we’re at the center of the solar system. It revolves around us. It’s very colloquial view that comes from the fact that we had not really had much contact with any other kind of intelligence, so we assume that ours is the general purposes one.
Brett McKay: This will be disruptive, going back to self-driving cars. Truck driving is the biggest job in the United States.
Kevin Kelly: The most common job. Yeah.
Brett McKay: Right. It’s probably a truck driver listening to this right now. How are we going to manage when there’s a bunch of laid off truck drivers because there’s an artificial intelligence?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. All those trucks that have to drive themselves. They all still need to be repaired. They all still need to be … Even the AI in them has to be maintained and upgraded. These are very complicated machines and so I think our driving of them moves up a level, so instead of actually physically sitting behind the wheel, you’re taking care of them, you’re guarding them. You are directing them in other ways.
Moving things around in the physical world will still require plenty of human attention because in the beginning we don’t know what we want, and humans are the best way to find out what we want. What robots and bots AIs are good for is things that have to do with efficiency and productivity.
Anything, any job, any task where productivity or efficiency is important we go to the bots but that leaves some of the most interesting and valuable things that we do or to have us dependent on, just to see a productivity like innovation, like exploration, like human relationships. None of those are efficient. They’re inherently inefficient. That’s actually what humans turns out to be really good.
We’re really good at the inefficient stuff. We’re really good at wasting time. We’re really good at exploring dead ends and trying stuff. That has nothing to do with being intellectual or having a college degree. It has a lot to do with being human, and so I think there’s going to be plenty of new opportunities created even for like a truck driver who by the way aren’t dumb.
They’re smart. Trucks like farming has become a very high tech industry even today. There’ll be plenty of opportunities for moving and retraining people to these new roles. By the way, we know how as a species, as Americans even. We know how to retrain people on a mass scale, and we do it in the military all the time. The military is fantastic at taking people who don’t have many skills and giving them very high tech skills quickly at a large massive scale. We have that ability of what we need is the political will to do that.
Brett McKay: Okay. The next trend you talked about in the book is flowing. What do you mean by flowing?
Kevin Kelly: Well, this goes a little bit back to what I was saying before about the large scale shift from things that were monumental fixed solid to things that were intangible and processed and upgrading and fluid. As we move from the solid to the liquid, things have to flow and there’s a sense in which the flows become more important than the fixed stocks.
A book in a certain sense becomes less of a fixed printed object and more something that might be updated over time, have footnotes or have some way you can interact with it or in some ways is deepened by having hyperlinks into it or embedded other media or ways in which it can be extracted and cut and pasted and add comments.
All these things that we have in the digital world are ways in which things flow and there’s also the shift in the very culture away from the fixed text that we had in things like constitution, law books, the scripture, the great authors, that was the center of Western culture, and Eastern culture to some extent as well was the fixed page, the text in the book, the immobile black and white precise letters on a printing on a book.
We’re now moved. During the time we were people of the book and now we’ve moved to become people of the screen because the screen is now the center of our culture, this screen is this thing that is whoever changing is this kind of this phase that has this flow of pixels across that are in femoral, that are passing, that are moving. Never to be the same.
There is the sense in which this instead of getting truth from the authors and authority, we have to actually assemble our own truth looking at this network of we need facts, trying to discern the experts and the anti-experts, the fact and the anti-fact, the counter-fact. Where we’re it’s a whole different approach to deciding what’s true and what we know.
That’s one of the consequences of this flows and as we do businesses, as you make businesses, you make products. We have to understand that the flows is happening. This sense of constant upgrades. The sense of the leaning femoral, so we move to Twitter, Facebook walls, updates, flows, streaming of media. This is all that movement of this eternal constant changing streams of things. That’s the reality of the environment that you’re going to work in and make a new product in.
Brett McKay: That sounds though psychologically and intellectually exhausting, that we had to go to all multiple sources and figure out what is truth. I guess that goes to your next point. Is like filtering is going to be an important aspect of the future, right?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Brett McKay: If you go to the constitution, that’s what the constitution says, now it’s like well, I don’t know because things are changing all the time. I don’t know what is.
Kevin Kelly: Right. The thing about filter is it’s like a recommendation engine and your Amazon, if you like this, you like that. Those are all kind of filters, or you filter your streams by choosing your friend and who you follow, but then there’s also the filtering that Facebook or Twitter is doing because you can’t see all of it, so they’re filtering.
The one of the many dangers or the downsides of filtering is the fact that you can have something called over-fitting which is basically if you were only ever seeing that which you already like. People who like these things or like this one here. If you only ever seeing that then you spiral into this cloistered provincial parochial ignorance basically.
In terms of biology, you have a local premature optimization. You optimize yourself onto a peak, onto the top of the mountain. That’s not the highest peak so you’re stuck, basically you get stuck. That’s the danger of what I was filtering. A lot of people say “Well, we need less of it.” What I’m suggesting is no, that’s not the trend. The trend is there’s going to be more of it.
With the way you compensate for this filter bubbles and this over-fitting and this premature optimization of being knowing that what you already know you like is actually other types of filters. We’re going to see more and more filtering. That is inevitable. What we want is smarter and smarter kinds of filters, different approaches, different ways in which they relate to us, different ways that we relate to them.
Ways in which you try to know what’s going on, and it’s basically a literacy, a type of literacy in understanding that everything is being filtered and we have to become good at it. Good at it means that we need the tools that will take us, that will show us things that we didn’t know we wanted, and that’s what we got in the old world with TV and radio.
Where they were playing, you were listening to them and there were some producer or editor who were saying “Well, do this and after this, we’ll do this one. Because I think it’s cool.” You had no control over that, and that was actually part of the benefit was that you being told and shown new things. We need to do some of those kinds of dynamics into our digital filtering where we are deliberately encountering things that we either disagree with or didn’t even know existed.
That’s where we’re going. The short answer about filtering was, yeah, there’s filtering. We need it because there is far far more being produced every day than we can do with. That’s just, lot of it is junk but there’s even far far more great stuff being produced every day than we could ever pay our attention to, so we need ways to get through this abundance.
There’ll be sophisticated ways and we can constantly improve it, and there’s huge opportunities for people to invent new ways to do this, and but we’re not going to get away from having more filtering so that’s a non-starter is thinking well we just turn off the filters, no, it doesn’t work, we just have to turn on more of them.
Brett McKay: Right. That was interesting. You talked about how TV back in the ’60s and ’70s, it has introduced you new stuff you never thought you’d be interested, but I thought the early days of the web was often like that. I remember surfing around, you just end up in the weirdest places.
Kevin Kelly: You still do that now. There’s a great page called, there’s a Wikipedia of the day, and a random Wikipedia page. It’s like just go there and you’ll find just amazing things you had no idea that exist. There are tools like that that can do that still and I think we haven’t … We’re not done with the idea of having the strong producer editor who’s curating a stream of things that are outside of anything you would encounter and yet might appeal to us at some level.
I think this idea of the magazine or the show or whatever it is will continue because there’s still an appetite for having that really kind of informed cool, curator, saying “How about this? I know you like this one, you like this one, but have you ever heard of this one? This is cool.” We will follow along to some degree in some part of our lives to that. I think that that role is not gone and will continue and people will pay for that in different ways.
Brett McKay: Okay. You also imagined a world where we’re surrounded by screens like there’s going to be screens in our mirrors, on our walls. There’s going to be paper that are actually screens. People today have a lot about qualms about screens like we want to limit screen time, because the screens make us easily distractible and anti-social.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. I do too try to limit. There’s another general rule about technology which is that we tend to think of technology as anything that was invented after we were born. When in fact most of the technology that surrounds our lives, you and I, if we just look around wherever, listeners just look around where you are. Most of the technology in your life is old.
It’s wood. Plywood maybe or concrete or electrical wires. There’s some road outside, asphalts, it’s ancient in some cases. It’s old. That forms the bulk of the technology, most of it. The new technologies is a thin additional supplemental layer on top just like most of your brain that you’re listening, that you’re using right now to listen to me.
Most of that brain is reptilian mammalian or older. It’s doing non-conscious things. It’s the bulk to the majority of your brain is just doing things like learning to navigating, to see, to breath, to react to hunger, all those things. That the layer that you kind of identify yourself as is very similar to your consciousness is a thin membrane around. It’s minority, it’s not what. That’s the same with the new technology, this digital technology in itself.
It comes in layers and very rarely does old go away so it’s on top of everything that’s already existing, so this new stuff is always going to be there in the context of all the other thing, so we still have all these other options and so the screen most flat surfaces, I think we’re going to go to a point where basically any flat surface will become a screen because it become so cheap that you can make a wall, you can make side of the building, you can put on clothes.
At the same time, there’ll be clothes that don’t have screens on them. There’ll be areas where we go that like nature that don’t have screens and they will continue to be powerful for us and useful because they aren’t that, because they’re different. I think even though screens will become even more ubiquitous than they are and more important in understanding who we are.
They will always be in the context, they will have time away from them, that will come to see as valuable as the time onto them. The reason why the sabot is a very powerful idea is not because with the traditional sabot was you seem to work one day a week. It’s not because work was bad, it was because work was good. It was because it was, we keep working.
You relieve the screens not because the screens are bad, but because they’re good, because they’re too good. We leave the nature, we go back to the scene, not because nature is bad but because that difference, that delta, that shift, that other way of doing seeing the world is valuable and that’s so we will constantly add even more ways of seeing the world or doing.
The ubiquitous screen is one of those, but it becomes even more valuable in the context that we have say in wilderness or something in between, a garden. I think while screens will become ubiquitous, taking time away from the screens will become ever more valuable.
Brett McKay: You think we’ll develop some sort of cultural hygiene I guess will be that manage those screens, because I don’t think we have that figured out right now.
Kevin Kelly: I think we’re doing better than people say. Everybody is ringing their hands over, and everybody is not happy necessarily with their choices but I think if you actually look. People have kids. All the families with kids and screens are all limiting screen time. In some fashion. They have different rules. I think there’s a sense right now because this is all brand new.
The social media is, this is 2,000 days old. It’s like we can’t expect ourselves to have this figured out yet, it’s going to take a couple of cycles, couple of revs to really understand where it’s going, and I think right now, we’re just … People are saying “What are you doing? What are you doing? Does that work? Does that work?” Yeah. We’re doing this experiment right now.
I think in general everybody gets the idea that you want limit it, it’s like sugar. You just have to, it’s good. You don’t want too much of it. How much is too much? We don’t know. We’ll try. We’ll try this. We’ll try that. The other thing of course is that, I think it’s really unfair to judge a technology strictly by how the youth use it, because youth by definition are excessive obsessive.
Even if something else, as kids grew older, they would use the social media differently just because as they age. We have all these dynamics going on and I think that the proper response right now is to have this experiment, and to say “I don’t know what the right thing is but we’ll keep trying stuff with our family or with my friends or whatever it is.” I don’t think if as a problem, I think of this is an opportunity as an experiment.
Brett McKay: Yeah. I think it’s a good point. That last point because video games, I’ve played video games all the time when I was a kid but I haven’t played a video game in three years.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly, I was totally obsessed with science fiction reading books, I had my head in the book and there’s plenty of rants from the 18th century about the old fuddy duddys complaining about kids going every meeting books by themselves. Just seems immoral, just the mark of low class, whatever it is. It was completely frowned upon.
I was doing the same thing. I was lost in escaping. I was in obsessive world of science fiction but then I didn’t ready any for it’s a couple decades almost. I’m reading more now back to it, but it’s I think there’s phases in technologies appeal at certain different phases in people’s lives, and we’ll sort that out as we go on.
Brett McKay: Another trend that I think a lot of people are seeing right now but you think is going to accelerate even more is this idea of ownership being replaced with accessibility. Instead of owning cars, you’ll something like Uber, or do a ride share or something like that.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. That’s to do again with this flowing state where we value services more than products and so if you can have instant access to the good that you want, anywhere you are instantly. Then the question is well why would you want to own it because owning has a lot of responsibilities like you need to back it up or clean it or store it, secure it.
Some of the other things that you don’t have to do, if you’re just borrowing it, accessing it. In the digital realm, it’s very easy to make that access possible where you’re connected so you could have a movie, book, or music. There’s really almost no reason to need to own it with some caveats.
I’m probably pretty typical. Basically stopped buying very many movies or music. Moving to the place where books are almost the same way where you subscribe to this aggregator, in Netflix or in Amazon or something and you have access to any book, music, game, movie that you want anytime, and then you just use it and you get a pack.
The question was can that extend to the physical and Uber is one example showing that actually we can. If you can supply something on demand, even a physical thing. When somebody said that that can be good or better than owning it. The question is what else could you do physically. Where you don’t own clothes, but you subscribe to clothes, and clothes come to you on a regular basis and you use them and then they move on either cleaned or passed on or whatever.
Could you have it with one hour delivery with Amazon and other kinds of things, because something have all kinds of things that are almost simultaneous. It’s like for many people having something available within an hour is actually something that’s better than what they own and may take you an hour to find something down in your basement or in your storage container or something like that.
Often times, the kinds of hours, plenty of time to get what it is that we wanted. That we maybe formally owned. 3D printing and other types of instant delivery will move in this direction where even physical things would take on some of the attributes of being better, having access to rather than owning, and of course even work spaces and office spaces is.
We have lots of startups who are doing the same thing which is why own when you can just have access to something, Airbnb that is available and in many cases is superior to owning, and since ownership has been so foundational in capitalism. This is a big shift. There’s lots of consequences that we haven’t worked through yet of what happens if people generally don’t own things, but obviously somebody has to own something in order to.
There has to be whoever, somebody’s owning these things that we’re using, there may be less of them in total, but there’s still ownership and the question is how is that ownership distributed and there’s lots of issues but that’s where we’re going.
Brett McKay: Yeah. You mentioned there are some caveats. When would ownership be like, that would be better than?
Kevin Kelly: Yes. One of the issues for a lot of people like I say with music, movies, and books is the issue of if they’re taking away or modified and this is, of course we’ve seen this like I don’t know, been one of the very first ever Netflix subscriber, so I’ve been Netflix for a long time. It’s amazing to see things on Netflix come and go like there they are and then they’re not there.
If it was something available all the time, that wouldn’t be an issue, but there is an issue which things can be taken away, and so if you have some … What I think is going to happen is people have certain areas that they really really care about and are doing something in, and then they want that ownership for control purposes. There’s also the issue of what you can do with things that you don’t know, and that’s another issue of, where they call them terms of service and stuff.
Where you’re prohibited from modifying things because you don’t own them and that’s something that I think maybe a cultural default. I think that’s easier to imagine if that really does become a problem then you would just have the aggregators would move to allow that ability to modify. I think right now what they say is well consumers are really demanding it.
The caveat is I think there is this issue of removability and modification that you don’t get with access but you could. I think technically there’s no reason why you couldn’t make a system like that, but it does not exist right now.
Brett McKay: Most of my readings done on ebooks on the Kindle but if there’s a book I really enjoy, I’ll buy a physical copy.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah, sure. Right, again going back to somebody has to own these things and so you might own something that you care about and that may actually become the business or it’s like somebody will own an apartment if you’re going to have the Airbnb, somebody has to own it. There’ll be people who like to own apartments and run them.
A lot of these Airbnbs are run by people who have more than one and they like that, they do that. They’re good at it and so they will own that. The rest of the guys, they may not own other things. They may not own a car, but someone else who cares about cars may own cars. I think ownership doesn’t disappear. I think it’s just distributed differently.
Brett McKay: Okay. Yeah. There’s a lot of business opportunities there. Let’s talk about the trends you are worried about and maybe on a positive note that maybe things are going to be better than we think they are. How’s that sound?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. The kinds of things. You can tell, I’m extremely optimistic about technology. I think there’s far more opportunities than there are detriments, but I want to say that most of the problems we have today are caused by technology from last, from the past, and almost all the problems in the future are going to be caused by technologies from today.
I believe very techno-centric view of the world that I believe that each new technology invention creates almost as many problems as solutions and so the question is well that’s just like a wash and go. What we get out of that is we get this 1% difference. We get slightly more opportunities. We get the opportunity to even choose that we didn’t have before.
I see what the gift of technology is is increasing opportunities and that’s what I believe in, but there are some, I think there are some choices in technology that decrease opportunities and that’s like weaponization. When you’re making weapon or something you’re using it to decrease killing, hurting other people, decreases your choices.
I think the weaponization of new technologies like AI and robots is something that I’m concerned about and it’s going to happen. One of the question is how do we make it civil. How do we make these new rules and so my concern about say cyber warfare and that is that there’s no rules right now. We don’t have any agreement or consensus about what’s permissible and what’s not.
That goes to like hacking the nation state. The US is offensively hacking just like China and Russia are, but none of them are admitting it and because there’s no admission, there’s no agreement on you can’t do this, and you can’t do that. You can’t take out electrical system or the banks whatever. There’s no agreement.
My fear, my worry is that there’ll be some horrible disaster or maybe several before there’s any ownership and admission and movement on a consensus about what we accept and don’t accept. I’m concerned about that, that aspect of the AI and stuff is as we weaponize them that we’d be civil about it.
Brett McKay: Well, Kevin this has been a great conversation. Where can people learn more about your work and your book?
Kevin Kelly: I have a website that’s based around my initials, it’s KK.org. I post everything there. You can find more about the books, translations of the book, other things I’ve written like graphic novel about angels and robots. I have a cool tool site where we review one cool tool a day. On social media, I’m usually Kevin2Kelly. Kevin Kelly is a very common name unfortunately, so Kevin2Kelly on Twitter and Facebook and for me it’s mostly outgoing. I don’t read much but I do post and Google plus is the same I think. My best way to reach me is email which has been public for 30 years. Easy to find on my website.
Brett McKay: Well, Kevin Kelly. Thanks so much for your time. It’s been a pleasure.
Kevin Kelly: Thanks for having me. Thanks for the great questions. I really appreciate your enthusiasm for the book.
Brett McKay: My guest, it was Kevin Kelly. He’s the author of the book, The Inevitable, it’s available on Amazon.com and bookstores everywhere. You can find more information about Kevin’s work at KK.org. Also check out our show notes at AOM.is/inevitable where you can find links to resources, where you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website, ArtofManliness.com. Our show is edited by Creative Audio Lab here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. If you have any audio editing needs or audio production needs, check them out at creativeaudiolab.com. We appreciate your support. Reviews on iTunes, as it really helps us out a lot, so thank you if you do that. Until next time, this is Brett McKay. Telling you to stay manly.