What I Learned From The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future By Kevin Kelly

Date Read: 05/16/2018

How strongly I recommend it: 10/10

From one of our leading technology thinkers and writers, a guide through the twelve technological imperatives that will shape the next thirty years and transform our lives

Much of what will happen in the next thirty years is inevitable, driven by technological trends that are already in motion. In this fascinating, provocative new book, Kevin Kelly provides an optimistic road map for the future, showing how the coming changes in our lives—from virtual reality in the home to an on-demand economy to artificial intelligence embedded in everything we manufacture—can be understood as the result of a few long-term, accelerating forces. Kelly both describes these deep trends—interacting, cognifying, flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, tracking, and questioning—and demonstrates how they overlap and are codependent on one another.

These larger forces will completely revolutionize the way we buy, work, learn, and communicate with each other. By understanding and embracing them, says Kelly, it will be easier for us to remain on top of the coming wave of changes and to arrange our day-to-day relationships with technology in ways that bring forth maximum benefits. Kelly’s bright, hopeful book will be indispensable to anyone who seeks guidance on where their business, industry, or life is heading—what to invent, where to work, in what to invest, how to better reach customers, and what to begin to put into place—as this new world emerges.
Basically as I go through any book that I read, I underline interesting ideas/quotes/paragraphs and then later come back through the book to get the lessons gleaned from these underpinnings and try to figure out what they mean to me and apply them to my own life.
Here were the most interesting lessons in the book for me:
*Processes, Not Products: We think what’s important is the wonderful products we make, but what’s 10x as important in our lives are the processes that enable us to make those products possible. Kevin says “our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool, but the invention of the scientific process itself. Once we invented the scientific method, we could immediately create thousands of other amazing things.”
*Products Will Become Services: Kevin says “in the next 30 years we will continue to take solid things—-an automobile, a shoe—-and turn them into intangible verbs. Products will become services and processes. Embedded with technology an automobile becomes a service, a shoe too is no longer a finished product, but an endless process of reimagining our extended feet, perhaps that morph as you walk and learn about your feet, or floors that act as shoes. “Shoeing” becomes a service an not a noun. In the digital realm, nothing is static or fixed. Everything is becoming.
*Comfort Is Complacent: Kevin says “a world without discomfort is utopia. But it’s also stagnant.” Apply this to your own life and see how when your life was going really well you were probably at your most stagnant, and when the chips were done you moved a little faster, learned a little more, hustled a bit… Of course we want bits of each, but to wish for total comfort is to wish for a life without progress.
*We Really Do Not Know: I was deeply involved in birth of the online world 30 years ago, and a decade later the arrival of the web. Yet at every stage, what was becoming was hard to see in the moment. Often it was hard to believe. Sometimes we didn’t see what was becoming because we didn’t want it to happen that way. We don’t need to be blind to this continuous process. The rate of change has been unprecedented. Now we know, we will forever be ‘newbies.’ We need to believe in improbable things more often. Everything is in flux, and the new forms will be an uncomfortable remix of the old. With effort and imagination we can learn to discern what’s ahead more clearly, without blinders. Kevin finishes with “if we have learned anything in the past three decades, it is that the impossible is more plausible than it appears.”
*Cognification Is The New Electricity: Three generations ago the tinkerers struck it rich by taking a tool and making an electric version. Find a hand-wringer washer, electrify it. They didn’t need to generate the electricity, they bought it and used it with their product. Now we will do the same but we will cognify. The business plans of the next 10,000 start-ups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI. Find something that can be made better by adding online smartness to it. You could apply AI to law using it to uncover evidence from mountains of paper to discern inconsistencies between cases and then have it suggest lines of legal arguments. The more unlikely the field, the more powerful adding AI will be. Cognified Healthcare where patients are outfitted with sensors that track their bio markers 24 hours a day and can generate highly personalized treatments that are adjusted and refined daily. Cognified toys—-toys more like pets. Furbies were primitive compared with the intense attraction that a smart petlike toy will invoke from children. Toys that can converse are lovable. Dolls may be the first really popular robots.
*Not Just Smarter, But Different: Just being smart is not enough, thinking different is the source of innovation and wealth. Industrial strength AI will become ubiquitous, but what about creating different types of minds? What if we created animal minds, machine minds, plant minds, and trans human minds like the ones that science fiction writers have come up with? Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that do things we can’t do at all. We may need to invent intermediate intelligences that can help us design yet more rarefied intelligences that we could not design alone. We need ways to think different. An AI will think about science like an alien, vastly different than any human scientist, thereby provoking us humans to think about science differently. Or to think bout manufacturing materials differently. Or clothes. Or financial derivatives. Or any branch of science or art. The alienness Of artificial intelligence will become more valuable to us than it’s speed or power.
*The Effects of Artificial Intelligence: After robots finish replacing assembly line workers, they will replace workers in warehouses. Speedy bots able to lift 150 lbs all day long will retrieve boxes, sort them and load them onto trucks. Fruit and vegetable pickers will continue to be robotized. Pharmacies will feature a single-pill dispensing robot in the back while the pharmacists focus on patient consulting, they’re already have prototypes that have not messed up one prescription. Next, cleaning in offices and schools by late-night robots for floors and windows, eventually advancing to toilets. By 2050 most truck drivers wont be human. Any job with reams of paper work will be taken over by bots—much of medicine, law, architecture, reporter, or even programming. We have preconceptions of what an intelligent robot should look like and act like, and these can blind us to what is already happening around us. To demand that artificial intelligence be human like is the same flawed logic as demanding that artificial flying be birdlike with flapping wings. Right now, we think of manufacturing as happening in China. But as manufacturing costs drop because of Robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Nearby will be cheap. So we’ll get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within five miles of where they are needed.
*Personal Workbots: Imagine you run a local organic farm with direct sales to customers. You still have a job as a farmer, but robots do most of the actual farm work. Your fleets of worker bots do all the outside work under the sun—-weeding, pest control, and harvesting of produce—as directed by a very smart mesh of probes in the soil. Your new job as farmer is overseeing the farming system. One day you task might be to research which variety of heirloom tomato to plant, the next day to find out what your customers crave, the following day to update info on your custom labels. The bots perform everything else that can be measured. Right now it seem unthinkable: we can’t imagine a bot that can assemble a stack of ingredients into a gift or manufacture spare parts for our lawn mower. We can’t imagine our nephews and nieces running a dozen workbots in their garage, churning out inverter’s for their friend’s electric vehicle start-up, making custom batches of liquid nitrogen dessert machines to sell to the millions. But that’s what personal robot automation will enable. Our human assignment will be to keep making jobs for robots—-and that is a task that will never be finished.
*Everything In Real Time: We now expect everything to be in real time. If we message someone, we expect the reply to be instant, not in a few days. If we spend money, we expect the account to reflect that instantly. Why isn’t medical diagnosis the same? If we take a quiz in class, why shouldn’t the score be instant? Think of Netflix, if the title you’re looking for isn’t available to stream and it might take 2 days to get to you via their original DVD service, you would most likely opt for something else that is available for streaming. Simultaneity trumps quality in the new world. Now imagine food, supplements, etc tailored to your exact glucose levels at this exact moment in time that is perfectly customized to your genetics simply printed out of your mobile 3-D printer.
*Making Stuff That Can’t Be Copied: To put it simply in the new online world, anything that can be copied, can be copied for free. When copies are superabundant, they become worthless. Instead, stuff that can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. What can’t be copied? Well trust for instance. Trust cannot be reproduced in bulk, it can’t be downloaded, and people will pay a premium for trust, we call that branding.
Here are some generatives that are “better than free.”
Immediacy: Many people go to movie theatres to sell films on opening night for a hefty price, a movie that will be free very soon for rental at home. They’re not paying for the movie (which is free) they’re paying for the immediacy of seeing it now.
Personalization: Aspirin is basically free today, but an aspirin-based drug tailored to your DNA could be very valuable, and expensive. You can’t merely cut and paste this kind of depth which is why it’s worth so much.
Interpretation: Right now getting a fully copy of your DNA is very expensive $10,000 but soon it won’t be. The price is dropping so fast, it will be $100 soon and then the next year insurance companies will offer to sequence you for free. When a copy of your sequence costs nothing, the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, and how to use it—-the manual for your genes so to speak will be expensive. This idea can be applied to lots of different areas like travel and healthcare etc.
Embodiment: Live concert tours, live TED talks, live radio shows, pop-up food tours all speak to the power and value of a paid ephemeral embodiment of something you could download for free. People will pay for this.
Patronage: Deep down, avid fans want to pay creators. Fans love to reward them with tokens of their appreciation because it allows them to connect with people they admire. But they will pay only under four conditions: it must be extremely easy to do, the amount must be reasonable, there’s clear benefit to them paying, it’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators.
Discoverability: When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, all basically free—being found is valuable. Amazon’s greatest asset is not it’s Prime delivery service but the millions of reader reviews it has accumulated over decades.
*How Books Are Changing: E-books offer fluidities that will change reading.
-Fluidity of the Page: the page is a flexible unit. Content will fit any available space, from a tiny screen in a pair of glasses to a wall. It can adapt to your preferred reading device or reading style.
-Fluidity of the edition: a book’s material can be personalized. Your edition might explain new words if you are a student, or it could skip a recap of the previous books in the series if you’ve already read them. Customized “my books” are for me.
-fluidity of growth: the book’s material can be corrected or improved incrementally. The never-done-ness of an ebook resembles an animated creature more than a dead stone.
*Reading Also Becomes Social: With screens, we can share not just the titles of books we are reading, but our reactions and notes as we read them. Today we can highlight a passage in an ebook, tomorrow we will be able to link passages. We can add a link from a phase in the book we are reading to a contrasting phrase in another book we’ve read, from a word in a passage to an obscure dictionary, from a scene in a book to a similar scene in a movie. **Here’s my favorite part: we might subscribe to the marginalia feed from someone we respect, so we get not only their reading list but their marginalia—-highlights, notes, questions, musings.
Last idea on books relates to Wikipedia. So you know how you read Wikipedia and a bunch of the words are underlined in blue. And you can click from Wikipedia article to Wikipedia article and discover things you just couldn’t discover if it was one isolated thing. Well books will become the same thing until tens of millions of books are all linked together into one giant universal compendium of knowledge.
*Possession Is No Longer Important, Access Is: Uber, the worlds’ largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer has no inventory. And AirBnB, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening also because Netflix allows me to watch a movie without owning it. Spotify lets me listen to whatever music I want without owning any fo it. Amazon does the same with their Kindle Unlimited…Possession is not as important as it once was, accessing is more important than ever. Ownership is casual, fickle. If something better comes along, grab it. A subscription, on the other hand, gushes a never-ending stream of updates, issues, and versions that make the experience a lot better as it’s an on-going relationship as opposed to a onetime event.
*Attention Span Is Valuable: Herbert Simon, Nobel Prize-winning social scientist said “a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.” In a world of abundance, the only scarcity is human attention. Our attention is the only valuable resource we personally produce without training. It is in short supply and everyone wants some of it. You can stop sleeping and you will still only have 24 hours per day of potential attention. Absolutely nothing—-no money or technology will ever increase that amount. The maximum potential attention is therefore fixed. It’s production is inherently limited while everything else is becoming abundant. Since it is the last scarcity, wherever attention flows, money will follow.
*The New World Of Advertising: What if customers created, placed, and paid for ads? What if anyone with an audience could just make an ad, a video or photo etc for a company they liked, put it on their social media and got paid for how many views/clicks it got all without having to have the company ‘approve’ their ad or give them permission. Or say you saw a really cool commercial for a shoe and wanted to include it on your profile and get paid for it just like the TV station would. If done well, the audience might come not only for cool content, but for cool ads- in the way millions of people do now for Super Bowl Ads. Like Uber and other decentralized systems, it takes what was once a highly refined job performed by a few professionals and spreads it across a peer-to-peer network of amateurs. The missing piece between this fantasy and reality is the technology to track the visits, to weed out fraud, and quantify the attention an ad gets and then to exchange this data securely in order to make a correct payment. There would be payment royalties for the creation of an ad and then people who choose to post the ad would get paid by views/clicks. It would require a lot of regulation because the money would attract transfers and creative spammers who artificially boost views/clicks and or get credit for content they didn’t originally create. But once the system was up and running advertisers would release ads to virally zip around the web. You catch one and embed it in a site/social profile. It then triggers a payment if a reader clicks on it. A fully decentralized peer to peer user generated crowdsourced ad network would let users create ads, and then let users choose which ads they wanted to place on their site/social media. I mean really, who would you rather make your ads? Would you rather the expensive studio pros come up with a single campaign using their best guess or a thousand creative kids endlessly tweaking and testing their ads of your product? Fans of products would love to create ads for it. Naturally they believe no one else knows it as well as they do, and that the current ads (if any) are lame, so they will be confident and willing to do a better job.
*The Change Of Email: Esther Dyson has long complained of the asymmetry of attention in email. She says “email is a system that lets other people add things to my to-do list.” The barrier to sending someone an email is too low. But imagine if we charged people to read their email, since Esther is in such demand maybe the cost to sending her an email would be $5 whereas a normal person would be $1 but a cost, no matter how low still adds a barrier so people can’t endlessly barrage others with nonsense. Of course you could also forgive the cost after the fact if you so choose to. We need a filter.
*Experience Is On The Rise: They cannot be copied. Everything else becomes commoditized and filterable. Concert ticket price have increased 400% from 1981 to 2012. The cost of drugs and treatments is in decline, but the cost of home visits—-experiential is rising. We’ll use technology to produce commodities, and we’ll make experiences in order to avoid becoming a commodity ourselves.
*Remixing: Real sustainable economic growth does not stem from new resources but from existing resources that are rearranged to make them more valuable. Growth comes from remixing. To create new technologies, just look at earlier primitive technologies and rearrange/remix them. For example: the beautiful Hollywood film won’t go away, but if we want to see the real future of motion pictures, we need to study the swarming critters below—-the jungle of YouTube, indie films, TV serials, documentaries.
*Findability in Visuality: The ability to search the library of all movies the same way Google can search the web, and find a particular focus deep within. You want to be able to type key terms, or simply say “bicycle plus dog” and then retrieve scenes in any film featuring a dog and a bicycle. In an instant you could locate the moment in The Wizard of Oz when the witchy Miss Gulch rides off with Toto. Even better, you want to be able to ask Google to find all the other scenes in all movies similar to that scene.
*Interaction: The head of MIT’s Media Lab, once said that his urinal was smarter than his computer because it knew when he was there and flushed when he left whereas his computer didn’t know he was standing in front of it all day. Of course that’s changing with eye tracking software right now so the phone knows where you are precisely looking at on the screen, which will have many implications like website owners discerning what part of their front page people actually look at and what parts are glanced over. It’s taking on the next step as two MIT Media Lab engineers claim they’ve developed software that can tell if people are depressed. Kevin says “The tiny eye in the lid of her laptop peering at my could correctly determine if I was perplexed or engaged with a difficult text. It could tell if I was distracted while viewing a long video. Since this perception is in real-time, the smart software can adapt it to what I’m viewing. Say I’m reading a book and my frown shows I’ve stumbled on a certain word; the text could expand a definition. Or if it realizes I am rereading the same passage, it could supply an annotation for that passage. Similarly, if it knows I am bored by a scene in a video, it could jump ahead or speed up the action.
*Using Our Entire Bodies To Over Throw The Keyboard: Real interfaces in the future are very likely to use hands close to the body since holding out your arms far in front of you becomes a workout after about a minute. Interaction will more closely resemble sign language. A future office worker is not going to be pecking at a keyboard—-not even a fancy glowing holographic keyboard—-but will be talking to a device with a newly evolved set of hand gestures, similar to the ones we now have of pinching our fingers in to reduce size, pinching them out to enlarge, or holding up to L-hands to frame and select something. Voice will be a huge part of interaction with devices. If you’d like to have a vivid picture of someone in 2050 interacting with a portable device, imagine them using their eyes to visually ‘select’ from a set of rapidly flickering options on the screen, confirming with lazy audible grunts and speedily fluttering their hands in their laps or at their waist. A person mumbling to herself while her hands dance in front of her will be the signal in the future that she is working on her computer.
*Sensors: The dumbest objects we can imagine today can be vastly improved by outfitting them with sensors and making them interactive. We had an old standard thermostat running the furnace in our home. During a remodel we upgraded to a Nest Smart thermostat, and it’s aware of our presence. It senses when we are home, awake or asleep and over time builds up a pattern of our lives. It warms up and cools down just a few minutes before we arrive home from work, turns it down after we leave. All of this watching us and interaction optimizes our fuel bill. Experimental smart fabrics have conductive threads and thin flexible sensors woven into them. They will be sewn into a shirt you interact with. You use fingers of one hand to swipe the sleeve of your other arm the way you’d swipe an iPad, and for the same reason: to bring up a screen or in your spectacles. A smart shirt like Squid, a prototype from Northeastern University—can feel in fact measure your posture—-recording it in a quantified way and then actuating “muscles” in the shirt that contract precisely to hold you in the proper posture.
*Interaction Expansion: We’ll keep expanding what we interact with. First with more sense: we will keep adding new sensors and senses to the things we make: everything will get eyes, and hearing but one by one we will add superhuman senses like GPS location, heat detection, x-ray vision, these allow our creations to respond to us, to interact with us and to adapt themselves to our uses. Next with more intimacy, intimate technology is a wide-open frontier, technology will get closer to us than a watch and a pocket phone. We think tech has saturated our private space, but we will look back and realize how far away we were. And lastly more immersion: maximum interaction demands we leap into the technology itself and that’s what VR does. From within a technologically created world, we interact with each other in a new way (virtual reality) or interact with the physical world in a new way (augmented reality.) Technology becomes a second skin.
“What seems extreme today’s will soon become the new normal.”
*Tracking: Shrinking chips, stronger batteries and cloud connectivity has some self-trackers to attempt long-term tracking. Instead of once a year, imagine that everyday, all day invisible sensors measured and recorded your heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, glucose, blood serum, sleep patterns, body fat, activity levels, mood, EKG brain function and so on. This would be so useful to see a measurement of your ‘normal’ because in medicine normal is a fictional average. Your normal is not my normal and vice versa. The average normal is not very useful to you specifically. But with long-term self-tracking you’d arrive at a very personal baseline—your normal—-which becomes very valuable when you are not feeling well, or when you want to experiment. The achievable dream in the near future is to use this data to make personal medicine for you because who cares whether the treatment or medicine works on anyone else? What you want to know is, how does it affect me? An N=1 provides that laser-focused result.
*Self-Quantification Will Go Beyond Numbers: So we can collect all this data, but humans don’t do statistics well. Math is not our natural language, so the quantification in the quantified self will become visible. Udo Wachter, an IT manager in Germany took a leather belt, added 13 mini electric vibrators like the ones that vibrate your smart phone. He hacked the electronic compass he added so that instead of displaying North on the screen, it instead vibrated, within a week of wearing this belt he “just knew” what north was, he had programmed a new sense into his brain. Here the quantification from digital tracking was subsumed into a wholly new bodily sensation. More than one start up is developing a noninvasive prickless blood monitor to analyze your blood factors daily. You’ll eventually wear these, and by taking this information and feeding it back NOT in numbers but in a form we can FEEL such as a vibration on our wrist or squeeze on or hip, the device will equip us with a new sense about our bodies that we didn’t evolve to have but desperately need. We are literally adding new senses to ourselves.
Also in the coming decades, not only us, but the entire Internet of Things, nearly every object that is manufactured will contain a small sliver of silicon that is connected to the internet.
*Unbundling: Entirely new industries have sprung up in the last two decades based on the idea of unbundling. The music industry was overturned by tech startups that enabled melodies to be unbundled from songs and songs to be unbundled from albums (iTunes.) Big general-interest newspapers were unbundled into classifieds (Craigslist) stock quotes (Yahoo!) gossip (Buzzfeed) restaurant reviews (Yelp) and stories (the web) that stood and grew on their own. The next step is to unbundle classifieds, stories, and updates into even more elemental particles that can be rearranged in unexpected and unimaginable ways.
*The Power of The Internet and Connectivity: Since the internet I’ve noticed a different approach to my thinking now that the hive mind has spread it extremely wide and lose. My thinking is more active, less contemplative. Rather than begin a question or hunch by ruminating aimlessly in my mind, nourished only by my ignorance, I start doing things. I immediately go. I go looking, searching, asking, questioning, reacting, leaping in, making bookmarks, notes—-I start off making something mine. I don’t have to wait. I act on ideas instead of thinking on them. Kevin is so right, before you only had your own mind, now you get to construct ideas out of the “hive mind” that is made up of all the people that are online that have thought of this before which leads to even more ideas. Quiet contemplation will always have its place for thinking of new ideas, but if we first go out into the hive and gather all these wide-ranging perspectives the quantity and quality of our ideas can be so much larger and better.
*More Questions: The paradox of science is that every answer breeds at least two more questions. Thus even though our knowledge is expanding exponentially, our questions are expanding exponentially as fast. We can expect future technologies such as artificial intelligence, genetic manipulation, and quantum computing to unleash a barrage of new questions that have never been asked before. It’s a safe bet that we have not asked our biggest questions yet.
*A good question is worth a million good answers. A good question is like the one Albert Einstein asked himself as a small boy—-“what would you see if you were traveling on a beam of light?”
-a good question is not concerned with a correct answer
-a good question cannot be answered immediately
-a good question challenges existing answers
-a good question is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked
-a good question creates new territory of thinking
-a good question is the seed of innovation in science, technology, at, politics, and business
-a good question is a probe, a what-if scenario
-a good question skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious
-a good question cannot be predicted
-a good question will be the sign of an educated mind
-a good question is one that generates many other good questions
-a good question may be the last job a machine will learn to do.
-a good question is what humans are for
Question makers will be seen, properly, as the engines that generate new fields, new industries, new brands, new possibilities, new continents that our restless species can explore. Questioning is simply more powerful than answering.

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