"Like nothing at all has happened yet." Kevin Kelly looks 20 years ahead
Kevin Kelly has done it again.
The co-founder and "Senior Maverick" at Wired, quantified self and author of books including What Technology Wants has produced a thoughtful treatise on what technology means to our current existence, where it is taking us and how we should interpret the changes it is driving in the way we live, work and think.
It's in the form of an interview with John Brockman over on Edge.org. I've excerpted some of what I found the most interesting bits. Head over to Edge.org if you'd like to read the full interview (there's also a video).
On pervasive surveillance and sharing: "I don't see any counter force to the forces of surveillance and self-tracking, so I'm trying to listen to what the technology wants, and the technology is suggesting that it wants to be watched. What the Internet does is track, just like what the Internet does is to copy, and you can't stop copying. You have to go with the copies flowing, and I think the same thing about this technology."
On utopias: "Every new technology creates almost as many problems that it solves. For most people that statement would suggest that technology is kind of a wash. It's kind of neutral, because if you're creating as many problems as it solves, then it's a 50/50 wash, but the difference in my protopian view versus, say, a neutral view is that all these new technologies bring new possibilities that did not exist before, including the new possibility of doing harm versus good."
Does tech cause more problems than it solves? "Most of the problems we have today are technogenic, meaning that they were created by technology in the past. Most of the problems in the future are going to be created by technologies we're creating today. Technology is a means of producing new problems. It's a means of producing new solutions, but the fact that we have a choice between those two is what tips the balance very, very slightly in the favor of the good for the long term."
On the next 20 years: "Now we think about the future of the Web, we think it's going to be the better Web; it's going to be Web 2.0, but it's not. It's going to be as different from the Web as Web was from TV. I think in that next stage it's also going to be a very frontier-like situation where there is openness; There is lawlessness. There are land grabs; There is a sense in which the great uncertainty and new wealth and the resistance of the established players trying to bend things in their direction."
On managing our use of technology: "It's important that we understand that the proper way and the best way and the most efficient way for us to manage and regulate and control our technology is not by surrendering it and giving it up, relinquishing it or prohibiting it. The primary way we want to do this is by engaging with it, being constantly vigilant and working with it, using it, and it's through use that we can actually steer it."
On new ways to win: "Technology is increasing the number of races in which you can win. There are more and more niches and more and more places in which the technology creates new ways in which one can win. There isn't a finite number of winners, there's an infinite number of winners as long as you're not trying to win someone else's race. The way everybody can become a winner is to continue to increase the number of ways to play, even though you have these winner-take-all phenomena."
On big data: "We used to rearrange atoms, now it's all about rearranging data. That is really what we’ll see in the next 10 years...That's what these networks are going to do. They're going to release data from language to make it machine-readable and recombine it in an infinite number of ways that we're not even thinking about. But to do that will require a set of tools that we don't have right now."
On where technology begins: "And so I look at the network of all the technology in the world, past and present, as forming a system that seems to have its own urges and tendencies. Like any kind of a system, it will have certain ways that it's biased to, and those biases are inherent in the system. It doesn't really matter which humans are living or not; it's a systems bias. The question I've been asking myself is, what are the biases of this system of all the technologies in the world together?"
What IS technology? "It's anything that's being produced by our minds, and that would include not the individual works of art but the technologies of art, painting and symphonies. These were all, in some senses, technologies, they are products of our mind and not just a personal expression but something that's useful, and so intangibles like a calendar are a technology. Software obviously is a technology. Infrastructures like roads and a library, these are technological inventions, and so it's a very broad definition. I would suggest that in the future when we have robots and AIs, the inventions that these minds will make will also be technologies. That's what technology is."