Having predicted technological trends correctly in the past, Kevin Kelly’s The Inevitable (2016) digs into 12 fundamental trends that will shape the next 30 years of our lifetime.
Described as a “packager of ideas” and “possibly the most interesting man alive”, “KK” has travelled the world extensively, built his own house, and founded his own tech magazine – “Wired”.
Not only has he been writing on technology for years, but he famously limits and distances himself from much of it.
We Can Track Technology’s General Direction
Technology is like evolution itself. It isn’t predictably converging at a fixed singular point that we can predict. Rather, it is moving forward in a multi-directional and multi-phased capacity.
The singular point to where it goes cannot be predicted, but it’s general direction can, the “inevitable”.
Although the general direction is out of our control, we do have a choice about the specifics for how it works for us. Given such, we need to embrace it.
Discontent Goes Hand in Hand with Improvement
We keep inventing new things that make new longings, make holes in our heart. However, this discontent is the trigger for our ingenuity and growth.
A world without discomfort is utopia. But it is also stagnant. Utopia has no problems to solve, but therefore no opportunities either.
We Are In a World of “Constant Upgrade”
We are in a “protopia”.
Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process where things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better.
Our technologies and our information bank always need to be better than what we have now.
At one time, you would buy a product and it would last for 10, 20, even 50 years. Now, a computer needs to be replaced for a newer model every 3-5 years. A telephone is expected to be upgraded to a newer model every 1-2 years. Each device has software that needs to be upgraded on a regular basis.
Opportunities are Hidden when We Move Fast
In a world where everything will always be upgrading, we won’t have time to master anything before it’s displaced.
Amongst all the motion, big changes will catch us off guard. For example, in 1994, people ignored the text-only internet. Many thought the internet would never go mainstream.
In the Future, Everything will be Intelligent.
AI will be added to all types of devices and applications in the same manner that electricity was added to items in the last century.
Genuine AI will look something like Amazon Web Services—simply plug your machine into the grid like electricity. Take your process and add AI.
It is going to produce change on the level of the industrial revolution and beyond, touching every aspect of our lives. The 1st industrial revolution started because of the intervention of artificial power, which harnessed water power, steam power, fossil fuels and then electricity. This allowed us to build skyscrapers, build highways, railways, create cities, subways etc. We’re now going to create artificial minds and add it to artificial power.
Jobs Will Change on a Massive Scale
At the rate AI technology is improving, a kid born today will rarely need to see a doctor to get a diagnosis by the time they are an adult.
AI can help humans become better chess players, better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.
This century, as in the last, 70 percent of jobs will be replaced by automation.
More Manufacturing will be Re-Shored/Kept at Home
As manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Consequently, nearby will become cheap. So we will start seeing a network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within five miles of where they are needed.
We Shouldn’t Fear the Changes Robots Will Bring
The idea that machines are going to replace the human entirely is a fallacy because IQ or intelligence isn’t just one dimensional, it is hugely complex and multi-tiered.
A.I. will be better than us in very specific purposes where we decide to make it to be – the same way a calculator is better than us in arithmetic.
Robots will perform tasks we can’t do, don’t want to do, and didn’t even know could be done, freeing us to discover new jobs for ourselves, and new tasks that expand who we are.
Industrialization led a greater percentage of the population to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters. Over time the machines will do these as well.
We’ll then be empowered to dream up yet more answers to the question “What should we do?”
We are used to industry commentators, and media especially, viewing technological developments through a negative and skeptical lens. We have to remind ourselves that often we are actually in control of our destiny and therefore have the opportunity to affect positive change and create the future we want to see and experience.
Competitive Advantages Will Exist for those who Embrace Change
Success will go to those who best optimize the process of working with bots and machines. You’ll even be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.
Our human assignment will be to keep making jobs for robots – and that is a task that will never be finished.
Work on What Can’t Be Copied
The only things truly valuable are those that cannot be copied. For example: trust, branding, in real time, signed by the author, live, in person, authenticated. This is what you should be working on.
Everything will be Filtered & Personalised
In the future, no one will have time to read anything. The Library of Everything brings an infinite hall of options.
And a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.
So, allocating attention to an exponentially expanding universe requires filtering based on who we are.
These future filters will both serve us and surprise us.
To achieve this filtering, we need intense personalization. In return, this will drive an expectation to want more of what we know we’ll like, what our friends like, and stuff we don’t like but want to like.
Consumers Want Flexibility & Access
Big audiences don’t crave free music or movies – we want flexibility. We want to reorder our songs, sample soundtracks, manipulate, tag, and link things to other things. Streaming services provide unconfined elements.
Going forward, we are likely to get impatient with experiences that don’t have undo, pause or rewind buttons.
We want things that flow, in time and space.
Ownership of “Things” will Decline
On the back of flexibility, society will shift from one where we own assets, to one where we have access to services we don’t own – all of the time.
For example, Uber owns no vehicles and AirBnB owns no real estate. Such companies’ instant borrowing gives us the benefits of owning with few of the disadvantages.
The trend in the past 30 years has been to make better stuff using fewer materials: “dematerialization”:
Experiences are Becoming the New “Materials”:
While the cost of everything heads to zero, the price of human experiences continues to rise. Entertainment, restaurants, personal coaches, babysitters, weddings – all are increasing annually in cost.
In the future, the only jobs we will have will involve experiences.
Sharing has Only Begun
“On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
The volume of creative work in the next decade will dwarf the volume of the last 50 years. More artists, authors, and musicians are creating more books, songs, films, documentaries, photographs, artworks, operas, and albums every year. Who will pay them? Kickstarter.
Any idea, thought, expression or artefact can be contributed to by anyone and experienced by anyone if they so desire.
In the future, Everything will be Immersive
Virtual reality is a fake world that feels authentic – even hyperreal. Our primitive mind thinks we’re 30 meters above the floor. But VR’s enduring benefits spring from its interactivity.
The best VR triggers a deep engagement with other people. The newest Samsung Galaxy phone contains eye tracking technology so we’ll be able to make eye contact with people in VR.
Our devices will ‘know’ us and we will know worlds and others through our devices.
Everything will be Tracked
In the future, everything will be recorded – there will be total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers.
We’ll measure a thousand different aspects of ourselves to create personal treatments and medicines.
Digital eyes and ears can record every second of our entire day. We’ll record everything we do, all the time, for our entire lives, with total recall.
Billions of things will track themselves too. In the U.S. in 2016, aspects of our lives that are routinely tracked are: car movements, highway traffic, taxis, plane and train trips, mail, cell phone locations, electronic device data, credit card transactions, internet activities, fitness data, and many, many other activities.
By 2020, we will manufacture 54 billion sensors every year. Ceaseless tracking is inevitable.
Because the ability to do so is easier, we are increasing tracking everything we do.
Because we have digital devices with us all the time, we are taking more pictures and interacting more in our society. All this interaction on a digital level is leaving a trail. This trail or data collection can be used for good and nefarious purposes. By collecting health data, doctors can better treat you because there is a vast benchmark on your condition. On the flip side, insurance companies can deny you coverage because of your documented background.
All of this information that we are collecting is also feeding the AI engines of the world. Everything we are contributing to the digital world is part of our lifestream. It helps to tell our story as well as predict our future. Our lifestreams are intertwined with the lifestreams of others. This also increases an AI’s ability to accurately predict what will next happen.
All Technology Takes From You
In a podcast talking about the book, Kevin Kelly explains that – “for every bit of technology we bring in to our lives there is a cost”.
You can’t bring something in without paying for it over time – it has to replace something.
That realisation means you need to be very selective about what you bring in.
The Amish for example, will only adapt a new piece of technology if they decide that it will bring them closer to their core family values.
This way of living, which Kevin Kelly also practices, can be described as “selective minimalism”.
It’s Only the Beginning
The internet feels saturated with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content. But, “most things are all still ahead of us”.
The greybeards in 2050 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh: “oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”
There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something.
There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now.
Good Questions Trump Good Answers
The paradox of science is that every answer breeds at least two new questions.
To steer a kayak on white-water rapids you need to be paddling at least as fast as the water runs. To navigate the disruption coming at us, you need to be flowing as fast as the frontier is flowing.
The best questions are not questions that lead to answers:
• A good question is not concerned with a correct answer.
• Cannot be answered immediately.
• Challenges existing answers.
• Is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked.
• Creates a new territory of thinking.
• Skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious.
• Cannot be predicted.
• Is the sign of an educated mind.
• Is one that generates many other good questions