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What Technology Wants

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3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  1,897 ratings  ·  219 reviews
"More thriller than primer, this is the best technology book I have ever read." -Nicholas Negroponte, author of Being Digital

In this provocative book, one of today's most respected thinkers turns the conversation about technology on its head by viewing technology as a natural system, an extension of biological evolution. By mapping the behavior of life, we paradoxically ge
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Paperback, 416 pages
Published September 27th 2011 by Penguin Books (first published October 1st 2010)
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Danny
In ‘What Technology Wants’ Kelly makes the case that the grand sweep of and direction of technology (which he terms the technium) shares parallels with evolutionary principals. He uses this analogy to suggest that there are universal laws that dictate the trajectory of technology and push it towards a predetermined goal: what technology ‘wants’ to achieve. Along the way, he paints a very happy picture of the thrust of technology – postulating that it will become ever more complex, beautiful, fre ...more
Marc Weidenbaum
This is a characteristic exercise in factoid-packed mega-optimism by the founding editor of Wired Magazine. The man whose final year of tenure as head of the magazine brought us the famous "Dow 36,000" article here tackles the role of technology in our lives, and how technology has what is, in essence, a life of its own. The future is just as bright, according to What Technology Wants, as it was in "Dow 36,000" -- but, of course, we know what came of that prediction.

I found the opening chapter
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What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly




Kevin Kelly views technology as a natural organic living process. He calls it the technium. He views it as being part of human evolution. I found the ideas to be fascinating but overly anthropomorphic. He gave living qualities to stone, steel, spoons, bricks, and computers. There is both a humanizing and a dehumanizing aspect to this writing.



The humanizing aspect is a view of increased possibilities, more opportunities to create greater freedoms and greater c
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Jane Friedman
This is a history and culture book as much as it's a "technology" or futurism book. It's one of the few books I've read in the last decade that really deserved to be a BOOK—something that commands your attention and requires immersive reading. The way you see the world is likely to change by the end, and if you're not already immersed in the tech industry (and likely feel yourself "above" this book), then I guarantee you'll be talking about and recommending it to others.
Kyle
Oct 12, 2012 Kyle rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kyle by: Scot
Although I found a number of interesting and compelling things in this book, I can't say it was a good book overall.

Kelly looks at the inexorable march of technology and seeks patterns. He does a compelling job pointing out how the "technium" (his word for the technological sphere around us) evolves, builds, multiplies choice, and is generally a force for good. Along the way he makes excellent points about the semi-directional nature of advancement and how some technologies may be inevitable as
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Nick
I was surprised by how much of this book I actually _dis_liked. I've been following the technium blog for a while, and always remember liking it. The book certainly has parts I appreciated, and on the whole they probably mostly compensate for the negatives. But still. I think my dislike was primarily based on evidence-lacking claims, or things passed off too quickly as some sort of fact. Trying to sound technical doesn't make something correct. Graphs without axes scales don't help.

p3: "When the
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Dave Emmett
Wow.

Kelly builds on arguments from Kurzweil's The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, showing how technology is a continuation of biological evolution. Our minds are accelerating evolution using ideas instead of genes.

To me, the most beautiful section of this book was the beginning of Chapter 4, which describes the history of the universe through the lens of a single atom. For billions of years, atoms traversed the universe in solitude, never encountering anything else but the em
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Nick
Although I disagree with many of Kelly's points, my main reasons for giving this book only two stars are its length--was it really necessary to recap the history of the universe from the Big Bang?--and Kelly's almost tautological optimism about technology. He consistently dismisses or downplays criticisms and negative aspects of the evolution of technology, developing from his basic premise--that technology is a self-sustaining and somewhat autonomous system--the tautological proposition that al ...more
Jon
How can a book about technology have such interesting parts about fire and agriculture, and such boring parts about computers and cell phones? He's really into the Amish.
Sagar Vibhute
Kevin Kelly is an optimist. You can't escape that conclusion once you put down the book.

As a reasonably incompetent technologist I agree with much of what he says when he speaks of the capability of technology to do good - increase our choices, liberate individuals who recognize it as a way to something new, empower struggles and revolutions (Newspapers have changed dynasties, even Twitter was an outlet for the Arab Spring to exchange voices) and can characterize an entire generation and society
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Greg
This is one of the most incredible books I've ever read. I would heartily recommend this to anyone. I wonder at the ability of many of my friends to comprehend anything that he puts into this book, but then, at the same time, I don't know how much I actually understood, either. In any case, the case he lays out for the evolution of technology, the process of invention, the timing of invention and ubiquity of multiple-invention, is simply astounding. I begin to wonder at wisdom of our current pat ...more
Abbey
Technology has goals in the sense that a star has goals: a star "wants" to consume fuel, and technology "wants" to develop toward complexity. Technium (the author's personification of technology) is a selfish, grasping blob that seeks energy, input, development; it's the same as any evolutionary force. It's predatory, too: it eats other blobs of technologies along the way to become mashups of whole new inevitabilities. Technology is an inescapable force. Kelly makes technology seem like it is pr ...more
Eva
Kevin Kelly shows us the similarities in the evolution of biological life and the evolution of technology. This is demonstrated with logarithmic graphs that are hard to dispute, and the always fascinating examples of similar lifeforms/technologies emerging simultaneously yet independently at different locations.

So, technology is this emergent phenomenon that accompanies biological life and seems to take over with rapid speed. And we are all scared. But: While the forces driving biological evolut
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ian kennedy
NYTimes piece comparing cities to living organisms is a nice primer to Kelly's introduction.

I thoroughly enjoyed Kelly's unique perspective on technology as an extension of our bodies. It's not a barbeque, it's an externalization of our stomach. In this same way, humans have invented the internet as a way to externalize our brain and evolve ideas even faster than before. It's nothing new, it's a natural extension of the arc that was put in place when people first started transmitting ideas from
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Sean
This book provides a useful lens for viewing tech and humanity's relationship to tech: View tech as nature. Just as humans aren't all that different from the rest of the animals, the tech created and used by humans are not all that different from humans and the rest; it's all a part of the same evolving system of nature. In thinking about new tech, it's extremely useful to step away from the predominant tendency to zoom in and obsess over individual products. It helps to look at these products a ...more
Sue
This book is well written, but I'm not sure I agree with the conclusions. He makes a good case for how wonderful the future will be when every inanimate object is intelligent. But I'm not sure I buy it.

There's no question the Internet is addictive and it's hard to not appreciate its delights. Nobody seems to want to turn it off and head back into reality. At the same time, though, too much time linked in is like too much time in front of the TV: after a while it becomes depressing.

Kelly is not
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Charles
Kelly is a distinguished tech journalist (former executive editor of Wired magazine) and knows everyone who’s ever been anyone in Silicon Valley. Like all the best techies of a certain age, his roots are in hippydom, as a leading light of the Whole Earth Catalogue in the 1970s. He still sees technology in terms of its wider contribution to life.

Amish communities appear frequently in his writing as he admires their conscious, selective attitude to technology, echoing his own restrictive rules fo
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Austin
In many ways What Technology Wants is a good companion to the book The Rational Optimist. Whereas the latter focuses on the economic and sociological implications of progress, the former focuses on the evolution of technology. And evolution is truly his theme throughout the book. Early on, Kelly (one of the founders of Wired Magazine) coins the phrase 'technium' to mean something similar to 'biosphere' or 'ecosystem' in the technological realm. He draws many parallels between the forces acting o ...more
Brendan
Kevin Kelly’s nonfiction treatise explores the question of what we should make of the seemingly-independent course the technological apparatus around us charts daily. This apparatus, which Kelly calls the technium, both depends on and guides us, and our ability, or inability, to ignore its treasures goes only so far as we’re willing to become Amish in some way (even the Amish adopt new technologies, it turns out). A few thoughts:

Like Manuel De Landa in War in the Age of Intelligent Machines, Ke
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Vanessa Blaylock
If Annie Dillard had written the screenplay for 2001: A Space Odyssey, it might have been What Technology Wants.

This book is a masterpiece. I couldn't put it down, so I read it twice in a row. Note that it's very "up my alley," so your taste and mileage may vary. Without exactly addressing too much about posthuman ideas, Kelly in some ways goes even wider than the Singularity / Humanity+ authors. In the end he is a cheerleader. But many other authors are cheerleaders from Page 1, and Kelly is f
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Steven Comfort
What Technology Wants is like his last book Out of Control in that it attempts to capture the "whole" of technology -- with strong emphasis on tech's symbiosis with biology and some non-obvious similarities to natural systems. It takes a big mind like Kevin's to look for technological innovation via the Amish; and to understand the similarities between natural systems like bees building a hive and man-made technologies like the Amish hive-mind at work at a communal barn-building... Kevin even pu ...more
Diana
very powerful insights on why a separation between being and technology is a misconception, both in philosophy and science. The concept of technium is more than useful to understand evolution and growth of human minf and opportunities.
however, this concept should be manipulated very carefully, as it also may became a totem (its descriptive power should be preserved from intellectulisation).
He also talks about future, subject I am passionate about, and what he says makes a lot of sense (and a l
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Adam Jacobson
I found this book tremendously frustrating. Certainly many points of excellent incite about technology and how it develops. However, the insight is surrounded by a pseudo-mystical faith in technology as well as a very strange idea of technology as an independent entity that "wants" something.
People seem to love it so maybe I'm missing something. I imagine if you can go in for technology as something with a volition that wants something, you'll like the book. If the very idea sounds strange, you
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Joshua Kriesberg
I read this book after reading Sherry Turkle's "Alone Together". Sherry Turkle's concern about technology isn't dismissed by Kelly, but he paints a far more upbeat portrayal of our future or, at least, our potential future. He recognizes that we are both "masters and slaves" of technology, and technology is "like a child" which we have created but of which we are not fully in control. He even draws the analogy that technology (in the very broadest of terms) is evolving like other life forms, and ...more
Don
This is a most fantastic explanation and imagining of technology as a historical force and a living organism and how it affects humanity. This book blew my mind more than once.
Tom Tresansky
Pretty awful. Full of faulty logic, Strawmen, overgeneralizations, and rhetorical questions that just make you want to scream "No, not always!" I liked the chapter on the Amish, that was full of interesting details about that subculture. The chapter on the Unibomber was just plan creepy - despite the author including disclaimer after disclaimer about how he didn't condone anything - it pushed past sympathetic and into paean. He mentions several video games I've enjoyed, specifically Halo, in way ...more
Philip
I found Kevin Kelley’s book What Technology Wants thoroughly interesting, but a couple of sections struck home. The first was his description of the lifestyle of early hunter hominids, before they settled down and started growing food. According to Kelly, it was a somewhat idyllic lifestyle in which the hunters hung out and snoozed all day, punctuated with brief periods of furious activity. Sounds like game development to me (I can imagine a hunter complaining in a chase postmortem – “man, I hat ...more
Ninakix
It was suggested to me I read this book along with or directly after Steven Johnson's book, as they represented a kind of trajectory of thought. I think I would reiterate this advice to anybody who asked, as some of the dynamics of how Kevin Kelly's views of technology seem to coincide with Johnson's ideas about ideas quite well. The book is definitely a mind flex, forcing you to view the world in a different way, and for this reason alone it's probably worth a read. His points represent a compe ...more
Shea Mastison
I'm not sure that I would call this a good book, necessarily. It was thought-provoking. Kevin Kelly, the founder of Wired magazine and one-time hippy Luddite, offers a few compelling ideas about the nature of technology as a whole; which he refers to as the "Technium." The technium has been around since before the dawn of mankind (acting as primitive tools for our simian ancestors); but it has accelerated its development, and our own, by living in amazingly close proximity to us.

To Kelly, the e
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Arnav Shah
This review was originally published on my blog

It's rare to come across something that touches the very fabric of our existence in such profound ways - it's mesmerizing. So it is the case with What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly. In one of the most insightful books I've ever read, Kevin Kelly weaves together thoughts on the journey of technology (which as a whole, he calls the technium) and ties it in with all other parts of life, the universe, and everything (quite literally). This is of cour
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Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor from its inception until 1999. He is also editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which gets half a million unique visitors per month. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hack ...more
More about Kevin Kelly...
Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems, and the Economic World Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities New Rules for the New Economy Cool Tools Signal : communication tools for the information age, a Whole Earth catalog

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“Humans are the reproductive organs of technology.” 20 likes
“Extrapolated, technology wants what life wants:
Increasing efficiency
Increasing opportunity
Increasing emergence
Increasing complexity
Increasing diversity
Increasing specialization
Increasing ubiquity
Increasing freedom
Increasing mutualism
Increasing beauty
Increasing sentience
Increasing structure
Increasing evolvability”
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