The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
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Constant flux means more than simply “things will be different.” It means processes—the engines of flux—are now more important than products. Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was not a particular gadget or tool but the invention of the scientific process itself.
Adrian Hon
Welcome to my new approach to reviewing non-fiction books - through notes on quotes! Kevin Kelly, of course, is the founding editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, both of which were very influential in the development of Silicon Valley. I enjoyed his 2010 book, What Technology Wants, and I had high hopes for this one, at least until I saw the book's subtitle contained the phase "12 technological forces" which is always a harbinger of "airport book" doom. I should note that I had dinner with Kevin Kelly a couple of years back after my talk at the Long Now. He was very nice and drove me back to my hotel. ("Notes on Quotes". That's a great title. I'm copyrighting it. You heard it here - NO-ONE STEAL MY IDEA!!!1!)
Otis Chandler liked this
Kevin Kelly
Kevin Kelly
Adrian, thanks for the fantastic close read and responses. I love your idea of Notes on Quotes. I'm honored to be the subject of your launch. I also greatly enjoyed your observations, which I found h…
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But as our personal technology is becoming more complex, more codependent upon peripherals, more like a living ecosystem, delaying upgrading is even more disruptive. If you neglect ongoing minor upgrades, the change backs up so much that the eventual big upgrade reaches traumatic proportions. So I now see upgrading as a type of hygiene: You do it regularly to keep your tech healthy.
Adrian Hon
Yes! Upgrading is important, if only for security reasons. You simply cannot expect consumer tech companies to anticipate every form of attack. You're buying a smartphone here, not a Space Shuttle.
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Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better.
Adrian Hon
This is why I like drawing comparisons with 30/50/100 years ago, rather than, say, 1 or 5 years ago. Although I think that no-one would want to swap their new iPhone with an iPhone 4.
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Unlike the last century, nobody wants to move to the distant future. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we’re stuck in the short now, a present without a generational perspective.
Adrian Hon
No-one ever got fired for predicting a civilization-ending existential threat. Not that I think we should ignore climate change or asteroids or nuclear war - but if everyone is convinced the world will end in 30 years, it's hard to get people to invest in the future. (Interestingly, the super-disappointing Tomorrowland movie touched upon this)
Teague liked this
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A lot of what happens in Facebook, or on a phone app, or inside a game world, or even inside a video can’t be searched right now. In 30 years it will be. The tendrils of hyperlinks will keep expanding to connect all the bits. The events that take place in a console game will be as searchable as the news.
Adrian Hon
That is a very optimistic view, to put it lightly.
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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.
Adrian Hon
This quote is in the context of people constantly lamenting that they weren't born 20 years ago, at the birth of apps/the web/the internet/videogames/personal computers/semiconductors etc. I'm sure that we'll look back at 2017 as the most exciting time in VR. You can be the first people to do X in VR! That is a really cool thing. Unfortunately you can't really make any money in VR so, yeah... get rich parents, or something.
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Cloud computing empowers the law of increasing returns, sometimes called the network effect, which holds that the value of a network increases much faster as it grows bigger. The bigger the network, the more attractive it is to new users, which makes it even bigger and thus more attractive, and so on. A cloud that serves AI will obey the same law. The more people who use an AI, the smarter it gets. The smarter it gets, the more people who use it. The more people who use it, the smarter it gets. And so on. Once a company enters this virtuous cycle, it tends to grow so big so fast that it ...more
Adrian Hon
Hard to argue against this one, unfortunately. Seems like only Apple is making a serious stab at this, with its 'differential privacy' approach, but yeah... you may only be able to pick between two or three personal assistants in the future. And you might not even be able to pay for them - instead, they'll be free, but they'll want everything from you.
Kurtis
Kurtis
Seems like Google and Amazon are way ahead to me. Amazon is quickly building a constantly growíng network of everybody's consuming habits, and Google the same but with everybody's inner most thoughts…
Kurtis
Kurtis
And yes they will want everything from you and we will organically give it to them for extremely personalized services. Kelly's slider bar metaphor explains it perfectly most will slide it towards tr…
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Because of a quirk in our evolutionary history, we are cruising as the only self-conscious species on our planet, leaving us with the incorrect idea that human intelligence is singular. It is not. Our intelligence is a society of intelligences, and this suite occupies only a small corner of the many types of intelligences and consciousnesses that are possible in the universe. We like to call our human intelligence “general purpose,” because compared with other kinds of minds we have met, it can solve more types of problems, but as we build more and more synthetic minds we’ll come to realize ...more
Adrian Hon
This is a cool thought. Kelly follows it up with a list of potential types of intelligences, e.g. "the smallest possible self-aware intelligence" and "an intelligence smart enough to envisage a more powerful intelligence but not smart enough to build it". Which might describe humans :/ The book has a few of these idiosyncratic brainstorming lists scattered around. They're fun but perhaps would have been better placed in the end notes.
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If we aren’t unique toolmakers, or artists, or moral ethicists, then what, if anything, makes us special? In the grandest irony of all, the greatest benefit of an everyday, utilitarian AI will not be increased productivity or an economics of abundance or a new way of doing science—although all those will happen. The greatest benefit of the arrival of artificial intelligence is that AIs will help define humanity. We need AIs to tell us who we are.
Adrian Hon
Humans: people who make AIs.
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Here are the Seven Stages of Robot Replacement: 1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do. 2. [Later.] OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do. 3. [Later.] OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often. 4. [Later.] OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks. 5. [Later.] OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do. 6. [Later.] Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays ...more
Adrian Hon
Great bit. I read this somewhere on the internets and it was what made me seek out the book.
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This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines. Most of what you do will not be possible without them. And there will be a blurry line between what you do and what they do.
Adrian Hon
Hard to race with a machine if it's going at 100mph and you can run at 8mph. Or if the person next to you Usain Bolt, or has an exoskeleton that can boost them to 80mph. OK, I don't know if my metaphor has any value.
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Early gramophone equipment could make recordings that contained no more than four and a half minutes, so musicians abbreviated meandering works to fit to the phonograph, and today the standard duration of a pop song is four and a half minutes.
Adrian Hon
Nice bit of trivia there.
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A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated at the time of the transaction. A generative thing cannot be copied, cloned, stored, and warehoused. A generative cannot be faked or replicated. It is generated uniquely, for that particular exchange, in real time. Generative qualities add value to free copies and therefore are something that can be sold.
Adrian Hon
This is an important point. He says there are eight generative qualities: immediacy, personalisation, interpretation, authenticity, accessibility, embodiment, patronage (see below), and discoverability.
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Fans love to reward artists, musicians, authors, actors, and other creators with the tokens of their appreciation, because it allows them to connect with people they admire. But they will pay only under four conditions that are not often met: 1) It must be extremely easy to do; 2) The amount must be reasonable; 3) There’s clear benefit to them for paying; and 4) It’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators.
Adrian Hon
Valuable advice for anyone building the next Patreon/Kickstarter/Itch.io
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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.
Adrian Hon
"The notes are coming from INSIDE Goodreads!"
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Right now the best we can do in terms of interconnection is to link some text to its source’s title in a bibliography or in a footnote. Much better would be a link to a specific passage in another passage in a work, a technical feat not yet possible. But when we can link deeply into documents at the resolution of a sentence, and have those links go two ways, we’ll have networked books.
Adrian Hon
I would love to do this, but you know: fucking publishers. (Frankly I'm amazed that Goodreads are making quotes like this public. And unfortunately I can't seem to find an anchor permalink to specific quotes on this Goodreads page, which sucks. But maybe this is due to some bizarre legal point that Amazon is dancing around, like it's OK to have quotes but not OK for people to jump directly to them.)
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Science is on a long-term campaign to bring all knowledge in the world into one vast, interconnected, footnoted, peer-reviewed web of facts. Independent facts, even those that make sense in their own world, are of little value to science. (The pseudo- and parasciences are nothing less, in fact, than small pools of knowledge that are not connected to the large network of science. They are valid only in their own network.) In this way, every new observation or bit of data brought into the web of science enhances the value of all other data points.
Adrian Hon
Genuinely interesting thought.
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Books were good at developing a contemplative mind. Screens encourage more utilitarian thinking. A new idea or unfamiliar fact uncovered while screening will provoke our reflex to do something: to research the term, to query your screen “friends” for their opinions, to find alternative views, to create a bookmark,
Adrian Hon
I've definitely noticed this habit myself. I never used to highlight passages in books, mostly because I knew in my heart of hearts that I'd never bother looking at the book again. But ever since my Kindle highlights synced to the web, I started doing it more. And now that these highlights are shareable and can be made public - well, shit just got real. The one problem is that I'm more distracted while reading, as I occasionally think, would this highlight be popular with other people? Just how many internet points would I get from it?
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The trend in the past 30 years has been to make better stuff using fewer materials. A classic example is the beer can, whose basic shape, size, and function have been unchanged for 80 years. In 1950 a beer can was made of tin-coated steel and it weighed 73 grams. In 1972 lighter, thinner, cleverly shaped aluminum reduced the weight to 21 grams. Further ingenious folds and curves introduced yet more reductions in the raw materials such that today the can weighs only 13 grams, or one fifth of its original weight. And the new cans don’t need a beer can opener. More benefits for just 20 percent of ...more
Adrian Hon
Awesome stats.
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Since the 1970s, the weight of the average automobile has fallen by 25 percent.
Adrian Hon
Top quality stat.
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In 1870 it took 4 kilograms of stuff to generate one unit of the U.S.’s GDP. In 1930 it took only one kilogram. Recently the value of GDP per kilogram of inputs rose from $1.64 in 1977 to $3.58 in 2000—a doubling of dematerialization in 23 years.
Adrian Hon
Doesn't get better than this.
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Friends of mine had to ground their teenager for a serious infraction. They confiscated her cell phone. They were horrified when she became physically ill, vomiting. It was almost as if she’d had an amputation. And in one sense she had. If a cloud company restricts or censors our actions, we’ll feel pain. Separation from the comfort and new identity afforded by the cloud will be horrendous and unbearable.
Adrian Hon
My first reaction to these kinds of stories is: really? Physically ill? My inner Scully is unleashed and I want to don a sensible black pantsuit, fly to San Francisco (I mean, come on, it can't be anywhere else) and interrogate the teenager in question. Having said that: there are seven billion people in the world and it's inevitable some people will have severe reactions to being deprived of their connection with the world. So I don't mean to be flippant.
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The box in my apartment is refreshed four times a day. That means I can leave my refreshables (like clothes) there and have them replenished in a few hours. The complex also has its own Node where hourly packages come in via drones, robo vans, and robo bikes from the local processing center. I tell my device what I need and then it’s in my box (at home or at work) within two hours, often sooner. The Node in the lobby also has an awesome 3-D printing fab that can print just about anything in metal, composite, and tissue.
Adrian Hon
This comes from one of several speculative fictions scattered throughout the book. I quite liked this idea of having a box in your room, refreshed by unseen robotic minions/underpaid serfs. It's like a high-tech dumbwaiter. Speaking of dumbwaiters, there is a thought that everything that rich people have now, poor(er) people will have in the future thanks to technology. So while kings of yore might have minstrels to sing to him and jesters to create hyperlocalised memes, we now have YouTube and Instagram. Did you know that kings would have a crew who'd accompany him when he went to bed so he wouldn't get bored? They'd even chat with him while he was having a shit. Now we just have Twitter to use on the toilet.
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My father sometimes asks me if I feel untethered and irresponsible not owning anything. I tell him I feel the opposite: I feel a deep connection to the primeval. I feel like an ancient hunter-gatherer who owns nothing as he wends his way through the complexities of nature, conjuring up a tool just in time for its use and then leaving it behind as he moves on. It is the farmer who needs a barn for his accumulation. The digital native is free to race ahead and explore the unknown.
Adrian Hon
I feel like this when I visit foreign countries armed with just my iPhone, a credit card, and my passport. I stride the world like a conqueror, summoning servants to transport me places (Uber), consulting wise locals for the finest restaurants (Yelp), and mapping out my travels (you get it). This worked really well until I went to Shanghai, whereupon the Great Firewall of China fucked me up badly.
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While futuristic products such as Second Life’s virtual reality made it easy to share an imaginary version of yourself, Facebook made a lot more money by making it easy to share the authentic version of yourself.
Adrian Hon
Ahahahahahahaha. No.
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It is 10 times easier today to make a simple video than 10 years ago. It is a hundred times easier to create a small mechanical part and make it real than a century ago. It is a thousand times easier today to write and publish a book than a thousand years ago.
Adrian Hon
OK, one of the things that I dislike about this book is Kelly's tendency to throw out superlative numbers with precisely no evidence, and for little discernable benefit. "It's a thousand times easier to write and publish a book today than a thousand years ago?" What a coincidence! Like, it's not ten thousand times easier? Or a hundred times easier? I just don't get it.
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A filter dedicated to probing one’s dislikes would have to be delicate, but could also build on the powers of large collaborative databases in the spirit of “people who disliked those, learned to like this one.” In somewhat the same vein I also, occasionally, want a bit of stuff I dislike but should learn to like. For me that might be anything related to nutritional supplements, details of political legislation, or hip-hop music. Great teachers have a knack for conveying unsavory packages to the unwilling in a way that does not scare them off; great filters can too. But would anyone sign up ...more
Adrian Hon
For me, this is called "The New Yorker".
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Right now, no one signs up for any of these filters because filters are primarily installed by platforms. The 200 average friends of your average Facebook member already post such a torrent of updates that Facebook feels it must cut, edit, clip, and filter your news to a more manageable stream. You do not see all the posts your friends make. Which ones have been filtered out? By what criteria? Only Facebook knows, and it considers the formulas trade secrets. What it is optimizing for is not even communicated. The company talks about increasing the satisfaction of members, but a fair guess is ...more
Adrian Hon
Genuinely important point. Facebook is here to make money. Google is here to make money. Don't you ever forget that.
Adam liked this
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A lousy 20 cents per hour of attention that we watchers “earn” for TV companies, or even a dollar an hour for upscale newspapers, reflects the worth of what I call “commodity attention.”
Adrian Hon
Netflix costs $10/month in the US, so that's about 50 hours of TV. Do people watch 50 hours of Netflix a month, or 12 hours a week? Or do they watch less than that, but value it more because it has no ads, has a wider selection, and (maybe) better content?
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the average cost to consume one hour of media in 1995, 2010, and 2015 is respectively $3.08, $2.69, and $3.37. That means that the value of our attention has been remarkably stable over 20 years.
Adrian Hon
Kelly calculated this from the cost of books, videogames, movies, etc.
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The fears that technology makes us more uniform, more commoditized are incorrect. The more we are personalized, the easier it is for the filters because we become distinct, an actualized distinction they can reckon with. At its heart, the modern economy runs on distinction and the power of differences—which can be accentuated by filters and technology. We can use the mass filtering that is coming to sharpen who we are, for the personalization of our own person.
Adrian Hon
Yeah... OR MAYBE mass filtering will push us into easily-defined advertising categories (public radio-listening liberal, Duck Dynasty republican) before it gets better and gets truly personalised.
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One of the revolutionary qualities of books is their ability to repeat themselves for the reader, at the reader’s request, as many times as wanted.
Adrian Hon
QFT.
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A zillion neurons give you a smartness a million won’t. A zillion data points will give you insight that a mere hundred thousand don’t. A zillion chips connected to the internet create a pulsating, vibrating unity that 10 million chips can’t. A zillion hyperlinks will give you information and behavior you could never expect from a hundred thousand links. The social web runs in the land of zillionics. Artificial intelligence, robotics, and virtual realities all require mastery of zillionics. But the skills needed to manage zillionics are daunting.
Adrian Hon
Kelly's worst tendencies on display again. He is being perfectly serious about coining this term "zillionics". We didn't need a new word for this, Kelly! We didn't need a new word.
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When you grow up having “always known” that such a thing as Wikipedia works, when it is obvious to you that open source software is better than polished proprietary goods, when you are certain that sharing your photos and other data yields more than safeguarding them—then these assumptions will become a platform for a yet more radical embrace of the common wealth. What once seemed impossible is now taken for granted.
Adrian Hon
I hope so.
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We are headed for a trillion times increase. As noted earlier, a shift by a trillion is not merely a change in quantity, but a change in essence. Most of what “everybody knows” about human beings has so far been based on the human individual. But there may be a million different ways to connect several billion people, and each way will reveal something new about us. Or each way may create in us something new. Either way, our humanity will shift.
Adrian Hon
Sigh.
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The internets are also brimming with improbable feats of performance—someone who can run up a side of a building, or slide down suburban rooftops on a snowboard, or stack up cups faster than you can blink.
Adrian Hon
Kelly occasionally calls it "the internets" and I can't tell whether he's being funny or if it's a typo.
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Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we’ll see or hear about today. The internet is like a lens that focuses the extraordinary into a beam, and that beam has become our illumination. It compresses the unlikely into a small viewable band of everydayness. As long as we are online—which is almost all day many days—we are illuminated by this compressed extraordinariness. It is the new normal. That light of superness changes us. We no longer want mere presentations; we want the best, ...more
Adrian Hon
A really, really, really important point. The internet makes it easy to find the most extreme of anything. Arguably, the entire design of Reddit, with its upvoting and downvoting, is about surfacing the craziest, most controversial stuff. My optimistic thought is that people will eventually become inured of 'crazy shit' and stuff responding to it. But there's a new person born every day.
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The bad news may be that this insatiable appetite for super-superlatives leads to dissatisfaction with anything ordinary.
Adrian Hon
Yes.
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When I am connected to the Screen of All Knowledge, to that billion-eyed hive of humanity woven together and mirrored on a billion pieces of glass, truth is harder to find. For every accepted piece of knowledge I come across, there is, within easy reach, a challenge to the fact. Every fact has its antifact. The internet’s extreme hyperlinking will highlight those antifacts as brightly as the facts. Some antifacts are silly, some borderline, and some valid. This is the curse of the screen: You can’t rely on experts to sort them out because for every expert there is an equal and opposite ...more
Adrian Hon
"How Trump Got Elected"
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These vast epics, like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos, Downton Abbey, and The Wire, had multiple interweaving plotlines, multiple protagonists, and an incredible depth of characters, and these sophisticated works demanded sustained attention that was not only beyond previous TV and 90-minute movies, but would have shocked Dickens and other novelists of yore.
Adrian Hon
One of these things is not like the other things.
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Three researchers at the University of Michigan performed a small experiment in 2010 to see if they could ascertain how much ordinary people might pay for search. Their method was to ask students inside a well-stocked university library to answer some questions that were asked on Google, but to find the answers only using the materials in the library. They measured how long it took the students to answer a question in the stacks. On average it took 22 minutes. That’s 15 minutes longer than the 7 minutes it took to answer the same question, on average, using Google. Figuring a national average ...more
Adrian Hon
Good stat.
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Varian calculated that search saves the average person 3.75 minutes per day. Using the same average hourly wage, people save 60 cents per day. We could even round that off to a dollar per day if your time is more valuable. Would most people pay a dollar per day, or $350 per year, for search if they had to? Maybe.
Adrian Hon
Yes. Yes I would.
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This phase change has already begun. We are marching inexorably toward firmly connecting all humans and all machines into a global matrix. This matrix is not an artifact, but a process. Our new supernetwork is a standing wave of change that steadily spills forward new arrangements of our needs and desires. The particular products, brands, and companies that will surround us in 30 years are entirely unpredictable. The specifics at that time hinge on the crosswinds of individual chance and fortune. But the overall direction of this large-scale vibrant process is clear and unmistakable. In the ...more
Adrian Hon
This is the end of the book. It is not, I think, a good ending, since it once again highlights Kelly's fondness for needless wordplay. I'd rate this book 3.5 stars. It's got some really great thoughts in it, particularly related to the idea of certainty and truth in our modern times. I'd go so far as to say he predicted the 2016 election in that bit. The problem is, it's really a collection of 12 essays, some of which are not terribly interesting to anyone who's into technology and the internet. In that sense, it is quite difficult from "What Technology Wants", which is much more coherent and still worth reading, seven years on. And it has too many lazy superlatives and odd meanderings to ignore. So, yeah. Thank you for joining me on this episode of "Notes on Quotes" and I'll see you next time! @adrianhon
Adam liked this