The Inevitable (Kevin Kelly) — Summaries: EP53

This book talks about our technological future, and about the fact that this future is already here and occurring right now!

Will you later be able to marry a machine, or perhaps zoom around in flying cars?

There are 12 forces that are active in how they define our future, and they have already made significant impacts on us. Here we will go over these trends and project how they will change the next 50 years.

1. “Utopia” vs “Protopia”

A lot of us imagine a Utopia — a perfect world, where nothing goes wrong, and generally most of us would think this to be impossible. A “Protopia”, however, is a world in which one gradual improvement is slowly introduced at a time. We already live in a Protopia.

Because in our Protopia, we only get tiny improvements at a time, it means that we never arrive at a full resolution and a state where everything is final. As a result, we must be prepared to remain as “newbies” for the rest of our lives — where we don’t fully understand where we’re going and how things work. Each invention is never final, but serves as the next starting point for the next invention.

Because innovations are linked to each other, it’s impossible to predict how they will play out in the long term. Therefore we must embrace the fact that we can not predict the future, and be content with the constant state of change and uncertainty. As part of our adaptation, we will constantly have to be learning new technology, without skepticism, regardless of what we are already used to. This usually is uncomfortable for people, because it’s hard to learn new technology.

As of 2016, the average lifespan of a smartphone app is only 30 days, until it stops being used by a user.

There are some broad and major trends, however, that are predictable, which we will now discuss.

2. Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is the next major technological step since the invention of Electricity. AI is a way to create “intelligent objects” that can make us more powerful. These objects are not limited to the physical realm, but also apply to scientific discovery processes, such as Chemistry, and broad digital tools that we use.

AI will not replace all human intelligence, however will redefine our own intelligence, our future as a species, and is a core part of humanity’s evolution. AI will serve as an augmentation to our own intelligence, making our existing specialists in various professions more powerful.

AI is extremely good at data memorization and processing. The human mind, comparatively, is very limited to the amount of raw and statistical data we can memorize. Therefore, in the future, we have to be aware and honest about our strengths against those of the AI, and only use the AI to fill out our visible weaknesses.

AI’s weaknesses

These weaknesses consist of: creativity, intuition, care for humans, empathy, people management, abstract thinking, and generation of brand new, but meaningful ideas. We need to take more of a leading role in these open-ended tasks, relegating machines to do the testing, number-crunching and optimization of the new ideas we come up with. We are going to become “machine trainers”.

3. Online Content

Digital content is growing exponentially. As of 2016, there were 60 trillion web pages on the internet, produced in just 9,000 days. AI is needed in order to “sift through”, organize, and suggest meaningful search results to us based on our preferences. This is what Google does by processing massive quantities of data.

4. Accelerated Digitization of Physical Products

We are seeing an increasing trend in the digitization of physical products. Things we used to purchase as hardware devices (such as an answering machine), are now installed on-demand instantly on your phone, over the internet. Most products are becoming “liquid” and digital, and are available as a monthly subscription or an over-the-air update.

Because most products and services are now digital, it means that we can share those products by sending them to our friends, or posting about them on social networks. The very act of sharing is another trend which is building our technological future.

5. Sharing of Products and Online Information

The digital services we consume, such as Netflix, Twitter or Instagram, are a “content provider” for us, and an entry-point. When we engage with that content, we are feeding these massive machines with our behavioural data. As these large pools of data get studied, new insights emerge from consumer behavior, which allow new types of products to be created.

The Sharing Economy

The act of sharing content or media is also influencing how the overall economy works. There are over 2 billion photos being shared on social media every day. Every person is gradually becoming a producer of content and their own “Media Company”. Wikipedia and StackOverflow are great examples of a community-managed “knowledge bases of civilization”.

6. Super-intelligence and “The Force of Beginning”

We are at the birthplace now of a long process called “The force of beginning” which is the merging of the Human mind with Artificial Intelligence. In a few hundred years, our minds may become seamlessly merged with that of the machines, acting like a “superintelligence”. There are currently 15+ billion connected devices in the world, and this number is rapidly growing. What will this mean for humanity even during the next 50 years?

7. Renting vs Owning (Access vs Possession)

AirBNB doesn’t actually own any of the properties it rents out. They taught that having access to a commodity is more important than owning it. This marks a beginning of a new trend: Providing services instead of selling physical goods. This means that in the future we may see less car sales, and more car rentals. In such an event, the car rental businesses may be able to even avoid owning the cars themselves, but merely provide the service of renting them out, allowing more competition to enter the market due to lower operational costs.

Service-based business will focus on access and timeliness, rather than ownership of their underlying assets. This will result in faster customer service, and cheaper prices. Uber would have never been able to offer the quality of service they do if they owned their own fleet of cars and had to maintain them themselves.

8. Remixing (Mash-ups)

Because you can operate faster and cheaper when you only access a resource, instead of owning one, this allows for another trend to emerge: “Remixing”. It means — taking existing content and moving it around to produce a modified product, instead of coming up with a brand new piece of content. We are seeing a growing a trend where more growth is occurring based on modified content, as opposed to newly created content.

We have seen massive growth in the media production rate among consumers. Over 100 million video clips are shared on social networks every day, a large portion of which are variations, modifications or re-shares of previous ones. For comparison, Hollywood only produces 600 films per year.

This tendency to copy content has arisen mainly due to the ease with which content can be copied. This means that the concept of intellectual property will need to be adjusted, because it’s been established during the time of physical goods. We should soon be able to effortlessly cross-link to a snippet of any media through any app, further simplifying remixing of digital media even more.

9. Virtual Reality

Human interactions produce positive results, and allow us to innovate and prosper. VR is a way to make human interaction easier by mimicking the physical world in the digital space. VR may actually let us have more interactions than we are currently used to. This technology is gradually gaining adoption and dropping in price. Facial and movement tracking is improving, and soon VR will feel more seamless to the real world.

A sixth, seventh, and eighth sense…

VR can help overlay extra information in front of us, using Augmented Reality (AR). This can come in the form of data-overlays on top fo what you see, an ability to see through walls or move with extreme speed safely. As VR gains more adoption due to its superior abilities compared to normal physical perception, it will begin to be viewed as the norm. People will not want to go back to the standard and limited way of perceiving the world.

Meeting anyone instantly

You will be able to meet anyone, anywhere in the world, without any safety concerns, travel hassle, and without ever stepping outside of your home. Imagine visiting relatives in their living room in their country that’s on the other side of the world. You could even go sight-seeing with them — all through VR.

10. Screens!

Screens display dynamic information and encourage interaction. They are also becoming cheaper to manufacture, at the same time that computers are also. This means that screens will be in many more places that we currently find them in. Everywhere you see screens, you will be able to interact through them, resulting in a more connected world. “A smartphone as a service, anywhere” is a possibility, so are: “full-wall screens, instead of drywall”, as well as “screens built in to stuff”.

11. Privacy Disappearing

Privacy erosion is occurring due to the increase of personal and behavioural data collection. This collected data can result in positive outcomes such as “Customized medicine” based on your health conditions. However, the risks of excessive data collection can occur due to hacking or monitoring of publicly posted data by others and that data being used against you.

Because the tracking of each other will become easier, it may result in greater accountability by all people involved.

12. Questioning and the search for truth

As more raw information is obtained by all, we will develop a defensive mechanism to fight against it, in an attempt to filter it. We may place heavier focus on gaining “meaningful insights” and “ultimate truth” as opposed to just consuming information. This could develop as an “allergic reaction” from the over-abundance of available information, constantly conveyed to us.

Doing away with common beliefs

Many common beliefs have historically been proven false, and this will continue but at a more rapid rate. For example: “Putting your daughter in some stranger’s car” — was probably a scary prospect in the 90s and the early 2000s, but is now very common practice (Uber). It was also believed that people would never work for free — but we are seeing widespread growth in free internship workers.

Every question of previous beliefs that we arrive at produces more new questions, and so forth. Therefore, it’s expected that the challenge of the status quo will accelerate as more people become accustomed to this trend of “questioning everything” in pursuit of new knowledge.