If you’re already a bit nervous about what the future holds, I present a book that may only exacerbate those presumptions. In “The Inevitable” by Kevin Kelly, the expansive future is narrowed down to 12 forces that will continue to shape our society contingent upon the same technology that has thus far thrusted us into a predictable cycle of how humans operate. Nonetheless, this book stirs up some crucial ideas that we all must consider as we inevitably step into the future.
In this text, author Kevin Kelly hones in on what he notes as the 12 technological forces that will shape our future. The forces that are emerging today and will continue to change the way society operates are listed as follows: becoming, cognifying, filtering, flowing, sharing, screening, accessing, remixing, interacting, tracking, questioning, and beginning. According to Kelly, a future of great opportunity awaits, however, it is critical to become aware of these technological trends in order to help contribute to a better tomorrow.
Opening up the text, Kelly ensures that it is understood that we are actually living in the future. Give a look around and one will find that they are already immersed in computer technology and the internet which have changed the way humans operate. More generally, such technology has changed the ways in which humans think and interact, yet, these forces will only continue to grow stronger and form as an ever-growing necessity in our lives. Rather than living in a sort of Utopia, we are really living in a Protopia where the world continues to improve.
Given the infinite limits of technology and the very essence of its character, technology is always moving forward which accelerates progress. In this sense, Kelly underlines the notion that nothing is fixed and in effect, everything is in a state of becoming. It is in this portion of the book that Kelly introduces the concept of having no experts in the future, rather, only those who he deems “newbies”. With the idea that technology is never fixed, it can be deduced that one will always feel like a newcomer as devices need to be upgraded in order to adapt to the digital society of the time.
Kevin Kelly continues on discussing the importance of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The next technological force that will shape the future is a term Kelly refers to as “cognifying”. Cognifying is, in brief, the making of previously “dumb” objects “intelligent”. This process of constructing intelligent tools out of objects is not confined to physical objects, yet, it also includes chemistry. This force inherently carries the impending question, will AI replace humans? Kelly quickly responds that this could never happen as AI will most certainly redefine our conception of human intelligence and will enhance various areas of study, however, it will never replace said specialists. Going forward, people will have to evaluate tasks in order to distinguish those that are uniquely human and those that are best guided by technology. Consequently, AI will indeed play a key role in how humanity acts in the future, yet, with the ever-expanding technology industry came the exponential expansion of online content which leads us into the next force, filtering.
Since the internet has formed a stern grip over our everyday lives, the amount of online content has been viciously growing. Advancements in AI will only escalate the need to shape our future by filtering out what is important to us. When a user surfs the internet, he or she will be met with a seemingly endless stream of content. If one is looking for a particular product or content, a filter is needed to find what it is the person is looking for. For example, Google, a powerful search engine, uses AI to process an extraordinary amount of data and can help filter through content so that the user’s experience is more personalized. As time runs on, this is one aspect that humans will noticeably see enhancing the way we live our lives and even further expanding AI’s ability to predict.
The force affecting the types of goods and resources that are exchanged among society is the aspect that Kelly refers to as flowing. Our traditional definition of commerce was marked by material goods but as any person can take note of today, the modern goods that define commerce are flowing. Kelly defines a flowing good as a good that can be purchases as a service or real-time update. More commonly we see digitized good’s ease of being transformed. Taking services like Spotify or Netflix into consideration, these platforms provide real-time content streams that a user may be able to copy and share. Meanwhile, the subscribers to these platforms are also contributing to another force that will have a lasting impact on how society operates: sharing.
Now this concept may be one that our generation is more aware of. Kelly listed sharing as a technological force that will shape our future with reference to the more relevant sharing economy that has taken hold of humanity. The author underscores the fact that sharing will have a key impact on how we engage in commerce. As already made visible in today’s society, the sharing economy is evolving and revolutionizing the way we interact and gain access to goods and services. When a contributor shares content over a social network, such as posting a picture to Instagram, they are only adding to the stream of online content thus giving people the ability to become a producer and not solely a consumer. The sharing economy is generally a market in which people can exchange resources and collaborate. Nonetheless, the future is likely to be overcome by this form of an economy as the sharing economy provides humans access to equipment without having to actually own it, thus, leading to the introduction of Kellys next identified force.
As the future approaches, our possessions will seem to become less essential meanwhile access moves to become the essential. In today’s sharing economy, it is evident that businesses are thriving from providing services rather than selling physical goods. Businesses, including those like Airbnb and Uber, are available in real-time and on demand and have become hallmarks of our time. With Uber, anyone can access a ride at any point in time as it uses a decentralized workforce. In this sense, Kelly is highlighting the importance of accessing over owning in shaping our future.
With the ever-increasing ability to access things, society will continue to see the growth of content. Instead of simply producing new resources, access to content online has given people the capability of generating new content by rearranging the old. According to Kelly, this force is otherwise impossible if not for the transformation of people from consumers to producers which has, as mentioned, been made possible by the force of accessing. Although this calls for an adaptation to new privacy laws, it also opens up a new world of interacting.
In a world of technology that has opened the doors to things like Virtual Reality (VR), the scope of human interaction appears unbounded. With technological innovation working simultaneously with ways to make products less expensive, more and more people will gain access to devices that offer VR. As more people are able to experience VR and provide feedback, VR will evolve to feel more natural and realistic to the user thus offering more opportunities to interact with individuals. Kelly predicts that people will become so immersed in technology and interacting through VR that people may soon feel as though they have “superhuman” senses and products that do not offer VR capabilities will likely be casted as broken. Despite VR presenting a whole new world of interacting, the author also asserts that other products will also have an intense impact on the future.
Take a look around. I am sure it is relatively easy to find someone with their face pointed at a screen. Kelly describes the force of screening as another future trend that is key to how we absorb information. Screens, unlike books, are not fixed and are constantly changing. Kelly predicts that soon we will see screens everywhere we go as they continue to encourage us to interact. Screening is the force that pushes us to learn and to collaborate with others in discussion over what is presented. However, these screens are what separate us from the computers that are constantly collecting data about us.
Every click of a button serves as a collection of data. In our current lives, people seem to document more information about their lives than ever before. As a result, we contribute to the collection of massive amounts of data. The force described here, tracking, brings both positive and negative opportunities for the future. Tracking calls for data collection which can in turn be used to customize different aspects of our lives. Yet, how invasive do we plan to let technology be?
Kelly emphasizes the importance of questioning. Tracking will become a larger part of our lives as we progress and as a result it is necessary to question this transparency of our lives. As more and more content is produced, we will be forced to question more data in order to arrive at a truth. In the book, Kelly asserts that for every fact discovered, there is another fact found to dispute it. Therefore, the act of questioning can only become more significant in our lives as every truth produces more questions. Although this force can be a bit confusing, understanding all of these forces in relation to each other can help form a more concrete understanding.
Kelly also briefly notes the force of beginning. It is to this force, that all these technological innovations come full circle in mending with humanity. As humanity and technology inevitably grow together, it is certain that machine and man will slowly mend together to form a “super intelligence”. It is this form of intelligence that Kelly states will mark a new era as all the devices will interconnected in one massive circuit.
A Little More Depth
One of the most intriguing concepts presented by Kevin Kelly was the notion of being a “newbie” as presented in the description of the beginning force. I found this to be one of the most fascinating concepts because it is so prevalent to our time thus far and its truth can only be further supported as innovation occurs. We are in the midst of a world where one innovation is a catalyst for another. Kelly claims that we are more or less living in Protopia surrounded by improvement. The rapidly improving technology leaves people in the state of being a “newcomer”. We have reached a point of innovation defined by this permanent status of being new. It is not solely the result of technology’s constant innovation, yet, also due to the fact that devices are seeing a decrease in longevity. In other words, users are less likely to become masters of a specific product or technology because they will not have enough time with it before the product is upgraded or a new product is released into the market. This concept has always been a lingering thought of mine, however, I felt that Kelly was able to successfully put its gravity in perspective. In the text, it declares that the average lifespan of a smartphone app now is 30 days. This fact is a testament to technology’s power as it truly is always being refined and will continue to be a key component of our life. Society will inevitably have to accept the change that occurs as businesses and products will constantly face the need to adapt. This portion of the book, to me, highlighted the importance of adaptation. I believe this is an important concept to keep in mind as we visit different companies and learn about how much of their success can be attributed to their ability to adapt.
After reading this book in detail, I was faced with ideas that both affirmed some of my previous assumptions about the future yet also learned about new ideas that I was not previously aware of having such a large impact on our future. I highly recommend this book because it is an insightful read that truly collects the different aspects of our lives and outlines their potential effects. It is the perfect read for a person of our generation as our future will depend on how people work and interact with the technology around us. I found that Kelly took a very interesting perspective on some of the most fundamental human needs and found a way to relate such needs to technology. As a whole, humanity is the creation of technology and it is urgent that we are able to maintain and control the technology as it continues to face its exponential enhancements. Soon enough, technology will take a part in almost every single aspect of our live and it is crucial that we take the time to truly understand how we can work with technology to produce the best outcome for our future.