In The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired Magazine, explores what he sees as the key drivers for our society over the next 30 years. His observations and conclusions are intriguing—regardless of whether they prove to be on target.
The book is organized around the 12 forces Kelly has identified as key drivers for our society: becoming, cognifying, flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, interacting, tracking, questioning and beginning. These forces are already at work, he says, and they will only accelerate in coming years.
Kelly’s contention: Together, these overlapping trends will change the way we live and work. The author urges us to embrace this change, rather than resist it, so we can “manage, civilize and tame” the new inventions he sees on the horizon.
It’s hard to disagree with many of his assertions. For instance, who would dispute that the computer age truly took off when computers were first plugged into modems, connecting us to the universe we’ve come to know as the internet? Kelly’s belief that “cheap, powerful, ubiquitous” artificial intelligence (AI) is more disruptive than the industrial revolution is also plausible.
The Power of Artificial Intelligence
The examples he cites illustrate AI’s diverse effects. For instance, some medical experts expect IBM’s Watson to evolve into the world’s best diagnostician, and there are many more Watson-like services in the works.
Even everyday objects are being transformed. The “extra IQ” embedded in today’s tiny cameras and phones does the job of large, heavy camera gear, and AI could lead to smart toys that act like pets and smart clothing that gives a washing machine care instructions.
Kelly concedes that one of his predictions may be harder to swallow: By the end of this century, he predicts that robots will be performing 70 percent of today’s jobs, and our role as humans will be to “dream up new work that matters.”
The trend toward accessing goods and services rather than owning them is another focus of the book. Using an Uber-like service to avoid the expense and hassle of owning a car is a simple example. The proliferation of cloud computing is another. Cloud services offer reliability, speed, expandable depth and much more without the burdens of maintenance.
Accessing rather than owning keeps the user “agile and fresh,” in Kelly’s view, and he says the trend will continue to gain momentum.
Sharing, which Kelly calls “a mild form of digital socialism,” is also on the rise, forming the basis for communal engagement. Just think of the videos, photos, experiences, knowledge and more shared on YouTube, Facebook, Yelp and Wikipedia, and you see his point.
Crowd-sourcing, crowd-funding and open-source projects illustrate the direction in which society is heading. In 2050, Kelly predicts, the most profitable companies will be those that have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that we haven’t even conceived of today.
The Need for Filtering Grows
With the wealth of content and the seemingly limitless choice facing us on all fronts, Kelly foresees a need for ever-more filtering so we can decide what to give our attention to next. Parents, teachers and other authorities have long served as the gatekeepers who decide what we should see, but newer options have emerged.
Recommendation engines from Amazon, Netflix and Pandora are one form of filtering that has taken off. Looking ahead, the author sees a need for new ways of filtering and personalizing content.
Overall, Kelly believes the forces he has identified will inevitably lead us to form a global matrix of humans and machines that are all connected. His view is optimistic, envisioning a world in which our creations make us better humans.
And Kelly is convinced that we are already at the beginning of this journey.