The future of technology: A conversation with Kevin Kelly

Li Shiyu China Plus Published: 2018-04-28 11:34:29
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Originally aired on April 1 2017, this is a small segement of the weekly literature program Ink&Quill.

For people who lived in the 1960s, the gizmos present in the science fiction TV drama Star Trek might appear to be too whimsical and nonsensical. Yet in just less than half a century, from universal translators to handheld computers, many gadgets present in the show have turned into reality.

Nowadays, even the least tech-savvy individuals have to admit that our technology has evolved better and faster than ever.

But, what is going to happen next?   

To answer this question, our reporter Shiyu talked with Kevin Kelly, Senior Maverick at Wired, one of America's leading magazines on techno-culture. He is also the author of the New York Times bestseller, "The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces that Will Shape Our Future."

[Photo:Taken by Christopher Michel/Courtesy of Kevin Kelly]

[Photo:Taken by Christopher Michel/Courtesy of Kevin Kelly]

Who is Kevin Kelly?

A college dropout, Kevin Kelly  started off as a photographer who captures the disappearing traditions and cultures in Asia. In the early 1980s, he ended up working for the pioneering magazine Whole Earth Review, which inspired and influenced the entire  generation of technologists. Later, he got involved with The Well, the earliest  public access to the internet. As one of the co-founders of Wired, one of  America's leading magazines on techno-culture, Kevin Kelly has produced some highly influential writings. Take his debut book  Out of Control for example, published in the mid-90s, the book inspired the  Wachowskis' Matrix universe and more or less predicted the internet of today.  His most recent book is The Inevitable, which sheds lights on twelve forthcoming technological forces. 

The future of technology: A conversation with Kevin Kelly

Some highlights of the interview:

On the driving force of technology

What drives the evolution of technology is the same thing that drives the evolution of life. It's moving towards greater complexity and greater specialization. Self-organization is the basic structure of the universe. There is a force within the universe that helps or encourages or channels self-organized things to become more and more complicated over time. We see that from the Big Bang and then we see how matters self-organized into galaxies, then they self-organized into stars, then self-organized into planets. Then on some planets, they self-organized into life. Some lives self-organized into mind. This self-organizing force is the same thing that self-organizes technology. 

On what will technology look like eventually 

Eventually technology will look like life. It will become self-replicating. It will become conscious like we are. It will become as complicated as many species as we see in life. The ideal technology will be something that gives its own energy, like an animal. We don't need to give it battery, as it will find energy itself. We don't need a factory to make it, as it will make more of itself. We won't have to direct it, as it will have internal direction. So it will look very much like a living thing to us today. So we are still at the early stage. 

On whether human should get worried about artificial intelligence outsmarting us

No, we should be excited! We are not going to work against AI but to work with AI. Working with AI is gonna be the powerful combination. Because the thing that people don't know about AI but they have to understand is that they think differently than humans. The idea that they are smarter than humans is really an incorrect, misguided sense, because that will reduce human intelligence to a single dimension. They are just narrow, specialized and different than humans' thinking. It's useful to work with them. Because once we work with them, we will be able to go further together than we could alone. 

On whether AI will steal our jobs

Every job we have is a bundle of different tasks. Some of those tasks are repetitive types of tasks and those types of tasks will go to robots. Some of your job won't. Everybody's job, no matter who you are, some of your tasks will go. So that means basically robots are going to redefine your job, not necessarily take it away. While they take away certain tasks, they are also going to create many more new tasks that we don't even know we want it done. Our tasks and jobs will shift to include those things and there will be more things for us to do than ever before. It's not about having a college degree or being professional, because a lot of things that we want it done will be about human experiences and things where it's important for being human. Human touch is the only thing in our economy that is getting more expansive and not cheaper. There will be friction and transition period. It's going to be difficult. But in the long term, we will have more jobs than ever before. 

On which technology might transform the world

AI is the major thing. There is not a single industry, not a single industry, not a single sector that is not going to be affected by AI, in the same way that electricity has penetrated everything we do. Visual reality will also have a very large effect in a sense that it will become more powerful than social media is today. It will become the thing after smart phones. I think that will have a huge effect on education, training, industry, and office work. Social media is also going to be affected by VR in a very profound way. In the thirty-year horizon, it's possible that we could invent our complete invention of fusion, solar fusion basically. It's an energy source, which happens in the sun, where you take fuel, atom together and make cheap, clean, unlimited energy. There are some other really fundamental bio-technologies would happen in the next thirty years, such as genetic engineering of human babies and eliminating certain diseases.  

On whether human will become cyborg in the next thirty years

No. Biological stuff happens much slower than digital. But the glasses that we are wearing may become magical glasses that will allow you to have VR or mixed reality things. Maybe clothes that we are wearing will have sensors in them that will happen you posture or monitor your health 24 hours a day, so you will have one pill to give you everything you need to make you healthy. 

On the looking of cities in the future

However, the room and the city will look not that different. There might be a few flying cars. There are certainly auto-driven cars so a lot of parking areas may change. The streets are still going to be there. Most of the changes that we will see in thirty years are not going to be in the physical world. That revolution had already happened, which is called the Industrial Revolution. Most of the changes are going to be in your head, such as who you think you are, how you conceive yourself, your social interactions and so on. You will be much more connected to the internet than you are right now. 

On what will happen to China 

I certainly think China will become a major source of innovation and products that everybody wants to buy. That requires a degree of cultural innovation that doesn't quite happen but is becoming very close to. I think that requires a kind of cultural transformation. Two elements of the culture are missing right now. One is that people have to embrace failing-fast and failing-forward failure and the second missing cultural ingredient is being able to question the authority, being able to question your teachers, and being able to not accept the assumptions, to challenge the assumptions. That may take a generation or two. But when that happens and that can happen in thirty years, I think then China will begin to be able to produce truly innovative things and culture that people all over the world want.  

If you want to hear their complete conversation, you can download the podcast from iTunes, by searching the key words: Ink&Quill. In this extended version, you will hear Kevin Kelly voice his opinions on technology singularity, world government, the ubiquitous tracking and more.

If you want to know more about him, you could find him here:

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