Technological developments are likely to radically transform our world in the immediate future in fundamental and unpredictable ways. Kevin Kelly gives us an insightful glimpse of these trends, focusing on business and the world of work. I extend his predictions into questions about their impact on governance, social change, quality of life and philanthropy. How do we navigate what Robert Theobald aptly named the “rapids of change”?
As the interview below notes, “Kevin Kelly is not your typical business prognosticator, but he has a knack for seeing things others don’t and embracing the unconventional.” After early exploratory years, he and a small group launched WIRED magazine in 1992 and he edited it for its first seven years. He’s written a number of influential books including New Rules for the New Economy and Out of Control. The interview from which I took the excerpts below dealt with his most recent book, The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. It is an excellent preview of the next 25 years development of technological innovation, business, and the world of work – all other things being equal.
However, I want to suggest that for better and worse all other things will NOT be equal. Climate change and its offshoots – from transformed energy systems to increased migration, crop disruption and disease vectors – will have profound impacts, as will the many-faceted social disruptions that will be generated by climate change and the technological developments described below. And those are only a few of the most predictable uncertainties that make “all other things being equal” a very shaky foundation for deciding what will happen next and what we should do about it.
However, my purpose here is not to reiterate our emerging crises. Rather, I want to appreciate Kevin Kelly for a LOT of insight into developmental trends emerging around us right now, and where they could be headed. And then I want to ask a few questions to lift his insights out of the realms of business and work into other realms of life. So at the end of the Kevin Kelly interview excerpts below you will find four inquiries that grabbed my attention as soon as I read the interview this morning. Check them out after you have read his remarkable insights…..
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Kevin Kelly: The Next 10,000 Startups Will Deal With AI
This feature originally appeared in the Winter 2017 issue of Talent Economy Quarterly. Click here to view the digital edition.
By Frank Kalman, Managing Editor of Talent Economy Quarterly
February 14, 2017
Your book discusses 12 technological forces that will shape our future. What are they?
…. There’s COGNIFYING, which is making things smarter…. adding artificial intelligence to everything in our world…
ACCESSING — we’ve shifted from owning things to the benefits of not owning things but having access to them. If you have access to anything in the world on demand, that’s better than owning it, whether it’s a movie or a ride.
SHARING — this idea of collaborating and increasingly deepening cooperation, sharing at speeds, at scales, and in dimensions that we have never done before and are doing more of.
FILTERING is this idea that the choices that we are making are exceeding our attention to the point where everything is being mediated to have filters that tell us what we want, and we are going to be making more tools to manage and sell our attention.
REMIXING — which is the foundation of the new economy, combining things. Interacting — which is movement toward more and more ways that we interact with our tools, and the kind of ultimate way, which is the motions of our whole bodies and body language is being captured. The best example of that is virtual reality, where our bodies are our interface and we’re interacting inside the technology.
TRACKING — becoming almost ubiquitous. We track ourselves, other people track us, government tracks us, so that’s become pervasive.
QUESTIONING — the shift from answers becoming valuable in the past and now answers will be cheap, ubiquitous. Ask a machine a question and you’ll get an answer. But questioning, the uncertainty of not knowing, becomes more and more valuable.
And finally, all of this is just the beginning; we’re just at the start. The greatest inventions of the next 25 years haven’t been invented yet.
….The Industrial Revolution was [about] artificial power, artificial energy, beyond what we could do ourselves with our own muscles, or animal muscles. And we used that artificial, cheap power, to build skyscrapers and railways and factories turning out endless rows of refrigerators. This was all because we harnessed artificial power, which we distributed on a grid and anybody could buy as much power as they wanted. And now we’re into the same thing with artificial intelligence, where we’ll distribute it on a grid. Anybody can buy as much artificial intelligence as they want, it will cognify all the things we electrified the last generation, so we will now be able to not just have 250 horses in our car but 250 minds.
I think this is going to have effects on our education, entertainment, commercialization and militarization — everything is going to be affected by the fact that we have the ability to insert mindfulness into our clothes, our shoes, our homes, the back offices of every corporation. So I predict that the formula for the next 10,000 startups is that you take something and you add AI to it. We’re going to repeat that by one million times, and it’s going to be really huge.
How do you predict this will impact the market for skills and jobs?
We’re going to see incredible explosion of new jobs, new things to do, new things that we want done that we didn’t even know we want done until AI came along. Of course, there will be a huge disruption…[but these smart] machines will need fixing and repairing and oversight and care, and that alone is a whole occupation that doesn’t exist right now… Most jobs are bundles of tasks, and some of those tasks can be automated but not all of them…. [And] in many cases our jobs will be transformed by working with these robots or AI or agents…
There is no better time in history to start something, to make something than right now, [now] that the opportunities that are before us are so vast and the barriers to participate are so low…. [But] the success rate for any particular experiment is very low — and may be even getting lower in terms of the number of people trying it — so … your long-term success is going to be built on many failures…. Most of your success will be built on a string of failures. But hopefully you’re failing forward; you’re learning something each time. So it should put to rest the idea of the inherent state of a startup is that it works. The inherent state of a startup is that it doesn’t work…. And so I think this regime, this place that we’re going to is very fluid, and this idea that the first version of something is definitely not going to be the final version, that you’ve versioned your way to success, iterate fast, that things that are made look more like a verb, the process is more important than the product. It’s a great opportunity, but it’s a different way that success is going to come…
I think in the next 25 years that the next big thing does not exist, it’s in a form that we haven’t seen yet, just like the web didn’t exist 30 years ago….
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So here are my inquiries for all of us:
* What are the implications of the developments Kevin Kelly describes for politics and governance? Especially, how do we use and navigate these changes to increase both participation in decision-making and the wisdom of outcomes? What are the implications of his assertion that inquiry is becoming more valuable than answers, and that successes will increasingly be built on strings of failures? How does that fit with real-world politics and governance?
* What are the implications for change agentry and activism? All Kelly’s trends – cognifying, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, interacting, tracking, questioning – and his aforementioned assertion that “long-term success is going to be built on many failures” – suggest that simply pushing an agenda may be an obsolete approach, requiring as radical a rethinking of activism as of business and work.
* What are the implications for human quality of life? Already sociotechnical experts and pundits are questioning the impact of technology on our relationships with each other, with nature, and with ourselves – and are highlighting the kind of human meaning and belonging we’ve traditionally derived from such relationships. Will there be an intensification of John Naisbitt’s prescient trend of High Tech/High Touch, or a polarization of society along these lines, or a terminal loss of connectivity until it is too late?
* What are the implications for philanthropy? Do years-long systems of applications, proposals, reports and formal answerability fit with the idea that “long-term success is going to be built on many failures” and with the speed of change that Kevin Kelly is talking about? Does his picture – and the complexifying picture I painted in the second paragraph in this message – have implications for what we choose to support, what that support looks like, and how it should be “managed”? What does “transformational philanthropy” look like?
Businesses and technical entrepreneurs will, of course, be very dedicatedly asking how to make their profits out of – and in the midst of – these trends. And unimaginable resources will be invested by other power holders – from political parties to media and entertainment empires – to maintain their culture-dominating roles exploiting – and in the midst of – these trends.
What about the rest of us? Who, how and where do we consciously engage with these powerful transformational forces? How do we intentionally live into the future in ways that will help us regenerate the quality of human and natural life on our planet, and promote the long-term survival of the living systems we occupy and that future generations require?
Kevin Kelly says that nowadays “questioning, the uncertainty of not knowing, becomes more and more valuable”. I offer my own version of questioning and uncertainty here – along with some applicable social technologies and guidance presented in these wise democracy patterns – Powerful Questions and Wise Use of Uncertainty.
And I hope that you will be inspired to support the Co-Intelligence Institute’s ongoing investigation of these questions as being more relevant than ever.
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