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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

"The Inevitable" (Kevin Kelly)

TITLE: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
AUTHOR: Kevin Kelly
PUBLISHER: New York, NY: Viking Books, 2016, (336 pages).

With the rising pace of technology, what is going to happen in the next 30 years? What are the ways technology are going to shape our future? What are the evidence that suggest such forces and how can we prepare for it? In a book that looks forward to the next 30 years, author and futurist Kevin Kelly has put together a compelling overview of 12 technological forces that will shape the kind of world we live and will be living in. Calling it "the inevitable," he tells us that we need to embrace the changes that are coming. We need to brace ourselves for changes that are going to be faster, paradigm shifting, and massively different from our traditional models. For example, mass copying will be coming. The traditional gates against plagiarism will crumble. Tracking, surveillance, and the erosion of privacy will continue. Instead of resisting the changes, we need to learn the underlying forces that are same. The author believes that once we understand the digital nature of change, we can deal with the change per se.

Kelly uses 12 "present participles" to denote the 12 forces of continuous change. They are all inter-related. The force of "becoming" is the recognition of the constant upgrading of devices, apps, systems, and technology. Upgrading has become the way of life. The growing discontentment with existing devices spur one on to upgrade and to buy new gadgets. Obsolescence is getting faster. So do the introduction of new things. The web of today is no way resemble that of yesterday. The "cognifying" force is about the artificial intelligence that seems to be improving by the day. From Watson the computer to the AI cloud, not only are machines able to collect data efficiently, they are increasingly able to interpret them and use them. Take whatever object and add AI to it. The common camera already has AI of auto-focus and auto-correction features. Music can be created with AI algorithms. From medicine to ethics; play to work; the cognifying process has also been accelerated by cheaper parallel computing power; increasing data pools; better algorithms. With the best of many minds, computers of the future will become more formidable. The force of "flowing" is like a river of copied data on the Internet. Whether it is backing up of data or the copious duplication of information everywhere, the rising streams of data means we need greater monitoring capabilities. Real time mode will become the norm. Things can be cheaply reproduced in bulk which threatens traditional copyright laws. Kelly tells us that despite this, there are eight ways (immediacy; personalization; interpretation; authenticity; accessibility; embodiment; patronage; discovery) in which creativeness will help content creators stay ahead of the copying crowd. Despite the rising popularity of eBooks, there are several important features of printed books that will always help them stay relevant and superior. He identifies the four stages of flow that apply to all media. The fourth force is the force of "screening" that are creating a whole new generation of screen people. Kelly compares the books with the digital screens. As he lists the pros and cons of both digital and print, he offers some ways in which he can make the best of both. The force of "accessing" is about enjoying the benefits of a product without necessarily owning the device. Like Uber, where we can get from one place to another without necessarily owning the car. Whether it is a subscription model or a temporary licensing, the dematerializing and decentralizing effects are changing the way we work, live, and play. The ability to access without necessarily owning something is a new skill for the future. The force of "sharing" is pervasive especially with the increasingly ubiquitous social media environment. People share digital information on Facebook and Twitter. They collaborate with open source code. They cooperate with cloud computing. They make decisions collectively with groupware and tools. On the force of "filtering," this is becoming more necessary as the data clouds grow. Otherwise we will have information overload. Soon, we may need to grapple with the distinction between censorship, filtering, or something more sinister like manipulating. The force of "remixing" is about rearranging existing content to produce something more compelling. The old can be given a new leash of life. However, this will give rise to content ownership and copyright complexities. The force of "interacting" is the continuing growth of virtual reality that will have more senses; more intimate; and more immersed. This poses a challenge of asking what is real and what is not. The force of "tracking" is going to be really mind-boggling. On the one hand, automatic health tracking devices can help save lives. The activities we do can be automatically tracked which helps us to recall what we have done, to understand our history and assist our decision making. On the other hand, what if our data falls onto the wrong hands? The force of "questioning" is an important one. In a world where everybody seem to be sharing everything, who is the proper authority to curate or to edit the information out there. With every piece of information, there are possibly much misinformation and misinterpretations as well. Rather than to play along with every opinion being the right of every individual, learn to sieve truth from falsehood. The art of curiosity and healthy questioning is needed. Finally, the force of "beginning" tells us once again that where we are today is the beginning of a future we have yet to see. In a society that is increasingly rushed, there are going to be more beginnings than anything else. For the end is invisible. The present or the beginning is not. We are always starting something.

So What?

Kevin Kelly is someone that I respect. He has that ability to sieve through the mass technological changes that are happening in the present and an innate interpretive capability to make sense of the past. In putting forth 12 forces of change, he has given us both hope as well as warning. The hope is that when we embrace the inevitable, we will not only become more prepared, we do not need to be victims of unwarranted change. Just like earthquake drills or knowledge about preparing for the big one, it is always better to be prepared BEFORE any disastrous event. In the same way, Kelly is showing us the many ways in which we can be prepared for a brave new world, using 12 lenses of accelerating change. There is no need to rank them. Neither is there a need to over-analyze any one of them. For each effort to study any particular force will soon be obsolete. However, the important thing is to recognize the force of change like the wind that comes our way.

Mark Twain used to say: "Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbor. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover." What we need to do is to anticipate, to be prepared, and if what Kelly says is true about the inevitability, we can help cushion any negative consequences by learning to wisely discern while we have the time. Things are changing but we can always anticipate and plan as best as we can. Kelly's book helps us to be prepared and this very factor alone is the reason that I will recommend this book.

William Arthur Ward's words remain instructive to this day. "The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." Kelly is the realist that helps us recognize the winds and adjust our sails for the future. Do not be afraid. Expect and adapt.

Rating: 4.75 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Viking Books and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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