Are we making computers that are smarter and better than us? Will algorithm-enabled machines and ubiquitous tracking eventually win, taking over our jobs, our lives and eventually the world? This doomsday view, fueled by a distinguished few science and technology experts, has many of us fearing the future. Kevin Kelly, technology visionary and founder of WIRED magazine, acknowledges that coming technology will indeed transform our lives – but not for the worse. Trends in software, robotics and data will help us if we push them in the right direction instead of trying in vain to stop them.
“Much of what will happen in the next 30 years is inevitable, driven by technological trends already in motion,” believes Kelly, who delivered a commanding keynote on the subject to a packed house at SXSW 2016. “By understanding and embracing them, it will be easier for us to remain on top of the coming wave of changes and to arrange our day-to-day relationships with technology in ways that bring forth maximum benefits.”
Take virtual reality (VR). Back in 1989, Kelly predicted VR would change everything in five years. His forecast was off by a couple of decades, but he’s even more convinced today that the technology is ascendant – and creating the next evolution of the internet. He explains that today, the internet is a network of information. Our lives and work run on it. But what we are building with artificial reality is an internet of experiences.
“Experience is the new currency,” wrote Kelly in WIRED’s May 2016 cover story. “Technologies… will enable us to generate, transmit, quantify, refine, personalize, magnify, discover, reshare, and overshare experiences. This shift from the creation, transmission and consumption of information to the creation, transmission and consumption of experience defines this new platform… A threshold has been crossed. After a long gestation, VR is good enough to improve quickly. It’s real.”
VR is just one of the technology imperatives Kelly unpacks in his latest book, “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future” (Viking, June 7, 2016). It’s a provocative and optimistic roadmap for the future, showing how the coming changes in our lives can be understood as the result of a few long-term, accelerating forces. That’s invaluable insight for those seeking guidance on where business, industry or life is heading (everyone).
“Some of what is coming may seem scary, like ubiquitous tracking or robots replacing humans. Other innovations seem more desirable, such as an on-demand economy and virtual reality in the home. And some, like network crime and anonymous hacking, will be society’s new scourges,” says Kelly. “Yet both the desirable good and the undesirable bad of these emerging technologies all obey the same formation principles.”
Our best strategy is to understand and embrace it; it’s the only way we’ll be able to steer it.