Book Review: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future
What a fascinating book!The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future* written by Kevin Kelly takes a look at how technology is impacting our world and the impacts it will have on our future. Each chapter showed me much of what I already knew but it also threw back the curtain to a lot more that I had not yet considered. All I can say is that if you are not staying abreast of the changes, you will be left very far behind. Those who are educated to work with technology will have jobs. No one will be left untouched from these advancements.
This 336-page book is divided into 12 chapters. Each chapter focuses on a key trend. By the end of the book, these trends weave through each other. These trends or forces as Kelly calls them include:
In the introduction, Kelly pointed out our advancements in creating technology are outpacing our understanding of how to manage them. For example, because everything is digital, we can easily remix and share new products; however, this bumps up against archaic copyright laws that as still adjusting to the digitizing of content. In most cases, we readily accept new technologies as they become available, yet, we dream of the good old days and pine for technologies from long ago. Change is hard. The telephone is one example. When I was in high school, we had a phone on the wall that everyone used. This phone did not change for decades. Now, we have a private phone in our pocket that has more computing power than that used to send a man to the moon. Every two years, we upgrade this phone to a newer model. Not all changes are welcomed, yet, they will eventually permeate our society and become the norm as did new technologies from yesteryear.
I will only highlight a few chapters even though each one is mesmerizing.
The first chapter focused on becoming. According to Kelly, we are in a constant upgrade. Our technologies are always looking to be upgraded. At one time, you would buy a product and it would last for 10, 20, even 50 years. Now, a computer needs to be replaced for a newer model every 3-5 years. A telephone is expected to be upgraded to a newer model every 1-2 years. Each device has software that needs to be upgraded on a regular basis. If you upgrade one piece of software, it will affect other software thus requiring more upgrades. In some cases, this will require a hardware upgrade. As a result, you will have to continuously upgrade your personal knowledge bank. You personally will be in constant upgrade mode. Kelly indicated we are in a protopia. “Protopia is a state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. In the protopian mode, things are better today than they were yesterday, although only a little better” (Kelly, 2016, p. 13).
Kelly discussed in depth the amount of content created by people who did not see a monetary return. This has and will continue to puzzle corporations. Wikipedia, Craigslist, YouTube, and others are created on the free content of everyday citizens. These creations have also put other industries out of business. Companies like Amazon are benefiting from the free advertising and product reviews of users. All of these platforms are in constant upgrade.
The focus of cognifying was on artificial intelligence (AI). What we learned and were able to do in the industrial age will be nothing compared to what will happen when artificial intelligence truly takes off. Kelly pointed out that AI will be based on how fast a network of computers learns and responds to what it has learned. Every device now feeds AI computers; it gets smarter with every interaction. Kelly highlights Watson, a computer that beat Jeopardy opponents. Watson is now advancing medicine science.
Kelly also discussed the advancements of computers playing video games. The researchers “did not teach it how to play the games, but how to learn to play the games” (Kelly, 2016, p. 32). While the computer started slow, it was able to beat human players 50% of the time in the first hour and find new strategies for winning in the second. According to Kelly, AI will be added to all types of devices and applications in the same manner that electricity was added to items in the last century. Throughout the chapter, he provided examples of the addition of AI to devices. For example, a smartphone camera has more options and capabilities than bags of camera equipment 10 years ago. Google is not really making a better search engine, it is actually making a better AI engine. The improved AI is based on faster hardware, big data, and better algorithms. In the future, the best AI will not supplant humans but magnify a human’s capacity. Kelly indicated that there will be a shift in work and jobs because AI will be able to do some jobs better humans and humans will work in jobs that they are better than computers.
Because the ability to do so is easier, we are increasing tracking everything we do. We track where we go, what we buy, what we consume, how we sleep, what we weigh, etc. Because we have digital devices with us all the time, we are taking more pictures and interacting more in our society. All this interaction on a digital level is leaving a trail. This trail or data collection can be used for good and nefarious purposes. By collecting health data, doctors can better treat you because there is a vast benchmark on your condition. On the flip side, insurance companies can deny you coverage because of your documented background. Employers are increasingly using social media to assess the character of a potential employee. It is harder to hide your true personality because of the amount of unguarded information posted.
All of this information that we are collecting is also feeding the AI engines of the world. Everything we are contributing to the digital world is part of our lifestream. It helps to tell our story as well as predict our future. Our lifestreams are intertwined with the lifestreams of others. This also increases an AI’s ability to accurately predict what will next happen.
Right now, I am watching a fascinating show called Hunted. It is a high-tech game of hide and seek. So far it has been amazing to watch how difficult it is to hide in a digital world. Everything from social media to the US Postal Service is being exploited by the searchers. The searchers can tell when you have accessed an ATM, when you make a call, and when you use a toll road. By understanding your social media accounts, they can identify your network of friends and family. It is truly difficult to disappear.
There is very little we can do about the pace and direction technology will take us. It is inevitable. However, we can understand it as well as understand the impact. This book was eye opening. While I was aware of a lot that was occurring, there was a lot I was not aware of. If you want to take a glimpse into the future, I strongly recommend you read The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. Everything will be impacted based on these forces.
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