MainTakeaway:What Technology Wants By Kevin Kelly
In this show you will learn everything about“Technium” : a coined word to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology.
Online NetworksOnline networks connect people with ideas, options, and other people they could not possibly have met otherwise. Online networks unleashed passions,compounded creativity, amplified generosity.
The Art of TechnologyFor centuries, scholars called the making of things"craft", and the expression of inventiveness "art".However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms. If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as a technology, then a thousand lines of letters in English must qualify as well. Both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.
Language A new idea can be spread quickly if someone can explain it and communicate it to others before they have to discover it themselves. But the chief advantage of language is not communication but auto- generation. Language is a trick that allows the mind to question itself;a magic mirror that reveals to the mind what the mind thinks; a handle that turns a mind into a tool.With a grip on the slippery, aimless activity of self-awareness and self- reference, language can harness a mind into a fountain of new ideas. Without the cerebral structure of language, we couldn’t access our own mental activity. We certainly couldn’t think the way we do. If ourminds can’t tell stories, we can’t consciously create; we can only createby accident. Until we tame the mind with an organization tool capableof communicating to itself, we have stray thoughts without a narrative. We have a feral mind. We have smartness without a tool.
The Evolution of Tech In many contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, beingunencumbered with things is considered a virtue, even a virtue of character. You carry nothing; instead, you cleverly make or procure whatever you need when you need it. The more nomadic a tribe was, the more peaceful it would be, since it could simply flee from conflict.We have become deeply dependent on technology. If all technology - every last knife and spear - were to be removed from this planet, our species would not last more than a few months. We are now symbiotic with technology.
Technology TransitionsThe major transitions in the technium are: Primate communication→ Language Oral lore→ Writing/mathematical notation Scripts→ Printing Book knowledge→ Scientific method Artisan production→ Mass production Industrial culture→ Ubiquitous global communication
If You Put It That Way… The hydrogen atoms in a human body completely refresh every seven years. As we age we are really a river of cosmically old atoms. The carbons in our bodies were produced in the dust of a star. The bulk of matter in ourhands, skin, eyes, and hearts was made near the beginning of time, billions of years ago. The computer chip conducts more energy per second pergram through its tiny corridors than animals, volcanoes, or the sun. This bit of high technology is the most energetically active thing in the known universe. In one year 1 eagle eats 100 trout, which eat 10,000 grasshoppers, which eat 1 million blades of grass. Thus it takes, indirectly, 1 million blades of grass to support 1 eagle.
Our Data For four billion years evolution has been accumulating knowledge in its library of genes. You can learn a lot in four billion years. Every one of the 30 million or so unique speciesalive on the planet today is an unbroken informational threadthat traces back to the very first cell. That thread (DNA) learns something new each generation and adds that hard-won knowledge to its code. Data from nearly all parts of the world show us thatconsumers tend to spend relatively less on goods and more on services as their incomes rise. Once people have met their basic needs, they tend to want medical care, transportation andcommunication, information, recreation, entertainment, finan cial and legal advice, and the like.
Good or Bad In ancient times when a bearded prophet forecastwhat was to come, the news was generally bad. The idea that the future brought improvement was never very popular until recently. The steady destruction of good things and peopleseems relentless. And it is. But the steady stream of good things is relentless as well. There is more good than evil in the world - but not by much.
Moral Progress Over time our laws, mores, and ethics have slowly expanded the sphere of human empathy. Generally, humans originally identified themselves primarily via their families. The family clan was “us.” This declaration cast anyone outside of that intimacy as “other.” We had - and still have - different rules of behavior for those inside the circle of “us” and for those outside. Gradually the circle of “us” enlarged frominside the family clan to inside the tribe, and then from tribe to nation.We are currently in an unfinished expansion beyond nation and maybe even race and may soon be crossing the species boundary. Other primates are, more and more, deemed worthy of humanlike rights. If the golden rule of morality and ethics is to “do unto others as youwould have others do unto you,” then we are constantly expanding our notion of “others.” This is evidence for moral progress.
How Technology Starts Every beautiful city begins as a slum. When a townprospers it acquires a center - civic or religious - and the edges of the city continue to expand in unplanned, ungovernable messiness. Babylon, London, and New York all had teeming ghettos of unwanted settlers erecting shoddy shelters with inadequate hygiene and engaging indodgy dealings. Even by the 1780s, when Paris wasat its peak, nearly 20 percent of its residents did not have a “fixed abode” - that is, they lived in shacks.
This is how all technology works. A gadget begins as a junky prototype and then progresses tosomething that barely works. The ad hoc shelters in slums are upgraded over time, infrastructure is extended, and eventually makeshift services become official. What was once the home of poorhustlers becomes, over the span of generations, the home of rich hustlers. Propagating slums is whatcities do, and living in slums is how cities grow. Themajority of neighborhoods in almost every modern city are merely successful former slums. Thesquatter cities of today will become the blue-blood neighborhoods of tomorrow. This is already happening in Rio and Mumbai today.
The Rise of Science By systematically recording the evidence for beliefs and investigating the reasons why things worked and then carefully distributing proveninnovations, science quickly became the greatest tool for making new things the world had ever seen. Science was in fact a superior method for a culture to learn.Science is costly for an individual. Sharing results is of marginal benefit if you are chiefly seeking a better tool for today. Therefore, the benefits of scienceare neither apparent nor immediate for individuals. Science requires a certain density of leisured population willing to share and support failures to thrive.That leisure is generated by pre-science inventions. Techniques that permit a steady surplus of food for large numbers of people. In other words, science needs prosperity and populations. It is the increase in the number of humans that ultimately drives science, and then prosperity.
Scholarly Predictions Hundreds of scholarly papers record substantial improvements across the board in matters we care about. The trajectories of these measurements generally point in the same direction: up. Their accumulated weight elicited this famous prediction by Julian Simon a decade ago:These are my most important long-run predictions, contingent on there beingno global war or political upheaval:(1) People will live longer lives than now; fewer will die young.(2) Families all over the world will have higher incomes and better standardsof living than now.(3) The costs of natural resources will be lower than at present.(4) Agricultural land will continue to become less and less important as aneconomic asset, relative to the total value of all other economic assets. These four predictions are quite certain because the very same predictions, made at all earlier times in history, would have turned out to be right. His reason is worth repeating: He is betting on a historical force that has maintained its trajectory for many centuries.
Singularity of Life There is a tilt to evolution’s seemingly chaotic churningthat rediscovers the same forms and keeps arriving at the same solutions. It is almost as if life has an imperative. It “wants” to materialize certain patterns. The incredible complexity of life disguises its singularity.There is only one life. All life today is descended along an unbroken line of duplication from one ancient moleculethat worked inside one primeval cell that worked. Despite life’s magnificent diversity, it is chiefly repeating, billions of billions of times, solutions that worked before.
Coincidence? Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the same theory of evolution asDarwin, at approximately the same time, 150 years ago. Weirdly, bothWallace and Darwin found the theory of natural selection after readingthe same book on population growth by Thomas Malthus. Darwin did not publish his revelation until provoked by Wallace’s parallel discovery.Alexander Bell and Elisha Gray both applied to patent the telephone on the same day, February 14, 1876. Improbable simultaneity (Gray applied three hours before Bell). Sunspots were first discovered not by two but by four separate observers, including Galileo, in the same year, 1611. We know of six different inventors of the thermometer, and three of the hypodermic needle.
Inventions The whole history of inventions is one endless chain of parallel instances.No matter what they rationally think about inevitability, in my experience all inventors and creators act as if their own invention and discovery isimminently simultaneous. Every creator, inventor, and discoverer that I have known is rushing their ideas into distribution before someone else does, orthey are in a mad hurry to patent before their competition does, or they are dashing to finish their masterpiece before something similar shows up. Nathan Myhrvold is a polymath and serial inventor who used to direct fast-paced research at Microsoft but wanted to accelerate the pace of innovation in other areas outside the digital realm - such as surgery, metallurgy, orarchaeology - where innovation was often a second thought. Myhrvold came up with an idea factory called Intellectual Ventures. Myhrvold employs an interdisciplinary team of very bright innovators to sit around and dream up patentable ideas. These eclectic one- or two-day gatherings will generate 1,000 patents per year.
From the Inventors… “There might be tens of thousands of people who conceive the possibility of the same invention at the same time. But less than one in ten of them imagines how it might be done. Of these who see how to do it, only one in ten will actually think through the practical details and specific solutions. Of these only one in ten will actually get the design to work for very long.And finally, usually only one of all those many thousands with the idea will get the invention to stick in the culture. At our lab we engage in all these levels of discovery, in the expected proportions.”
Discoveries Discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate.In addition to instruments and tools, a discovery needs the proper beliefs, expectations, vocabulary, explanation, know-how, resources, funds, and appreciation to appear.
The Choice of TechnologyThese days all technology follows computer technology. Moore’s Law is really about people’s belief system, it’s not a law of physics, it’s about human belief, and whenpeople believe in something, they’ll put energy behind it to make it come to pass. This freely chosen aspect of ourselves is what otherpeople remember about us. How we handle life’s cascade of real choices within the larger cages of our birth and background is what makes us who we are. It is what people talk about when we are gone. Not the given, but the choices we made.
The Drivers Technology is shaped by a triad of forces.The primary driver is preordained development - what technology wants. The second driver is the influence of technological history, the gravity of the past, asin the way the size of a horse’s yoke determines the size of a space rocket. The third force is society’s collective free will in shaping the technium, or our choices.
Problem or Solution?Each new technology creates more problems than it solves. Problems are the answers to solutions. Most of the new problems in the world are problems created by previous technology. These technogenic problems are nearly invisible to us. Every year 1.2 million people die in automobile accidents. The dominant technological transportation system kills more people than cancer.
The “Future” We often confuse a clear view of the future with a short distance. When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional. In many cases the new technology changes societyin such a way that people eventually find themselves FORCED to use it. We willingly choose technology, with its great defects and obvious detriments, because we unconsciously calculate its virtues. In an entirely wordless calculus, we note the addictions in others, thedegradations in the environment, the distractions in our own lives, the confusion about character that various technologies generate, and then we sum these up against the benefits.
The FULL Costs The way to reveal the full costs of technology and deflate its hype is with better information tools and processes. We require technologies such as real-time self-monitoring of our use,transparent sharing of problems, deep analysisof testing results, relentless retesting, accurate recording of the chain of sources in manufacturing, and honest accounting of negative externalities such as pollution.
Are You Fulfilled? As the technium explodes with new self-madeoptions, we find it harder to find fulfillment. How can we be fulfilled when we don’t know what is being filled? I believe these two different routes for technological lifestyle - either optimizing contentment or optimizing choices - come down to very different ideas of what humans are to be. It is only possible to optimize human satisfaction if you believe human nature is fixed. Needscannot be maximally satisfied if they are in flux. Minimaltechnologists maintain that human nature is unchanging.
Humans Human nature itself is a malleable crop. Our nature has never been static.Genetically our bodies are changing faster now than at any time in the past million years. Our minds are being rewired by our culture.The more advanced the technology, on the whole, the more possible it is for a considerable number of human beings to imagine being somebody else.Our mission as humans is not only to discover our fullest selves in thetechnium, and to find full contentment, but to expand the possibilities for others. Greater technology will selfishly unleash our talents, but it will also unselfishly unleash others: our children, and all children to come.
Technium’s DilemmaTo maximize our own contentment, we seek theminimum amount of technology in our lives. Yet to maximize the contentment of others, wemust maximize the amount of technology in the world. Indeed, we can only find our ownminimal tools if others have created a sufficientmaximum pool of options we can choose from.The dilemma remains in how we can personally minimize stuff close to us while trying to expand it globally.
Better? Our immediate tendency is to imagine the new thing doing an old job better. That’s why the first cars were called “horseless carriages.” The first movies were simply straightforward documentary films of theatrical plays. It took a while to realize the full dimensions of cinema photography as its own new medium.We may obsess about the risks of pesticides but not the risks of organic foods.
Uncertainty The surest remedy for uncertainty is faster, better scientific studies. More science, done openly by skeptics andenthusiasts, will enable us to sooner say: “This is okay to use” or “This is not okay to use.” Once a consensus forms, we can regulate reasonably - as we have with lead in gasoline, tobacco, seat belts, and many other mandatedimprovements in society. But in the meantime we should count on uncertainty.
The Choice, as HumansWe have the choice of how we treat our creations, where we place them, and how we train them with our values.The most helpful metaphor for understanding technology may be to consider humans as the parents of our technological children. We can only shape technology’s expression by engaging with it, by riding it with both arms around its neck. To dothat means to embrace those technologies now. To create them, turn them on, try them.
Convivial Manifestation of Tech Offers…• Cooperation. It promotes collaboration between people andinstitutions.• Transparency. Its origins and ownership are clear. Its workings areintelligible to nonexperts. There is no asymmetrical advantage ofknowledge to some of its users.• Decentralization. Its ownership, production, and control aredistributed. It is not monopolized by a professional elite.• Flexibility. It is easy for users to modify, adapt, improve, or inspectits core. Individuals may freely choose to use it or give it up.• Redundancy. It is not the only solution, not a monopoly, but one ofseveral options.• Efficiency. It minimizes impact on ecosystems. It has a high efficiencyfor energy and materials and is easy to reuse.
Better than “No Choice” Too many choices may induce regret, but “no choice” is a far worse option. Civilization is a steady migration away from “no choice.” Asalways, the solution to the problems that technology brings, such as anoverwhelming diversity of choices, is better technologies. The solution to ultradiversity will be choice-assist technologies. These better tools will aid humans in making choices among bewildering options. Where do wealthy people travel to? Places that retain differences. (Bali.) What eateries attract customers? The ones with distinctive characteristics. What products sell in a global market? Ones that think different.
8 Universal Tendencies1. COMPLEXITY - The broad rise of complexityacross all epochs of evolutionary time.2. DIVERSITY - The diversity of the universe hasbeen increasing since the beginning of time.3. SPECIALIZATION-Evolution moves from thegeneral to the specific.
3. Specialization This sequence from general to specific holds true for most technologies. Today there are hundreds of specialty cameras, including those for use deep underwater, those designed for the vacuum of space, and those able to capture the infrared or the ultraviolet. At the moment, computers seem to be headed in the opposite direction, toward becoming ever more general-purpose machines, as they swallow more and more functions. But that will change… Gamers want minimal latency; readers want maximum legibility; hikers want waterproofing; kids want indestructibility.
4. UBIQUITYThe consequence of self-reproduction in life, as well as in the technium, is an inherent drive toward ever-presence. The list of near-ubiquitous technologies includes cotton cloth, iron blades, plastic bottles, paper, and radio signals. These five technological species are within reach of nearly every human alive today. Ubiquity changes everything. I would say the same today about DNA sequencing, GPS location tracking, dirt-cheap solar panels, electric cars, or even nutrition. Don’t worry about those who don’t own apersonal fiber-optic cable to their school; worry what happenswhen everyone does. We were so focused on those who don’t have plenty to eat that we missed what happens when everyone does have plenty.
8 Universal Tendencies5. FREEDOM - As evolution rises, “choicefulness” increases.6. MUTUALISM - As life evolves, it becomes increasinglydependent on other life. Every organism that creates asuccessful niche for itself also creates potential niches forother species.Most trucks, trains, and planes are not moving people butfreight. Most heating and cooling is not conditioning humansbut other stuff.The technium spends only one quarter of its energy on humancomfort, food, and travel needs; the rest of the energy ismade by technology for technology.
8 Universal Tendencies7. BEAUTY - Most evolved things are beautiful, and the mostbeautiful are the most highly evolved.The places most renowned for their beauty (Venice, Kyoto,Esfahan) are those that reveal intersecting deep layers oftime.8. SENTIENCE - The honeyguide bird in Kenya lures humans towild bee nests so that the birds can feast on the remainingbee brood after the humans remove the honey; sometimes,according to ornithologists, the honeyguide will “deceive” thehunters about the actual distance to a deep forest nest if it ismore than two kilometers away, so as not to discourage them.
Science and TechnologyScience is designed to increase the order and organization of knowledge we generate about the world. Science creates “tools” - techniques and methods - that manipulate information such that it can be tested, compared, recorded, recalled in an orderly fashion, and related to other knowledge. “Truth” is really only a measure of how well specific facts can be built upon, extended, and interconnected.A typical scientific discovery today will rely on facts and afalsifiable hypothesis; be tested in repeatable, controlled experiments, perhaps with placebos and double-blindcontrols; and be reported in a peer-reviewed journal and indexed in a library of related reports.
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