Kelly, K. The Inevitable

 The Inevitable, Viking, New York, April 2016

Is Resistance Futile?

“When emergent AI arrives, it will be hidden by its ubiquity”- Kevin Kelly

The 1980’s were the heyday of the appropriate technology movement, represented by the advent of the Whole Earth Catalog followed by a number of other publications. The movement was about technology as if people mattered. Kevin Kelly, as editor and contributor to the larger movement was in the center. Times have changed and Kelly’s work as editor of Wired Magazine seems like a conversion to a world now driven by technology. In fact the extended title states, “Understanding the 12 technological forces that will shape our future”.

The volume, heavy on emergent technology, seems to be like “Wired” without the advertisements. While the volume is a documentation of the evolving technology, it reads more like a religious tract, the writings of the forerunner of emergent artificial intelligence, AI. In fact, it projects the coming of the Singularity and strong AI, though defaulting to the softer version. It is as if Kelly has positioned himself as the equivalent of the “Bab” who prophesizes the arrival of a new faith. The message is the same, a “Wired” and interconnected global community, in conjunction with emergent AI can but lead to a positive planetary outcome.

The 12 chapters are a 12-step program: Becoming, Cognifying, Flowing, Screening, Accessing, Sharing, Filtering, Remixing, Interacting, Tracking, Questioning and Beginning. To Kelly, AI, artificial intelligence, and the Internet are not nouns, but verbs. They are growing changing and thus are also changing individuals and societies. The mantra is that stability is safe, but boring; change is unsettling but incrementally creating.

“My intent in this book is to uncover the roots of digital change so that we can embrace them.” Kevin Kelly

Once seen, we can work with their nature, rather than struggle against it.” Or one might recall the series, Star Trek, “ We are the Borg. Resistance is Futile. We will assimilate you”. Kelly believes that the 12-step program will continue for the next 3 decades. He suggests that we, as individuals and society need to address and embrace the emergent technology, more as hope. Further on he admits its technology that controls. It reads like a Strangelove scenario, “How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb.” Like the Wired version of the Whole Earth Catalog, the volume is densely packed with a cornucopia of emergent and emerging technical temptation. Only, one can’t just hotlink to the appropriate website and just click to purchase. As Kelly notes, in the “technium” everything is becoming, thus we are caught in a loop of constant attention, the need acquire, to maintain and continually upgrade.

As we know, information is “free” on the web, at least in exchange for your profile or paying to partially opt out of advertisements. Of course that does not stop technology from knowing what you searched for and get an ad placement on your search regardless of topic. Every “click” sends new recommendations. As Kelly notes, he had an epiphany that underpins the volume. The book is a religious text, a guide to understand and to be studied. This prepublication text lacked an index and footnotes did not have page referrals, but it is almost a piece of sacred literature. What is noticeable is that is born and exists largely within the bubble of Silicon Valley and assumes that all, including the global population will be brought under the technical robe of the emergent AI/Internet. In fact, the book points out that this “Intelligence” will not be born in a piece of technology, but rather will exists within the Internet along with the connected minds of humans. There is much here that relates to Card’s writings and his character, Jane, in his Ender series. It diametric to Stephenson’s “primer” in “The Diamond Age” which is definitely appropriate technology in the spirit of “The Whole Earth Catalog”.

This ubiquitous consciousness or “intelligence”, according to Kelly, will be imbedded in such sophisticated “technology” as music and as trivial as in one’s laundry telling a smart machine how to wash it, piece-by-piece. Much of this is near enough to be visible to those who track technology, including the lay consumer. The Internet is always on, vying for attention, in part by pushing the “new”. While one may not pay, indirectly there is a cost often covered by those who want one’s attention. Kelly does note that there are services for which people may be willing to pay:

  1. Immediacy- for some individuals, the sooner one knows or knows before others is worth the cost. On the other hand, much that is “immediate” can be so much persiflage, therefore:
  2. Personalization may be important where a news feed is tailored to a specific individual or organization. Custom database searching which can include news feeds may be worth a price, or
  3. Interpretation- As Kelly notes, software can be free, like Linux, but support can be expensive.

Kelly’s list is extended, but he does not discuss the addictiveness of the AI driven Internet. In spite of the numerous “filters” and supports to start to tame the data flow, the net intends to command even more of our non-storable and non-tradable commodity, time. There have been numerous experiments to have individuals shut off their networking technology. Like drug addictions, it has been problematic. Kelly’s solution is to “accept”, go deeper and upping the dosage. Clever humans will figure out how to alleviate the pain as the web tightens around them until the human/AI/Internet form the equivalent of Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere.

In the section, Questioning, Kelly notes his awakening to the fact that Wikipedia, the crowd sourced Internet encyclopedia is able to not only exist but to function and expand, in the hands of “community”. He takes this as a sign of the new social networking that will create, across the “Noosphere”, a global community awakening. Again, Kelly has forgotten his roots in the “Whole Earth” community. Like Cypher in The Matrix, he has chosen the “Blue Pill” and the life under the Silicon Valley bubble.

Kelly has not even considered taking the “Red Pill” to see what the world is like outside that West Coast bubble. For example, the Water Temples of Bali that are an intricate social structure that regulate the irrigated rice fields, the Subaks, has existed over 1000 years only to be disrupted by well meaning Green Revolution technocrats. The Halwalas, the complex money exchange/transfer systems are trust systems across many cultures, and the Silk Road and other ancient trading systems all represent collaborative cultures with long histories.

In many ways, this book, “The Inevitable”, this “sacred writing” to be mined for understanding of the “Coming “ of AI in either a strong or weak flavor, is the best argument as to the society’s default to a technological solution to overcome the problems of today. It is the strongest argument for balance in our education and social systems between the sciences and humanities.

“The question is, ’said Humpty Dumpty’, which is to be master-that’s all.”

Lewis Carroll

Perhaps “resistance is futile”

Note: This review is by Tom Abeles, Sagacity, Inc., Minneapolis, MN The editor is grateful for his permission to publish it here.