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The Inevitable

by Kevin Kelly

Favorite quotes from the book:

We are morphing so fast that our ability to invent new things outpaces the rate we can civilize them.

All is flux. Nothing is finished. Nothing is done. This never-ending change is the pivotal axis of the modern world.

Technological life in the future will be a series of endless upgrades.

Endless Newbie is the new default for everyone, no matter your age or experience.

As we invent more species of AI, we will be forced to surrender more of what is supposedly unique about humans. Each step of surrender — we are not the only mind that can play chess, fly a plane, make music, or invent a mathematical law — will be painful and sad. We’ll spend the next three decades — indeed, perhaps the next century — in a permanent identity crisis, continually asking ourselves what humans are good for.

the first version of a new medium imitates the medium it replaces.

A universal law of economics says the moment something becomes free and ubiquitous, its position in the economic equation suddenly inverts. When nighttime electrical lighting was new and scarce, it was the poor who burned common candles. Later, when electricity became easily accessible and practically free, our preference flipped and candles at dinner became a sign of luxury.

Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, and half-baked ideas. It is a flow of tweets, headlines, instagrams, casual texts, and floating first impressions.

I feel like an ancient hunter-gatherer who owns nothing as he wends his way through the complexities of nature, conjuring up a tool just in time for its use and then leaving it behind as he moves on. It is the farmer who needs a barn for his accumulation.

Way back in 1971 Herbert Simon, a Nobel Prize–winning social scientist, observed, “In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.”

“Email is a system that lets other people add things to my to-do list.” Right now there is no cost for adding an email in someone else’s queue. Twenty years ago she proposed a system that would enable someone to charge senders for reading their email.

“The future is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

A lifestream is a time-ordered stream of documents that functions as a diary of your electronic life; every document you create and every document other people send you is stored in your lifestream. The tail of your stream contains documents from the past (starting with your electronic birth certificate). Moving away from the tail and toward the present, your stream contains more recent documents—pictures, correspondence, bills, movies, voice mail, software. Moving beyond the present and into the future, the stream contains documents you will need: reminders, calendar items, to-do lists.

Ubiquitous surveillance is inevitable. Since we cannot stop the system from tracking, we can only make the relationships more symmetrical.

These supposed impossibilities keep happening with increased frequency. Everyone “knew” that people don’t work for free, and if they did, they could not make something useful without a boss. But today entire sections of our economy run on software instruments created by volunteers working without pay or bosses. Everyone knew humans were innately private beings, yet the impossibility of total open round-the-clock sharing still occurred. Everyone knew that humans are basically lazy, and they would rather watch than create, and they would never get off their sofas to create their own TV. It would be impossible that millions of amateurs would produce billions of hours of video, or that anyone would watch any of it.

I am looking forward to having my mind changed a lot in the coming years. I think we’ll be surprised by how many of the things we assumed were “natural” for humans are not really natural at all.

The bad news may be that this insatiable appetite for super-superlatives leads to dissatisfaction with anything ordinary.

That gap between questions and answers is our ignorance, and it is growing exponentially. In other words, science is a method that chiefly expands our ignorance rather than our knowledge.

© 2021 Enea Xharja