The Inevitable

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This books is a story about how the world will change in the next few decades. What I liked about it, is that unlike Industries of the Future (AmazonAudible), it didn’t focus primarily on the things that will change; rather, on the high-level trends that will push change. The book acknowledged that the concrete, precise ways the world will change are unknowable, and are only speculation — but that the major trends derive from the nature of technology we already have, and therefore are largely inevitable.

1. Becoming

As technology changes faster and faster, we’ll become perpetual newbies.

Looking at the last few decades, you should grow to believe in the implausible a bit more often.

Protopia: the state of perpetual progress, where every year is a bit better than the last one. A far more appealing possibility than an utopia.

Today is the best time in history to start.

2. Cognifying

Everything that can be made better and smarter by inserting technology, computing, algorithms, AI — will be.

The problem is that when people think of AI, they’re thinking of robots and dystopian superintelligence. But equating AI with robots is like equating flying with birds. Airplanes are distinctly not bird-like. And AIs will be distinctly inhuman.

AI will be primarily faceless. Billions of tiny, distributed AIs, everywhere.

And there will be many kinds of AIs, each suited for their particular purpose. (We need a taxonomy of minds).

(We already do this, but every time a thing becomes possible with computers, we stop considering it an “AI”.)

Yes, we’ve been talking about AI for half a century, but what’s different about now are 3 big advances:

Centaurs: Computer + human, working together, to get the best of both. (See also: Zero to One)

Next century will be a perpetual identity crisis. As more and more things, that we used to think are unique to humans, will be taken over by computers, we will have to constantly re-discover what it means to be human.

Kinds of jobs:

70% of jobs didn’t exist 200 years ago.

Highest paying jobs of 2050 will depend on technology not yet invented, so we can’t see them yet.

Over time, as machines take over mundane jobs, our jobs will become more human, harder to automate. We will have to learn how to work with ever more advanced machines, we will optimize them, do more awesome things with their help, and we will create better machines still. And as technology progresses, we will invent new jobs we didn’t think we needed.

Machines will help us become more human by taking over routine work that doesn’t matter. Let them.

See also: Superintelligence (AmazonAudible)

3. Flowing

Fixed solid goods became services that can flow — go anywhere, and conform to whatever shape we need.

Music, books, information flows. Everything becomes real time.

Computing: office metaphors → the web and hyperlinks → flows.

The industrial revolution made copying exact and cheap.
The information revolution made copying exact and free.

In the industrial revolution, no one wanted the messy original, because a perfect copy was better. Now, when perfect copies are free and ubiquitous, the original and unique are the only things which are valuable.

When copying is free, what’s worth paying for are the things which can’t be copied — things that are better than free:

Everything is free, available everywhere, remixable at will.

Flowing is an additive, not a subtractive process: fixity will still exist, with all its stability. But new possibilities will be opened by mutability and flowing.

4. Screening

In the beginning, the culture was mostly oral. This brought reverence to oration and rhetoric skills, an appreciation of the past, of subjectivity, and ambiguity.

Then, cheap printing was invented. This brought a culture of words. This brought the law, journalism, science, libraries, and a reverence for expertise, precision, and linear thinking.

And then, screens emerged.

We’re now in transition, and so there’s a tension between the culture of words, and the culture of screens. It has been this way for decades, and you can feel it easily.

With TV, people of the book have thought that books, reading, and writing are dying. And yet, with screens, people have tripled their reading and writing since 80s.

btw. Perhaps with screens, this should be called screening, not reading.

Books are not dying, but it’s not the physical artifact that matters, but the experience (the literature space).

Books will be annotated, hyperlinked, connected into a web of ideas. We will create a meta book, a universal library of all works ever created. Every quote in a passage will be directly linked to the original passage in another book. Everything will be tagged. Networks and ecosystems of related ideas will emerge, created by readers and AI.

Screens will be everywhere, interactive, personalized.

5. Accessing

Why own and purchase, when you can access anything anywhere?

Netflix. Kindle. Uber. Airbnb…

Products become services. Purchases become subscriptions.

Renting, accessing, sharing have many of the benefits of ownership without many of the downsides — no need for repairs, maintenance, capital expense. And this works even better in the digital world, because it’s not a zero sum game.

Anything that can be made smart can be made a subscription. More ways to remix services to squeeze out inefficiencies than to remix products.

Roads are a perfect, old example of something that’s better than owning. Makes more sense to share it, pay for it like a subscription (with taxes), and just use it whenever we want.

6. Sharing

New socialism (yeah, let’s reclaim the s-word). Open source, cooperation, sharing economy…

People do work for free with open source because they want to make their own damn software better. People do it not because they have to, but because they need the result too.

Social media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter are the same. Media made by people doing work for free.

How far does this get us? We don’t know. But probably farther than we think.

When we first started doing capitalism, we were surprised at how well it worked. Seemed to make sense to have a government-controled monopoly postal service. But then we let companies compete and it turned out to be even better.

And now every time we try to apply the distributed, the social, we’re surprised too at how well it works.

Bottom-up vs top-down. Neither Linux nor Wikipedia are fully bottom-up collective work, both are managed from the top. But the top-down is like vitamins in food — you don’t need much of it. (Too much can be toxic or just flushed away.) And the reason it works is because technology made these micro-transactions almost free.

Lots of ways to experiment with sharing and social cooperation: Crowdfunding. Crowd equity. Microfinance (Kiva). Crowdsourcing. Co-ops.

7. Filtering

In the world of abundance, there’s too much to ever consume. We need filters.

Amazon — 1/3 of all sales come from suggestions

Mass personalization. Ads. Paying for sending (having someone read) your emails (possible with micro-transactions)…

Filter bubbles (overfitting), bad filters, oppressive governments. All real, but we’ll overcome them with better filters, there’s just no other way.

Wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

8. Remixing

Everything will become deeply remixable.

Video will become searchable, indexable… there will be tables of contents and references, hyperlinks, bibliographies.

Everything becomes rewindable. Replayable. Music. Video. (Video is now more and more often made to be rewatched, just like books are written to be re-read — because it’s no longer broadcast-only TV.)

Intellectual property is a big question mark. Today’s law doesn’t play well with remixing. We have to reconsider it.

9. Interacting

VR. AR. Anything that’s not interactive will be considered broken.

Full body interactions with gestures, hand movements, eye tracking, voice.

10. Tracking

With cheap sensors, tracking is everywhere, and inevitable.

Self tracking. Quantified self. (I do this!). Long term tracking can be revealing, especially for health.

Experiments, science, medicine. You can now do experiments with N=1, because you have data to offset your bias.

New senses. (A north belt giving you a compass.)

Digital life stream.

Life logging – recording audio and photos. Social norms and technological tools will develop for this.

Internet of things, each thing tracking itself (Cars do this with ODB)

Like sharing, tracking is inevitable. It’s technological, not social or political. But we have plenty of control over what exact form this tracking gets. We can influence the law and social norms around tracking.

Watching the watchers. Make the relationship symmetrical. We should know what they know, how much, what they do with it, we should have a say in that, and also be able to track them.

Coveillance — mutual surveillance. If tracking is inevitable, than a symmetrical relationship of transparent tracking is better than alternative. It’s like small towns or tribes (everyone knows what everyone else is doing, but it tends to be fine, because it’s symmetrical.) Perhaps there won’t be such a backlash against this, because we evolved like that. (So far, at every turn of technology, people have overwhelmingly chosen convenience and sharing over anonymity.)

11. Questioning

Wikipedia is impossible and yet it exists. So is eBay, YouTube, and open source.

How far can the power of the hive, or other technological forces go? We don’t know, but so far it’s been farther than we thought.

So we should question our beliefs about what’s impossible, because we constantly get surprised.

A change of a factor one trillion is always enough to make a qualitative (not just quantitive) difference.

We’re immersed in superlatives. We see things that seem impossible everyday on YouTube. We see the greatest talents, freak accidents, stupidest people doing dumbest things.

The good thing about it is that we’re more inclined to believe in the improbable. The bad thing is, we can become constantly dissatisfied.

Knowledge, not just data, is growing exponentially. But every answer breeds two more questions — and therefore our ignorance is also growing exponentially.

Science is the chief way of expanding our ignorance.

In a world where answers are cheap and ubiquitous, what’s valuable are good questions.

12. Beginning

People in a thousand years will look back at today with awe. This is the first time people have linked up together everything at a global scale, and machines became smart. Wow, what a time to be alive.

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