An overly optimistic view of how technology will shape our lives in the future
What course would technology take in the next 25 years? Had you asked somebody that question in 1990, they would have never come close to guessing that we would be living in the age of virtual reality, with devices strapped to our body to monitor our heart rate, calorie count and much more. Or that the watch would be a more powerful device than the phone. But if you ask somebody that question today, there would definitely be some iota of clarity. Clearly, the future isn’t as hazy any more.
Sure, technology and innovation still have the capacity to surprise us, but the growing class of ‘technological pundits’ would beg to differ—at least in certain aspects. One of these is Kevin Kelly. But more than what technology would look like in the future, Kelly aims to define how we would interact with it in the coming years. The founding executive editor of Wired magazine talks about this and much more in his book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future.
Those who have read his previous book What Technology Wants, or watched his TED talk videos, would be familiar with his style, which Kelly has not deviated from in his new book. He starts with a note on how technology became truly innovative only with the coming of the Internet and goes on to weave a narrative around the development of the ecosystem around it. But that is just the introduction. For the rest of the book, there is a mechanical narrative, highlighting how technological forces would change the world. Despite the mundane way in which the indexation is done, each chapter contains an interesting take on the evolution of things. But more than that, what really transforms the book is how Kelly uses anecdotes about technology’s interaction with humans— be it sharing data, tracking people or artificial intelligence.
Kelly, however, goes beyond predicting the future, a mistake most technologists commit. Although the book takes an overly optimistic approach—only at times displaying the dark side of things—one would have expected a more realistic view from Kelly. What the author fails to acknowledge is that development would only go as far as we want it to go, and not slip out of our hands—at least in the near future. We may be open to more tracking and screening now, but only till the point we are comfortable.
The book mostly follows a technical approach, addressing everything that you would want to know. It also makes you question and look at your smartphone time and again to see if you are being tracked.
Whether you agree with Kelly or not is your prerogative. As for me, unlike Kelly, I still believe that true technological revolution is yet to come. As a child, Kelly was not convinced that computers were the end of innovation. I feel the same about artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. What happens next, to use a cliché, only time will tell.