Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly: Seeing the Future | North Star Podcast with David Perell

Check out the North Start Podcast Page & Episode Notes

Key Takeaways

  • “Most of theology today is done by science-fiction” – Kevin Kelly
    • Science fiction grapples with the questions that theologians used to ask:
      • What does it mean to be human?
      • Why are we here?
      • Who do we want to become?
  • You cannot solve problems by just thinking about them
    • Kevin calls “think-ism” a disease
    • To solve problems you have to actually try different things
      • If you ban technologies you’re not able to figure out how to steer them for our benefit
  • Technology provides us opportunities to blossom
    – Imagine if Mozart was born before the invention of the piano
    – We have a moral obligation to develop new technologies to allow for everyone to express their genius
  • We need to be careful to not optimize everything to be efficient
    • Efficiency is for robots, humans are inefficient
    • “Every single thing that we really value as humans is terribly inefficient” – Kevin Kelly
      • Science, discovery, art, adventure are all inefficient

Intro

  • Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) is a futurist, the co-founder of Wired Magazine, and a best-selling author
    • Check out Kevin’s website
    • Check out these podcasts notes from Kevin’s appearance on the Tim Ferris Show
  • Host: David Perell (@whatdavidreads)
  • In this chat, Kevin shares his views on the future and on the way technology helps humans blossom

The Transition from Books to Screens

  • Text in books are fixed, permanent
    • Books represent authority
  • Screens are fluid, dynamic, never finished (Wikipedia is a great example)
    • There’s no authority to tell you the truth
      • You have to assemble your own truth
  • With books, the enemy we had to fight against was propaganda
    • With screens, our enemies become conspiracies

Theology and Futurism

  • “Originalist” Christians see the predictions of the Bible as the only permitted scenario for the future
    • Kevin thinks that’s unfortunate because we need to think about more possible scenarios
  • “Most of theology today is done by science-fiction” – Kevin Kelly
    • Science fiction grapples with the questions that theologians used to ask:
      • What does it mean to be human?
      • Why are we here?
      • Who do we want to become?

Can We Shape the Future of Technology?

  • The future is intrinsically unpredictable
    • “We drive into the future using our rearview mirror” – Marshall McLuhan
    • We can use scenario-planning to envision what’s possible (even if unlikely)
      • While we can’t predict the future, we can be ready for it
    • Kevin sees his role not as trying to predict the future
      • Rather he’s imagining the future that we want to strive for
  • Shaping the future of technology
    • You cannot solve problems by just thinking about them
      • Kevin calls “think-ism” a disease
      • To solve problems you have to actually try different things
    • If you ban technologies you’re not able to figure out how to steer them for our benefit
    • Social Media, is still in its infancy
      • We haven’t yet figured out how to use it properly
  • Silicon Valley taught us to embrace failure when starting companies
    • Yet, we are not able to accept the “moral” failures of Social Media and other technologies
      • To be able to correct errors, we have to accept failures

How Amish Decide Which Technologies to Adopt

  • Amish process to adopt new technologies
    • Few early adopters will use and test the technology
    • The rest of the community observes the effects on the early adopters
    • They decide to introduce a technology if they find that it strengthens their families and communities
  • Kevin approves their evidence-based system towards adopting technology

Technology Help us Blossom

  • The problem with Amish culture is that it offers a very limited set of choices
    • We have the choice to pursue many different possibilities
      • Each possibility is an opportunity for our talent to blossom
      • This is why people move to cities
    • Technology provides us opportunities to blossom
      • Imagine if Mozart was born before the invention of the piano
        • We have a moral obligation to develop new technologies to allow for everyone to express their genius

Technology Abuse and Protopia

  • Kevin believes that every technology we invent can be weaponized
    • “The more powerful the technology, the more powerfully it will be abused” – Kevin Kelly
    • AI will be really abused
  • Even the possibility for abuse of technology is an additional choice we didn’t have
    • Kevin sees additional choices as positive
      • This makes new technologies generally more good than evil
        • Over time, the small additional “goodness” will compound
  • Kevin sees himself as a protopian
    • He believes in the power of incremental improvements that compound over time

Increased Destructive Capacity of Technology

  • David is concerned that it only takes one moment to destroy everything
    • It’s getting easier for one person to do more and more harm
  • Kevin was also concerned about this, so he looked at the evidence
    • According to evidence, one person’s ability to kill hasn’t increased dramatically over time
      • On average one person is able to kill around 100 people
    • We can imagine the possibility of one person killing’s capacity to increase dramatically
      • Kevin thinks it’d be a lot harder than we think
    • “As these technologies become more powerful, they become more social. They actually require more people to be involved” – Kevin Kelly
      • The need for more people becomes a deterrent to using them

Moral Progress and Technological Progress

  • Technological progress allows us to live comfortably without fear of constant scarcity
    • Scarcity was often at the root of human “savage” behavior
    • Could moral progress be a result of technological progress?
  • Kevin thinks that technology and science allowed us to create surplus
    • We can worry less about survival and focus more on other, higher things

Future Divergence in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

  • Kevin sees a convergence towards the lower levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy
    • Around the World, everyone aspires to have their basic needs met in the same way (house, food, clothing, etc…)
  • He thinks we’ll see a divergence about the higher levels of the Hierarchy
    • What we are about, what is our purpose etc.

Noticing the Present to Understand the Future

  • Some of Kevin’s writing looks like he’s trying to predict the future
    • David brings up the example of “New Rules for the New Economy”
      • In it, Kevin is actually accurately describing the present
        • Doing so he finds the direction in which the future is leaning

Fame, Creativity and Inefficient Government

  • In Kevin’s essay “The Technium: 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice“, he advises against becoming famous
    • Fame is a constraint against creativity
      • When you’re famous you’re not allowed to make mistakes (in all aspects of your life)
        • Creativity requires one to try different things and fail
  • In a similar way, Government is not allowed to fail and cannot innovate
    • But that’s the role of government
    • “The business of Government is to be inefficient” – Kevin Kelly
      • During COVID governments are stockpiling millions of extra masks, just in case
      • No company could afford to do that

Why We Should not Optimize for Efficiency

  • We need to be careful to not optimize everything to be efficient
    • Efficiency is for robots, humans are inefficient
    • “Every single thing that we really value as humans is terribly inefficient” – Kevin Kelly
      • Science, discovery, art, adventure are all inefficient
      • Clearly, not everything inefficient is desirable
  • Kevin thinks we should optimize for opportunities, choices, innovation, love
    • Again, none of those are efficient

Efficiency in Writing

  • Kevin writes to discover what he thinks
    • The process shows him how much he doesn’t know about a topic
      • It forces him to research
    • He doesn’t see his process as efficient
    • In writing, he optimizes for clarity
  • How David uses dictation in writing
    • After writing his first draft, he records a three-minute summary
      • Speaking a summary forces him to structure his argument in a more cohesive way

Exotropy, Technology and California

  • The term was coined by Max More
    • Extropy as a positive transhumanist evolution in the right direction
  • Kevin appropriated and hijacked the term to mean the opposite of entropy
    • Entropy is the degradation of the Universe through increased disorder
  • Exotropy (Kevin changed the term) stands for the positive force that increases order in areas of the Universe
    • As order increases in exotropic areas, entropy also increases outside those areas
    • Kevin sees technology as an exotropic force
  • California is a hub of exotropy
    • Historically California’s culture has been libertarian, do it yourself, independent
    • People were encouraged to come up with their own solutions, think for themselves, find their own funding
      • This led to the startup culture and technological development that we see today
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Notes By Giorgio Parlato

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