This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski.
Worksheet: Download the interactive sheet for taking notes.
The Book In Three Or More Sentences:
We’re not totally doomed and robots won’t replace us – at least not in everything we do. In his book, The Inevitable, Kevin Kelly gives us a glimpse in the possible future. He showcases twelve technological forces he believes will shape our future. And though robots might not enslave us, massive tracking and total surveillance are here to stay.
The Core Idea:
The author is presenting different scenarios of how the future might unfold, preparing us for what’s next. And what’s next probably looks like this: Imagine zillion streams of information interacting with each other, communicating, pulsating. A new type of computer, tracking and recording everything we do. The future will be less about owning stuff and more about being part of flowing information that will supposedly make our lives easier.
- We’ll soon own less stuff. More and more products are becoming services.
- We, the people, are the fuel that powers the internet. It’s up to us to decide where we should head towards.
- There are twelve forces that are molding our future. Understanding them will give you a competitive advantage.
6 Key Lessons from The Inevitable:
- Lesson #1: Products Are Becoming Services
- Lesson #2: Everything in The World Requires Maintenance
- Lesson #3: The Online World Is Manufactured by Users, Not by Big Institutions
- Lesson #4: Artificial Intelligence Will Help Us Define Humanity
- Lesson #5: If You Can Choose Anything; What Will You Choose?
- Lesson #6: The Twelve Forces That Are Molding the Future
Lesson #1: Products Are Becoming Services
Kevin Kelly basically reinforces what Tien Tzuo says in his book Subscribed. He’s talking about the fact that all major companies are shifting their strategy from selling to serving – building relationships with their clients.
People will rarely purchase cars in the future – the actual vehicle – they’ll simply use transportation services, like Uber or Lyft.
If you’re planning to start a company of some sort, don’t aim to sell goods. Your main focus should be to build a strong bridge between you and your desired customer. To create a process of some sort that will offer ongoing benefits. In the new era, smart processes (imagine Uber and Spotify) will outwit single products.
“We are moving away from the world of fixed nouns and toward a world of fluid verbs. In the next 30 years we will continue to take solid things—an automobile, a shoe—and turn them into intangible verbs.” Kevin Kelly
Lesson #2: Everything in The World Requires Maintenance
You just purchased a new laptop? Don’t get too attached to it. You’ll most probably replace it after a year or two. The same applies to everything else in the world.
The reason we constantly upgrade our gear is twofold: First, because we want to look cool in the eyes of others – that’s the psychological reason. Second, because stuff break and get outdated really, really fast. Especially nowadays.
But this applies to everything around, not just stuff, but people too. It’s strange to say it, but your relationship with others also requires maintenance.
You need to keep in touch with your friends – including your spouse – if you want to have a strong relationship with them and still have someone to call when your car breaks.
What about your business? Same.
Understanding this life concept will help you in many ways. Not only businesswise, but also in terms of keeping your marriage intact.
“Long ago I learned that even the most inanimate things we know of—stone, iron columns, copper pipes, gravel roads, a piece of paper—won’t last very long without attention and fixing and the loan of additional order. Existence, it seems, is chiefly maintenance.” Kevin Kelly
Lesson #3: The Online World Is Manufactured by Users, Not by Big Institutions
This is becoming the norm – companies allowing people to create the content.
The publications we see on platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter is not created by the people working in these institutions, but by the users using these platforms. By the audience. These mediums are simply organizing all the data and presenting it in a cool way.
It was hard to imagine such overrun by the masses back in the days. A couple of years ago, making music was too much trouble. Not to mention producing videos. But things changed rather quickly when the new internet order took over. Now everyone with a laptop, idea, and a stable connection can become a content creator.
Today we have a new blog appearing every second and 300 video hours uploaded every minute. Though this is super cool – I mean there are thousands of people living doing what they love – we should become aware of something.
It’s up to us to keep the online world safe from crap and harmful content. It’s our responsibility to steer tech in the right direction.
Are we up for the challenge?
Lesson #4: Artificial Intelligence Will Help Us Define Humanity
When AI becomes the new normal everything will change. Not only in terms of job offerings – there will be a decline there, at least for the jobs we currently know – something else, much more important will change.
When autonomous cars replace Uber drivers, chatbots assist clients much better than human representatives, we’ll have enough time to reevaluate our roles, our beliefs, our goals, and even our identities.
“What humans for?” is a question asked in the book. A reasonable question I must say. If you’ve been driving a taxi for over 20 years, you’ll surely question your existence in the world when the friendly four-wheel robot overtakes your business. It will be sad. Dramatic. A riot-starting moment. But most certainly, inevitable.
If you come to think about it, we weren’t created for this, the manual labor I mean. Here’s why we’re here according to the author: “Humans are for inventing new kinds of intelligences that biology could not evolve.”
AI will provoke us to think differently. To do things differently. Artificial intelligence will help us better understand what we mean by intelligence in the first place.
So, the important thing here is not whether we should let AI overtake us. The main focus should be about redefining what it means to be a human. Finding out what really sets us apart from everything else living in the universe.
“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. If we aren’t unique toolmakers, or artists, or moral ethicists, then what, if anything, makes us special?” Kevin Kelly
Lesson #5: If You Can Choose Anything; What Will You Choose?
You want access to every book on the planet so you can read more?
That’s totally doable nowadays. You just subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. With just a few clicks you’ll have unlimited access to over 1 million titles without physically owning books. It’s the same thing if you want access to the best PlayStation games. You just hop on a plane with PlayStation Now. But that’s not all.
The world is now borderless: cheap flights, instant messaging platforms, and access to a variety of dishes. Everything you want is within arm’s reach. The thing is, however, we don’t really know what we want. And that’s totally understandable. How can you pick the best book among 1 million titles?
Google’s homepage is simply a search box, ready to answer all of our questions. The AI behind it can even guess (autocomplete) what we’re about to type. Yet, we don’t really know what we should ask because we don’t know ourselves very well. It’s even worse with social media. We can easily get lost in the endless rabbit holes created by sites like Facebook and YouTube. But if you don’t know what you want out of life it will be like entering a black hole – you can’t escape from it.
Lesson #6: The Twelve Forces That Are Molding the Future
These forces – the ones you’ll see below – are not operating solo. They emerge from one another and complete each other. Imagine them as trajectories, telling us where we’re headed but not really giving us concrete answers for the future. Regardless of this uncertainty, these are all forces worth considering when making future plans.
There is a separate chapter for each motion in the book – the twelve forces are basically the whole book. As you can imagine though, here I’ll give you the brief version:
- Becoming: Things won’t last very long without the proper attention and maintenance. Especially in the tech world. Continuous upgrades are required. Or in other words, our future is a series of endless upgrades. We’re entering the era of “becoming.” The constant change in features will turn us into newbies – we will be newbies forever, always trying to keep up with what’s new.
- Cognifying: In the future, things will interact with other things. Everything will be connected. After all, we can’t create smart AI if we keep it locked inside a room – we need to give it space to grow. We need to plug it into 7 billion human minds. It might sound scary at first but only by tapping AI into our world, we’ll be able to create a medical diagnosis tool (and other life-saving tools) that will be able to give us personalized health advice.
- Flowing: The internet is the world’s largest copy machine. If something can be copied, it will be copied. That’s why a lot of artists are obsessing over copyrights. But you can’t really stop people from stealing your copy. Once something lands on the internet, it will surely be replicated. But there is something else important about the flow state. The web is no longer about flat, boring pages, it’s mostly about endless streams of photos of posts (imagine social media).
- Screening: For centuries, we were people revolving around the spoken word. But it’s quite different today. We’re now people of the screen. You want to read a book? You no longer get a big fat book from the local library. You get it on your phone. Waiting to get something, anything, from a physical store, is unbearable. We now prefer the flux of pixels. The fast-paced world is full of tweets, headlines, sound bites, and get-rich-quick schemes.
- Accessing: It’s like we’re living inside the world’s largest rental store. Owning is no longer cool. You just borrow stuff. Looking for a ride? You call an Uber. Want to watch the newest movie? You don’t have to leave your house, you just subscribe to Netflix. Borrowing has a lot of advantages. The biggest one is that you have no responsibility to clean, repair, store, or maintain the things you’re borrowing. Something business owners should think about.
- Sharing: The current economic culture runs on sharing. The best institutions and businesses are highly connected. People nowadays have a common goal, to share what they are doing. Sharing is like a new currency. If you’re someone who shares valuable things, you’ll be highly rewarded.
- Filtering: The internet is this vast place where everyone is contributing to its growth. There is literally an infinite hall of options online. That’s why we need some sort of filtering. People and tech to weed out the crap and give us only the essential info. Such types of filters will become even more valuable in the future.
- Remixing: Economic growth doesn’t necessarily mean creating new stuff. Innovation happens by rearranging existing resources to make them more valuable. Or in other words, growth comes from remixing. All new technologies come from a combination of existing technologies.
- Interacting: Instead of workers sitting inside cubicles in front of gigantic screens, they’ll easily jump to a 3D conference room with a dozen of other coworkers, all working from the comfort of their homes. VR will soon take over the world. We’ll most probably create new worlds where everything will be possible.
- Tracking: Tiny chips embedded in everything we own will allow us to track and measure everything we do and consume. Want to check your blood pressure? Just open the app on your phone. Motion trackers are no longer exciting. In the future, we’ll have the ability to check how our whole body operates. This will allow us to live longer and better.
- Questioning: A lot of things that seemed impossible in the past are now very real. Things like Google Earth or an online platform connecting more than 6 billion people (Facebook). So, before you conclude that something is impossible, stop and say: Let’s try this. Old impossibilities are quite possible today.
- Beginning: We are living in a very exciting period. The beginning of technological evolution that will link everything in this world. Imagine what will happen when 7 billion humans are all linked and working together? We’ll either solve all known to man problems and reach new worlds or destroy humanity as we know it. Only time will tell.
- Protopia state: Protopia is a state of becoming. It’s not a destination, it’s a continuous process. Something like staying fit. You can’t get ripped by training once. You need to exercise daily to get a beach body and later keep it. That’s what protopia is all about. In the so-called protopian mode, things are getting slightly better than yesterday. Unfortunately, it’s not exciting progress. On a lot of occasions is something really dull. But by pushing forward daily, the tiny incremental improvements will help you advance. Go protopia mode and get better.
- How are you different? What sets you apart? How are you different from everyone else, including probably some robots in the future? What will you do for a living if automation replaces your role as a sales rep, for example? It’s a question worth thinking about. It will help you find your real place in the world.
- Lifelogging: The concept of lifelogging can help you become better in every aspect of your life. What’s this? The idea is to track things related to your life all the time. Want to eat better food? Record everything related to food: what type of food you’re eating, how many calories are you consuming, at what time you eat, how you feel afterward, etc. Once you have a few days of data, you will notice things you have most probably missed in the past, thus make small adjustments in your daily schedule.
- Focus on the process: Every time we see someone famous we start to scream and simultaneously wish we have what they have. Instead of learning from their process, we focus on the end result. We rarely think about the work behind the shiny clothes and the new cars. How someone did it is much more valuable than what they did.
- Remix: To succeed in the future you need to remix. Solve old problems by mixing the benefits of different products. We’re now equipped with supercomputers in our pockets. We can easily connect the benefits of existing products in a different, unexpected way. In a way so that we can WOW people.
Commentary And My Personal Takeaway
So, what does the future look like? One word: connected. According to Kevin Kelly, we’ll become a highly connected society. Everything will be shared, re-shared, and shared some more. Along with that, we’ll be tracked like criminals while on bail. Yes, we’ll need a lot of data to improve our health care and upgrade the AI tracking everything we do.
But there is more!
Virtual reality will probably replace real-time conversations as services are currently replacing products. Our attention span will decrease even more. Tiny chips will be embedded in all of our possessions. We’ll question our existence even more.
Though the author presents a very optimistic viewpoint for the future, there’s a lot that can go wrong. Robots taking over and smart AI bombarding the major cities is just one example.
We’ll see what will really happen.
One thing is certain: tech is here to stay. It’s already an integral part of our lives. But that’s a good thing. There has never been a better time in the history of the world to invent something. Thanks to technology today is the best time to start something – the project you always wanted.
“Our brains were not evolved to deal with zillions. This realm is beyond our natural capabilities, and so we have to rely on our machines to interface with it. We need a real-time system of filters upon filters in order to operate in the explosion of options we have created.” Kevin Kelly
“There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now. Right now, this minute. This is the moment that folks in the future will look back at and say, “Oh, to have been alive and well back then!” Kevin Kelly
“This is not a race against the machines. If we race against them, we lose. This is a race with the machines. You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots. Ninety percent of your coworkers will be unseen machines.” Kevin Kelly
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