The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future | Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly; The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future; Penguin Books, reprint; 2017-06-06; 338 pages; Amazon:0143110373: Kindle: $14, paper: $13+SHT.

tl;dr → A teleological megatrends framework; transformation unto The Beginning (The Singularity) themed around 12 gerunds. He hits all the notes, quickly. Gee Whiz! Storytelling from the origins of the Internet in the ’90s. Some of the notes are passe now here in 2017-H2 (e.g. Uber is no longer cool, RSS still exist but it is no longer “a thing”, Software-as-a-Service is acronymed as SaaS, not SaS, Narrative performed Swedish-style “reorganization” in 2016-H2 [they hold & perform all customer videos]).


  1. Becoming
  2. Cognifying
  3. Flowing
  4. Screening
  5. Accessing
  6. Sharing
  7. Filtering
  8. Remixing
  9. Interacting
  10. Tracking
  11. Questioning
  12. Beginning


  • The gerunds
    • present participles
    • continuous action
  • Moving away from nouns, towards verbs, page 6
    flows contra stocks [John Hagel?]
  • digital
    • copies
    • bookkeeping (tracking)
    • (re-)analysis
  • utopia, dystopia → protopia
  • ‘B
  • Artificial Intelligence (requires)
    1. Cheap Parallel Computing
    2. Big Data (really very big biggie data)
    3. Better Algorithms
  • DeepMind, Google
  • Watson, IBM
  • Baxter, MIT
  • Robots are for
    1. Jobs humans can do but Robots can do even better
    2. Jobs humans can’t do but Robots can
    3. Jobs we didn’t know we wanted done
    4. Jobs only human can do – at first
  • Robots are for “The Three Ds”
    • Dirty
    • Dreary
    • Dangerous
  • Computers→ The Internet is for copies.
    <quote>The flow of copies is inevitable</quote>, page 62.
  • Manufacturing is about making cheap copies
  • Generations of computing
    1. The Desktop
    2. The Web (of pages and links)
    3. Streams
  • The Generatives [pages 68-70]
    1. Immediacy
    2. Personalization
    3. Interpretation
    4. Authenticity
    5. Accessibility
    6. Emobodiment
    7. Patronage
    8. Discoverability
  • Fixities
    1. Fixity of the page
    2. Fixity of the edition
    3. Fixity of the object
    4. Fixity of completion
  • Fluidities
    1. Fluidity of the page
    2. Fluidity of the edition
    3. Fluidity of the container
    4. Fluidity of growth
  • Flowing
    The stages of flowing

    1. Fixed. Rare.
    2. Free. Ubiquitous
    3. Flowing. Sharing.
    4. Opening. Becoming.
  • People of the
    • People of the Book
    • People of the Screen
  • Google Glass
  • Google Translate
  • Amazon Kindle Unlimited
  • Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • servicized
  • prosumer
  • Real-Time On Demand.
  • Amazon Home Services
  • UberPool
  • Co-working spaces (rent-a-desk, in a coffee bar).
  • Decentralization
    • decentralized “money” → Bitcoin [Ethereum]
    • mesh networks→ FireChat
  • Platform Synergy
    marketplaces, multi-sided marketplaces
  • Clouds
    rented computers, someone else’s rented computer.

    • Google Drive
  • Creative Commons
  • The degrees of “socialism” in stages of sharing [due to Shirkey]
    1. Sharing
    2. Cooperation
    3. Collaboration
    4. Collectivism
  • Sharing requires
    • Filters
    • Gatekeepers
    • Editors
    • Curators
  • <quote>inside every working anarchy there is an old-boy network.</quote>, attributed to Mitch Kapor, page 151.
  • Filtering done by
    • gatekeepers
    • intermediaries
    • curators
    • brands
    • government
    • cultural environment [cultural forces]
    • friends
    • ourselves
  • Filter Bubble
  • <quote>In an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information onsumes. What information consumes is rather obvious:L it sonsumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention</quote>, attributed to Herbert Simon, 1971
    <quote>In a world of abundance, the only scarcity is human attention.</quote>
  • Attention
    • commodity attention
    • Attention cost runs $2-$3/hour for consumers across all media and across all recorded time <ahem>since 1990</ahem>
    • Naive econometrics done by Kelly 1995→2015.
  • Google AdSense
  • Something about decentralization in advertising:
    <quote>For instance, what if advertising followed the same trend of decentralization as other commercial sectors have? What if customers created, placed and paid for ads?</quote>, page 182.
    <ahem>These experiments have been run and we know the answer to them</quote>
  • Something about influencer marketing.
  • Remixing
  • SketchUp
  • “nondestructive editing”
    undo & redo
  • Virtual Reality
  • HoloLense, Microsoft
  • MagicLeap, (funded by) Google
  • “presence,” as in “tele presence”
  • Lego
  • Second Life
  • Project Sansa
  • Minecraft
  • Minority Report
    • Steven Spielberg
    • 2002
    • precrime, crime prediction
  • Google Nest
  • Apple Watch
  • Project Jaquard, (funded by) Google
  • The Squid, Northwestern University
    a shirt that measures posture.
  • The Sensory Substitution Vest
    • David Eagleman, neuroscience, Baylor  University
    • a shirt; vibration in lieu of sound.
  • Virtual Reality (VR)
    contra Augmented Reality (AR)

    • More Sesnses
    • More Intimacy
    • More Immersion
  • goggles
    the optical prostheses
  • game play, theory of game play
  • Quantified Self
  • Mathematica
  • personal analytics
  • personal baseline
  • Udo Wachter, 2004, a vibrating compas-in-belt
  • Lifestream
    • 1999
    • associative indexing, of media
    • Intellectual Property
      • David Gelertner
      • Eric Freeman
    • contra
      Apple Time Machine, a UX for the backup product.
  • Steve Mann
    • 1990s
    • MIT, now  University of Toronto
    • Cyborg camera
    • Quantimetric Self-Sensing, a branded term
  • Google Glass
  • Gordon Bell
    • Microsoft Research
    • 2000-2006, 1-minute photos
    • MyLifeBits
  • Narrative
    • Notice: Narrative is “transferring operations” to a new legal entity.
      • 2016-06 → “bankruptcy”
      • 2016-11 → “reorganization” under Swedish law.
    • You don’t own it, you just use it
      You don’t own your videos, you an play them until they cease operations.
    • Upload only, no download.
      Closed API, access via performative UX only.
  • Tracking done by
    • car movements
    • highway traffic
    • ride-share taxis
    • long-distance travel (air, train)
    • drones
    • postal mail
    • utilities
    • cell phone location,
      Call Data Record (CDR)
    • Civic cameras
    • Commercial spaces
      Private Spaces
    • Home automation, Smart Home
      records stored in someone else’s computers “in the cloud”
    • Home surveillance
    • Interactive devices
    • Loyalty cards
    • E-tailers
    • Internal Revenue Service  (IRS)
    • Credit cards
    • e-wallets
    • photo face recognition
    • web activities
    • social media
    • search, internet search
    • streaming
    • e-books
    • fitness trackers
  • Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
    • Siri, Apple
    • Now, Google
    • Cortana, Microsoft
    • Kinect, Microsoft
    • Television, Samsung
    • Television, Vizio
    • Echo, Amazon
  • Photo face recognition
    • Facebook
    • Google
  • Philip K. Dick, Minority Report
  • Ubiquitous tracking “is the dual of” Ubiquitous copying
  • Surveillance logisms & neologisms
    • Panopticon
    • Surveillance
    • Sousveillance
    • Co-veillance
  • Determinism & anthropomorphization
    Bits want to

    • move.
    • wabe linked to other bits.
    • recoked on  real time.
    • duplicated, replicated, copied.
    • be meta.
  • Bitcoin
  • Pretty Good Privacy (PGP)
  • The duality, the trade-off between
    • personalization
    • privacy
    • <quote>Vanity trumps privacy</quote>, page 262.
  • Co-veillance is a natural state [see quotes]
  • Anonymity
    • is bad in large doses; salubrious in tiny quantities,
    • shifts over time to pseudonymous,
    • counter with trust & transparency.
  • Quantity
    • has a quality all its own
    • “more is different”, attributed to J. Storrs  Hall
    • zillionics
      after “yotta-” is “zillion”
  • ,Maximum Likelihood Estimation (MLE)
  • Of Medi
    aUnbundling, unpacking, verticalization, specialization

    • classifieds → Craigslist
    • stock quotes → Yahoo! (Finance)
    • gossip → BuzzFeed
    • restaurant reviews → Yelp
    • stories blogs (linkbait) → everyone
  • Wikipedia
    • founded as Nupedia
    • rollback
      easier to rollback troll input than to create troll input
  • Emergent phenomenon
  • The Long Tail
  • The Shallows [Shirkey?]
  • Flux, depth and length of attention span; c.f. long-span serialized dramas.
  • Search [questioniing]
    • social expectation to have looked it up
    • associative indexing of everything [of everything relevant & not IP-limited]
  • Albert Einstein
    attributed for aphorisms on “good questions”
  • The Beginning (The Singularity)
    • noosphere, sphere of thought
    • global mind, hive mind
    • always on
    • “soft singularity” contra “hard singularity”
  • and


  • <quote>In our era, processes trump products.</quote> page 6.
  • <quote>Particular technological processes will inherently favor particular outcomes.</quote>, page 7.
  • <quote><snip/>we can get the most from the technologies when we “listen” to the direction the techologies lean, and bend our expectations, regulatoins, and products to these fundamental tendencies within that technology. We’ll find it easier to manage the complexities, optimize the benefits, and reduce the harm of particular technologies when we align our uses with their biased trajectory</quote>, page 8.
  • <quote>The flow of copies is inevitable</quote, page 62.
  • <quote>In a real sense, these uncopyable values are things that are “better than free”. Free is good, but these are better since you’ll pay for themn. I call these qualities “generatives.” A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated at the time of the transaction. generative thing cannot be copied, cloned, stored and warehoused. A generative cannot be faked or replicated. It is generated uniquely, for that particular exchange, in real time. Generative qualities add value to free copies and therefore are something that can be sold. There are eight generative that are “better than free.” </quote>, page 68, page 68-70.
  • <quote>For eons and eons, humans have lived in tribes adn clans where every act was open and visible and there were no secrets. Our minds evolved with constant co-monitoring. Evolutionarily speaking, coveillance is our natural state. I believe that, contrary to our modern suspicions, there won’t be a backlash against a circular world in which we constantly track each other because humans have lived like this for a million years, and – if truly equitable and symmetrical – it can feel comfortable</quote>, page 262.


the pantheon…
  • Ted Nelson
  • Geoff Hinton
  • Stephen Hawking
  • Rodney Brooks, MIT
  • Marshall McLuhan
  • Nicholas Carr
  • Brewster Kahle
  • Bill Gates
  • Ward Cunningham
  • John Perry Barlow
  • Clay Shirkey
  • Alvin Toffler
  • Larry Keeley, expert, innovation.
  • Howard Rheingold
  • Mitch Kapoor
  • Joseph Pine
  • Herbert Simon
  • Brian Arthur, Santa Fe Institute.
  • Paul Romer
  • Jaron Lanier
  • Rosalind Picard, Media Lab, MIT
  • Rana el Kaliouby, Media Lab, MIT
  • Steven Spielberg
  • John Underkoffler, Media Lab, MIT
  • David Eagleman, neuroscience, Baylor  University
  • Jaron Lanier
  • Gary Wolf
  • Larry Smarr
  • Stephen Wolfram
  • Nicholas Felton
  • UdoWachter
  • David Gelertner
  • Eric Freeman
  • Steve Mann
  • Camille Hartsell, research librarian to Kevin Kelly’ LinkedIn Twotter.
  • Philip K. Dick
  • David Brin
  • J. Storrs  Hall, nanotechnology, popularizatoin, boosterism, books; Wikipedia.
  • Albert Einstein
  • Pablo Picasso
  • William Fifield
  • H.J. Wells
  • Teilhard de Chardin


Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor for its first seven years. He is also founding editor and co-publisher of the popular Cool Tools website, which has been reviewing tools daily since 2003. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985.
Via Amazon

Other Works

  • New Rules for the New Economy,
    on decentralized emergent systems,
  • Out of Control,
    a graphic novel about robots and angels
  • The Silver Cord,
    an oversize catalog of the best of Cool Tools (a web site, wiki, blog, thingy),
  • What Technology Wants.
    a summary of his theory of technological determinism.


  • Clay Shirkey, Here Comes Everybody, 2008.
  • Joseph Pine, Mass Customization, 1992.
  • David Brin, The Transparent Society, 1999.

One thought on “The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future | Kevin Kelly

  1. For the discussion …

    On title The Inevitable, the suggests a level of predetermination that hasn’t materalized in the antecdotes … yet, in the chapters on ‘Becoming’ or ‘Cognifying’. Inevitability is a strong claim and showing its unsubtle effects should not require nuance. The gerunds are an interesting framing device as is their ordering. There are points to be made about that but it feels like such an essay would wander into the “I wish he had written a different book” territory. There are twelve forces, not four, seven, ten or fourteen points as in other such systems. And the scheme is about forces not megatrends or a polar attraction system of tri- or quadri-lemmas. There is less than a unifying metaphorical model like a Tornado, a Shock or a Game; a longish Wave system, or a unidirectional Law. Within, there is a lot of travel log in the writing. Much has been seen which is related. Many of the stories bring back fond memories of “back in the day.” The Internet launch was a heady time, land grab for all!, and Bubble I was even better! I’m left wanting a bit more rigor and application in the developed concepts though. But that would be a different book.

    What is set out is a plan to elaborate the determinism of technology and how to “listen” to it:
    • <quote>In our era, processes trump products.</quote> page 6.
    • <quote>Particular technological processes will inherently favor particular outcomes.</quote>, page 7.
    • <quote><snip/>we can get the most from the technologies when we “listen” to the direction the techologies lean, and bend our expectations, regulatoins, and products to these fundamental tendencies within that technology. We’ll find it easier to manage the complexities, optimize the benefits, and reduce the harm of particular technologies when we align our uses with their biased trajectory</quote>, page 8.
    The highlights that stood out are:
    • The concept of using categories evoking action or continuity feels similar to John Hagel’s Stocks-vs-Flows and Big Shift concepts. In fact Chapter 3 is verbed as “Flowing.” One could make something about the generational evolution of such against (intellectual-)property, social class theories or business stability durations. Or its inverse: the lack of flow, per The Stagnation.
    • On the notional concept of The Robots taking over jobs, social media or the emotional trades (sic), much has been prognosticated. It still seems to be that unattended automatons are good for “The Three D’s” — Dirty, Dangerous, Dreary. If the work fits into that genre then apply robots and autonomy. If not then not. Absent these three, there’s someone willing to do the work at some price point; otherwise has not been shown. The people who own & operate these things are too proud for it to be otherwise.
    • The “blind now” concept seems very aligned with the Risk-vs-Uncertainty concept in economics and finance, and the Black Swans with Fat Tails from last decade. Another practice area phrased it as “unknown unknowns.”
    • Whereas the computers and as such, The Internet, is a copying device; it is also a bookkeeping device, always on and always recording, at all time scales and on all hailing frequencies. It is with the application of pervasive bookkeeping that industries grow & cease; everything from Fusion Center-as-a-Service to the AdTech/MarTech worlds to the decline of Smooth Jazz in terrestrial radio broadcast. It would have been fun to hear some themes in and around The War on General Purpose Computing contra the Copying Machine theme.

    Some of these ideas date back into the ’70s. Some are from the current generation, coincident with the book’s publication era. Many are from within the current minus-ten-to-plus-ten frame that we are considering in this class.