Friday, February 03, 2017

Kevin Kelly - What does Technology Want / The Inevitable - book summaries

In an effort to get to grips with the role of technology, going forward into the future, I worked through two books by Kevin Kelly over the summer ‘break’. In much of the literature and media collation of ‘the future of work’, the role of technology is the all present BIG elephant. Technology is seen to be ‘a good thing’ but also the harbinger of changes to our way of life and the types of work available in the future. In more dystopic and pessimistic versions of the future, the cause of social inequalities and division is how technology changes the availability of 'mundane / unskilled' work. The more able and educated are able to transition rapidly into new work leaving many others behind who are unable to make the shift.

So, firstly, read through Kevin Kelly’s first book, published in 2010. Kelly was editor of Wired and has an interesting background. In effect, coming from an original 'back to basics' philosophy to becoming an early adopter and 'observer' of technology's eventual pervasive influence on our current lives.

What does technology want provides an interesting comparison between natural evolution and the development of technology. The overall approach is optimistic and the main argument is for us humans to understand and maximise the strengths technology provides to augment human potential. The book has been critiqued for imposing a technological view on to biological evolution. There is a 16 minute TED Talk to summarise the book's premises and the concept of 'the technium'. 

The second book published 2015, The Inevitable, is perhaps more readable and applicable to the current context than the first. In this book, Kelly brings evidence from the recent past and the present, to support 12 coalescing ‘verbs’ on how technology impacts on the near future. There is a one hour Youtube video summarising the book's thesis.

These, as recorded in wikipedia are:
1.    Becoming: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions
2.    Cognifying: Making everything much smarter using cheap powerful AI that we get from the cloud
3.    Flowing: Depending on unstoppable streams in real-time for everything
4.    Screening: Turning all surfaces into screens
5.    Accessing: Shifting society from one where we own assets, to one where instead we will have access to services at all times.
6.    Sharing: Collaboration at mass-scale. Kelly writes, “On my imaginary Sharing Meter Index we are still at 2 out of 10.”
7.    Filtering: Harnessing intense personalization in order to anticipate our desires
8.    Remixing: Unbundling existing products into their most primitive parts and then recombine in all possible ways
9.    Interacting: Immersing ourselves inside our computers to maximize their engagement
10. Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers
11. Questioning: Promoting good questions are far more valuable than good answers
12. Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix.

As prefaced in the book, there are overlaps between the inevitables. So each does not stand alone and there is synergy between several 'inevitables'.

What is the impact on the 12 inevitables with education, especially vocational education? 

Unlike the compulsory-school and the higher education (preparation for work) sectors, vocational education has the advantage (or disadvantage) of having a foot in the 'formal / structured' learning environment and the more 'informal' learning accessed by people across their lives. Just-in-time learning, micro-learning etc. via mlearning and summarised for example via Jane Hart's blog, already evidence some of the inevitables. 

People can 'subscribe' (belonging as in #1 inevitable) to learning via MOOCs or other methods to 'bespoke' their own personal learning environments. Flowing (#2), Screening (#4) and Accessing (#5) all add to people's learning experiences as they learn collaboratively on a global scale (#6 sharing), interacting (#9) and often have to use tools to filter (#7), remix (#8) to their own requirements. They can, along with others, track (#10) all their activities. Their learning may be supplemented by AIs (cognifying as in #2) and their are opportunities to question (#11) are availed through being part of networks, social media, access to multitudes of 'content' etc. 

The Inevitable provides a good overview of where humanity may be headed. There is importance in understanding how the rapid shifts in technology impact on us. We can then make more informed choices as to what initiatives we support and advance. To use technology for betterment of the human condition rather than just let technology overwhelm our humanity. 

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