What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

What Technology Wants

Finally I read What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly.

My notes.

The technium is a word Kevin Kelly invented to indicate the autonomous self-enforcing system of technologies, machines, tools, ideas.

As such, the technium as a concept reminds me of The Selfish Gene from Richard Dawkins and Harari’s AI concept in Homo Deus.

On the latter: throughout the book I kept wondering why there was no reference at all in Harari’s Home Deus to this book from Kevin Kelly. The technium coincides so much with Harari’s ideas of a developing autonomous AI, that the lack of reference could be called an omission. (What Technology Wants was published in 2010, Homo Deus in 2016.)

A breakthrough evolution in human intelligence was the development of man’s capability of language. This made is possible to improve the food for humans, increasing longevity, which increased learning in the communities of humans, which improved tools et cetera.

Like we domesticated animals, we ourselves became domesticated with technology. Our lives today are symbiotic with technology.

Technology over time developed from substance and energy-focused to organization and control of information.

Technology is the extended body of human for ideas.

The major transitions in the technium (in parallel to the major transitions in biology)

  • Primate communication -> language
  • Oral lore – Writing/mathematical notation
  • Scripts – Printing
  • Book knowledge – Scientific Method
  • Artisan production -> Mass production
  • Industrial culture -> ubiquitous global communication

Which seems a logical development, but it begs the question: what is the next step in such an evolution? Some higher form of intelligent interconnection between societies?

Development of technology has a benefit over biological development in that it can backtrack to developments from the past and reuse those. In biology, paths that have died out can not be integrated in active branches of biological development.

The technium’s information mass is ever-increasing and growing.

The relationship with population growth: population growth drives progress. More people means more minds, these minds can be working on more problems.

Now, the question arise what happens when the earth population declines.

Evolution converges to recurring forms. Some forms have  come out of evolution through independent paths (eyes, for example).

Also for the technium, independent, simultaneous evolution is the rule.

Convergent evolution (of technology and biology) is adaptive: changes to circumstances, contingent: based of luck, inevitable: evolves in a direction.

The inverted pyramid of invention (by Daniel Hillis): everyone can have an idea, executing on it is the most important thing.

It is our fate we have become connected with our technology. Only by embracing it we can steer its direction.

Technology does not answer world issues like war. New problems will arise with tech, always.

Technology seems to eat human dignity. Is that a misanthropic view?

Infamous tech-opponent the Unabomber was right: “Machine made decisions will bring better result than man-made ones.”

But even opposers of tech don’t give it all up. Nobody goes all the way: why?

  • Because tech is addictive?
  • Because tech covers its drawbacks to us?
  • Because in the end we chose to, after balancing pro’s and con’s.

We need to make better decisions about tech. And to be able to do so, we need more tech.

Kelly tells the story of how the Amish can teach us how we could weigh the benefits and evaluate the ways of using technology minimally.

We need to make minimum use of technologies because our time and attention are limited.

But that does not mean we should minimize technology development.

My question on this subject is: could it be that technology becomes so embedded in culture that also the conscious use of technology becomes part of our culture? Are we only in the early phases of adopting technology and is this a maturing process we have to go through. And realize that addicts (of technology) may always be there?

We have to live with technology, convivial.

We don’t see the potential of technology before it becomes mature. And it’s always different than anticipated.

We don’t need to proactively approve technology. We should monitor and adopt policy to technology developments.

We have to make technology convivial, compliant with life. For this, Kevin Kelly defines a number of characteristics technologies should adopt:

  • Promote collaboration.
  • Transparency, on ownership and origins. No asymmetrical knowledge for some users.
  • Decentralized, not monopolized.
  • Flexible, easy to modify, adapt, and easily given up by users.
  • Redundant, having several options, not monopolized.
  • Efficient, impacting ecosystems to the minimum.
  • Complexity of our life will continue to increase and we will continually need to manage this.
  • Diversity.
  • Specialization: technology grows towards the long tail of niches.
  • Ubiquity. Everyone will eventually get his hands on technology. More interesting to worry about is what to do when everyone has a technology, rather than how to give everyone a technology.
  • Freedom. The more complexity, the more freedom.
  • Mutualism, the collaborative nature, dependence creates a crucial social relationship between people and technologies.
  • Beauty. Technology evolves to the beauty that people love so much in the natural world.
  • Sentience. Technology will increase sentience. Not into a super mind, but into a form of distributed specialized minds.

The technium organizes the structure of knowledge, connecting different pockets of knowledge.

The technium keeps evolving, making rapid changes possible.

So why is this all better for humans?

It increase choices, including those for the good.

Allows humans to participate in new ideas.

A good device increases choices

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