“The Inevitable Future” – Fascinating and a Little Scary

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 Technology will certainly continue to have an impact, in fact an ever growing impact, on the way we and our descendants live. Kevin Kelly, the author of Inevitable, Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, has enormous credibility on the subject. He is the founder of Wired Magazine (1993), the author of a number of books on technology and its impact as well as the creator of the Cool Tools website.

Mr. Kelly's new book raises some fascinating and in some cases disturbing predictions about how technology will impact our lives over the next 30 years. We in the toy industry create the toys and playthings that prepare children for life in the future. Therefore Mr. Kelly's predictions have a special meaning for us. 

Here are the forces that I found most interesting with a few comments from me in italics:

  • Becoming: Moving from fixed products to always upgrading services and subscriptions. (This reminds me of the Deming Method writ large. The Deming Method preaches that no product is ever finished and that we must be constantly making them better by refining them. Will this create satisfaction in consumers or will they feel like they are always a step behind? Will there be a push back by consumers who are tired of chasing the future?).
  • Cognifying: Making everything much smarter using cheap powerful AI that we get from the cloud. (This describes ever lowering barriers to entry for those who want to make and sell products and services. How will our biggest brands compete as the rules of the game change?).
  • Flowing: Depending on unstoppable streams in real-time for everything. (I think we all marvel at how much knowledge is available from the Internet. Its like an ever growing food buffet. But rather than satisfaction I think we sometimes feel frustrated. Why are we tempted by an infinite amount of food when we have a finite appetite? It sounds like Artificial Intelligence will help us cope with all that abundance by intuiting what interests us). 
  • Screening: Turning all surfaces into screens (Somehow I think this one is going to become obsolete sooner than we think. Brain implants anyone?)
  • Accessing: Shifting society from one where we own assets, to one where instead we will have access to services at all times. (Although I can imagine a hierarchy of services I think the very rich will continue to want to flaunt their wealth through objects.  Thorstein Veblin's late 19th century classic, Theory of the Leisure Class, still seems relevant in its description of those who flaunt their wealth in order to show that they have it).

  • Filtering: Harnessing intense personalization in order to anticipate our desires. (We are already on track with 3D printers and computer programs from Amazon and Netflix that anticipate what we will want to read and watch).
  • Interacting: Immersing ourselves inside our computers to maximize their engagement. (Will we immerse ourselves in our computers or will our computers immerse themselves in us? Will our computers augment our brains or will our brains augment our computers? Where will one stop and the other start?)
  • Tracking: Employing total surveillance for the benefit of citizens and consumers. (It may "benefit citizens and consumers" but he is essentially describing a surveillance state.  That is an ominous prediction).
  • Beginning: Constructing a planetary system connecting all humans and machines into a global matrix. (That's going to be quite a world our children and grandchildren will inhabit).

How will we create toys for such a world? In fact, how will we create toys that will prepare our children and grandchildren to live in that world? Unless, of course, that world is not inevitable.

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