The world is hitting its stride in technological advances and futurists have been making wild-sounding bets on what we’ll accomplish in the not-so-distant future.
Futurist Ray Kurzweil, for example, believes that by 2040 artificial intelligence will be so good, humans will be fully-immersed in virtual reality and that something called The Singularity, when technology becomes so advanced that it actually changes the human race irreversibly, will occur.
Kevin Kelly, who helped launched Wired in 1993, sat down for an hour-long video interview with John Brockman at The Edge. Kelly believes that the next 20 years in technology will be radical. So much so, that he believes our technological advances will make the previous 20 years “pale” in comparison.
“If we were sent back with a time machine, even 20 years, and reported to people what we have right now and describe what we were going to get in this device in our pocket—we’d have this free encyclopedia, and we’d have street maps to most of the cities of the world, and we’d have box scores in real time and stock quotes and weather reports, PDFs for every manual in the world…You would simply be declared insane,” Kelly said.
“But the next twenty years are going to make this last twenty years just pale,” he continued. “We’re just at the beginning of the beginning of all these kind of changes. There’s a sense that all the big things have happened, but relatively speaking, nothing big has happened yet. In 20 years from now we’ll look back and say, ‘Well, nothing really happened in the last 20 years.’”
What will these mind-blowing changes look like? He mentioned a few thoughts during the interview with Brockman.
Robots are going to make lots of things
“Certainly most of the things that are going to be produced are going to be made by robots and automation, but [humans] can modify them and we can change them, and we can be involved in the co-production of them to a degree that we couldn’t in the industrial age,” Kelly says.
“That’s sort of the promise of 3D printing and robotics and all these other high-tech material sciences is that it’s going to become as malleable.”
Tracking and surveillance are only going to get more prevalent, but it may move toward “coveillance” so we can control who’s monitoring us, and what they’re monitoring
“It’s going to be very, very difficult to prevent this thing that we’re on all the time 24 hours, seven days a week, from tracking, because all the technologies—from sensors to quantification, digitization, communication, wireless connection—want to track, and so the internet is going to track,” says Kelly.
“We’re going to track ourselves. We’re going to track each other. Government and corporations are going to track us, we can’t really get out of that. What we can try and do is civilize and make a convivial kind of tracking.”
Kelly says the solution may be to let people see who’s tracking them, what they’re tracking, and give them the ability to correct trackings that are inaccurate. Right now, people just feel like they’re being spied on, and they can’t control who’s watching them or what information is being surfaced.
Everything really will be about “big data”
Kelly admits that “big data” is a buzzword, but he thinks it deserves to be.
“We’re in the period now where the huge dimensions of data and their variables in real time needed for capturing, moving, processing, enhancing, managing, and rearranging it, are becoming the fundamental elements for making wealth,” says Kelly.
“We used to rearrange atoms, now it’s all about rearranging data. That is really what we’ll see in the next 10 years…They’re going to release data from language to make it machine-readable and recombine it in an infinite number of ways that we’re not even thinking about.”
Asking the right questions will become more valuable than finding answers
In the current age of Google and Wikipedia, answers to endless questions are free. Kelly believes that asking good questions will become much more important in the future than finding one-off solutions.
“Every time we use science to try to answer a question, to give us some insight, invariably that insight or answer provokes two or three other new questions,” he says. “While science is certainly increasing knowledge, it’s actually increasing our ignorance even faster.”
“In a certain sense what becomes really valuable in a world running under Google’s reign, are great questions, and that means that for a long time humans will be better at than machines. Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.”