Book review: The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

The Inevitable: cover art of book by Kevin KellyIntelligent robots replacing human workers. Billboard advertisements that adapt in real time, targeting their onlookers. The disappearance of jobs, ownership and privacy. The emergence of ubiquitous surveillance. Virtual reality.

This is a vision of a future that most people find disturbing. It’s the stuff of science fiction, to be avoided at all costs lest our way of life as we know it disappears at the ‘hands’ of *gasp* Artificial Intelligence.

But Kevin Kelly, for one, welcomes our future robot overlords.

In his latest book The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, the veteran technology writer presents a view of the future in which technological advancement is not only positive, but inevitable.

The Inevitable, in brief

According to Kelly, the forces shaping our future are not inevitable in the sense that they are ‘preordained’ or irrefutable. Rather, they are inevitable because:

  1. They’re already happening, have been ‘happening’ for more than thirty years, and will keep happening;
  2. They are fundamentally driven by the underlying dynamics of technology itself, determined by maths and physics.

In the author’s own words:

‘There is bias in the nature of technology that tilts it in certain directions and not others. All things being equal, the physics and mathematics that rule the dynamics of technology tend to favour certain behaviours…The kind of inevitability I am speaking of in the digital realm is the result of momentum. The momentum of an ongoing technological shift.’

Technological change will continue to march on, whether we like it or not. But if we embrace this fact, uncover the roots of change and work with them instead of against them, we can make the best of what technology has to offer. Or so says Kelly.

In this book, Kelly identifies the roots of change and uncovers their amplifying effect on the following forces: Becoming, Cognifying, Flowing, Screening, Accessing, Sharing, Filtering, Remixing, Interacting, Tracking, Questioning, and Beginning.

These forces form the trajectory of human progress – and the chapters of Kelly’s book. In each chapter he unpacks each force, discusses its implications and in the process builds a vision of ‘life with technology’ that is brilliant, grand and highly optimistic.

A book for the people (but not all people)

Kelly has brought his futurism and infectious optimism together with his deep understanding of consumer technology – and society’s relationship with it – in a book that is in many parts exciting and inspiring, and in other parts verbose and vague.

The Inevitable is a book that will enlighten some, and bore others. But it triumphs in presenting some of the most controversial ‘emerging’ technologies (such as machine learning and Artificial Intelligence) as fundamentally positive. Kelly speculates on the impact these technologies will have on everything from communication and education to healthcare and privacy – but without the fear and negativity that so often dominates literature of this kind. His perspective is perhaps unbalanced, but his commitment to presenting technology as an enabler of good is admirable.

Is this Kelly’s most groundbreaking piece of writing? No. You’ll find that on his blog, where his knowledge and geekery flourishes to the full extent. But The Inevitable is certainly his most inspiring, most readable and most accessible work. And that’s a good thing.




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