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How to be in step with the march of technology


In 1981, the American Digital Age pioneer Kevin Kelly was unimpressed despite being among the first in the world to work on an Apple II computer.

In his new book, The Inevitable, Mr Kelly, 65, recalls getting excited about IT only some years later, when people were able to plug their landline phones into computer modems to use the Internet.

The "inevitable" in his book title refers to the relentless march of emerging technologies, each of which can head only in certain directions. For example, once the world wanted the Internet, it would have to be a network of global networks.

His book, then, focuses on 12 such directions, in a time of more than 15 billion digital devices ogled by more than four billion netizens who, Mr Kelly warns, prefer solving problems with technology rather than the rule of law.

The married father of three, whose biochemist wife is Taiwanese, co-founded and edited the ground-breaking cyber culture magazine Wired from 1992 to 1999. He is now its "Senior Maverick", also writes for The Economist, Science and The New York Times, and advised director Steven Spielberg on his 2002 film Minority Report.


1. Start thinking about processes, not products. In future, you need never replace anything you buy. Instead, you will have to subscribe to services to adapt, edit and upgrade whatever you have bought. That, in turn, will spawn a global culture in which having ready access to anything you desire will be more valuable than owning anything.

2. The most successful companies in the future will not only be super-efficient and productive, but also deliver everything their customers want instantly, and in the most pleasing ways. Such companies will also crack how to exploit the ways in which people share ideas, views and feelings.

3. Do not always look to Silicon Valley and other Western communities for how to make the most of technology. For example, the kings of cashless payment are Africa and Afghanistan, which have few functioning currencies.

4. Everything will soon be bought and sold via virtual platforms. To succeed with such platforms, you have to work well with others because if any among them fail, so will you.

5. In free-flowing, and largely free, cyberspace, the most valued people are those who are discreet, trustworthy and good at guiding others over the road bumps of daily life.

6. To be the next Amazon.com, ask yourself: Why would anyone pay for something they could get for free? And if they would do so, what are they buying exactly?

7. The machines of artificial intelligence (AI) have to be trained to get smarter, and the way to do that is to keep using them to search for all sorts of information - every time you link words, AI learns something new. The trick is to stop AI from developing self-awareness lest it lords it over humanity.

8. The next step in human evolution will be when everyone is paid according to how well he works with robots as they will make up 90 per cent of all his colleagues.


By Kevin Kelly

Viking, paperback/328 pages/ $28.36 with GST from leading bookstores or on loan from the National Library Board under the call number English 303.483 KEL

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 01, 2017, with the headline 'How to be in step with the march of technology'. Print Edition | Subscribe