Book Review Short Take – The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future

By Larry Schmitt

By Kevin Kelly

The main contribution of Kelly, in his previous book ‘What Technology Wants’ and in this one, is in his framing of the forces of change. Most people (and companies) focus on specific technologies, social and cultural changes and corporate evolution described as trends (or ‘mega-trends’ in the most popular corporate-speak) and ignore or misinterpret the underlying causes of why these trends are occurring in the first place. Kelly tries to tease apart the ultimate, underlying causes that are the real forces shaping the future.

The 12 forces that Kelly describes are summarized below. This summary is necessarily incomplete since each one of these is a chapter in the book and they all intersect and interweave in multiple ways. The gist of each of these, however, contains a unique aspect or dimension of a force that is shaping the future.:

  1. Becoming – We are in a state of unceasing change and are continually learning and adapting (we are constant ‘newbies’) to the new that is unlike anything that was before.
  2. Cognifying – Applied intelligence will be available just like electricity was over 100 years ago. It will be embedded into everything and change the nature of how things work.
  3. Flowing – Stocks to flows, ownership to use. Atoms and bits are now flowing from creators to consumers who are themselves creators. We want things that flow, in time and space.
  4. Screening – We will interact with information through screens. All information will become fluid, linked and tagged. All content and libraries will become symbols on screens we interact with.
  5. Accessing – The availability of anything, atoms or bits, immediately without owning. Whatever you need you can get, and get the latest and best. Ownership is no longer necessary.
  6. Sharing – Everyone creates and it’s all shared. Any idea, thought, expression or artifact can be contributed to by anyone and experienced by anyone if they so desire.
  7. Filtering – Attention is the scare resource. Allocating it to an exponentially expanding universe requires filtering based on who we are. Future filters will both serve us and surprise us.
  8. Remixing – Whatever is new is a remix of what exists. Remixing requires radical deconstruction and the ability to find the pieces to recombine and transform into something new.
  9. Interacting – We will interact with our devices and with others in realistic virtual and augmented worlds. Our devices will ‘know’ us and we will know worlds and others through our devices.
  10. Tracking – We will track and be tracked everywhere and everywhen. What we track will expand exponentially and become extra ‘senses’. ‘Coveillance’ will emerge where the watchers and the watched are transparent.
  11. Questioning – Billions of connected people are creating a new level of organization where questioning is the norm and answers emerge from the collective. Unimagined questions beget unimaginable answers.
  12. Beginning – Now is the time in which, 30 years hence, people will look back and say, ‘that was the dawn of the era we are living in’. These forces will shape our future and we are only at the beginning.

Kelly puts forth a positive vision of these twelve forces creating a world that we really cannot now imagine, but nonetheless a world that enhances the human condition despite the issues that will inevitably arise.