Book review: The future is bright and robots are inevitable

The “futurist” who advised Steven Spielberg for Minority Report – the 2002 sci-fi movie that predicted the touch-and-swipe screens we now take for granted – is someone to listen to when it comes to our future. And what a future this author predicts.

In The Inevitable, Kevin ­Kelly, the co-founder of Wired magazine, takes us through 12 technological forces that he believes will shape the next 30 years. These are laid out as a series of verbs, such as “becoming” (where machines upgrade themselves to avoid obsolescence) and “accessing” (from the cloud, rather than old-fashioned owning).

The three trends he considers particularly significant are artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality and tracking.


Today we have hints of AI in assistants like the iPhone’s Siri, he says, but soon robo-doctors will examine X-rays as well as humans and robo-lawyers will scan legal evidence faster than any paralegal – just as human pilots now fly an airplane for less than seven minutes of any flight.

Virtual reality will lead us from the internet of information to the internet of experiences through mixed reality, the author says, using augmented layers of virtual reality over real life.

And anything that can be tracked will be tracked. We already willingly carry a surveillance product in our pocket, aka the smartphone, Kelly says, and stepping into a world of virtual reality will enable the tracking of our entire behaviour.

Kelly, 64, is still Wired’s “senior maverick”, and also cofounded The Rosetta Project, an archive of all languages, and the All Species Foundation, a non-profit organisation cataloguing every species on the planet.

As one of the patriarchs of Silicon Valley, his words carry weight – but they also conform to Silicon Valley’s view that technology is nothing but great.

Not all change will be welcomed, Kelly accepts. Entire occupations and livelihoods will disappear – probably 70 per cent of today’s jobs. “By 2050 most truck drivers won’t be human,” he says. “Since truck driving is currently the most common occupation in the US, this is a big deal.”

But while our first impulse to the “extreme technology surging forward” may be to push back, it is all simply inevitable, says Kelly. Resistance is futile.

Q&A

Any exciting new gadgets coming?

Kelly predicts “cognified” laundry – clothes that tell the washing machine how they want to be washed – as well as intelligent toys as smart as pets and virtual dressing rooms to show how clothes will look on you, based on accurate measurements of every shape and curve. He sees a world where we use virtual reality goggles instead of a set of computer screens in the office, and have a virtual version of our international colleagues sitting next to us. And we will all have mach­ines at home that test us daily to give us personalised doses of medicine.

What can we expect of the web in 2050?

The web will have “become something new, as different from the web today as the first web was from TV”, says ­Kelly. It will come to resemble a presence rather than a place, a cyberspace; a “low-level, constant presence”, like electricity, always around us, always on.

Are the robots taking over?

This is a race with the mach­ines, not against the machines, Kelly emphasises. (But yes, we “need to let the robots take over”.) AIs will not get so smart that they enslave us, he assures. Instead there will be a convergence of humans plus mach­ines, leading to a “complex interdependence”.

Is it too late to join the party?

No, indeed not. “Right now, today, in 2016 is the best time to start up,” says Kelly. “There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something.”

The Inevitable, published this summer by Viking and Penguin Random House, is available for $18.04 from Amazon.com.

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