Derek Sivers

The Inevitable - by Kevin Kelly

The Inevitable - by Kevin Kelly

ISBN: 0525428089
Date read: 2016-06-30
How strongly I recommend it: 7/10
(See my list of 320+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

What are today's technologies inevitably going to lead to? Great predictions. Half of it was super-inspiring, painting a vision of the future that made me want to jump on it. Half felt like “well, duh, obviously!” maybe because I'm already deep in it.

my notes

Our greatest invention in the past 200 years was the scientific process itself. Once we invented the scientific method, we could immediately create thousands of other amazing things we could have never discovered any other way. This methodical process of constant change and improvement was a million times better than inventing any particular product, because the process generated a million new products over the centuries since we invented it. Get the ongoing process right and it will keep generating ongoing benefits. In our new era, processes trump products.

Listen to the direction the technologies lean, and bend our expectations, regulations, and products to these fundamental tendencies within that technology.

We keep inventing new things that make new longings, make holes in our heart. One day we (all of us) decided that we could not live another day unless we had a smartphone. This discontent is the trigger for our ingenuity and growth. When we imagine a better future, we should factor in this constant discomfort.

A world without discomfort is utopia. But it is also stagnant. Utopia has no problems to solve, but therefore no opportunities either.

The web in 2050 will have become something new, as different from the web today as the first web was from TV.

Hyperlinks will keep expanding to connect all the bits.

Rather than flick through stacks of friends’ snapshots on your phone, you ask it about a friend.

The internet feels saturated with apps, platforms, devices, and more than enough content. But the internet is still at the beginning.

All these miraculous inventions are waiting for that crazy, no-one-told-me-it-was-impossible visionary to start grabbing the low-hanging fruit - the equivalent of the dot-com names of 1984.

The graybeards in 2050 will tell you: Can you imagine how awesome it would have been to be an innovator in 2016? It was a wide-open frontier! You could pick almost any category and add some AI to it, put it on the cloud. Few devices had more than one or two sensors in them, unlike the hundreds now. Expectations and barriers were low. It was easy to be the first. And then they would sigh. “Oh, if only we realized how possible everything was back then!”

There has never been a better day in the whole history of the world to invent something. There has never been a better time with more opportunities, more openings, lower barriers, higher benefit/risk ratios, better returns, greater upside than now.

There’s nothing as consequential as a dumb thing made smarter.

At the rate AI technology is improving, a kid born today will rarely need to see a doctor to get a diagnosis by the time they are an adult.

The AI on the horizon looks more like Amazon Web Services - cheap, reliable, industrial-grade digital smartness running behind everything, and almost invisible.

There is almost nothing we can think of that cannot be made new, different, or more valuable by infusing it with some extra IQ. In fact, the business plans of the next 10,000 startups are easy to forecast: Take X and add AI.

Imagine project management software that is smart enough to take into account weather forecasts, port traffic delays, currency exchange rates, accidents, in addition to design changes.

Intelligence has to be taught. The rocket engine is the learning algorithms but the fuel is the huge amounts of data we can feed to these algorithms.

Chess grand master Garry Kasparov pioneered the concept of man-plus-machine matches, in which AI augments human chess players rather than competes against them.

“Centaur,” which is the human/AI cyborg that Kasparov advocated, will listen to the moves suggested by the AI but will occasionally override them - much the way we use the GPS.

Today the best chess player alive is a centaur. It goes by the name of Intagrand, a team of several humans and several different chess programs.

AI can help humans become better chess players, better pilots, better doctors, better judges, better teachers.

Our most important mechanical inventions are not machines that do what humans do better, but machines that can do things we can’t do at all.

Every achievement in AI redefines that success as “not AI.” But we label it “machine learning.”

Each step of surrender - we are not the only mind that can play chess, fly a plane, make music, or invent a mathematical law - will be painful and sad. We’ll spend the next century - in a permanent identity crisis, continually asking ourselves what humans are good for. AIs will help us define who we are.

70 percent of today’s occupations will likewise be replaced by automation - including the job you hold.

As manufacturing costs sink because of robots, the costs of transportation become a far greater factor than the cost of production. Nearby will be cheap. So we’ll get this network of locally franchised factories, where most things will be made within five miles of where they are needed.

Autopilot can fly a 787 jet unaided for all but seven minutes of a typical flight. We place human pilots in the cockpit to fly those seven minutes and for “just in case” insurance.

The fewer humans touching our car as it is being made, the better.

Humans have trouble making a single brass screw unassisted, but automation can produce a thousand exact ones per hour.

Jobs that require degrees of precision, control, and unwavering attention that our animal bodies don’t possess.

We are giving them jobs we could never do. Without them, these jobs would remain undone.

Industrialization led a greater percentage of the population to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters. Over time the machines will do these as well. We’ll then be empowered to dream up yet more answers to the question “What should we do?”

Success will go to those who best optimize the process of working with bots and machines.

Our human assignment will be to keep making jobs for robots - and that is a task that will never be finished.

The Seven Stages of Robot Replacement:
1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do.
2. OK, it can do a lot of those tasks, but it can’t do everything I do.
3. OK, it can do everything I do, except it needs me when it breaks down, which is often.
4. OK, it operates flawlessly on routine stuff, but I need to train it for new tasks.
5. OK, OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do.
6. Wow, now that robots are doing my old job, my new job is much more interesting and pays more!
7. I am so glad a robot/computer cannot possibly do what I do now.

You’ll be paid in the future based on how well you work with robots.

The first version of a new medium imitates the medium it replaces. The first commercial computers employed the metaphor of the office: “desktop” and “folders” and “files.”

When copies are free, you need to sell things that cannot be copied. Well, what can’t be copied? Trust.

Since we prefer to deal with someone we can trust, we will often pay a premium for that privilege. We call that branding. Brand companies can command higher prices for similar products and services from companies without brands because they are trusted for what they promise. So trust is an intangible that has increasing value.


IMMEDIACY: getting a copy delivered to your inbox the moment it is released - or even better, produced - by its creators is a generative asset. People go to see films on the opening night, where they will pay a hefty price to see a film that later will be available for free.


INTERPRETATION: selling instruction and paid support for free software. When a copy of your DNA costs nothing, the interpretation of what it means, what you can do about it, will be expensive.

AUTHENTICITY: an authentic copy.

ACCESSIBILITY: available free elsewhere, but it is just not as convenient, channeled to any of my many devices, with a super user interface.

EMBODIMENT: music in a live performance, the music is free, the bodily performance expensive.

PATRONAGE: fans want to pay creators. it allows them to connect with people they admire. But they will pay only under four conditions:
1) It must be extremely easy to do
2) The amount must be reasonable
3) There’s clear benefit to them for paying
4) It’s clear the money will directly benefit the creators.

DISCOVERABILITY: Unfound masterpieces are worthless.

Once something, like music, is digitized, it becomes a liquid Now you could filter it, bend it, archive it, rearrange it, remix it, mess with it. It wasn’t only that it was monetarily free; it was freed from constraints.

A copy can be linked, manipulated, annotated, tagged, highlighted, bookmarked, translated, and enlivened by other media.

Recall, annotate, personalize, edit, authenticate, display, mark, transfer, and engage a work.

Podcast: a sort of audible documentary.

Films that you might be able to see once in your life you could now study by watching hundreds of times. A hundred million people became film students, starting to make their own videos and uploading them to YouTube.

The pattern will spread to transportation, agriculture, health care. Fixities such as vehicles, land, and medicines will become flows.

Land will become a substrate for a network of sensors.

Medicines will become molecular information capsules flowing from patient to doctor and back.

The Four Stages of Flowing:
1. Fixed. Rare.
2. Free. Ubiquitous.
3. Flowing. Sharing: an unbundling of the product into parts
4. Opening. Becoming.

Amateurs create new products and brand-new categories of products.

The audience is now the artist.

I can get parts of the songs as small as a chord. A song’s assets are divvied up one channel at a time.

The myriad components of each movie are released in pieces: the sound effects, the special effects (before and after) of each scene, alternative camera views.

In Beethoven’s day, few people ever heard one of his symphonies more than once.

Printing expanded the number of words available, from about 50,000 words in Old English to a million today.

Culture clash between People of the Book and People of the Screen: People of the Book favor solutions by laws, while People of the Screen favor technology as a solution to all problems.

Screen culture is a world of constant flux, of endless sound bites, quick cuts, half-baked ideas, floating first impressions. Notions don’t stand alone but are massively interlinked to everything else.

Truth is assembled in real time piece by piece - as liquid and open-ended as a Wikipedia page.

The clash between the cultures of books and screens occurs within us as individuals as well. If you are an educated modern person, you are conflicted by these two modes. This tension is the new norm.

We now read words floating nonlinearly: call this new activity “screening” rather than reading. Screening includes reading words, but also watching words and reading images.

When you are engaged in this reading space, your brain works differently than when you are screening. Neurological studies show that learning to read changes the brain’s circuitry. Instead of skipping around distractedly gathering bits, when you read you are transported, focused, immersed.

A book is an attention unit. A fact is interesting, an idea is important, but only a story, a good argument, a well-crafted narrative is amazing, never to be forgotten.

The status of a new creation is determined by the degree to which it is linked to the rest of the world.

Uber, the world’s largest taxi company, owns no vehicles. Facebook, the world’s most popular media owner, creates no content. Alibaba, the most valuable retailer, has no inventory. And Airbnb, the world’s largest accommodation provider, owns no real estate. Something interesting is happening.

Every year I own less of what I use. Possession is not as important as it once was. Accessing is more important than ever. Pretend you live inside the world’s largest rental store. Why would you own anything?

Dematerialization: The trend in the past 30 years has been to make better stuff using fewer materials.

To access a service, a customer is often committing to it in a far stronger way than when he or she purchases an item.

* Tools as service (TechShop)
* Clothes as service (Stitch Fix, Bombfell)
* Toys as service (Nerd Block, Sparkbox)
* Furniture as service
* Health as service
* Shelter as service
* Vacation as service
* School as service.

* Uber for flowers (Florist Now, ProFlowers, BloomThat)
* Uber for laundry
* Uber for lawn mowing (Mowdo, Lawnly)
* Uber for tech support (Geekatoo)
* Uber for doctor house calls

Even Amazon has gotten into the business of matching pros with joes who need home services (Amazon Home Services), from cleaning or setting up equipment to access to goat grazing for lawns.

There are so many more ways to be a service than to be a product.

Unbundle the benefits of any (X) into separate constituent goods and then recombine them in new ways.

Decentralized businesses are very easy to start, with low cost of entry. If these innovative business models are proven to work, established companies are ready to adapt. There is no reason a rental car company like Hertz can’t rent freelancers cars, and no reason why taxi companies can’t implement aspects of Uber.

Now that most people are equipped with a supercomputer in their pocket, entirely new economic forces are being unleashed. If smartly connected, a crowd of amateurs can be as good as the average solo professional. If smartly connected, the benefits of existing products can be unbundled and remixed in unexpected and delightful ways. If smartly connected, products melt into services that can be accessed continuously. If smartly connected, accessing is the default.

The long-term trend in our modern lives is that most goods and services will be short-term use.

We are at the midpoint in a hundred-year scramble toward greater decentralization.

Maintaining the idea of ownership within a platform becomes problematic, because it rests on notions of “private property”; but neither “private” nor “property” has great meaning in an ecosystem.

The chief reason to put things onto the cloud is to share their data deeply. Woven together, the bits are made much smarter and more powerful than they could possibly be alone.

The arty pictures on my wall keep changing so I don’t take them for granted.

3-D sculptures that reconfigure themselves each month so you keep noticing them.

The digital native is free to race ahead and explore the unknown. Accessing rather than owning.

It would consume more than a year’s worth of our attention to merely preview all the new things that have been invented or created in the previous 24 hours.

The danger of being rewarded with only what you already like, however, is that you can spin into an egotistical spiral, becoming blind to anything slightly different, even if you’d love it. This is called a filter bubble. The technical term is “overfitting.”

A filter dedicated to probing one’s dislikes: “people who disliked those, learned to like this one.” Stuff I dislike but should learn to like.

Filtering systems will be extended to other decentralized systems beyond media, to services like Uber and Airbnb. Your personal preferences in hotel style, status, and service can easily be ported to another system.

A pill-making machine in my kitchen: During the day my biological vitals are tracked with wearable sensors so that the effect of the medicine is measured hourly and then sent for analysis. The next day the dosage of the medicines is adjusted based on the past 24-hour results and a new personalized pill produced. Mass personalized medicine.

I never know for sure where my office will be since our startup meets in whatever coworking space is available that day.

Translated into 2015 dollars, the average cost to consume one hour of media in 1995, 2010, and 2015 is respectively $3.08, $2.69, and $3.37. That means that the value of our attention has been remarkably stable over 20 years. It seems we have some intuitive sense of what a media experience “should” cost.

Email is a system that lets other people add things to my to-do list. The asymmetry of attention in email.

Over time, if a technology persists long enough, its costs begin to approach (but never reach) zero. In the goodness of time any particular technological function will act as if it were free.

The only things that are increasing in cost are human experiences - which cannot be copied.

Humans excel at creating and consuming experiences. This is no place for robots.

Growth stems from existing resources that are rearranged to make them more valuable. Growth comes from remixing.

Modern technologies are combinations of earlier primitive technologies that have been rearranged and remixed.

Hundreds of media genres have been born, remixed out of old genres.

All devices need to interact. If a thing does not interact, it will be considered broken.

Typical users, Narrative has found, employ this photo diary while they attend conferences, or go on vacation, or want to record an experience. Recalling a conference is ideal. The continuous camera captures the many new people you meet. Better than a business card, you can much more easily recall them years later, and what they talked about, by browsing your lifestream. The photo lifestream is a strong prompt for vacations and family events.

Recording in a diary is considered admirable. Recording in a spreadsheet is considered creepy.

Those who embrace the internet’s tendency to copy and seek value that can’t be easily copied (through personalization, embodiment, authentication, etc.) tend to prosper, while those who deny, prohibit, and try to thwart the network’s eagerness to copy are left behind.

There’s no stopping the science fiction levels of tracking.

When AIs can understand movies, we’ll be able to repurpose the zillionbytes of that visual information in entirely new ways.

Entirely new industries have sprung up in the last two decades based on the idea of unbundling. The music industry was overturned by technological startups that enabled melodies to be unbundled from songs and songs unbundled from albums.

Big general-interest newspapers were unbundled into classifieds (Craigslist), stock quotes (Yahoo!), gossip (BuzzFeed), restaurant reviews (Yelp), and stories (the web) that stood and grew on their own.

The greatest surprise brought by Wikipedia is that we still don’t know how far this power can go. We haven’t seen the limits of wiki-ized intelligence. Can it make textbooks, music, and movies? What about law and political governance?

Wikipedia is impossible, but here it is. It is one of those things that is impossible in theory but possible in practice.

Old impossibilities appearing as new possibilities daily.

The impossible things happening now are in every case due to the emergence of a new level of organization that did not exist before.

eBay reputation status: That lowly innovation opened up a new kind of higher-level coordination that permitted a new kind of exchange (remote purchasing among strangers) that was impossible before.

The “revert log” button on Wikipedia, which made it easier to restore a vandalized passage than to vandalize it.

What is natural for a tribe of mildly connected humans will not be natural for a planet of intensely connected humans.

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we’ll see or hear about today.

That light of superness changes us. We no longer want mere normal. We want the best, greatest, most extraordinary - the highlights of the highlights, the most amazing.

This ocean of extraordinariness is inspiring and daring ordinary folks to try something extraordinary.

The conflation of play and work, of thinking hard and thinking playfully, is one of the greatest things this new invention has done.

To steer a kayak on white-water rapids you need to be paddling at least as fast as the water runs. To navigate the disruption coming at us, you need to be flowing as fast as the frontier is flowing.

The paradox of science is that every answer breeds at least two new questions.

The best questions are not questions that lead to answers.

A good question is worth a million good answers.
A good question is not concerned with a correct answer.
A good question cannot be answered immediately.
A good question challenges existing answers.
A good question is one you badly want answered once you hear it, but had no inkling you cared before it was asked.
A good question creates new territory of thinking.
A good question reframes its own answers.
A good question is the seed of innovation in science, technology, art, politics, and business.
A good question is a probe, a what-if scenario.
A good question skirts on the edge of what is known and not known, neither silly nor obvious.
A good question cannot be predicted.
A good question will be the sign of an educated mind.
A good question is one that generates many other good questions.
A good question may be the last job a machine will learn to do.
A good question is what humans are for.