Derek Sivers
What Technology Wants - by Kevin Kelly

What Technology Wants - by Kevin Kelly

ISBN: 0143120174
Date read: 2012-04-26
How strongly I recommend it: 8/10
(See my list of 360+ books, for more.)

Go to the Amazon page for details and reviews.

Fascinating historical and philosophical perspective on technology, where it's come from, where it's going.

my notes

Technium : a coined word to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology.

Seeing our world through technology’s eyes has, for me, illuminated its larger purpose. And recognizing what it wants has reduced much of my own conflict in deciding where to place myself in its embrace.

Online networks connect people with ideas, options, and other people they could not possibly have met otherwise.
Online networks unleashed passions, compounded creativity, amplified generosity.

I keep technology at arm’s length so that I can more easily remember who I am.

For centuries, scholars called the making of things "craft", and the expression of inventiveness "art".

However you define life, its essence does not reside in material forms like DNA, tissue, or flesh, but in the intangible organization of the energy and information contained in those material forms.

If a thousand lines of letters in UNIX qualifies as a technology, then a thousand lines of letters in English must qualify as well. Both can change our behavior, alter the course of events, or enable future inventions.

The wants of a protozoan are unconscious, unarticulated - more like an urge or a tendency.

LANGUAGE: The creation of language was the first singularity for humans. It changed everything. Life after language was unimaginable to those on the far side before it.

LANGUAGE: A new idea can be spread quickly if someone can explain it and communicate it to others before they have to discover it themselves. But the chief advantage of language is not communication but autogeneration. Language is a trick that allows the mind to question itself; a magic mirror that reveals to the mind what the mind thinks; a handle that turns a mind into a tool. With a grip on the slippery, aimless activity of self-awareness and self-reference, language can harness a mind into a fountain of new ideas. Without the cerebral structure of language, we couldn’t access our own mental activity. We certainly couldn’t think the way we do. If our minds can’t tell stories, we can’t consciously create; we can only create by accident. Until we tame the mind with an organization tool capable of communicating to itself, we have stray thoughts without a narrative. We have a feral mind. We have smartness without a tool.

In many contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, being unencumbered with things is considered a virtue, even a virtue of character. You carry nothing; instead, you cleverly make or procure whatever you need when you need it.

The more nomadic a tribe was, the more peaceful it would be, since it could simply flee from conflict.

We have become deeply dependent on technology. If all technology - every last knife and spear - were to be removed from this planet, our species would not last more than a few months. We are now symbiotic with technology.

The invention of moveable-type printing in Europe encouraged Christians to read their religion’s founding text themselves and make their own interpretations, and that launched the very idea of “protest” within and against religion.

The hard two-meter mound of a termite colony operates as if it were an external organ of the insects: The mound’s temperature is regulated and it is repaired after injury. The dried mud itself seems to be living. What we think of as coral - stony, treelike structures - are the apartment buildings of nearly invisible coral animals. The coral structure and coral animals behave as one.

A shelter is animal technology, the animal extended. The extended human is the technium.

Clothes are people’s extended skin, wheels extended feet, camera and telescopes extended eyes.

Many of a technology’s parts are shared by other technologies, so a great deal of development happens automatically as components improve in other uses ‘outside’ the host technology.

The major transitions in the technium are:
Primate communication
→ Language Oral lore
→ Writing/mathematical notation Scripts
→ Printing Book knowledge
→ Scientific method Artisan production
→ Mass production Industrial culture
→ Ubiquitous global communication

Inadvertent anticipatory inventions are called exaptations.

In my own travels around the world I was struck by how resilient ancient technologies were, how they were often first choices where power and modern resources were scarce. It seemed to me as if no technologies ever disappeared.

I was able to find every single item listed on a page of a century-old catalog. Each old tool was available in a new incarnation and sold on the web. Nothing was dead.

The hydrogen atoms in a human body completely refresh every seven years. As we age we are really a river of cosmically old atoms. The carbons in our bodies were produced in the dust of a star. The bulk of matter in our hands, skin, eyes, and hearts was made near the beginning of time, billions of years ago.

The computer chip conducts more energy per second per gram through its tiny corridors than animals, volcanoes, or the sun. This bit of high technology is the most energetically active thing in the known universe.

In one year 1 eagle eats 100 trout, which eat 10,000 grasshoppers, which eat 1 million blades of grass. Thus it takes, indirectly, 1 million blades of grass to support 1 eagle.

But this pile of 1 million blades far outweighs the eagle. This bloated inefficiency is due to entropy. Each movement in an animal’s life wastes a small bit of heat (entropy), which means every predator catches less energy than the total energy the prey consumed, and this shortfall is multiplied by each action for all time. The circle of life is kept going only by the constant replenishment of sunlight showering the grass with new energy.

For four billion years evolution has been accumulating knowledge in its library of genes. You can learn a lot in four billion years. Every one of the 30 million or so unique species alive on the planet today is an unbroken informational thread that traces back to the very first cell. That thread (DNA) learns something new each generation and adds that hard-won knowledge to its code.

Data from nearly all parts of the world show us that consumers tend to spend relatively less on goods and more on services as their incomes rise.
Once people have met their basic needs, they tend to want medical care, transportation and communication, information, recreation, entertainment, financial and legal advice, and the like.

Thinking about thoughts will only make us marginally smarter.
The power of the technium can be increased indefinitely by reflecting its transforming nature upon itself.
New technologies constantly make it easier to invent better technologies.
We can’t say the same about human brains.

In ancient times when a bearded prophet forecast what was to come, the news was generally bad. The idea that the future brought improvement was never very popular until recently.

The steady destruction of good things and people seems relentless. And it is. But the steady stream of good things is relentless as well.

There is more good than evil in the world - but not by much.

What money brings is increased choices, rather than merely increased stuff.

We do find happiness in having some control of our time and work, a chance for real leisure, in the escape from the uncertainties of war, poverty, and corruption, and in a chance to pursue individual freedoms.

Over time our laws, mores, and ethics have slowly expanded the sphere of human empathy. Generally, humans originally identified themselves primarily via their families. The family clan was “us.” This declaration cast anyone outside of that intimacy as “other.” We had - and still have - different rules of behavior for those inside the circle of “us” and for those outside.
Gradually the circle of “us” enlarged from inside the family clan to inside the tribe, and then from tribe to nation.
We are currently in an unfinished expansion beyond nation and maybe even race and may soon be crossing the species boundary. Other primates are, more and more, deemed worthy of humanlike rights.
If the golden rule of morality and ethics is to “do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” then we are constantly expanding our notion of “others.” This is evidence for moral progress.

Citizens in developing countries can merely take a bus back to their villages, where they can live with age-old traditions and limited choice. They will not starve. In a similar spirit of choice, if you believe that the peak of existence was reached in Neolithic times, you can camp out in a clearing in the Amazon. If you think the golden age was in the 1890s, you can find a farm among the Amish. We have lots of opportunity to revisit the past, but few people really want to live there.

Everywhere in the world, at all historical periods, in all cultures, people have stampeded by the billions into the future of “slightly more options” as fast as they can. With their feet they have voted for progress by migrating to cities.

Every beautiful city begins as a slum. When a town prospers it acquires a center - civic or religious - and the edges of the city continue to expand in unplanned, ungovernable messiness. Babylon, London, and New York all had teeming ghettos of unwanted settlers erecting shoddy shelters with inadequate hygiene and engaging in dodgy dealings. Even by the 1780s, when Paris was at its peak, nearly 20 percent of its residents did not have a “fixed abode” - that is, they lived in shacks.

This is how all technology works. A gadget begins as a junky prototype and then progresses to something that barely works. The ad hoc shelters in slums are upgraded over time, infrastructure is extended, and eventually makeshift services become official. What was once the home of poor hustlers becomes, over the span of generations, the home of rich hustlers. Propagating slums is what cities do, and living in slums is how cities grow. The majority of neighborhoods in almost every modern city are merely successful former slums. The squatter cities of today will become the blue-blood neighborhoods of tomorrow. This is already happening in Rio and Mumbai today.

Every slum boasts eateries and bars, and most have rooming houses or places you can rent a bed. They have animals, fresh milk, grocery stores, barber shops, healers, herb stores, repair stands, and strong armed men offering “protection.” A squatter city is, and has always been, a shadow city, a parallel world without official permission, but a city nonetheless.

Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City (about Mumbai), says, “Why would anyone leave a brick house in the village with its two mango trees and its view of small hills in the East to come here?” Then he answers: “So that someday the eldest son can buy two rooms in Mira Road, at the northern edges of the city. And the younger one can move beyond that, to New Jersey. Discomfort is an investment.”

The freedom in a city makes their village seem a prison.

Inventions, such as language, writing, law, and science, have ignited a level of progress that is so fundamental and embedded in the present that we now naively expect to see similar good things in the past as well. But much of what we consider “civil” or even “humane” was absent long ago.

By systematically recording the evidence for beliefs and investigating the reasons why things worked and then carefully distributing proven innovations, science quickly became the greatest tool for making new things the world had ever seen. Science was in fact a superior method for a culture to learn.

Science is costly for an individual. Sharing results is of marginal benefit if you are chiefly seeking a better tool for today. Therefore, the benefits of science are neither apparent nor immediate for individuals. Science requires a certain density of leisured population willing to share and support failures to thrive. That leisure is generated by pre-science inventions. Techniques that permit a steady surplus of food for large numbers of people. In other words, science needs prosperity and populations.

It is the increase in the number of humans that ultimately drives science, and then prosperity.

Hundreds of scholarly papers record substantial improvements across the board in matters we care about. The trajectories of these measurements generally point in the same direction: up. Their accumulated weight elicited this famous prediction by Julian Simon a decade ago:
These are my most important long-run predictions, contingent on there being no global war or political upheaval:
(1) People will live longer lives than now; fewer will die young.
(2) Families all over the world will have higher incomes and better standards of living than now.
(3) The costs of natural resources will be lower than at present.
(4) Agricultural land will continue to become less and less important as an economic asset, relative to the total value of all other economic assets.

These four predictions are quite certain because the very same predictions, made at all earlier times in history, would have turned out to be right. His reason is worth repeating: He is betting on a historical force that has maintained its trajectory for many centuries.

The eye has evolved independently between 40 and 60 times around the animal kingdom.

Most methods used by life are used by more than one organism and in more than one phylum. What is rare is a trait that has not been reused somewhere in nature.

While a mouse’s heart and lungs beat rapidly compared to an elephant’s, both mouse and elephant count the same number of beats and breaths per life. It is as if mammals are assigned 1.5 billion heartbeats.

There is a tilt to evolution’s seemingly chaotic churning that rediscovers the same forms and keeps arriving at the same solutions. It is almost as if life has an imperative. It “wants” to materialize certain patterns.

The incredible complexity of life disguises its singularity. There is only one life. All life today is descended along an unbroken line of duplication from one ancient molecule that worked inside one primeval cell that worked. Despite life’s magnificent diversity, it is chiefly repeating, billions of billions of times, solutions that worked before.

Alfred Russel Wallace came up with the same theory of evolution as Darwin, at approximately the same time, 150 years ago. Weirdly, both Wallace and Darwin found the theory of natural selection after reading the same book on population growth by Thomas Malthus. Darwin did not publish his revelation until provoked by Wallace’s parallel discovery.

Alexander Bell and Elisha Gray both applied to patent the telephone on the same day, February 14, 1876. Improbable simultaneity (Gray applied three hours before Bell).

Sunspots were first discovered not by two but by four separate observers, including Galileo, in the same year, 1611. We know of six different inventors of the thermometer, and three of the hypodermic needle.

The higher the prominence of a scientist, the greater the number of simultaneous discoveries he participated in.

Great discoverers not only contribute more than the average number of “next” steps, but they also take part in those steps that have the greatest impact, which are naturally the areas of investigation that attract many other players and so produce multiples. If discovery is a lottery, the greatest discoverers buy lots of tickets.

The whole history of inventions is one endless chain of parallel instances.

No matter what they rationally think about inevitability, in my experience all inventors and creators act as if their own invention and discovery is imminently simultaneous. Every creator, inventor, and discoverer that I have known is rushing their ideas into distribution before someone else does, or they are in a mad hurry to patent before their competition does, or they are dashing to finish their masterpiece before something similar shows up.

Nathan Myhrvold is a polymath and serial inventor who used to direct fast-paced research at Microsoft but wanted to accelerate the pace of innovation in other areas outside the digital realm - such as surgery, metallurgy, or archaeology - where innovation was often a second thought. Myhrvold came up with an idea factory called Intellectual Ventures. Myhrvold employs an interdisciplinary team of very bright innovators to sit around and dream up patentable ideas. These eclectic one- or two-day gatherings will generate 1,000 patents per year.

Once an idea is “in the air” its many manifestations are inevitable. You just need a sufficient number of smart, prolific people to start catching them. And of course a lot of patent lawyers to patent what you generate in bulk.

An innovative prototype shop called Applied Minds is another idea factory. They generate tons of ideas in interdisciplinary areas: bioengineering, toys, computer vision, amusement rides, military control rooms, cancer diagnostics, and mapping tools. Some ideas they sell as unadorned patents; others they complete as physical machines or operational software.

“There might be tens of thousands of people who conceive the possibility of the same invention at the same time.
But less than one in ten of them imagines how it might be done.
Of these who see how to do it, only one in ten will actually think through the practical details and specific solutions.
Of these only one in ten will actually get the design to work for very long.
And finally, usually only one of all those many thousands with the idea will get the invention to stick in the culture.
At our lab we engage in all these levels of discovery, in the expected proportions.”

If Rowling had not written Harry Potter, someone else would have written a similar story in broad outlines, because so many have already produced parallel parts. But the Harry Potter books, the ones that exist in their exquisite peculiar details, could not have been written by anyone other than Rowling. It is not the particular genius of human individuals like Rowling that is inevitable but the unfolding genius of the technium as a whole.

Discoveries become virtually inevitable when prerequisite kinds of knowledge and tools accumulate.

In addition to instruments and tools, a discovery needs the proper beliefs, expectations, vocabulary, explanation, know-how, resources, funds, and appreciation to appear.

Fancy technology introduced in developing countries typically reaches only 5 percent penetration before it stalls. It doesn’t disseminate further until older foundational technologies catch up.

Countries that failed to adopt old technologies are at a disadvantage when it comes to new ones.

The progression of inventions is in many ways the march toward forms dictated by physics and chemistry in a sequence determined by the rules of complexity. We might call this technology’s imperative.

These days all technology follows computer technology.

Moore’s Law is really about people’s belief system, it’s not a law of physics, it’s about human belief, and when people believe in something, they’ll put energy behind it to make it come to pass.

This freely chosen aspect of ourselves is what other people remember about us. How we handle life’s cascade of real choices within the larger cages of our birth and background is what makes us who we are. It is what people talk about when we are gone. Not the given, but the choices we made.

Ordinary Roman carts were constructed to match the width of imperial Roman war chariots because it was easier to follow the ruts in the road left by the war chariots. The chariots were sized to accommodate the width of two large warhorses, which translates into our English measurement of 4’ 8.5”. Roads throughout the vast Roman Empire were built to this specification. When the legions of Rome marched into Britain, they constructed long-distance imperial roads 4’ 8.5” wide. When the English started building tramways, they used the same width so the same horse carriages could be used. And when they started building railways with horseless carriages, naturally the rails were 4’ 8.5” wide. Imported laborers from the British Isles built the first railways in the Americas using the same tools and jigs they were used to. Fast-forward to the U.S. space shuttle, which is built in parts around the country and assembled in Florida. Because the two large solid-fuel rocket engines on the side of the launch shuttle were sent by railroad from Utah, and that line traversed a tunnel not much wider than the standard track, the rockets themselves could not be much wider in diameter than 4’ 8.5”.

Technology is shaped by a triad of forces.
The primary driver is preordained development - what technology wants.
The second driver is the influence of technological history, the gravity of the past, as in the way the size of a horse’s yoke determines the size of a space rocket.
The third force is society’s collective free will in shaping the technium, or our choices.

The better we can forecast, the better we can be prepared for what comes. If we can discern the large outlines of persistent forces, we can better educate our children in the appropriate skills and literacies need for thriving in that world.

Teenagers are biologically compelled to take risks as a means of establishing their independence.

The urge for self-preservation, self-extension, and self-growth is the natural state of any living thing. We don’t begrudge the selfish nature of a lion, or a grasshopper, or ourselves.

Each new technology creates more problems than it solves.

Problems are the answers to solutions.

Most of the new problems in the world are problems created by previous technology. These technogenic problems are nearly invisible to us. Every year 1.2 million people die in automobile accidents. The dominant technological transportation system kills more people than cancer.

I cannot imagine a technology that cannot be made orders of magnitude greener.

The nature of technology is inherently pro-life. It just needs to grow into that potential.

We often confuse a clear view of the future with a short distance.

When a new item of technology is introduced as an option that an individual can accept or not as he chooses, it does not necessarily REMAIN optional. In many cases the new technology changes society in such a way that people eventually find themselves FORCED to use it.

We willingly choose technology, with its great defects and obvious detriments, because we unconsciously calculate its virtues. In an entirely wordless calculus, we note the addictions in others, the degradations in the environment, the distractions in our own lives, the confusion about character that various technologies generate, and then we sum these up against the benefits.

We freely choose to embrace it - and pay the price.

The way to reveal the full costs of technology and deflate its hype is with better information tools and processes. We require technologies such as real-time self-monitoring of our use, transparent sharing of problems, deep analysis of testing results, relentless retesting, accurate recording of the chain of sources in manufacturing, and honest accounting of negative externalities such as pollution.

The Amish are living about 50 years behind us. By that time, the benefits and costs are clear, the technology stable, and it is cheap. They have criteria by which to make choices: Technologies must enhance family and community and distance themselves from the outside world. Their motto is “try first and relinquish later, if need be.”

Our Amish friend Leon spoke of the same equation: fewer distractions, more satisfaction. The ever-ready embrace of his community was palpable. Imagine it: Neighbors would pay your medical bill if needed, or build your house in a few weeks without pay, and, more important, allow you to do the same for them. Minimal technology, unburdened by cultural innovations such as insurance or credit cards, forces a daily reliance on neighbors and friends. Hospital stays are paid by church members, who also visit the sick regularly.

The Amish depend on the outside world for the way they currently live. Their choice of minimal technology adoption is a choice - but a choice enabled by the technium. Their lifestyle is within the technium, not outside it.

Outside technological America the idea seems crazy. This opt-out option makes sense only when there is something to opt out of.

Entrepreneurship: The origins of the Wired generation and the long-hair computer culture (think open-source UNIX) lay in the counterculture dropouts of the 70s. As Stewart Brand, hippie founder of the Whole Earth Catalog, remembers, “‘Do your own thing’ easily translated into ‘Start your own business.’”

The hippies left for the same reason Thoreau left his Walden; they both came and left to experience life to its fullest. Voluntary simplicity is a possibility, an option, a choice that one should experience for at least part of one’s life. I highly recommend elective poverty and minimalism as a fantastic education, not least because it will help you sort out your technology priorities. But I have observed that simplicity’s fullest potential requires that one consider minimalism one phase of many.

As the technium explodes with new self-made options, we find it harder to find fulfillment. How can we be fulfilled when we don’t know what is being filled?

I believe these two different routes for technological lifestyle - either optimizing contentment or optimizing choices - come down to very different ideas of what humans are to be. It is only possible to optimize human satisfaction if you believe human nature is fixed. Needs cannot be maximally satisfied if they are in flux. Minimal technologists maintain that human nature is unchanging.

Technology is anything that was invented after you were born.

Human nature itself is a malleable crop. Our nature has never been static.

Genetically our bodies are changing faster now than at any time in the past million years. Our minds are being rewired by our culture.

The more advanced the technology, on the whole, the more possible it is for a considerable number of human beings to imagine being somebody else.

Your potential has been given an opportunity by the work of others. You are being expanded as others expand themselves.

Our mission as humans is not only to discover our fullest selves in the technium, and to find full contentment, but to expand the possibilities for others. Greater technology will selfishly unleash our talents, but it will also unselfishly unleash others: our children, and all children to come.

Anyone who is inventing, discovering, and expanding possibilities will indirectly expand possibilities for others.

I do want the minimum because I’ve learned that I have limited time and attention.

The technium’s dilemma very clearly: To maximize our own contentment, we seek the minimum amount of technology in our lives. Yet to maximize the contentment of others, we must maximize the amount of technology in the world. Indeed, we can only find our own minimal tools if others have created a sufficient maximum pool of options we can choose from. The dilemma remains in how we can personally minimize stuff close to us while trying to expand it globally.

Can the human mind master what the human mind has made?

We opt out of more technology than we opt in to.

Our personal nonadoption is usually illogical and nonsensical.

Prohibition seems very ephemeral. While an item may be banned in one place, it will thrive in another.

In a global marketplace, nothing is eliminated. Where a technology is banned locally, it slips away to pool somewhere else on the globe.

Young technologies often experience failure in their first careers before they find a better livelihood later.

Switching occupations is the norm for technology.

Our immediate tendency is to imagine the new thing doing an old job better. That’s why the first cars were called “horseless carriages.” The first movies were simply straightforward documentary films of theatrical plays. It took a while to realize the full dimensions of cinema photography as its own new medium.

We may obsess about the risks of pesticides but not the risks of organic foods.

People will accept a thousand times as much risk for technologies or situations that are voluntary rather than mandatory.

The missionary wanted to improve the laborious way the Chinese peasants in his province harvested grain. The local farmers clipped the stalks with some kind of small hand shear. So the missionary had a scythe shipped in from America and demonstrated its superior productivity to an enthralled crowd. The next morning, however, a delegation came to see the missionary. “The scythe must be destroyed at once. What , if it should fall into the hands of thieves; a whole field could be cut and carried away in a single night!” And so the scythe was banished, progress stopped, because nonusers could imagine a possible - but wholly improbable - way it could significantly harm their society.

In its efforts to be “safe rather than sorry,” precaution becomes myopic. It tends to maximize only one value: safety. Safety trumps innovation. The safest thing to do is to perfect what works and never try anything that could fail, because failure is inherently unsafe.

Safety components can become one more opportunity for things to go wrong. For instance, adding security forces at an airport can increase the number of people with access to critical areas, which is a decrease in security. Redundant systems, normally a safety backup, can easily breed new types of errors.

The surest remedy for uncertainty is faster, better scientific studies.

More science, done openly by skeptics and enthusiasts, will enable us to sooner say: “This is okay to use” or “This is not okay to use.”

Once a consensus forms, we can regulate reasonably - as we have with lead in gasoline, tobacco, seat belts, and many other mandated improvements in society. But in the meantime we should count on uncertainty.

Emerging technology must be tested in action and evaluated in real time. In other words, the risks of a particular technology have to be determined by trial and error in real life.

The appropriate response to a new idea should be to immediately try it out. And to keep trying it out, and testing it, as long as it exists.

Proactionary Principle: emphasizes provisional assessment and constant correction, a heuristic to guide us in assessing new technologies.

1. Anticipation

Try to imagine as many horrors as glories, as many glories as horrors, and if possible to anticipate ubiquity; what happens if everyone has this for free? Anticipation should not be a judgment. The purpose of anticipation is not to accurately predict what will happen with a technology, because all precise predictions are wrong, but to prepare a base for the next four steps. It is a way to rehearse future actions.

2. Continual Assessment

Test everything we use all the time, not just once.

3. Prioritization of Risks.

4. Rapid Correction of Harm

The assumption that any given technology will create problems should be part of its process of creation.

5. Not Prohibition but Redirection Prohibition and relinquishment of dubious technologies do not work. Instead, find them new jobs. A technology can play different roles in society. It can have more than one expression. It can be set with different defaults.

We have the choice of how we treat our creations, where we place them, and how we train them with our values. The most helpful metaphor for understanding technology may be to consider humans as the parents of our technological children.

We can only shape technology’s expression by engaging with it, by riding it with both arms around its neck. To do that means to embrace those technologies now. To create them, turn them on, try them.

A convivial manifestation of a technology offers:
• Cooperation. It promotes collaboration between people and institutions.
• Transparency. Its origins and ownership are clear. Its workings are intelligible to nonexperts. There is no asymmetrical advantage of knowledge to some of its users.
• Decentralization. Its ownership, production, and control are distributed. It is not monopolized by a professional elite.
• Flexibility. It is easy for users to modify, adapt, improve, or inspect its core. Individuals may freely choose to use it or give it up.
• Redundancy. It is not the only solution, not a monopoly, but one of several options.
• Efficiency. It minimizes impact on ecosystems. It has a high efficiency for energy and materials and is easy to reuse.

Technology wants what life wants:
Increasing efficiency
Increasing opportunity
Increasing emergence
Increasing complexity
Increasing diversity
Increasing specialization
Increasing ubiquity
Increasing freedom
Increasing mutualism
Increasing beauty
Increasing sentience
Increasing structure
Increasing evolvability
This list of exotropic trends can serve as a sort of checklist to help us evaluate new technologies and predict their development. It can guide us in guiding them.

These trajectories are like the pull of gravity on water. Water “wants” to leak out of the bottom of a dam. It is inevitable that someday the water will leak out - even though it may be retained by the dam for centuries.

There is no limit to the most complex things we will make. We’ll dazzle ourselves with new complexity in many directions. This will complexify our lives further, but we’ll adapt to it. There is no going back. We’ll hide this complexity with beautiful “simple” interfaces, as elegant as the round ball of an orange. But behind this membrane our stuff will be more complex than the cells and biochemistry of an orange. To keep up with this complexification, our language, tax codes, government bureaucracies, news media, and daily lives will all become more complex as well. It’s a trend we can count on. The long arc of complexity began before evolution, worked through the four billion years of life, and now continues through the technium.

Too many choices may induce regret, but “no choice” is a far worse option. Civilization is a steady migration away from “no choice.” As always, the solution to the problems that technology brings, such as an overwhelming diversity of choices, is better technologies. The solution to ultradiversity will be choice-assist technologies. These better tools will aid humans in making choices among bewildering options.

Where do wealthy people travel to? Places that retain differences. (Bali.)
What eateries attract customers? The ones with distinctive characteristics.
What products sell in a global market? Ones that think different.

Cultural differences that thrive without isolation (even if they were born out of it) will compound in value as the world becomes standardized.

We adopt new technologies largely because of what they do for us, but also in part because of what they mean to us. Often we refuse to adopt technology for the same reason: because of how the avoidance reinforces or shapes our identity.

########## 10 universal tendencies carrying us forward:

the broad rise of complexity across all epochs of evolutionary time.

The diversity of the universe has been increasing since the beginning of time.

Evolution moves from the general to the specific.

This sequence from general to specific holds true for most technologies.

Today there are hundreds of specialty cameras, including those for use deep underwater, those designed for the vacuum of space, and those able to capture the infrared or the ultraviolet.

At the moment, computers seem to be headed in the opposite direction, toward becoming ever more general-purpose machines, as they swallow more and more functions.

This convergence is temporary. We are still in the early stages of computerization - or rather, intelligenation. Everywhere we currently apply our own personal intelligence (in other words, everywhere we work and play) we are rapidly applying artificial and collective intelligence as well, and rapidly overhauling our tools and expectations. We’ve intelligenized bookkeeping, photography, financial trading, metal machining, and airplane piloting, among thousands of other tasks. We are about to computerize automobile driving, medical diagnosis, and speech understanding. In our rush toward large-scale intelligenation, we first installed the general-purpose PC, with its mass-produced small brain, midsize screen, and conduit to the net. So all chores get the same tool. To complete the dispersion of intelligenation into all occupations will probably require another decade. Silly as it now sounds, we will put artificial intelligence into hammers, dental picks, forklifts, stethoscopes, and frying pans. All these tools will gain new powers by sharing the universal intelligence of the network. But as their newly augmented roles become clear, the tools will specialize. We can see the first glimmers in the iPhone, Kindle, Wii, tablets, and netbooks.

Gamers want minimal latency; readers want maximum legibility; hikers want waterproofing; kids want indestructibility.

We can forecast the future of almost any invention working today by imagining it evolving into dozens of narrow uses. Technology is born in generality and grows to specificity.

The consequence of self-reproduction in life, as well as in the technium, is an inherent drive toward ever-presence. Given a chance, dandelions or raccoons or fire ants will replicate till they cover the Earth. Evolution equips a replicant with tricks to maximize its spread no matter the constraints.

The list of near-ubiquitous technologies includes cotton cloth, iron blades, plastic bottles, paper, and radio signals. These five technological species are within reach of nearly every human alive today,

Ubiquity changes everything.

One thousand live, always-on cameras make downtowns safe from pickpockets, nab stoplight runners, and record police misbehavior. One billion live, always-on cameras serve as a community monitor and memory, they give the job of eyewitness to amateurs, they restructure the notion of the self, and they reduce the authority of authorities.

Usually what happens to a ubiquitous technology is that it disappears.

The electric motor has seeped into ubiquity and invisibility. There is no longer one home motor in a household; there are dozens of them, and each is nearly invisible. No longer stand-alone devices, motors are now integral parts of many appliances.

We don’t think of paper and cotton clothing as technology because their reliable presences are everywhere.

The “haves and have-laters.”: the haves fund the evolution of technology for the have-laters. Isn’t that how it should be, that the rich fund the development of cheap technology for the poor?

I would say the same today about DNA sequencing, GPS location tracking, dirt-cheap solar panels, electric cars, or even nutrition. Don’t worry about those who don’t own a personal fiber-optic cable to their school; worry what happens when everyone does. We were so focused on those who don’t have plenty to eat that we missed what happens when everyone does have plenty.

As evolution rises, “choicefulness” increases.

There is nothing we have invented to date about which we’ve said, “It’s smart enough.”

The more powerful a new technology is, the greater the new freedoms it opens up.


As life evolves, it becomes increasingly dependent on other life.

Every organism that creates a successful niche for itself also creates potential niches for other species.

Greater sociality among organisms is a stabilizing ratchet in evolution.

Most trucks, trains, and planes are not moving people but freight. Most heating and cooling is not conditioning humans but other stuff.

The technium spends only one quarter of its energy on human comfort, food, and travel needs; the rest of the energy is made by technology for technology.

For the next 10 to 20 years, the socializing aspects of the technium will be one of its major traits and a major event for our culture.

Right now we are using technology to collaboratively build encyclopedias, news agencies, video archives, and software in groups that span continents. Can we build bridges, universities, and charter cities the same way? Every day over the past century someone asked, What can’t free markets do? We took a long list of problems that seemed to require rational planning or paternal government and instead applied the astoundingly powerful invention of marketplace logic. In most cases, the market solution worked significantly better. Much of the prosperity in recent decades was gained by unleashing market forces into the technium. Now we’re trying the same trick with the emerging technologies of collaboration, applying these techniques to a growing list of wishes - and occasionally to problems that the free market couldn’t solve - to see if they work. We are asking ourselves, What can’t technological mutualism do?

Each time we reinvent something, we’ll make it yet more mutualistic.


Most evolved things are beautiful, and the most beautiful are the most highly evolved.

Many centuries ago the first few versions of London were considered heinous eyesores. But over generations, every urban block in London was tested by daily use. The parks and streets that worked were retained; those that failed were demolished.

The places most renowned for their beauty (Venice, Kyoto, Esfahan) are those that reveal intersecting deep layers of time.

While our lay minds can’t decode why, we interpret that fossilized learning as beauty. It has less to do with smooth lines and more to do with smooth continuity of experience. The attractive scissors and the beautiful hammer and the gorgeous car all carry in their form the wisdom of their ancestors.

The web smells like life. It knows so much. It has insinuated its tendrils of connection into everything, everywhere.

Technology does not want to remain utilitarian. It wants to become art, to be beautiful and “useless.”

Burning candles is now a mark of luxuriant uselessness.


The honeyguide bird in Kenya lures humans to wild bee nests so that the birds can feast on the remaining bee brood after the humans remove the honey; sometimes, according to ornithologists, the honeyguide will “deceive” the hunters about the actual distance to a deep forest nest if it is more than two kilometers away, so as not to discourage them.

Humans have a chauvinistic bias against any kind of intelligence that does not precisely mirror our own. Unless an artificial mind behaves exactly like a human one, we don’t count it as intelligent.

Uncover the full diversity of intelligences. Each type of thinking, no matter how large it is scaled up, can only understand in a limited way. The universe is so huge, so vast in its available mysteries, that it will require every possible type of mind to comprehend it. The technium’s job is to invent a million, or a billion, varieties of comprehension.


Science is designed to increase the order and organization of knowledge we generate about the world. Science creates “tools” - techniques and methods - that manipulate information such that it can be tested, compared, recorded, recalled in an orderly fashion, and related to other knowledge. “Truth” is really only a measure of how well specific facts can be built upon, extended, and interconnected.

A typical scientific discovery today will rely on facts and a falsifiable hypothesis; be tested in repeatable, controlled experiments, perhaps with placebos and double-blind controls; and be reported in a peer-reviewed journal and indexed in a library of related reports.

Technology is how human minds explore the space of possibilities and change the methods of searching for solutions.

Technology has brought as much change on this planet in the last 100 years as life has in the last billion years.

Popular culture wrongly fixates on proven star roles as the destiny of anyone successful. In fact, those positions of prominence and stardom can be prisons, straitjackets defined by how someone else excelled. Ideally, we would find a position of excellence tailored specifically for everyone born.

I’ve learned to seek the minimum amount of technology for myself that will create the maximum amount of choices for myself and others.

Always act to increase the number of choices.

This principle has never failed: In any game, increase your options.

My children: Kaileen, Ting, and Tywen. My wife: Gia-Miin.