Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists

Kevin Kelly

About Me

(Stuff I’m interested in now, or was interested in before.)

A few years ago I co-founded the All Species Foundation, a non-profit organization aimed at cataloging and identifying every living species on earth. I hoped to give each organism its own web page. The genesis of this idea is described in this account. The Foundation is now defunct, but the project of giving each species their own web page lives on as the Encyclopedia of Life.

A lot of my attention is focused on the exciting work at the Long Now Foundation, where I serve on the board. Long Now Foundation is a non-profit group dedicated to fostering long-term responsibility as an antidote to the extremely short-term horizon of most contemporary organizations. Together with Stewart Brand I co-host a monthly seminar series in San Francisco featuring talks on long-term thinking. The most interesting project we have going is the 10,000-year clock that the Foundation is building, a clock conceived and designed by Danny Hillis. The first prototype has been built and the first full-size Clock is now being assembled. I have also been actively involved in the creation of a Rosetta Disk, an archival disk of 1,000 languages to put in or near the 10,000-year Clock. The Rosetta Disk has spun off a dynamic web site that serves as an all language archive, called the Rosetta Project.

I was a long-time member of Global Business Network, a small think tank and consultancy based in Emeryville, California.

What I Write About

A few years ago I was invited to commence a year-long series of essays on culture and science for the 100th anniversary of the journal Science. My contribution, called the Third Culture, is about the emerging culture surrounding technology.A list of my other past writings available on the web is found here. I’m not a very organized person so I do not have a complete bibliography of everything I have written.I have written or edited a bunch of books, two of which have been translated into nine other languages.My first book, a labor of love, is very long, very complex, very broad, and hard to summarize. It’s about decentralization, and about the way machines are becoming biological, and how the internet and a rainforest are connected. I have been surprised at how many people have read the whole thing. The title is slightly opaque, but it was the best I could do at the time: Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, Social Systems and the Economic World. It is not only still in print, it is selling better now than when it first came out. Out of Control was one of the first books to be available in its full text online. All 230,000 words are still available for free on the web here. (This fortuitous opportunity came about because my literary agent, John Brockman, was among the first to realize the value of online rights before the publishers did, so when he negotiated my book deal in 1990, we kept the online rights.) I mention this elsewhere, but its worth repeating: You are free to print out the whole book; if that will help you read it, please do. But I can save you the hassle, time, and paper spent printing it out. Click here to get a printed version, nicely bound between color covers and mailed to your desk, all for about $16. Think of this as a printing service, not a book.Here are a few reviews of Out of Control. (It was mostly ignored when it first came out.)Here is a list of other languages into which Out of Control was translated.New Rules for the New Economy is about the logic behind all the crazy events we see happening in the high-tech world. I make a stab at trying to tie them together. Read the full text of New Rules for the New Economy online. Or you can purchase a printed out version, ready to mail to you here.Here are published reviews of New Rules for the New Economy that I know about. (Let me know if I’ve missed any.)Here is a list of translations for New Rules for the New Economy.

Occasionally I’ll be interviewed by the press; if they remember to send me an url, it is here.

Current Passions

I’m interested in documentary films, educational programs, non-fiction cinema, and what the British BBC empire calls “factuals.” I call them true films and I’m trying to round up recommendations here, at truefilms.com. It’s way embryonic, so be gentle.

As my children began to leave home I wanted to give them each a box of tools and a book containing ideas of tools and possibilities that they might not encounter otherwise. I started to keep a list of tools plus my comments. Some of those reviews appeared in issues of Whole Earth Review a magazine I used to edit. Right now, the reviews have grown into the ongoing website Cool Tools where you can find my recommendations and others.

I’ve done so many public speaking events, that I have lost track of them all. In order to cut back on the amount of travel I have to do, I’ve cut back on the number of invitations I accept by upping my fees, which believe me, keeps down the number of invites. If I don’t accept an invitation, please understand that saying no is the only way I can preserve some time to create something interesting to say when I do say yes. I am represented by Stern Speakers.

My Slim Hollywood Connection

A couple of years ago I was granted my 15 seconds of second-hand Hollywood fame. This short edited video clip from The Matrix Revisited (the making of the Matrix) has Keanu Reeves recounting how each actor had to read my book Out of Control (and 2 other books) before they could open the original script. There is a series of interviews with me on the “The Roots of the Matrix: Hard Science” disk in the 10-disk DVD Ultimate Matrix Collection series.

I have a screen credit for working on Minority Report in the concept stage. In 1999 Steven Speilberg holed up a bunch of futurists in a hotel on the beach and had us brainstorm what the year 2054 would be like in sufficient detail to film. He made our ideas look pretty good. In 2010 a number of publications gave high marks for the accuracy of the technological predictions in the film.

Matt Groening, the creator of The Simpsons, was inspired by my use of a Life Countdown Clock on my desktop computer, to use on an episode of Futurama. Of course his version was much funnier.

Previous Lives

What did I do before all this?My educational background is minimal. I am a college drop out. Instead of going to university, I went to Asia. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.I traveled in the 1970s as a poor, solo photographer in the hinterlands and villages of Asia, between Iran and Japan. I traveled on about US$2,500 per year and came back with 36,000 slides. I have put them together into a gorgeously colorful photographic book called Asia Grace, which is now available at better bookstores or here. I hope the book works as a cinematic experience. There are no words, no captions, no page numbers. The idea is to fall into the images. People tell me it works. The story of this adventure, and all the pictures at low res, are available online at the book’s website.I returned to the US in 1979, and rode a bicycle 5,000 miles across the US. The reasons for the trip are describe by my NPR story (see Personal Stuff below). I kept a journal and sketchbook on the 3-month trip. Each page of the book contains a sketch and a haiku for one day. I recently had a couple of hundred copies of it printed up so others can enjoy it. If you’d like a copy, it’s available here.In about 1982 I began a mail order company called Nomadic Books, selling budget travel guides. In 1983 I started a magazine about walking that was sadly ahead of its time. I began writing about travel for magazines. I had a monthly column about travel in New Age Journal. Here is a New Age Journal cover story I wrote in 1984 on this weird new territory called The Network Nation.In 1984 I moved to California to co-edit Co-Evolution Quarterly, published by the Whole Earth Catalog, which was owned by the non-profit Point Foundation, and founded by Stewart Brand. After the magazine changed its name to Whole Earth Review. I became its editor in chief and publisher. Whole Earth Catalogs are award-winning compediums evaluating all the best “tools” available for self-education. (Over two million Whole Earth Catalogs have been sold since 1968.) The magazine was a journal of unorthodox technical news that consistently published trend-making topics years before other publications noticed them. Following my interests, Whole Earth was the first general magazine to report on virtual reality, ecological restoration, the global teenager, techno culture and artificial life (to name just a few pioneering trends).In 1985 Point Foundation, with funding from a for-profit called Neti, launched one of the first online teleconference systems, called The WELL. As director of Point, I had a small part in the early genesis of the WELL as it became one of the first public access ramps to the internet. I also helped initiate the Hackers’ Conference, which has become an annual event now run by others.While directing Point I launched new Whole Earth Catalogs: The Essential Whole Earth Catalog, The Whole Earth Ecolog, the Fringes of Reason, and Signal: a Whole Earth Catalog of Commication Tools, which I co-edited. (All are out of print, but you can probably find used copies on Amazon or Ebay.)In 1989 I designed Cyberthon, a round the clock 24-hour marathon try-out of Virtual Reality, the first public access to VR.In 1992 I joined a small team which launched Wired magazine in January 1993. I served as Executive Editor from September 1992 to January 1999. During my tenure Wired won the prestigious National Magazine Award for General Excellence twice (in 1994 and 1997).

Recent portraits of myself ready to download are available here. These can be used for all purposes; no need to ask permission.

Thanks to Joshua Swanbeck for the doodle of me, above.

Personal Stuff

On a personal note, I attended a two-year workshop on science and religion sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. My paper based on that experience is called Nerd Theology.

On an even more personal note, I told my story of a religious conversion many years ago to Ira Glass, host of This American Life, a public radio series that features long narrative stories. His edit of my story has been played a number of times on NPR. You can find an audio file on the This American Life web site. It is the second story on the program called “Shoulda Been Dead“. You need the RealAudio player to listen to the story; you can download RealAudio here.

Here is a map of my travels in Asia.

Are You Sure?

Did I go to high school with you? Most likely not. There are probably about 100,000 guys in the world by the name of Kevin Kelly. Like you, and probably most Americans, I actually went to high school with another guy named Kevin Kelly, and have worked with several other Kevin Kellys more than once, and have done things similar to other Kevin Kellys. Yes it is confusing. I can’t begin to tell you. Most Kevin Kellys lead interesting lives. The other Kevin Kelly you are probably looking for may be listed here, at our secret Kevin Kelly clearinghouse.

If I have missed anything you know about, please contact me.

My biography is available here if you want to know more.

You can find out how to contact me here.

I disclose my relationship with companies and any potential conflict of interests here.