Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly

Future of “X” summaries

The Future of 5G

The Future of Uncertainties
Black Swans are completely unexpected events (unknown unknowns) that change the world forever. We cannot forecast them, but we can prepare for them through the practice of scenario building. By examining a list of things that seem impossible, and imagining what would have to happen to make those things possible, we can begin to detect patterns in the lead-up to unthinkable events. In this way, we not only make the future less surprising, we can rehearse responses and identify tools that are likely to serve us well in a variety of possible futures.

The Future of the Internet in China
There are three big challenges in the Internet space that all countries must face in the near future. China’s approach to the challenges will impact not only Chinese Internet users, but potentially all Internet users. What interface follows the smart phone, whether it be AR-enabled glasses, foldable screens, or wearable projectors, will not only be influenced by China’s substantial Internet-using population, but also by their manufacturing. Privacy, as it relates to online information collecting and sale, has consequences for broader community standards, and there is no one-size fits all approach to this issue. China must engage their own ethicists, community, government and technologists to develop a solution that works for China. Finally, globalization. Most of China’s internet success has been within China, but as China begins to consider how it might attract users from outside its borders, it will need to consider dialing back the protections that have held foreign Internet companies at bay.

The Future of Autonomous Cars
The prospect of a future with self-driving cars begs two categories of questions: How will they work in the real world? And can we trust them to be good and safe? Autonomous cars will not arrive overnight, and we will spend the next decade or more reengineering roads and cities to make self-driving cars work. As infrastructure evolves, the design of cars will also gradually evolve, giving way to a plurality of forms for different purposes. One thing all cars will have in common, though, is a capacity for massive bandwidth, connecting them to other vehicles and devices, connecting riders to work and entertainment, and, most importantly, allowing them to drive safely. But bandwidth is only one aspect of safety in autonomous cars. The more significant part is implanting them with a codified set of moral ethics. If-then programming is a foundational engineering task, so the implanting part is easy, but we must first establish the values, priorities, and responsibility sharing we want to see reflected in autonomous cars. Although we do not yet have strong agreement on these things, this is another aspect of autonomous cars that will progress alongside infrastructure and design, bit by bit, over the next generation.

The Future of Mixed Realities
A platform even larger, richer, and deeper than smartphones is on the horizon and it will revolve around an augmented reality that sits perfectly on top of this world. This new platform, the mirror world, will rely on four elements: devices, infrastructure, AI, and content. We will choose among many options for light-weight wireless, audio-enabled see-through glasses that provide access to the Mirror World and its many information overlays. Each set of glasses will be transmitting and receiving massive amounts of information, so the infrastructure of high-bandwidth, 5G, fiber optic connections, and compression will be essential. Cheap artificial intelligence will be necessary to map everything we see, and to identify and meet our needs. Finally, the Mirror World requires an entire ecosystem of content, apps, and interfaces that cannot simply be migrated from previous platforms, but will need to be created anew. The Mirror World will deliver tremendous benefits to consumers. It will redefine the way we learn about and trouble-shoot the world around us. It will give us entirely new ways to rehearse for unthinkable scenarios [see: The Future of Uncertainties,]. It will facilitate simulations with a precision and confidence which numbers alone cannot deliver. It will allow people to annotate their environments for the benefit of others. It will make our real world machine readable and therefore searchable. We will use it in ways, to ends, for benefits we cannot yet imagine.

The Future of Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is a closed, fully synthetic, alternative world. As an entertainment platform, it transforms passive viewers into active participants. These immersive worlds are incredibly convincing, not only because of their technical execution, but because we consent to being transported and we want to be convinced. They are incredibly engaging not only because of the fantastical things we can see and do in them, but because, as social creatures, we are delighted by the ways we can relate to other beings. We might be tempted to think that VR worlds are built from scratch, but in fact we will import many of the same biases that create social challenges in the real world. Though our bodies will be intangible, we will still be able to feel psychic pain in virtual worlds, so we will use a range of tools and rules to reduce harms. There will be lawless frontier zones, which will be susceptible to collapse, but will enable people to experiment without limits. Most of the virtual worlds, though, will embrace rules, laws, and social etiquette intended to make them protopian, not quite utopian, but at least a little bit better than the real world.

The Future of Innovation
It’s a popular trope: Technology promised us flying cars and all we got was 140 characters. The good news is that flying cars are essentially here. Their reach and benefits are extremely limited for now, but they will eventually become more commonplace. However, they will not transform our lives. The better news is that fast, short-form communication technologies, like the 140-character Tweet, really do have much greater potential to change our lives. These seemingly trivial communication platforms allow people across the globe to connect with one another, they illuminate obscure niches, and they can spur the development of nascent popular innovations. They accelerate the pace of scientific advances. Flying cars might look like progress, but these “trivial” chirps actually drive it.

The Future of Infinite Games
There are two kind of games. Typically we assume a game has a winner and loser, as well as a clearly delineated set of rules and defined spatial and time bounds for play. These are finite games. Many things in life operate like a finite, zero sum game. An infinite game, by contrast, has no winners nor losers, and aims to maintain gameplay as long as possible, with rules that can be changed in order to serve that goal. Though finite games are much simpler to grasp, real world examples of infinite-game structure abound, from the evolution of life and complex food webs, to the economics that drive the publishing and technology industries. In all such cases, webs of dependencies create new possibilities, opening up space for more participants who succeed, or “win”, when they also grow the web. This beneficient mechanic of expanding possibility can serve profit-seeking enterprises just as well as altruistic ones. Infinite success, measured by how many and how well and how long other people succeed, is a worthwhile goal we should orient our lives, our institutions, and our society toward.

The Future of Retail
Retail shopping is experiencing a great deal of change right now. E-tailing giants are experimenting with new kinds of stores, and traditional stores are struggling. I predict somewhat of a rebound by traditional stores, but also, more importantly, a convergence in retail that brings together the benefits of experiencing physical spaces and objects with the convenience of virtual transactions. There is room in this convergence for a variety of hybrid stores with different specialties. Some will excel in immediacy, while others will emphasize personalization. Some might guarantee authenticity, while others will take you on a journey of discovery. In this short talk, I offer several scenarios for how these hybrid retail shops might be experienced by consumers.

The Future of Schools and Learning
No matter a person’s age or experience, we are all newbies over the course of our lives. The jobs we do today are very different from the same titles held 10 and 20 years ago, and this pace of change is accelerating so much that the job you do 10 years from now likely does not exist today. So the most important thing for us to learn is how we, as individuals, are best suited to learn different types of skills at different points of our lives. The traditional classroom setting, with collaborative learning, is powerful and efficient, but it can be enhanced by new technologies and methods. Already YouTube has become an import source of instruction not only for do-it-yourselfers but also surgeons and programmers. Augmented reality glasses and the mirror world bring yet more opportunities. Advances in AR training are already unrolling in enterprise work settings, and soon this will become a huge part of what we understand work to be. That is, an agreement between employers and employees that the job is being created as the work is done, and that experts are grown in practice, and that part of the job is active learning. The most foundational skill we really need to learn, that should be the chief requirement for graduation, is learning how to learn.

The Future of Employment with AI
Does artificial intelligence jeopardize employment for humans? What will people do when smart robots join the workforce? AI already plays a role in many of our jobs, and if you have ever searched for information online, you have interacted with an AI. If we extrapolate the evolution of search, we can imagine that soon AIs will become even better at helping us learn solutions that have worked in the past and remember what things have failed. In this way, working with AIs can be like having a really smart colleague or expert old-timer on our team. And these AI coworkers can also help us experiment with new approaches because AIs can be creative as well. Their creativity is unlike human creativity, and that uniqueness is its primary value. AIs can also make valuable team members by performing rote tasks that humans are or become bored by. The share of work that AIs perform is likely to shift over time, but I cannot think of a single job or occupation that will not benefit from collaborating with and delegating to AIs. If we reframe our fears about robots taking human jobs, if we can utilize the AI over our shoulder, if we can see AIs as team members, we will find the future of work holds opportunities for all of us.


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