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.

The Future of Smart Homes
Let’s take a tour of the smart home as we might know it in the next couple decades. I’ll discuss how heat, media, lights, and security will be regulated across the home and tailored for the various individuals inside it. This smart regulation will also extend to our homes’ material respiration: the goods and objects coming into and leaving the home. Some of these smarts will be embodied in helpful domotics — household robots who accomplish a wide range of chores — and of course appliances like refrigerators, but also our beds and closets. Our bathrooms will become personal wellness centers. Already we are becoming acquainted with speech activation for household assistants, and most smart home tasks will gravitate toward this interface. The myriad points of home smartness will perform best when connected together, and need to be managed by a smart home server. This presents a vulnerability, and this is another aspect where we will see innovation in security. Much of this networking and smartness will be accomplished not by wiring everything, but will be imbued by the smart glasses we will be wearing. This whole picture will take maybe 20 or 30 years to arrive, but I expect we’ll begin to encounter many of these technologies in our workplaces well before they show up in our homes because of the early expense and efficiency incentives.

The Future of Virtual Celebrities
A new type of celebrity is emerging. We see them already in places like Japan, where fictional idols are garnering millions of followers. This is today, and in the future, these digital influencers will become indistinguishable from real people, with complicated lives that are scripted by Hollywood screenwriters. These fictional AI constructs will also deliver unscripted interviews and will interact with fans as if they are real people. We will know they are NOT real people, but we will give them our attention and accept their influence for the chance to extend engagement with our favorite characters from films, or new fictional characters we admire. Virtual celebrities will come in several varieties — some cartoonish, some completely humanoid, some machine, some animal, and many that are hybrids in form, and hybrid in fictive extent. These virtual characters will be driven by AI, computer graphics, projection, and facial recognition. And of course, they will be data-driven. The same technologies that will allow us to follow the real-ish lives of fictional characters, will also allow us to filter our own appearances, and will allow projected avatars to inherit characteristics of their viewers, making them more sympathetic. All of this has huge implications not only for entertainment, but also partisan and personal politics.

The Future of News and Media
The business of reporting the news used to be prohibitively expensive to produce and disseminate. Now that the instruments are nearly free, the customers, the users, the audience, the bystanders and stand-uppers are actually making the news. And in many cases, bots are, too. In this talk, I’ll discuss the many benefits to this democratization, the role for AI in reporting, and the emerging tools we need to filter and verify the explosion of news content. I’ll also discuss the way our news consumption habits are shifting, the expanding ecosystem of media genres, and the deepening of our evolution as People of the Screen.

The Future of Facial Recognition
Facial recognition is part of a suite of biometric technologies that recognize our shape and size, the way we move, and our voices, among other things. These parameters can be used to confirm our identities, and also recognize our emotional state and activity engagement. We wrestle with several aspects of this technology. We see that, so far, facial recognition can be unreliable, and we fear the possibility of misidentification and fraudulent uses. As biometrics incorporate a broader range of parameters, reliability will increase and it will become almost impossible to fake. A more fundamental issue, though, is that our faces and bodies are simultaneously personal and public. And we are rightly concerned about the possibility of our bodies and their state being tracked through the world. But we also have much to gain from these technologies. There are considerable safety applications, as well as commercial aspects. There might be certain places we cannot go unless we consent to tracking; there might be no-recognition zones. Some stores might use tracking to facilitate purchases, while others might advertise that they do not allow tracking. In order for these technologies to develop, we will need to have a social dialog and a legal framework for negotiating where and when and for how long we are recognized. There will be a broad range of implementations, and consenting to recognition will become an important part of social knowledge and tech literacy, and a cultural norm.

The Future of Big Data
Big data is valuable because it delivers evidence of how humans live. And we can use that evidence to make better decisions, write policies with better outcomes, and design more useful products and services. This evidence-based future relies on a nascent ecosystem of technologies which will expand alongside the science we use to make it all work in real time. Tools for data collection are a fundamental component, but processing all of the data is even more critical. Big data cannot be made useful without the application of artificial intelligence, but we also need improved bandwidth and compute processing power. On the social side, we have questions of privacy to work out. If all of our actions are collected as points of data, and if the purpose of the data collection is to make accurate predictions, what does that mean for individuals? Solutions, like differential privacy and federated learning, for example, offer some ideas for technological ways in which collective patterns can be established while protecting individuals. A final key component to success with big data is the concept of symmetrical knowledge. The goal is to design a system where the benefits are shared, allowing two-way transparency, so that we better understand ourselves as a collective, while also having a view on how the data is being collected and used, and holding data collectors accountable.

The Future of Robots
There is a continuum of robots, from automated to autonomous. We might envision a future where autonomous robots will operate all day, but this will not be possible for a very, very long time. The main hurdle is not intelligence but power requirements. So, for the foreseeable future, most of our robots will be machines of automation. Still, we will make a huge variety excelling at extremely narrowly defined tasks that humans don’t want to do. For example, a weeding robot will be more efficient at its weeding job than any human, but it will not harvest the plants and it cannot assess the plants’ need for fertilizer. Robots will also be a source of entertainment for humans. We will be riveted by robot dance and acrobatics, and we will continue to cheer battling bots. Although robots might be more efficient on wheels and large enough to carry enormous batteries, we will tend to design the ones that we live and work with at our own scale, reflecting some of our own interface so that we can more easily understand and interact with them. In spite of these planned similarities, robots will continue to be constrained by limitations that we cannot easily overcome. They will be different from us in many ways, and they will be better than us in certain very narrow ways, and that is their benefit.

The Future of India in comparison with China
India’s population growth is on track to overtake China very soon, and it’s economy is also starting to grow. However India’s is still primarily an agricultural economy, lagging about a decade behind China in basics like roads, plumbing, clean water, transportation, factories, and education. Therefore, much of the investment in India is going toward upgrading the infrastructure of basic human needs, unlike China which is investing in drones and robots. India also has yet to urbanize, with far fewer top-tier cities than China, so there’s a larger divide between the urban city dwellers and people in the countryside. With taxation structures that disincentivize entrepreneurs and starups, India has several bureaucratic hindrances to overcome. China also leads India in materials science and physical manufacturing. However, India has a long tradition of working with mathematics, and one area in which India has a significant lead over China is in software development. And there are several cultural advantages that prime India to be a global power. India is hugely diverse, moreso than China, has a centuries-long familiarity with English, and with a diaspora of Indians all over the world they cater to a diverse culture, ready to export globally what they produce. India and China possess complimentary strengths, and, with formal cross-investments, we can envision a partnership between the two that enriches the world for everyone.

The Future of Blockchain
Blockchain is a very powerful group of technologies that facilitates distributed trust. As a decentralized system, it is incredibly robust and adaptable, advantages which are counterbalanced by its slow speed and inefficiency. It is an essential requirement for digital currencies, like Bitcoin, which are useful in places where central banks are ineffective or very expensive. Bitcoin also allows users to do things the government doesn’t approve of, which might be criminal or political or revolutionary or trans-national. But digital currencies are also incredibly volatile and it’s hard to predict their future. Blockchain, on the other hand, offers utility far beyond digital currencies. As we continue to evolve our relationship with technology and privacy, we can see a role for smart contacts, which could be used to negotiate trust and approval across large networks. In the Mirror World, where individuals are constantly contributing virtual objects and artifacts, there is a massive need to verify whether things are legitimate or not. In the physical world, blockchain can be embedded to track the provenance of objects and to confirm authenticity. In a world of 8 billion people, a distributed system like this makes a lot of sense, and many experiments are underway to reduce the need for computational cycles, reducing the environmental costs. We are still waiting to see how decentralized systems like blockchain scale up, and we are still exploring what it’s really good for, but I expect that this technology will become part of the ecosystem of invisible infrastructure in the next 10 years.

The Future of Sharing and Access
The Sharing Economy is a well established name for a set of services that don’t always involve sharing but do fit a long-term trend toward prioritizing access over ownership. File sharing and modern bike sharing platforms illustrate the wide range of services that don’t necessarily encapsulate the spirit of the word. If sharing typically connotes a temporary loan of a finite object between an individual owner and the borrower, ride-sharing and home-sharing platforms hem closer to the conventional understanding. But the economics of these transactions are challenging because ownership, management, and maintenance are expensive burdens. And pricing on these decentralized platforms was initially set below conventional alternatives, but this undervalues the immediacy being delivered by these platforms. We are seeing some of the enthusiasm for these platforms dissipate and some companies have failed. But if we examine the true drivers behind the sharing economy, the desire for rapid access without the burdens of ownership, we can start to see other ways to meet the needs fueling the sharing economy. 3D printing and one-hour delivery services, for example, meet that need without any type of sharing. And if we agree to let AI peek at our behaviors, our needs can be anticipated, further accelerating access. As we recognize the actual value delivered and make better use of the tools of immediacy, the sharing economy will become what it has always really wanted to be: the access economy.

The Future of e-Sports
E-Sports is a growing industry with audiences, revenues, and prize winnings already outstripping many professional sports. The category includes any kind of video games, electronic assisted games, and games with remotely controlled or autonomous robots. Competition includes person-to-person as well as team-based contests, and many have large audiences live streaming or watching in arenas. Players and teams are sponsored by major brands, just like conventional sports, and teams themselves are run like businesses, being purchased for hundreds of millions of dollars, with players training and quartering together. Most e-Sports have been played with hands so far, but players will soon use more of their bodies to control gameplay, using VR and AR tools to more fully immerse and specialized equipment to play. Players will be vulnerable to injuries and physical differentiation will compare with what conventional athletes experience today. Numerous wearable electronics will also allow viewers to feel as if they are on the field. Beyond supremely teched-out players, arenas will also host all manner of unmanned machines, from drone racing to total bot mayhem. The flow of money into these sports will increasingly include betting, and some will have economies built directly into them, using blockchain and cryptocurrencies to reward in-game achievements. With the vast quantity of statistical data being collected during these contests, fantasy leagues will be massive, further growing attention and revenues. In the next ten years, we’ll see e-sports playing some role in the Olympics. By that time, we will probably drop the “e” and these games will fully join the broader pantheon of Sport.


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