Spiegel Online Interview
May 22, 2003

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Kelly, you masterminded the scenes in the science-fiction movie "Minority Report" where Tom Cruise is being assaulted by tailored hologrammatic ads. Is this realistic? Will the consumers in the future experience that?

Kevin Kelly: Yes, I still think that this is a likely scenario. This scene where Cruise is walking around and is bombarded by commercials might become reality.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: How will people protect themselves from such a commercial bombardment?

Kevin Kelly: One thing that will help them is the so called spatial web, an internet that is linked to real world geography. For example, your cell phone would know that you are at home. Consequently, it would know that it may filter out more phone numbers than if you were somewhere else. Places will matter. The same thing will happen with ads. Some places will be more public than others. You will be more accessible, but only at some places.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So people will worry about this all the time?

Kevin Kelly: As we get interconnected, we will have an ongoing conversation with ourselves and with society about the degree to which we want to have ideas come to us or to which we want to seek them out. It is possible to live your live in such a way that nothing comes to you uninvited. But that is both boring and dangerous. Most people sometimes want to drive and sometimes they just want to lean back.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Will companies keep huge databases with all our habits and actions?

Kevin Kelly: Probably. This is all about relationships. The reason why Amazon works is because you willingly enter into a relationship with them and allow them to watch what you are buying. And then they show you other stuff you might be interested in. And it becomes really good at guessing because you have surrendered some information. The same thing will happen with other things. You will establish long term relationships with companies and you will open up some aspects of your life to that company.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Some people will be able to cope with this interconnectivity, some won't. Who will be the winners, who will be the losers?

Kevin Kelly: There are persons who seek stability and are very happy with doing the same thing every day. I believe the system can provide the kind of jobs that would suit these people and at the same time offer opportunities for those who want to constantly adapt and look for new experiences. The wired world will not be an either or. There are not necessarily winners and losers. There are different types of winning.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The majority of business and technology consultants sees interconnectivity as a way to make everything terribly efficient. Does that mean they will make us work longer and harder?

Kevin Kelly: It is natural that companies should strive to become more and more efficient. But we as humans want to resist that. We want to push the efficiency issue down to technology and away from the humans. Take supermarket cashiers for example - everyone wants that done very efficiently, but in the end it is a job for machines. Along the same line of thought, one would rather not have people stuffing things into boxes at a bookstore, you'd rather have efficient robots do that.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What will humans do, then?

Kevin Kelly: Creative things, things that require you to adapt. And for that, you will need slack, you will need time, you will need to be inefficient. Efficiency kills creativity.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But the efficiency gurus from Wall Street soon will have all this real time information enabling them to check how financially sound every aspect of life is. Isn't that scary?

Kevin Kelly: I am not against efficiency for robots. The problem right now is that jobs are constructed around efficiency and we put humans in them because the technology to let a machine do it is not there yet or still is expensive. But there should be resistance. We should not let people do robot jobs because that way we are not maximising what humans are good for. Both can win in this. Wall Street can win by making companies more efficient and humans can win because the get less repetitive, boring jobs.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: With all this great technology, why has the economic boom fizzled?

Kevin Kelly: The boom is still ahead of us. I think people should not be misguided in thinking that the hysteria and the craziness of the dotcom bubble and its demise means that things that were being talked about, things that were being promised are not coming. I think that all the trends we are seeing today point to the fact that these changes are coming. What is not going to happen is that people will all become millionaires when they are 25. But there are things like bandwidth, wireless internet, smaller and smarter computers, interconnectivity. And all these ingredients will bring big changes. You cannot put all these things into a culture and not have big changes. And they will be of a very profound nature.

This page was last modified on Friday, June 6, 2003