The Technium

Making the Inevitable Obvious

The Tiny Web


EWEC

In 1988-9 I led a project to make an electronic version of the Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog was a compendium of thousands of user-reviews printed on cheap newsprint and mailed to subscribers. It was an early pre-internet printed on paper. The idea, in 1988, was to take this venerable Catalog of ideas and products, and to be able to quickly search for, browse, and navigate through them in a non-linear non-book way. So this Electronic Whole Earth Catalog would have not just be a digital copy (as merely scanned online), but would want to be an interactive, non-linear, new thing.

A year earlier, Bill Atkinson, one of the co-creators of the Macintosh at Apple, inspired by an LSD trip, released HyperCard. This as an app for the Mac that was organized around the metaphor of  3×5 cards. Words on cards could be linked to other cards, in a million different ways. The text was hyperlinked. You can surf along the links from one idea to another. More importantly, you could make up as many cards and links as you wanted. HyperCard was the first consumer instantiation of Ted Nelson’s idea of hypertext and hyperlinks. Today we recognize this hyperlinking as the web. But in the case of HyperCard this linking all happened within the confines of one computer. This tiny web was not connected to the internet.

Besides offering HyperCard for free to any Mac user, Apple had also just released an Apple CD-Rom drive. Now anyone could access the immense storage of data available on a new device called a CD-Rom.  A CD contained an insane amount of data — like 190 MBs! The problem for Apple was that there were zero CD-Roms all ready to play, so who is gonna buy an expensive CD driver? This chicken and egg problem of needing developers to create content for a new device or platform is now a standard biz development challenge. Steve Jobs was a huge fan of the Whole Earth Catalog, and he would later rave about it in his Stanford commencement address, but he had already left Apple. Another fan of Whole Earth at Apple was Mike Liebhold. He correctly assessed that the Catalog was kind of ready-made for hyperlinking. And it was vast, so it could fill a CD-Rom. And it was still popular. He approached Stewart Brand and us at Whole Earth and after a few meetings Apple decided to fund the creation of an hyperlinked version of the Whole Earth built on HyperCard and issued on a CD-Rom. This Catalog CD, Apple believed,  would be one of the reasons to buy an Apple CD-Rom Driver.

Apple assigned some ace programers to the project (like Tim Oren and Ted Kaehler) and we assigned a project manager and editors (Like Keith Jordan, Kathleen O’Neill,  Richard Schuffler, among others), and then began the huge task of digitizing images and re-keyboarding all the text (since nothing was digitized before). Everything was squeezed onto virtual 3×5 cards. We were even able to add sound files in the music section. Then the really fun part began of designing the user interface. How do you navigate through this ocean of material? How do you see how much of the catalog you have not seen yet? When do you leave a section? What does “going back” mean? How do you get back to somewhere you’ve been? To someone today who grew up on the web, these kind of questions seem obvious or cute, but in 1989 we wrestled with them. How do you search for anything? Oh, you need a search engine, which we made.

The final product had maybe 4,000 cards and was the largest set of HyperCards made and the largest hyperlinked document before Tim Berners-Lee got the world-wide web going a year later.  The EWEC never sold very many copies, in part because Apple never sold very many CD drivers. And of course once the web exploded, the Electronic Whole Earth Catalog was seen as a tiny self-enclosed web — not the world-wide version you really wanted.  But for a short time, those of us who worked on it were able to experience that weird/wonderful experience you get surfing along a string of links, following a flow state as you explore a vast possibility space at your own speed and interests.

I recently dug up my only copy of EWWC,  and made a copy it for the Internet Archive. Some folks there uploaded it with a Mac Plus emulator, and so you too can now enjoy the Electronic Whole Earth Catalog online at the Internet Archive. Download and play like you were back in the 1980s.

It’s thrilling to see it 30 years later. No color, tiny pages, slow.  It was the Tiny Web —the web before the web.

P.S. I onced asked the Apple crew why, after having invented HyperCard — a hyperlinked web — they did not go onto make the world-wide web distributed onto the internet.  They were all net savy. Their answer boils down to this: 1) A few people had tried a web on the internet (Owl and others) and they failed, and 2) Apple could not see a business case for doing so. What would you sell?



The Water and Oil Planet


One of the most worrisome graphs in the world is the correlation between the rise of cheap oil and the rise of living standards — or what we might call progress. Almost all the modern trends we tend to applaud, from rising population, to lengthening lifespans, more leisure, more choices, all depend to some extent on cheap energy. If we didn’t have an accessible 200-year source of cheap energy we would not have been able to feed billions of people, build tall buildings, or run factories, or fill roads with cars and trains.

Thought experiment: imagine our planet had no significant natural reserves of coal or oil. To build any structure we use wood or earth and muscle power, either animal or human. We could make some windmills and watermills to harness wind and hydro power. We could make some wood-fueled steam powered engines, and build primitive factories. These are both limited in power and limited in the amount of fuel that can be gathered each year. We probably would have discovered electricity, but without cheap power to generate it at scale, it would be difficult to smelt copper for wires to make motors, and of course even harder to supply the power to run them. Motors might have remained in laboratories.

Earth has other sources of non-carbon energy such as nuclear, and solar, that are relatively unlimited. The question is, could science — and the development needed to support it — have progressed enough in a wood-world to achieve the mastery of nuclear power without all the easy wins that hydrocarbons and oil produced? Could you make enough equipment and metallurgy, and other equipment needed without cheap energy, in order to discover the principles of nuclear power? Same for wind energy. Would there be a viable path in a wood-steam-punk world to reach cheap solar panels?

In other words: is oil needed for progress? Can we imagine a planet in another galaxy that has no hydrocarbon fuels ever reaching advanced science? We might imagine a planet that for some geological reasons has tons and tons of steam geysers, or waterfalls every block. Perhaps you could extract enough cheap power in this centralized way to reach nuclear or solar. But maybe the power is not portable enough. Perhaps for civilization, you need not just a water planet, but a water and oil planet.

It is clear to us now that you can run an advanced civilization without burning hydrocarbons; in fact, we’d now say that any advanced civilization would not be burning hydrocarbons at all. Plentiful oil and coal is just a scaffolding technology, needed to build a civilization that can then run without it. Our tiny blue dot of a planet in the black vastness tells any distant observer that life has a good chance of blossoming there. But if we wanted to ascertain whether it was capable of developing a technological civilization, we may need some way to detect whether it contains internal hydrocarbons.

BTW, there is a minority theory that the huge deposits of oil on this planet are not biogenic — that is fossilized life — but rather geogenic — that is created by non-living planetary processes. The chief proponents of that theory — called the Deep Hot Biosphere — are Thomas Gold and Freeman Dyson. Whether this theory is true or false does not change the seemingly vital necessity of plentiful hydrocarbons on this planet in our own story of progress.



The Bigger, Better Boom


Twenty five years ago, when I was co-editing Wired, we ran a controversial article called the Long Boom. This was a scenario forecasting 25 years of economic and cultural prosperity. (It also included 10 Scenario Spoilers that could disrupt the longer boom, which some people find eerily prescient today.) Today, on a global level, and on average, the living standards of most inhabitants of the planet were improved in the last 25 years. They were not improved equally, but they did get better. In that sense the Long Boom arrived, although many of the expected breakthroughs and  forecast innovations did not happen.

The next 25 years are very likely to be an era of global progress that will exceed the achievements of the last 25 years. The next human generation will experience — on average, and in aggregate — living standards and possibilities that will reach a record high level for this planet. The distribution of this progress will still be uneven, but all regions will experience more advancement than they have in the past. Given the dire past year, this seems like a wildly optimistic claim. I’ll call this the Bigger, Better Boom.

The evidence for near-term global prosperity — on average — is already happening. Each of the seven trends I list here are large forces that happen only once on a planet. Each of them have a huge momentum behind them that is not easily derailed. And they will accelerate and deepen in the coming decades. These seven forces are like a tailwind that will drive progress and prosperity, and are worthy of being optimistic about.

1) Total Urbanization
Today’s widespread middle class living standard is the result of several one-time events for the planet, such as mass migration into cities, the movement of women into the formal working economy, and pervasive automation of labor. The first driver of optimism is therefore simply a continuation and completion of the on-going industrial revolution. While modernization has already played out in the developed countries, it has not saturated many developing parts of the world. That will change in the next 25 years, as almost everyone alive will experience modernity.

Some 90% of the planet’s inhabitants will be living in urban areas, relying on large-scale infrastructure to provide water, food, shelter, transportation, education, and health care. We will complete the urbanization of the planet, with the bulk of its inhabitants living in urban areas, defined as within 20 km of a hospital or health clinic. Urbanization provides the benefits of density, such as higher bandwidth, and more diverse jobs. These improvements are desired by most young people around the planet. Ask them what their dream is and they will tell you they want t-shirts and sneakers, an air-conditioned room with plumbing and wifi, and a job doing something of their choosing. Total urbanization is more than just making life convenient; dense urbanization leads to more, faster innovation, and prosperity for all, including those outside the urban area. Most importantly, this wide-spread modernity, while an end in itself, is an enabling force that supports and enables the following six forces for optimism.

2) Universal Connectivity
For the first time on the planet, all adult beings will be connected together. The penetration of connected devices is likely to reach 100%. This vast connection creates a huge continuous audience, a planet-scale market, and potentially unified global movements. A start-up in a small country has a greater chance than ever of having a vast billion-person customer base. Vast global audiences not only finance mega cultural creations, they also provide hundreds of millions of niche markets, a boon for creators, art, and commerce in any town on the planet. Global commerce increases, the global exchange of culture is enhanced (K-pop and K-dramas everywhere!), and best practices are spread around the globe. Universal connection is a new tool for harnessing the resident genius in 8 billion people no matter where they live.

When all adults on a planet connect, they can cooperate at a scale and speed never before possible. Existing large institutions are also enhanced by this acceleration, while entirely new forms of collaboration are now possible. In the next two decades we will likely witness at least one grand project created by one million people around the globe working together on it in real time — a feat enabled by universal connectivity. When all 8 billion people are connected together we have more of a chance to prosper together.

3) Ubiquitous AI
Up until the industrial revolution anything that humans made, including cities and roads, had to be made with the energy of organic muscles (human or animal), which was drastically limited. With the advent of cheap artificial power, we could erect tall skyscrapers, vast continental railroads, immense factories, and mass manufacturing — all way beyond what meat muscles could do. We have started to do the same with our natural thinking muscles, by seeding the world with artificial intelligences. A zoo of hundreds of different species of new types of mind will be working with humans to solve problems. These non-human minds (sometimes with bodies we call robots) will do work humans don’t want to do, or can’t do. Humans and AIs together will co-create new desires and new jobs. The long-term driver of progress — automating physical jobs — will continue, and then begin to take over non-physical chores as well. The three chief consequences of AI will be the liberation of humans from their unwanted jobs, the explosion of new services and formerly impossible products that are co-created with AIs, and new occupations and desirable tasks for humans. AIs and robots are designed for efficiency and productivity, while these millions of new human jobs are primarily tasks where inefficiency is tolerated. To excel in innovation, entrepreneurship, art, caring, hospitality, science and discovery, humans must try things that don’t work, embrace failures, encourage small talk and playfulness — all inefficient. Efficiency is for robots. Ubiquitous AI is the most optimistic force we can imagine.

4) Sustainable Energy
The industrial revolution was fueled by burning a limited supply of easy to get cheap carbon. The world’s population, and market economy boomed in parallel to our discovery and use of carbon fuel. That was a one-time boon for progress. In the coming decades, we will switch to unlimited energy from solar, wind, hydro and nuclear. We can double our energy efficiency simply by decarbonizing the economy. In fact we can achieve 50% of what we need for climate change simply by powering all of our machines, furnaces, and vehicles with electrons instead of oxidation. We will use electric heat pumps instead of burning carbon in furnaces, electric motors instead of hot jet engines, cool electric cars instead of polluting gas engines, and LEDs everywhere. In addition to helping with climate change, electrifying everything will yield countless opportunities for business and employment in redesigning transportation, shelter, and civic infrastructure. Since so many of us will live in cities (which increases sustainability), this trend also raises millions of opportunities for the greening (and increased quality) of urban life.

5) Accelerated Innovation
In addition to the speedups brought by dense urbanity and universal connectivity, new learning tools are accelerating the velocity of innovation, which accelerates prosperity. This is a cause for optimism. The technologies of AI, advances in the scientific method, and rampant use of prosumer media like today’s YouTube, accelerate the speed and spread of knowledge. YouTube and Youku (in China) in particular are underappreciated learning accelerants. It’s not just make-up tutorials and workshop maker videos. Brain surgeons upload their latest techniques to YouTube which other brain surgeons watch, then innovate on, and share their videos within days. Almost every scientific talk or industry presentation is recorded and shared widely, and oftentimes analyzed and explained by another YouTube video. Until now deliberate, systemic innovation has been hit or miss. Sometimes seen in science and engineering; more recently imported into tech businesses. But intentional systemic innovation was still absent in government, education, military, social services, and civic infrastructure. Now for the first time innovation is being applied deliberately and effectively throughout society, and it will be expected.

Innovation in any field is the new norm, at least the norm to aim for. Best practices for innovation, universal connectivity, and new media including the augmented realities of smart glasses — even better video teaching — provide the tool for accelerated learning. These tools are starting to give us metrics to measure real learning, and thus ways to optimize learning in different situations. In particular, education itself will be amplified by AI, tech, and globalization, till learning overflows the confines of schools and is more embedded for lifelong learning in work and personal life. When learning accelerates everything else does as well.

6) Bio-Engineering
For the first time we will engineer biology, both of ourselves and other species, existing and invented. This has been a long promise of technology — and it will take centuries to fulfill — but the force is already beginning to work. Witness the speed at which we humans created Covid-19 vaccines, and the tremendous life-and-death difference they made. Our response to the pandemic should be a cause of optimism rather than despair. Much of this success is due to our collection of genetic data at a huge scale which will continue and accelerate. Further Increasing control of living systems at their foundational level will provide great progress in our own longevity and wellness. But this revolution also gives us powers to create new materials, new forms, new goods, new foods that we’ve only dreamed of before. One small example is deathless meat grown from animal cells, which has a different ecological footprint and the potential to taste even better than natural meat from killed animals. In the next two decades we are likely to be able to sell proxy fish grown from fish cells, and begin the elimination of harvesting wild fish before their extinction. Establishing vast no-fishing wilderness parks in the ocean would be a tremendous boon to the planet. The benefits of biotech are much slower to happen than other tech, but much greater in impact. The arrival of biotech may be the best reason to be optimistic.

7) Generational Handoff
The world-wide Boomer generation will be retired and made redundant in 25 years. The next generation will come of age. This is good news for the world, because the young have better ideas, and the ambition to see their change come about. All around the world this new generation will have grown up studying the same curriculum in school. Their textbooks always include math, science, history, literature, and usually these days, English.

They will be accelerated learners with access to free online encyclopedias, libraries of books scanned for free, and the entire universe of video tutorials. Universal real-time language translation in ear pods — which will be available in a few years — will unleash the skills of billions of this generation. Many fantastic youths in far-flung places may have all the coveted skills required by a remote employer — except the skill of English. With universal real-time translation this is no longer a problem, and they can easily join the global economy — raising the prosperity of them and everyone else. For the most part this generation has their goals set by the best on the planet. They know what is possible. If generational history is any guide, this global generation will be very civic-oriented and will be eager builders. They are more optimistic than Boomers and won’t be asking permission. One survey by the World Economic Forum asked 26,000 young people between the ages of 18-35 whether the world was full of opportunities or struggles. Over 70% of those millennials were optimistic, believing (correctly I’d say) that there were more opportunities than struggles.

A caveat: I am talking about the state of the world and its future on average global terms. Even an extremely healthy person will have local ailments and small injuries on their bodies every day. In fact some of the healthiest people on the planet — professional athletes — have constant pains and injuries as a consequence of their extraordinary achievements. Local harms are the norm. In the same way, even in a world of indisputable progress not all regions will experience the same health. Parts of the globe may suffer war, disease, famine, unrest in times of prosperity. It may be very bleak in some areas, where pessimism seems totally appropriate. History suggests these bleak times are temporary, and that on average, better times will come. The case for optimism is a longer-term view, and a bigger-place view. Based on the evidence, we should be able to picture progress at the scale of two decades around the planet for the average person, even if there are scars of inequality throughout it.

*

Note: This is half of an essay originally published as Kevin Kelly: The Case for Optimism on WarpNews, on 02/08/2021.



Pets, Aliens, Spirits, and Slaves


There are roughly five different models we can adopt for our relationships with AIs. In the future our lives will be packed with thousands of different species of AIs, so we’ll relate in multiple ways depending on the type of AI were are using at the time.

Pets. Many, if not most, of the AIs we encounter will feel like pets or working animals to us. They will be engineered to be smart in specific, useful ways. Just like some of the animals we have selectively bred for our pets, these AIs will be optimized to respond to our emotions and gestures. They will have limited autonomy, not straying too far from their purpose. While bred to excel in certain jobs, they will lack awareness and intelligence in other dimensions outside their expertise. For example they might be really good at translation, but not navigation. This will summon our most common complaint about them: they are dumbschmarten. They are geniuses in some things, and idiots in others. We’ll swear at them, “how can you be so dumbschmarten?” MIT researcher Kate Darling has written an insightful book about this model, The New Breed. She argues that we already have a well-proven extensive framework in law and cultural norms dealing with the behavior of pets and work animals owned by humans which can be used for AIs and robots. And like the domesticated animals in our lives, these AIs will have recognizable variations and personalities. We’ll prefer one particular individual over another of the same type.

Aliens. More advanced AIs might be thought of as artificial aliens. Their smartness can be encased in degrees of self-awareness and consciousness. Like Spock or Data in Star Trek, their intelligence will be significant, but also non-human-like, or alien. This alienness is actually their chief attraction, because they think differently. Even if their cognition doesn’t wow us, the fact that they have an alien — different — approach makes them a good collaborators. These AIs need a sufficient human interface in order to keep us comfortable working with them. They will be conversational and will mirror our behavior. As we elevate the level of self-awareness and consciousness in these alien AIs, they become more difficult to work with. They can exhibit more attributes of mental dysfunction caused by self-reflection. The price of an alien AI collaborator will be their unfathomable thought process; always surprising us (good and bad) by their reactions. At the same time, some humans will find an affinity for their alienness and will develop careers as AI Whisperers. They will be comfortable working with them, and will be able to get the best from them, which other people will find magical.

Spirits. Many religions around the world perceive spirits or gods that inhabit places, buildings, and objects. This spirit animation is understood to be energetic and lively, but not necessarily highly intelligent. Many of the objects, structures, and systems we make in the future will have mild AI in them that can animate them in a lively way. They can adapt, learn, probe, respond as a living system might. Their intelligence is slow and diffuse, but persistent. It is distributed in the system, and therefore hard to eliminate or even damage. In this way, this kind of AI is like a spirit god inhabiting an old tree, or even a lamp. It has an enduring presence, and can respond to new things, adapt to injuries and assaults, and will persist for a long time, but otherwise it is obscure and vague. The primary purpose of these spirit AIs is to protect the system, and it will collaborate with us to the degree that we cooperate with it. We can imagine an AI spirit god in say the security system of the power grid, or in submarine, or even a piano. Keiichi Matsuda wrote a short essay that explores the idea of using the god metaphor for AIs.

Slaves. A well-worn model for relating to AIs will be to treat them as servants and slaves. To the extant that they are obedient and capable, they act as servants, doing the dirty, hard, unsavory jobs that need to be done. For some humans, these AIs are the perfect servant or slave because they are unambiguously not human, and therefore not deserving of our kindred compasion. They can be considered disposable, interchangeable, and without feelings. They are machines, and so we can excuse any harsh treatment of them. Whatever human-like characters they may gain — such as some levels of self-awareness — these will be cast as mechanical. No matter how much they grow or learn, they will be considered to be made not born, so will always be a machine, and a servant or slave to us. The problem with the master/slave relationship is that it is toxic to us. The AIs might not be bothered, but our human souls are corrupted when we treat sentient beings like slaves. People who mistreat animals will mistreat people, and people who mistreat AIs will also mistreat people. For this reason, we should educate and try to minimize the slave/servant mode of relating to AIs.

Overlord. In science fiction movies the sole model for powerful AI is to become our overlords. In these scenarios the AIs keep getting smarter until they exceed us in brainpower, then they take over and kill us. This mode is often called the Superhuman mode, or the Singularity. While a few prominent tech leaders believe superintelligence is a possibility, I think this mode is highly unlikely and the fear of it is totally misguided. I wrote a long essay on why superintelligent overlords won’t happen (see The Myth of Superhuman AI); the gist of the argument is that superintelligence (as defined in this context) is a distortion of what intelligence in humans actually is. The major human accomplishment of making many varieties of AI will be overcoming our ignorance of how our own minds work. We will discover that the Superhuman Overlord breaks the engineering rule that you can’t optimize everything in all directions and that any real creation — including cognition — must entail tradeoffs. But just as Superman is impossible in real life, yet the myth and archetype of a Superman endures, so even if the Superhuman AI is impossible, its mythic role will endure. There might be times when we feel we are subservient to an AI overlord, even if we aren’t, so this mode is important to recognize.

The types of relationships I don’t expect us to carry on with AIs are the classical human-to-human ones of friends, parent/child, co-workers, or lovers. I believe we’ll reserve these for other humans. I suspect the first attempts to replace humans with “friendly” humanish AIs won’t last. For instance, telephone call centers or retail stores that replace human operators with AIs that sound exactly like humans, will find that ordinary people will prefer to talk to a really intelligent alien rather than an almost-human. The small gap between real and fake feels weird in someone trying to pass as a human, while it is almost charming in an alien. Over time, designers will make AIs more alien rather than trying to fool us into thinking they are 100% human, in part because we are hard to fool this way. At the same time, as we fill the world with myriad new kinds of AIs, I can certainly imagine other models of relationships emerging beyond the five outlined here. If I have missed one that is already latent, please make a comment.



Class 1 / Class 2 Problems


There are two classes of problems caused by new technology. Class 1 problems are due to it not working perfectly. Class 2 problems are due to it working perfectly.

One example: many of the current problems with facial recognition are due to the fact that it is far from perfect. It can have difficulty recognizing dark skin tones; it can be fooled by simple disguises; it can be biased in its gendering. All these are Class 1 problems because this is still a technology in its infancy. Much of the resistance to widely implementing facial recognition stems from its imperfections. But what if it worked perfectly? What if the system was infallible in recognizing a person from just their face? A new set of problems emerge: Class 2 problems. If face recognition worked perfectly, there would be no escaping it, no way to duck out in public. You could be perfectly tracked in public, not only by the public, but by advertisers and governments. “Being in public” would come to have a different meaning than it does now. Perfect facial recognition would probably necessitate some new varieties of public commons, with different levels of disclosure. Furthermore, if someone could hack the system, it’s very trustworthiness would be detrimental. A faked ID could go far. We don’t question perfect tech; when was the last time you questioned the results of a calculator?

Another example: Self driving cars. Self-driving cars don’t self-drive very well. They are getting better, but for the next several decades their problems will be Class 1 problems of imperfect function. We will demand near perfect results from robot-drivers (a higher standard than we demand from human drivers), so all the hard problems of detecting edge cases, acts of god, and the weird behavior of human drivers will prevail. Eventually, the tech will be perfected, and then we will encounter its Class 2 problems. In the Class 2 regime, driving a car yourself may be outlawed as too dangerous. The imperfections of human drivers may be incompatible with perfect robot drivers. When the system fails (say from a solar storm) its perfection may not permit it to degrade gracefully to accommodate less-than perfect drivers. A well-functioning robot car infrastructure might lead to more intersections with pedestrians; we might become more comfortable walking alongside silent automobiles that never crashed — until they did.

Class 1 problems arise early and they are easy to imagine. Usually market forces will solve them. You could say, most Class 1 problems are solved along the way as they rush to become Class 2 problems. Class 2 problems are much harder to solve because they require more than just the invisible hand of the market to overcome them.

Take cell phones. The first versions of consumer cell phones were too big, they only worked in some places, they had frustratingly short battery life, and their rings and talking on them were disruptive. Most importantly only the rich could afford them, in a new inequality. At the time many saw these problems as inherent in the technology. Yet years of intense market forces fixed most of those problems, making smartphones that silently vibrated, and had quiet text, and became so cheap and ubiquitous every adult on the planet has one. Unlike computers, they rarely crash, are easy to operate, and are extremely reliable. They just work. The cell phone quickly jumped into Class 2 problems.

Whereas once the problem was “not everyone has this technology that doesn’t work very well” now the problem is “everyone has this technology that works very well.” We now contend with a technology that is present everywhere, all the time. Billions of people around the globe are connected 24/7, which allows all kinds of information, ideas, as well as rumors and disinformation to ricochet and touch everyone in an intimate way. The technology can suggest, recommend and “guide” us through the billion-eyed cacophony of everyone talking at once. Mob fears and beliefs can take over. Whispers are amplified and distorted as they cascade through friends of friends.

The difference between Class 1 and Class 2 problems is that Class 2 problems cannot be solved by the market alone. Entrepreneurial spirit and the profit-mode are perfectly capable of solving most Class 1 problems. But Class 2 tech has already been perfected, and is ubiquitous — it works and everyone has it. What can the market do in this case? Making it better and selling more aren’t options anymore; those are saturated. What can the market do if facial recognition works perfectly and is everywhere? If robot drivers are the default? If everyone is connected to everyone all the time? These kind of system challenges require a suite of extra-market levers, such emerging cultural norms, smart regulation, broad education, and reframing of the problem. These are soft, slower moving forces that are currently not given the attention they deserve.

To deal with ubiquitous accurate facial recognition when it comes (and it will come) requires a societal consensus on what it means to have a face that is both personal and public, to re-evaluate what public or private even means, to ensure symmetry between watchers and the watched, and to encourage expansive ideas around the very notions of identity of any type. A lot of this work is beyond the realm of dollars, and will take place in schools, courts, forums, communities, tweets, congresses, books, and late at night. When technologies reach the state that they work extremely well and become ubiquitous, their problem domain shifts from the realm of quick cycles powered by money, to the slower cycles of cultural imagination. To solve the problem of perfect facial recognition demands an expanded imagination, society wide, with new and different ideas about our face and identity.

The latest fashionable tech is crypto. While the math behind blockchain is utterly reliable the implementations so far have many Class 1 problems. Crypto is hard to use, easy to trip up, biased to early adopters, an energy hog, and of marginal utility except to make money. But all these problems will be overcome by entrepreneurs. Someday blockchain will be ubiquitous and boring. It will be perfected and its wide-spread adoption will enable many thousands of new types of organizations and relationships that we can’t even imagine today. Blockchain tech could unleash collaborations of several million members working on one project in real time, or orgs that are far more leaderless than today. When crypto succeeds that way, it will graduate to Class 2 problems. At that point, entrepreneurs alone won’t solve those. These new problems will require a social imagination to revision what orgs do and what they are for, to re-imagine what transparency in a group means, to re-evaluate the role of money, or even the meaning of money. These in turn will launch new social expectations and norms of behavior, and in turn as a consensus forms, new legislation to codify the norms.

Class 1 problems are caused by technology that is not perfect, and are solved by the marketplace. Class 2 problems are caused by technology that is perfect, and must be solved by extra-market forces such as cultural norms, regulation, and social imagination.



99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice


I have another birthday, and another bunch of unsolicited advice. 

 

• That thing that made you weird as a kid could make you great as an adult — if you don’t lose it.

• If you have any doubt at all about being able to carry a load in one trip, do yourself a huge favor and make two trips.

• What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. At your funeral people will not recall what you did; they will only remember how you made them feel.

• Recipe for success: under-promise and over-deliver.

• It’s not an apology if it comes with an excuse. It is not a compliment if it comes with a request.

• Jesus, Superman, and Mother Teresa never made art. Only imperfect beings can make art because art begins in what is broken.

• If someone is trying to convince you it’s not a pyramid scheme, it’s a pyramid scheme.

• Learn how to tie a bowline knot. Practice in the dark. With one hand. For the rest of your life you’ll use this knot more times than you would ever believe.

• If something fails where you thought it would fail, that is not a failure.

• Be governed not by the tyranny of the urgent but by the elevation of the important.

• Leave a gate behind you the way you first found it.

• The greatest rewards come from working on something that nobody has a name for. If you possibly can, work where there are no words for what you do.

• A balcony or porch needs to be at least 6 feet (2m) deep or it won’t be used.

• Don’t create things to make money; make money so you can create things. The reward for good work is more work.

• In all things — except love — start with the exit strategy. Prepare for the ending. Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.

• Train employees well enough they could get another job, but treat them well enough so they never want to.

• Don’t aim to have others like you; aim to have them respect you.

• The foundation of maturity: Just because it’s not your fault doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility.

• A multitude of bad ideas is necessary for one good idea.

• Being wise means having more questions than answers.

• Compliment people behind their back. It’ll come back to you.

• Most overnight successes — in fact any significant successes — take at least 5 years. Budget your life accordingly.

• You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

• Assume anyone asking for your account information for any reason is guilty of scamming you, unless proven innocent. The way to prove innocence is to call them back, or login to your account using numbers or a website that you provide, not them. Don’t release any identifying information while they are contacting you via phone, message or email. You must control the channel.

• Sustained outrage makes you stupid.

• Be strict with yourself and forgiving of others. The reverse is hell for everyone.

• Your best response to an insult is “You’re probably right.” Often they are.

• The worst evils in history have always been committed by those who truly believed they were combating evil. Beware of combating evil.

• If you can avoid seeking approval of others, your power is limitless.

• When a child asks an endless string of “why?” questions, the smartest reply is, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

• To be wealthy, accumulate all those things that money can’t buy.

• Be the change you wish to see.

• When brainstorming, improvising, jamming with others, you’ll go much further and deeper if you build upon each contribution with a playful “yes — and” example instead of a deflating “no — but” reply.

• Work to become, not to acquire.

• Don’t loan money to a friend unless you are ready to make it a gift.

• On the way to a grand goal, celebrate the smallest victories as if each one were the final goal. No matter where it ends you are victorious.

• Calm is contagious.

• Even a foolish person can still be right about most things. Most conventional wisdom is true.

• Always cut away from yourself.

• Show me your calendar and I will tell you your priorities. Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you where you’re going.

• When hitchhiking, look like the person you want to pick you up.

• Contemplating the weaknesses of others is easy; contemplating the weaknesses in yourself is hard, but it pays a much higher reward.

• Worth repeating: measure twice, cut once.

• Your passion in life should fit you exactly; but your purpose in life should exceed you. Work for something much larger than yourself.

• If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.

• When playing Monopoly, spend all you have to buy, barter, or trade for the Orange properties. Don’t bother with Utilities.

• If you borrow something, try to return it in better shape than you received it. Clean it, sharpen it, fill it up.

• Even in the tropics it gets colder at night than you think. Pack warmly.

• To quiet a crowd or a drunk, just whisper.

• Writing down one thing you are grateful for each day is the cheapest possible therapy ever.

• When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re usually right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.

• If you think you saw a mouse, you did. And, if there is one, there are more.

• Money is overrated. Truly new things rarely need an abundance of money. If that was so, billionaires would have a monopoly on inventing new things, and they don’t. Instead almost all breakthroughs are made by those who lack money, because they are forced to rely on their passion, persistence and ingenuity to figure out new ways. Being poor is an advantage in innovation.

• Ignore what others may be thinking of you, because they aren’t.

• Avoid hitting the snooze button. That’s just training you to oversleep.

• Always say less than necessary.

• You are given the gift of life in order to discover what your gift *in* life is. You will complete your mission when you figure out what your mission is. This is not a paradox. This is the way.

• Don’t treat people as bad as they are. Treat them as good as you are.

• It is much easier to change how you think by changing your behavior, than it is to change your behavior by changing how you think. Act out the change you seek.

• You can eat any dessert you want if you take only 3 bites.

• Each time you reach out to people, bring them a blessing; then they’ll be happy to see you when you bring them a problem.

• Bad things can happen fast, but almost all good things happen slowly.

• Don’t worry how or where you begin. As long as you keep moving, your success will be far from where you start.

• When you confront a stuck bolt or screw: righty tighty, lefty loosey.

• If you meet a jerk, overlook them. If you meet jerks everywhere everyday, look deeper into yourself.

• Dance with your hips.

• We are not bodies that temporarily have souls. We are souls that temporarily have bodies.

• You can reduce the annoyance of someone’s stupid belief by increasing your understanding of why they believe it.

• If your goal does not have a schedule, it is a dream.

• All the greatest gains in life — in wealth, relationships, or knowledge —come from the magic of compounding interest — amplifying small steady gains. All you need for abundance is to keep adding 1% more than you subtract on a regular basis.

• The greatest breakthroughs are missed because they look like hard work.

• People can’t remember more than 3 points from a speech.

• I have never met a person I admired who did not read more books than I did.

• The greatest teacher is called “doing”.

• Finite games are played to win or lose. Infinite games are played to keep the game going. Seek out infinite games because they yield infinite rewards.

• Everything is hard before it is easy. The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a stupid idea.

• A problem that can be solved with money is not really a problem.

• When you are stuck, sleep on it. Let your subconscious work for you.

• Your work will be endless, but your time is finite. You cannot limit the work so you must limit your time. Hours are the only thing you can manage.

• To succeed, get other people to pay you; to become wealthy, help other people to succeed.

• Children totally accept — and crave — family rules. “In our family we have a rule for X” is the only excuse a parent needs for setting a family policy. In fact, “I have a rule for X” is the only excuse you need for your own personal policies.

• All guns are loaded.

• Many backward steps are made by standing still.

• This is the best time ever to make something. None of the greatest, coolest creations 20 years from now have been invented yet. You are not late.

• No rain, no rainbow.

• Every person you meet knows an amazing lot about something you know virtually nothing about. Your job is to discover what it is, and it won’t be obvious.

• You don’t marry a person, you marry a family.

• Always give credit, take blame.

• Be frugal in all things, except in your passions splurge.

• When making something, always get a few extras — extra material, extra parts, extra space, extra finishes. The extras serve as backups for mistakes, reduce stress, and fill your inventory for the future. They are the cheapest insurance.

• Something does not need to be perfect to be wonderful. Especially weddings.

• Don’t let your email inbox become your to-do list.

• The best way to untangle a knotty tangle is not to “untie” the knots, but to keep pulling the loops apart wider and wider. Just make the mess as big, loose and open as possible. As you open up the knots they will unravel themselves. Works on cords, strings, hoses, yarns, or electronic cables.

• Be a good ancestor. Do something a future generation will thank you for. A simple thing is to plant a tree.

• To combat an adversary, become their friend.

• Take one simple thing — almost anything — but take it extremely seriously, as if it was the only thing in the world, or maybe the entire world is in it — and by taking it seriously you’ll light up the sky.

• History teaches us that in 100 years from now some of the assumptions you believed will turn out to be wrong. A good question to ask yourself today is “What might I be wrong about?”

• Be nice to your children because they are going to choose your nursing home.

• Advice like these are not laws. They are like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.

 

For more see my previous 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice.

Translation in Italian.



Concluding our 25-year Bet


luddsmash

Twenty five years ago I made a bet in the pages of Wired. It was a bet whether the world would collapse by the year 2020. I made the bet at the end of an interview I conducted with author Kirk Sale, who had some notoriety for smashing computers with a sledge hammer in the tradition of the Luddites. He predicted the collapse of civilization in 25 years. I asked him if he was willing to bet on his vision of global collapse. (You can read the interview and original bet here in the article Interview with the Luddite.) We agreed to bet $1,000 on the state of the world in 2020. Sale was betting on a trinity of three global disasters; I was betting on progress. At the time we agree to let our mutual book editor, Bill Patrick, hold our checks. As 2020 rolled around, what I thought was an easy win, turned out to be not so obvious, so Kirk and I agreed to let Bill Patrick made the big decision at the very end of 2020. So last night, December 31, 2020, Bill Patrick made his decision. I am posting it below.

In the run-up to the end of the year, I wrote out my defense of why I thought I should win, which I sent to Bill Patrick as he was making his decision. Also, Steven Levy spoke to me and Kirk Sale and Patrick, and wrote up the story of the bet for Wired, which you can read here.

***********

Subject: Big Decision
Date: Thursday, 31 December 2020
From: William Patrick
To: Kirk Sale, Kevin Kelly

Thank you gentlemen for entrusting this grave decision to me.

In deciding who wins, I find myself with no choice but to be an originalist, working closely from the words on the page, and the most significant are “not even close,” and “convergence.”

To deal with the former, it seems best to try to score the contest round by round:

Global Environmental Disaster

Environmental problems have far more to do with old school, industrial technology (slowly being retired) than with information technology (which may well be the only hope for a solution). Even so, with fires, floods, and rising seas displacing populations; bugs and diseases heading north, ice caps melting and polar bears with no place to go; as well as the worst hurricane season and the warmest year on record, it’s hard to dispute that we are at least “close to” global environmental disaster.

Round goes to Kirk

Economic Collapse

Not much contest here. Even with a pandemic, unemployment is a problem, but nowhere near a crisis—at least not in the closing days of 2020. (Stay tuned.) The Dow recently hit 30,000, and the leading currencies are cruising along. (Bitcoin, an entirely new form of currency unimaginable in 1995, is soaring—nearing $20,000 when I last checked.) So, Kirk’s dire prediction was way off.

Round goes to Kevin

War between rich and poor, both within and among nations.

This is a toughie. Kirk’s apocalyptic forecast is especially problematic when you factor in huge economic gains in China and India, driven in large part by tech. On the other hand, how heavily do you weigh economic unrest as a factor in spawning the terrorism that triggered “forever wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia? And the economic dislocation among blue collar workers that allowed Trump’s faux populism to win them over? Meanwhile, anger at police abuses has led to massive protests from the left and bloody riots in the U.S. and Europe. It’s hard to say that “the poor rising up in rebellion” accurately characterizes the current state of the world (especially with that rising middle class in Asia) but it’s also hard to say, when you consider the unrest in the Islamic world and Trump supporters waving automatic weapons, that we’re “nowhere close.”

Round is a toss-up, with an edge to Kirk.

Which brings us to the exact wording—including punctuation—of the phrase that pays: I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. The way this statement is constructed, Kirk must hit the trifecta to win, meaning that all three horses of his apocalypse must come through, i.e. the three must converge. Only one of his predictions was a winner; one came in neck and neck; and one was way back in the pack.

So, Kevin wins, but it’s a squeaker, and not much cause for celebration.

Let’s hope for “progress” over the next 25 years that is less equivocal.

Best for 2021.

Bill

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Why I believe I won the 2020 Bet

It’s clear to any impartial observer that the world as we know it has not ended, although it might be close. But it has been close for a while, and that is the thrust of Kirk Sale’s argument. Twenty five years ago, it looked to him like the civilizational infrastructure that we humans had built up over millennia was near a breaking point, and that it could not last another 25 years. It was breaking down, Sale believed, because technological civilization was incompatible with nature. Technology and civilization operated at an unnatural scale, unnatural speed, and in a manner that destroyed living systems. But, the living system of the planet was so much larger than humans and their inventions, and both were so much more dependent on this natural world — although inventors refused to acknowledge this — that the living planet would hit back, exert its rules, and the invented world manufactured by technologists would collapse and crumble. Sale was certain this failure had already started, and he was so certain enough of its inevitable demise that he was willing to bet $1,000 that the collapse would be in full swing within 25 years.

Sale might be right that we are on the edge of that collapse today, and that in the next 25 years, by 2045, it will be in full swing. But that is a different bet. The claim we are trying to resolve in December 2020 is — as the bet states — are we in the full collapse right now?

California and Australia probably had their worst fire seasons in history and they were certainly triggered by human activity, including global warming, poor fire management, and the relentless incursion of urban sprawl. Powerful hurricanes are more common. And the arctic and Antarctica ice is melting. Those are large scale phenomena. If by some magic they never got worse, would we call the current state, this minute, “continent-wide environmental disaster” ? If we were to take a snapshot of the lives of the 7 billion people walking the Earth today, most of whom live in urban areas, and whose lives have only been mildly affected by the fires, floods and melting ice, they are not acting like they are in a collapse. If this is a disaster, it is a weird disaster that is not evident to its 7 billion inhabitants. Sale might argue that they are all sleepwalking in a disaster field and that the real impact around them is about to happen, and that could be true but that is a different bet.

The strongest case for a global environment is the tiniest one: the Covid-19 virus. This has indeed affected almost everyone on the planet, and it has affected their behavior in significant ways. You could make a more than poetic argument that the virus pandemic is a response by the living natural world to the unnatural densities of modern human cities. You could say that such contagious diseases are nature pushing back, and that the lockdowns, curfews, border closings, not to mention millions of deaths due to the virus, are an evident and actual environmental disaster. In many senses, I agree. It is fair to take a broad view of the environment to include the viral world, and this virus has indeed made a global negative impact.

It has even had a global financial impact, putting a pause on local enterprises, eliminating millions of jobs, and disrupting global trade. But the most amazing attribute of the Covid-19 pandemic has been how little effect it has had on the world compared to what could have happened. Given both the lethality and contagiousness of this virus, and the density of urban life, it could have, and in the past, would have, caused far far more damage than it did. It did not because of the global response to it. At an unprecedented scale and speed, civilization built a response to the virus. Around the world, billions of people simultaneously changed their behavior, while continuing their work for the most part. An impressively large part of the economy can be run by fewer people than ever before. And in less than a year, scientists came up with remedies for the illness, including ones that can potentially eliminate it. Science came up with treatments to diminish its damage on those who did get it. We are not out of this woods yet, and we could have done 100 times better, but compared to the total disaster it could have been, this is a story of how well civilization is working, not of how it collapses.

Here was my 1995 on-the-fly summary of our bet: “So you have multinational global currency collapse, social friction and warfare both between the rich and the poor and within nations, and you have continent-wide environmental disasters causing death and great migrations of people. All by the year 2020, yes? … I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we’re not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size.”

That is a bit vague, due to my attempt to encapsulate Sale’s just-shared idea on the spot. But luckily Sale spent a few minutes articulating the conditions that could be measured in detail. He was forecasting a convergence of three events, and I’d like to respond to each of three “metrics” he suggested in detail here.

Sale says: “The first [measurement] would be an economic collapse. The dollar would be worthless, the yen would be worthless, the mark would be worthless—the dislocation we saw in the Depression of 1930, magnified many times over.” Even after an unprecedented global pandemic, unemployment figures are not bad, and no where near Depression levels of 1930. The dollar is not worthless, nor the yen or mark, or Euro. In fact, in terms of the global financial market, stocks are at an all-time high. This prediction is as wrong as it could get.

Sale says: “A second would be the distention within various societies of the rich and the poor, in which the poor, who comprise, let’s say, a fifth of society, are no longer content to be bought off with alcohol and television and drugs, and rises up in rebellion. And at the same time, there would be the same kind of distention within nations, in which the poor nations are no longer content to take the crumbs from our table, and rise up in either a military or some other form against the richer societies.” Let’s take the two parts one at a time. There is a measurable divergence of rich and poor in modern societies, with a few percent rich owning more than the rest of society altogether, but for some reason this fact has not led to rebellions, revolt, or armed uprisings at any scale. The imbalance of wealth is generally true around the world (and worst in the richest nations), while the absence of uprisings by the poor is generally true around the world, too. This may be because in most of the world, the poverty of the poorest has generally been reduced, even as the rich get much richer. So while the relative gap between the rich and poor grows, the poor around the world have gotten richer in their own eyes, and so they are not “rising up in rebellion.”

The following point — predicting conflict between rich and poor nations — also has not happened, probably for similar reasons. By and large, a middle class has emerged in most developing nations, and their poor have gotten less poor. Furthermore, the economic fate of any nation is more and more connected to other nations, via imports and exports, and going to war with wealthier nations doesn’t help your citizens. So, economic isolation is rightly seen as something to be avoided, and therefore there has been a refreshing diminishing of war between nations. It is clear Sale’s second metric failed to happen.

Sale says: “The third is accumulating environmental problems, such that Australia, for example, becomes unlivable because of the ozone hole there, and Africa, from the Sahara to South Africa, becomes unlivable because of new diseases that have been uncovered through deforestation. At any rate, environmental catastrophes on a significant scale.” Sale came close to being right with “new diseases” — Covid-19 — even though it is unlikely due to deforestation. (Covid is more likely due to Chinese propensity to gather, farm raise and sell wild animals in horrible conditions.) Yet, as I mentioned above, this could be seen as an environmental failure due to the pressures of urban life on the natural world. However, despite a bad fire season, Australia is not unlivable (at least according to the 23 million living there in 2020) and ditto for Africa. Both continents have experienced Covid-19 and neither are unlivable because of this new disease. Sales’ last phrase is harder to judge: are there “environmental catastrophes on a significant scale”? We could talk about over-fishing in the ocean, and I’d agree that it is an environmental problem on a significant scale. Ice melting in the arctic regions is another. Whether these are recoverable problems or outright catastrophes — Australia unlivable — right now is something I’d debate. Being generous I’d agree that this prediction is half-true.

However the bet was the convergence of all three catastrophes, a trifecta of collapse, a multi-dimensional apocalypse. This did not happen. Sale might argue that it is all about to happen, and indeed it might. But that is a different bet. That is another 25-year bet. That bet would say that in the year 2045, the three collapses he outlined — financial collapse, war between rich and poor, and an unlivable world due environmental catastrophes — would be in full swing.

In my boldness at that moment, I said that none of Sale’s predictions would be close to what happens. “Close” is a poor choice of words for a bet. It is 100% arbitrary. If we had written out the bet I would not allowed its use. I felt we were betting on Sale’s description of the convergent apocalypse and by “not close to it” I meant that no one would be confused or be perplexed by what they saw.

I don’t think most people today would say we are close to the convergence of the three apocalypse. We may be closer (or at least further along) on the environmental axis, but I believe if you asked the average citizen on this planet about whether we are close to the three apocalypse today, this minute, they would say no. If you read them Sale’s description and asked them to look around and judge whether that is what they saw, it does not look anything like the disasters that Sale specified. I would say it does look close to what he describes.

My optimism that we are not close to global disaster is not based on thinking we have fewer problems than we do. I see real harms in our world today, real big problems, especially global-scale problems. Rather, my optimism is based on our improving ability to devise solutions to them. The list of troubles in the future will certainly increase in the next 25 years — and most of those troubles will be triggered by the technological solutions we make today — but we are rapidly inventing and improving the tools and the means for seven billion humans to create a million ways to overcome them. That is what I am betting on. Kirk Sale lost the bet not because he misjudged our problems, but because he misjudged our capacity to deal with them.

I am so certain of our capacity to keep improving that I offer Kirk Sale a double-or-nothing bet. He may believe the problems he clearly sees will surely soon spin out of control. If they have not brought collapse in the last 25 years they certainly will in the next 25 years. I, on the other hand, believe we won’t be anywhere near collapse in 25 years. I am willing to bet $2,000 on that. I believe that we are in fact on the eve of a 25-year period of global progress and prosperity, the likes of which we have not seen before on this planet. In 25 years, poverty will be rare, and middle class lifestyle the norm. War between nations will also be rare. A bulk of our energy will be renewables, slowing down climate warming. Lifespans continue to lengthen. I’ll bet on it.

*********

Kirk Sale did not take me up on the double or nothing offer.



The Essential Workshop Tool Kit


My young adult son needs a tool kit. He needs a small set of versatile tools to make and repair things. Projects could be making simple furniture, doing home repairs, creating his art projects, building sets for his photography, making gifts, crafting Halloween costumes, inventing equipment for his adventures, etc. I have assembled what I consider to be an essential set of modern tools that would enable him, or anyone, to make 90% of whatever they imagined. For the most part, I tend toward cheap tools, because I believe in starting cheap and earning better tools through experience, so you know what you want. The core of a modern tool kit is a set of cordless power tools. With basic cordless power tools you can go quite far. I went with a combo set, because it is hard to beat the price, especially when they are on sale. (Check camelcamelcamel.com). The total cost of all these is $1200. This may seem to be a lot, but considering that you get a full workshop of tools and some of them will last a lifetime, it is quite a bargain. Anyone who knows tools will look at my list and see an essential tool that is missing. That’s the nature of a list like this. I’ll leave the joy of adding to the collection to my son.

The tools in this list link to Amazon, where you can see more details about the tools. (The affiliate link is my son’s. As an Amazon Affiliate he earns from qualifying purchases.)

The tools:

Cutting mat — Perfect surface for cutting with blades, also soft mat for working on delicate projects, also protects bench surface. 24″ x 36″.

Long metal straight edge — used for drawing lines and cutting materials.

Retractable utility blade — Big exacto knife. Main thing is replaceable break-off blade. Olfa retractable.

Staple gun — Basic for stapling fabric, mesh, sheets.

Spring clamps x 4 — Used for holding wood, paper, dowels, pipes, anything thinner than an inch.

Bar clamps x 2 — Used for wider pieces. 12 inches.

16 foot tape measure — Big enough for rooms, small enough for projects. Komelon Gripper.

Small level — All that is needed.

Step drill set x 3 — For drilling thin materials like plastic or sheet metal.

Vise grips x 3 — Small and large and long.

Speed square — For right angles.

CA glue + Accelerator — Accelerator turns super glue instant.

5 minute Epoxy — Two part bottles will last a long time.

Wire stripper — Makes electronics so much easier. Irwin vise grip stripper.

Solder gun — Basic kit with solder and solder remover.

Electrical twist connections — Assortment for connecting wires.

Silicone Wire rolls — 22 gauge for easier electronic projects.

Multimeter — For electronic projects and troubleshooting.

Masking tape — Used for masking and more. 2 inch wide.

White out — For labeling everything.

Digital calipers — For measuring small things.

Center punch x 2 — For making starter holes.

Set of drill bits — Basic, titanium, Dewalt.

Japanese hand saw — Basic saw.

Pliers x 5 — Assorted set of channel locks, needlenose, nippers.

Basic hammer — Standard 16 ounce.

Snips — Straight cut for cutting metal.

Pipe wrench — For plumbing.

Pipe cutter — For cutting copper pipe, conduit, and other lightweight pipes

PVC pipe cutter — For cutting plastic pipe

Vise — Basic workshop vise.

Cordless tool combo set — Makita 7-piece cordless tools: drill, impact driver, circular saw, recipo saw, grinder, blower.

Cordless jig saw — Makita jig saw.



68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice


It’s my birthday. I’m 68. I feel like pulling up a rocking chair and dispensing advice to the young ‘uns. Here are 68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice which I offer as my birthday present to all of you.
(For my 69th birthday I made another batch.)

• Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe.

• Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points.

• Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better.

• Don’t be afraid to ask a question that may sound stupid because 99% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it.

• Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more.

• A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier.

• Gratitude will unlock all other virtues and is something you can get better at.

• Treating a person to a meal never fails, and is so easy to do. It’s powerful with old friends and a great way to make new friends.

• Don’t trust all-purpose glue.

• Reading to your children regularly will bond you together and kickstart their imaginations.

• Never use a credit card for credit. The only kind of credit, or debt, that is acceptable is debt to acquire something whose exchange value is extremely likely to increase, like in a home. The exchange value of most things diminishes or vanishes the moment you purchase them. Don’t be in debt to losers.

• Pros are just amateurs who know how to gracefully recover from their mistakes.

• Extraordinary claims should require extraordinary evidence to be believed.

• Don’t be the smartest person in the room. Hangout with, and learn from, people smarter than yourself. Even better, find smart people who will disagree with you.

• Rule of 3 in conversation. To get to the real reason, ask a person to go deeper than what they just said. Then again, and once more. The third time’s answer is close to the truth.

• Don’t be the best. Be the only.

• Everyone is shy. Other people are waiting for you to introduce yourself to them, they are waiting for you to send them an email, they are waiting for you to ask them on a date. Go ahead.

• Don’t take it personally when someone turns you down. Assume they are like you: busy, occupied, distracted. Try again later. It’s amazing how often a second try works.

• The purpose of a habit is to remove that action from self-negotiation. You no longer expend energy deciding whether to do it. You just do it. Good habits can range from telling the truth, to flossing.

• Promptness is a sign of respect.

• When you are young spend at least 6 months to one year living as poor as you can, owning as little as you possibly can, eating beans and rice in a tiny room or tent, to experience what your “worst” lifestyle might be. That way any time you have to risk something in the future you won’t be afraid of the worst case scenario.

• Trust me: There is no “them”.

• The more you are interested in others, the more interesting they find you. To be interesting, be interested.

• Optimize your generosity. No one on their deathbed has ever regretted giving too much away.

• To make something good, just do it. To make something great, just re-do it, re-do it, re-do it. The secret to making fine things is in remaking them.

• The Golden Rule will never fail you. It is the foundation of all other virtues.

• If you are looking for something in your house, and you finally find it, when you’re done with it, don’t put it back where you found it. Put it back where you first looked for it.

• Saving money and investing money are both good habits. Small amounts of money invested regularly for many decades without deliberation is one path to wealth.

• To make mistakes is human. To own your mistakes is divine. Nothing elevates a person higher than quickly admitting and taking personal responsibility for the mistakes you make and then fixing them fairly. If you mess up, fess up. It’s astounding how powerful this ownership is.

• Never get involved in a land war in Asia.

• You can obsess about serving your customers/audience/clients, or you can obsess about beating the competition. Both work, but of the two, obsessing about your customers will take you further.

• Show up. Keep showing up. Somebody successful said: 99% of success is just showing up.

• Separate the processes of creation from improving. You can’t write and edit, or sculpt and polish, or make and analyze at the same time. If you do, the editor stops the creator. While you invent, don’t select. While you sketch, don’t inspect. While you write the first draft, don’t reflect. At the start, the creator mind must be unleashed from judgement.

• If you are not falling down occasionally, you are just coasting.

• Perhaps the most counter-intuitive truth of the universe is that the more you give to others, the more you’ll get. Understanding this is the beginning of wisdom.

• Friends are better than money. Almost anything money can do, friends can do better. In so many ways a friend with a boat is better than owning a boat.

• This is true: It’s hard to cheat an honest man.

• When an object is lost, 95% of the time it is hiding within arm’s reach of where it was last seen. Search in all possible locations in that radius and you’ll find it.

• You are what you do. Not what you say, not what you believe, not how you vote, but what you spend your time on.

• If you lose or forget to bring a cable, adapter or charger, check with your hotel. Most hotels now have a drawer full of cables, adapters and chargers others have left behind, and probably have the one you are missing. You can often claim it after borrowing it.

• Hatred is a curse that does not affect the hated. It only poisons the hater. Release a grudge as if it was a poison.

• There is no limit on better. Talent is distributed unfairly, but there is no limit on how much we can improve what we start with.

• Be prepared: When you are 90% done any large project (a house, a film, an event, an app) the rest of the myriad details will take a second 90% to complete.

• When you die you take absolutely nothing with you except your reputation.

• Before you are old, attend as many funerals as you can bear, and listen. Nobody talks about the departed’s achievements. The only thing people will remember is what kind of person you were while you were achieving.

• For every dollar you spend purchasing something substantial, expect to pay a dollar in repairs, maintenance, or disposal by the end of its life.

•Anything real begins with the fiction of what could be. Imagination is therefore the most potent force in the universe, and a skill you can get better at. It’s the one skill in life that benefits from ignoring what everyone else knows.

• When crisis and disaster strike, don’t waste them. No problems, no progress.

• On vacation go to the most remote place on your itinerary first, bypassing the cities. You’ll maximize the shock of otherness in the remote, and then later you’ll welcome the familiar comforts of a city on the way back.

• When you get an invitation to do something in the future, ask yourself: would you accept this if it was scheduled for tomorrow? Not too many promises will pass that immediacy filter.

• Don’t say anything about someone in email you would not be comfortable saying to them directly, because eventually they will read it.

• If you desperately need a job, you are just another problem for a boss; if you can solve many of the problems the boss has right now, you are hired. To be hired, think like your boss.

• Art is in what you leave out.

• Acquiring things will rarely bring you deep satisfaction. But acquiring experiences will.

• Rule of 7 in research. You can find out anything if you are willing to go seven levels. If the first source you ask doesn’t know, ask them who you should ask next, and so on down the line. If you are willing to go to the 7th source, you’ll almost always get your answer.

• How to apologize: Quickly, specifically, sincerely.

• Don’t ever respond to a solicitation or a proposal on the phone. The urgency is a disguise.

• When someone is nasty, rude, hateful, or mean with you, pretend they have a disease. That makes it easier to have empathy toward them which can soften the conflict.

• Eliminating clutter makes room for your true treasures.

• You really don’t want to be famous. Read the biography of any famous person.

• Experience is overrated. When hiring, hire for aptitude, train for skills. Most really amazing or great things are done by people doing them for the first time.

• A vacation + a disaster = an adventure.

• Buying tools: Start by buying the absolute cheapest tools you can find. Upgrade the ones you use a lot. If you wind up using some tool for a job, buy the very best you can afford.

• Learn how to take a 20-minute power nap without embarrassment.

• Following your bliss is a recipe for paralysis if you don’t know what you are passionate about. A better motto for most youth is “master something, anything”. Through mastery of one thing, you can drift towards extensions of that mastery that bring you more joy, and eventually discover where your bliss is.

• I’m positive that in 100 years much of what I take to be true today will be proved to be wrong, maybe even embarrassingly wrong, and I try really hard to identify what it is that I am wrong about today.

• Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists. To be an optimist you don’t have to ignore all the many problems we create; you just have to imagine improving our capacity to solve problems.

• The universe is conspiring behind your back to make you a success. This will be much easier to do if you embrace this pronoia.

 

For my 69th birthday I made another batch of additional unsolicited advice.

I made a video recording of me reciting these 68 bits of advice from a rocking chair, here.

[You can follow me @kevin2kelly. Join my newsletter Recomendo for 6 recommendations per week.]

Translation in French. Portuguese. German. Arabic. RussianItalianSpanish 1. Spanish 2. Greek. Finnish. Korean. Vietnamese. Chinese. Lithuanian. Danish. Indonesian. Hebrew. Other translations welcomed. Improved translations also welcomed.



Second Order Risk


There are two orders of risk: First Order and Second Order.

We see car accidents and we read about plane accidents yet we use both cars and planes. We wear a seat belt, and we fly on planes, because we know the risk profile of automobiles and planes — high risk for cars, low risk for planes. The risks of flu, Ebola, lightning, vaccinations, skydiving, of most things are known statistically. Since we know the risk profile we can calculate our response, and how much risk we want to accept. This known risk profile is First Order Risk. We can research the risk and then evaluate our response.

The issue with the novel covid-19 is that its risk profile is completely unknown. It is what we can call a Second Order Risk. We don’t know how contagious it is; we don’t know how lethal it is; we don’t know the age, condition, type of person it favors. And we probably won’t know with any certainty for several years. So we can’t calculate our response. It’s a known unknown. (The unknown unknown is a Third Order Risk.)

Therefore this great uncertainty about the covid-19 virus creates a Second Order Risk profile, and that profile with its huge range of limits suggests extraordinary caution is warranted — even if it laters proves to be a low First Order Risk.