The Technium

EdgeVideo Conversation with Kevin Kelly: “The question that I’m asking myself is, how far will we share, when are we going to stop sharing, and how far are we going to allow ourselves to monitor and surveil each other in kind of a coveillance? I believe that there’s no end to how much we can track each other—how far we’re going to self-track, how much we’re going to allow companies to track us—so I find it really difficult to believe that there’s going to be a limit to this, and to try to imagine this world in which we are being self-tracked and co-tracked and tracked by governments, and yet accepting of that, is really hard to imagine.
How does this work? How can we have a world in which we are all watching each other, and everybody feels happy? I don’t see any counter force to the forces of surveillance and self-tracking, so I’m trying to listen to what the technology wants, and the technology is suggesting that it wants to be watched. What the Internet does is track, just like what the Internet does is to copy, and you can’t stop copying. You have to go with the copies flowing, and I think the same thing about this technology. It’s suggesting that it wants to monitor, it wants to track, and that you really can’t stop the tracking. So maybe what we have to do is work with this tracking—try to bring symmetry or have areas where there’s no tracking in a temporary basis. I don’t know, but this is the question I’m asking myself: how are we going to live in a world of ubiquitous tracking?
I call myself a protopian, not a utopian. I believe in progress in an incremental way where every year it’s better than the year before but not by very much—just a micro amount. I don’t believe in utopia where there’s any kind of a world without problems brought on by technology. Every new technology creates almost as many problems that it solves. For most people that statement would suggest that technology is kind of a wash. It’s kind of neutral, because if you’re creating as many problems as it solves, then it’s a 50/50 wash, but the difference in my protopian view versus, say, a neutral view is that all these new technologies bring new possibilities that did not exist before, including the new possibility of doing harm versus good.

Over time we are generating new technologies, we’re producing all new problems. Most of the problems we have today are technogenic, meaning that they were created by technology in the past. Most of the problems in the future are going to be created by technologies we’re creating today. Technology is a means of producing new problems. It’s a means of producing new solutions, but the fact that we have a choice between those two is what tips the balance very, very slightly in the favor of the good for the long term. Over civilization scale, we have this net tiny incremental accumulation of these choices over time, and that tiny accumulation is what we call progress. If you have one percent compounded annually, that can be very, very powerful. It doesn’t seem like very much. What’s one percent? But when you compound this accumulation of choices and options over time, that’s what civilization is. It’s the slow accumulation of a very tiny increase in new choices over time.
Yes, technology will at times obliterate some older choices, but the net gain over time is a small advantage in new choices, and that’s what civilization is—it’s an accumulation of increasing choices, and that’s why people move from countries into the cities. There are lots of reasons, but in the end the main motivator is a pulling of people to a city because it has more choices and options than they had in their beautiful country home, and that’s what the future is doing, the same thing. It’s pulling people from the past into the future. Very few people go back the other way and live like their ancestors because the future has more choices and possibilities, and—in the end, given everything else about technology—that’s what technology gives us, too. That’s why we keep making this stuff. It’s not really to sell more things. Yes, it’s about selling things, but primarily what we’re doing with technology is we’re inventing new possibilities that did not exist before….”