128 - Kevin Kelly on Evolving with Technology

Ep. 128

We live in an age of increasingly lively, intelligent, and responsive technologies, and have a lot of adjusting to do. This week’s guest is one of the major inspirations animating Future Fossils Podcast: Kevin Kelly, co-founder of the WELL, Senior Maverick at WIRED, author of numerous books that profoundly shaped my thinking about our coevolution with technology. After reading Kevin’s latest essay on the imminent challenges and opportunities of augmented reality – a superb rendering of the bizarre and wonderful new possibilities of a “mirrorworld” in which everything has an annotated digital double, constantly rewritten – I asked him to join me for a discussion of how our relationship to change is changing, what choice means in a world beyond control, how history becomes a verb amidst the metamorphosis, and how to properly engage these potent evolutionary tools we’re building…

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lntro music by Michael Garfield, “Undefeatable Optimism Gets Up After KO”


Outro music by Evan “Skytree” Snyder feat. Michael Garfield, “God Detector”


We Discuss:

• How evolutionary technologies restore us to a kind of pre-modern relationship to living systems we use and depend upon, but do not control (growing tomatoes, raising livestock, having children).

• How do we understand choice and agency as cybernetic selves, all of our behavior informed by invisible or opaque entitities (like Cambridge Analytica, or simple GUI design)?

“We are both the creator and the created. We are both the parent and the child of ourselves. We are the masters of technology, and the slaves to it. And we will always be in that conflicted, two-faced relationship. That’s why we wring our hands, and we’ll be wringing our hands in a thousand years, because we can’t escape from the fact that we make our tools and our tools shape us.”

• If we are going to spend the rest of our lives as noobs in an ever-accelerating metamorphic world, what does that mean for our conceit of continuous identity?

“The question is not, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ but, ‘What do we want humans to be?’”

• How do we have the metaphysical conversations we need (about what we are, what matters) if we can’t agree on the objective ground truth?

“We have only one way to detect lies, which is retrospectively. So it’s almost impossible to ascertain, infallibly, the truth in the present. We can only trust sources that have proven to be reliable in the past, and that’s ultimately where the truth resides.”

“We can’t think our way out of these problems. We should think about them. We should try to forecast and analyze and quantify. But these things are so complex, they’re life life and a child growing up, that we have to experience our way through them. We have to engage with them through use to figure out what works and what doesn’t work.”

• The new superpowers and profound challenges (both practical and philosophical) afforded us by augmented reality and its attendant “mirrorworld” of spatial computing.

“The big problems that we’ll all be pulling our hair out about in twenty years will be ones we never thought of.”

“I’m for steering technology through engagement, through using it. I think if you don’t use something, you don’t get to steer it. That’s why prohibition, outlawing, regulating to a standstill are bad ideas. Because then you don’t get to steer.”

• The past and future of history-as-a-verb. Contingency vs. inevitability. How does Kelly situate himself in time?

“Most of my favorite people talking about the future are historians… The more I want to look into the future, the more I need to look into the past.”

“1% per year is all we need: if we create 1% more than we destroy every year, that’s all we need for civilization.”

• What is Kelly most concerned with communicating to the unborn future?

“The statistical destiny for most time capsules is to be forgotten. They’re buried and nobody remembers them. 95% of them are forgotten within 5 or 10 years. But the ones that are opened, you get to see this message from the past into the future. And almost invariably, the contents are not interesting to us now.”

Go Deeper:

Out of Control, New Rules for The New Economy, What Technology Wants, The Inevitable


The Expansion of Ignorance


AR Will Spark the Next Big Tech Platform – Let’s Call it Mirrorworld


The End of Video as Evidence of Anything


Great Kevin Kelly interview with Smithsonian Magazine


[video] HyperReality by Keiichi Matsuda


The Future is Indistinguishable from Magic (by Michael Garfield)


Being Every Drone (by Michael Garfield)


Future Fossils Episode 97 with Zak Stein


Future Fossils Episode 91, An Oral History of the End of Reality (#deepfake #scifi)


The Long Now Foundation


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194 - Simon Conway Morris on Convergent Evolution & Creative Mass Extinctions

Ep. 194
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Ep. 193
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