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Kevin Kelly of WIRED and Recomendo: On What Technology Wants and the Future of Virtual Reality

Daniel ScrivnerLast Updated: November 18, 2020

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“What is this thing we call technology? In the cosmological sense, like, where does it fit in? How does it relate to life? And my current summary would be that it is an extension of life and therefore is not contrary to life. It’s an extended version of life—and that gives me hope, because it means that we can always make a greener version of whatever we make.” — Kevin Kelly

In this episode of Outliers, I’m talking with Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) of WIRED magazine about his perspective on technology and its evolution. We discuss AI, AR, and how humans can benefit from partnering with and embracing tech.

Kevin Kelly was the Founding Executive Editor of WIRED magazine and the Editor of Whole Earth Review. He’s also the author of several best-selling books, including Out of Control and What Technology Wants. His perspective on science and technology has been featured in writings for The New York TimesThe Economist, and Time magazine, and he served as a futurist advisor for Steven Spielberg’s film, Minority Report. Kevin continues to produce content for his newsletter, Recomendo, his YouTube channel, and his weekly podcast, Cool Tools.

Topics Discussed

  • 00:00:48 – The turning point for Kevin’s relationship with technology
  • 00:05:06 – Kevin’s thoughts on what technology wants
  • 00:07:31 – Technology’s evolution in the directions of more complexity, more diversity, and/or more specificity
  • 00:11:19 – General purpose vs. specialized technology
  • 00:13:21 – Managing complexity through simplistic interfaces
  • 00:15:20 – The best designers can master complexity to render it simple for users
  • 00:16:23 – Kevin’s start with Wired magazine
  • 00:20:00 – The debate for optimism in technology
  • 00:23:53 – Magic Leap and virtual worlds
  • 00:30:01 – Kevin’s next focus on generative art with AI
  • 00:32:37 – Kevin’s work on Minority Report
  • 00:35:50 – A “centaur” team of human + AI tends to be better than just human or just AI
  • 00:37:20 – How Kevin collaborates on his newsletter, Recomendo
  • 00:40:21 – Recent recommended books and documentaries
  • 00:41:48 – A parting message from Kevin on embracing technology

For more, explore the full transcript of this episode. Transcripts for all episodes can be found here.

Links from the Episode

 Kevin’s Books and Projects:

Key Insight

The only way for humans to be able to steer and direct the future of technology is to embrace it. Rather than rejecting this progress and the problems technology can bring, we can test, evaluate, adopt, and change the tools that arise, so we can play a part in how technology evolves.

Favorite Quotes

  • “The theory is basically that technology is an extension of the evolutionary processes—evolution accelerated—that it’s driven by the same dynamics that drive the self-organization of the planets and the galaxies and life itself. And that it, in many ways, has a direction similar to the direction that evolution has. And so we can kind of answer what technology was by answering the question, what does life and evolution want?”
  • “My main evidence for optimism is history. Look at the last couple hundred years very carefully, scientifically. Look at the evidence, and it’s very, very clear that progress is real and that progress has been due to technology. We could say fairly that after two or three-hundred years of pretty steady, but minor increase over each year, that it could stop. Could stop tomorrow. Things could suddenly be different, and it would cease. That is possible. There’s a greater than zero chance, but it’s very, very unlikely. The statistical probability is that those forces, that inertia, that momentum, would continue, and the progress we’ve seen over the last couple hundred years due to technology will continue.”
  • “I would say my default stance is to embrace these technologies, and through use, try to steer them where we want them to go.”
What is this thing we call it technology? In the cosmological sense, like, where does it fit in? How does it relate to life? And my current summary would be that it is an extension of life and therefore is not contrary to life. It's an extended version of life, and that gives me hope because it means that we can always make a greener version of whatever we make.

On Outliers, Daniel Scrivner explores the tactics, routines, and habits of world-class performers working at the edge—in business, investing, entertainment, and more. In each episode, he decodes what they’ve mastered and what they’ve learned along the way. Start learning from the world’s best today. 

Explore all episodes of Outliers, be the first to hear about new episodes, and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform.

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