What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Summary
  1. Kelly takes the unusual view of describing technology as a natural system, much like biology. Technology, like living organisms, has “wants” and can transform and evolve in ways to help it achieve its goals.
Key Takeaways
  1. Kevin Kelly has long lived a very minimal and simplistic lifestyle, choosing to have very few possessions and as little technology as possible but has become known as one of the biggest proponents of certain technology. He has no cell phone, laptop and mostly bikes rather than drives. He is the founder of Wired magazine and has spent a lot of time living with the Amish
  2. As technology advances, it begins mimicking organism systems and goes through a process of disembodiment and these two are only speeding up as technology is getting more advanced. This leads Kelly to believe that technology is an extension of life and perhaps even culture. However, culture may even be limiting as the inventions of tools spurs new tools, creating a self perpetuating system.
  3. Kelly has invented a new word which is not as limiting – the technium. Technium includes art, social institutions, culture and intellectual creations of all types as well as the self perpetuating and advancing nature of technology. Kelly believes that after thousands of years, technology may be getting to the point of becoming like an autonomous organism that we don’t fully control. Like any deeply interconnected and complex system, it will self organize and self perpetuate, following many of the same rules our minds do
  4. Argues that human evolution was sped up by tools. The better the tools, the more food we could get which made us stronger, healthier, live longer and better self perpetuate. Our genes co-evolve with our inventions and in many ways we have domesticated ourselves. Shelter and technology should be thought of as extensions of the organism. We shape our environment and then our environment shapes us
  5. Technology differs from biology in that it rarely if ever truly goes extinct. Innovations and breakthroughs tend to live on and evolve into new technology. Technology can be thought of as the 7th kingdom of life
  6. Coined “exatropy” to be negative entropy or an increase in order. It resembles information and self organization. Information is a signal which makes a difference to how we think, act or behave
  7. Science and progress require a certain minimal threshold of leisure and a growing population. As more people buy the new technology it provides the funds to push even further
  8. Convergence causes technological innovations to happen simultaneously or at least nearly so. The same is found in biology with animals who have evolved similar functions but have done so independently (echolocation, bipedalism, eyes)
  9. The technium faces many of the same constraints as biological evolution, such as limited matter and energy
  10. Argues against the traditionally believed random path of evolution and for the convergent, directional nature of evolution. The universe seems to be geared towards life and complicated constructs like our minds are “improbable inevitabilities.” Homo sapiens is a tendency, not an entity. Humanity is a process, always was and always will be. Similarly, the technium is a tendency, not an entity and in continuous flux and evolution. Much like biology, the technium converges towards certain innovations and over time becomes self-organizing and gains a certain level of autonomy and even some wants
  11. Technological inevitability is seen in the seemingly endless parallel timing of inventions
  12. Entire new economy is built on technologies which require little energy and scale down well – photons, bits, frequencies. As the technology keeps getting smaller, they get increasingly closer to immaterial. Like Moore’s Law, many of these improve at around 50% per year
  13. The technium is shaped by what technology wants, by historical inventions and by people’s choices and free will
  14. When we reject technology, we reject a part of ourselves. We trust nature but hope in technology. By following what technology wants, we can better anticipate and capture its full potential
  15. Technological choices which begin as optional can slowly over time become mandatory as our reliance on the technology increases
  16. The Amish tend to be about 50 years behind technologically. They don’t want to stop progress, simply slow it down and do so by being very selective when deciding what to adopt. This time lag gives them the ability to carefully weigh the pros and cons of the new tech
  17. Selective poverty, minimalism and as little electricity as possible is an experiment everyone should undertake at least once in their life. It simplifies so much and leaves more time for leisure, building relationships and pursuing endeavors you enjoy
  18. Very few great technologies start out great or have a clear path to greatness. Technology does not know what it wants to be once it has “grown up”
  19. All technology wants to be ubiquitous but total saturation is not healthy or wanted as it leads to excessive traffic, too much pollution, etc
  20. The power of the technium lies in creating new objects which give us new choices and ultimately more freedom
  21. Some estimate that nearly 50% of the world’s organisms are parasitic and Kelly argues that this type of mutualistic relationship is increasingly the case between humans and technology. However, technology doesn’t want to simply be utilitarian, it wants to be beautiful, to become art
  22. Technology’s job is to create billions of “minds” to compute anything and everything we might need from it. Information is the fastest growing portion of the technium
  23. The technium will continue being selfish in its desire for self perpetuation but it also desires to help people understand, compute and compile information to make life easier. There are some games you play to win and some where you play to keep on playing, an infinite game. The best tactic here is to make choices which open up more choices in the future
  24. Technium’s wants are that of life and it helps amplify the thoughts of union and connection and to see reality- an infinite game worth playing. That is what technology wants
What I got out of it
  1. Better understanding what Kelly means by “technium” and how technology is coming to resemble biological, natural systems. The parallel timing of inventions across history and geographies was fascinating to learn more about – perhaps indicating the inevitability of certain technological innovations