Dec. 19, 2022

All-Time Top 10 Guests – #10 Kevin Kelly (On Technology's Origins, What Technology Wants, and Advising Steven Speilberg on Minority Report)

We explore technology's origins, what technology wants, and advising Steven Spielberg on Minority Report. We’re joined by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of WIRED. We cover what technology wants, Magic Leap and virtual worlds, and Kevin’s work on Minority Report.

We explore technology's origins, what technology wants, and advising Steven Spielberg on Minority Report. We’re joined by Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of WIRED. We cover what technology wants, Magic Leap and virtual worlds, and Kevin’s work on Minority Report..

“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




This episode is our definitive guide to technology's origins, what technology wants. In it we cover:

  • (00:00:00) – Introduction
  • (00:01:38) – The turning point for Kevin's relationship with technology
  • (00:06:32) – What technology wants
  • (00:12:05) – General purpose vs. specialized technology
  • (00:17:49 – Kevin's start with Wired magazine
  • (00:25:59) – Magic Leap and virtual worlds
  • (00:34:19) – Kevin's work on Minority Report
  • (00:39:03) – Kevin’s newsletter, Recomendo



Kevin Kelly was the Founding Executive Editor at WIRED magazine and is the author of multiple bestselling books, including What Technology Wants and the New York Times bestseller The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. His perspectives of science and technology have been featured in the New York Times, The Economist, and Time Magazine.

Kevin helped shape the world of Minority Report as a futurist advisor to Stephen Spielberg, and he helped dream up the gestural interface shown in the film, which is something we talk about a little bit in the interview. Today, Kevin publishes a weekly newsletter called Recomendo as well as the weekly podcast, Cool Tools.







Learn timeless lessons on work and life from iconic founders, world-renown investors, and bestselling authors. Outlier Academy is the forever school for those chasing greatness. Past guests include Gokul Rajaram of DoorDash, Scott Belsky of Benchmark and Adobe, Joey Krug of Pantera Capital, Mark Sisson of Primal Kitchen, Luke Gromen of The Forest for the Trees, and Brian Scudamore of 1-800-GOT-JUNK.




Outlier Academy is hosted by Daniel Scrivner. Over the last 15 years, Daniel has led design teams at Square and Apple, turned around a $3M+ ARR SaaS business, and invested in more than 100 companies. He launched Outlier Academy in 2020 to learn from the world’s best founders, investors, authors, and peak performance experts.




Daniel Scrivner (00:06):
Welcome to another episode of Outliers with Daniel Scrivner, where each week I sit down with a world class performer to deconstruct what they've mastered, digging deep to uncover the tools, tactics, and tricks that we can all use in our own lives. And we have an incredible show for you today. My guest is the one and only Kevin Kelly, @kevin2kelly on Twitter. Kevin was the Founding Executive Editor at WIRED magazine when it launched, he's the author of multiple bestselling books, including What Technology Wants and the New York Times bestseller The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, which are two of my all time favorite books on technology. His perspectives of science and technology have been featured in the New York Times, The Economist in Time Magazine.

Daniel Scrivner (00:51):
Just to give you a sense for how prolific he is as a technology philosopher of sorts. When Stephen Spielberg was working on the movie Minority Report, he brought Kevin on as a futurist advisor. Kevin helped shape the world of Minority Report and helped dream up the gestural interface shown in the film, which is something we talk about a little bit in the interview. Today, Kevin publishes a weekly newsletter called Recomendo as well as the weekly podcast, Cool Tools. You can find Kevin Kelly online at and on Twitter @kevin2kelly. With that, please enjoy this episode. Kevin Kelly, I am so excited to chat with you. So thank you so much for your time. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a ridiculously long time.

Kevin Kelly (01:32):
It's a real privilege and pleasure to be here with you, and I'm so glad you invited me.

Daniel Scrivner (01:38):
Thank you so much. So I want to start with something that really stood out to me as I was doing research for the show, and for this interview, which is, I would say that you have a really interesting relationship with technology. You write about that your dad introduced you to computers and gave you a sense for the optimistic nature of technology. And you spent your 20s at the opposite end of the spectrum with a total disregard for it. And yet you've ultimately become an incredibly optimistic advocate for it. So can you maybe walk us through that and share how that shaped your experience and how that shaped your approach and perspective about technology?

Kevin Kelly (02:14):
I was growing up in high school kind of hippie-ish and like hippies, I was keeping technology at my arms length. I was very influenced in high school by Henry David Thoreau who wrote Walden, which was my hero, and the prospect of living a simple life, simple meaning not much stuff around, not much technology in particular was very appealing to me. And I set off after high school with that kind of a bias in mind. And I had spent a lot of time living with people who didn't have very much technology, which was a lesson in itself, but I came back and tried to get a career started and started a business selling mail order, budget travel guides, and I used someone else's computer to help me type set it. But the epiphany moment was when I had to plug the computer into a modem to transmit some stuff.

Kevin Kelly (03:10):
And on the modem I discovered at the other side of it was this emerging weird country of online bulletin boards and all that stuff. And for the first time, I became a little bit interested in what this stuff was because it felt a little different than the technology I had been used to. It had a different character, there was something more human scale about, or there was just a lot different and I wanted to find out more. And I started to investigate, and my method of investigating is to write about it. And so slowly I had the realization that this technology was far more appropriate to what I wanted to do and it was the first camel's nose in the tent of me rethinking technology overall. And as I got deeper into it, and there was more of it and eventually got involved in actually making it with the well, I felt that I was seeing a different face of technology and that face became more and more prevalent the deeper I got into it and computers came online and the complexity of those computers struck me as almost biological.

Kevin Kelly (04:27):
And that was actually my first book, Out of Control, which was examining how the world of the born is not that far from the world of the made. Artificial things are in some ways when they're really complicated, very similar and lifelike and can be, and are probably organized and managed with the same principles. And so my journey where I ended up was re-examining technology and understanding that it didn't have to be cold and impersonal and large and centralized and unforgiving, but it could be all the opposites. And so that journey kept going and is still going right now where I've tried to understand more precisely, what is this thing we call technology? In the cosmological sense, like where does it fit in? How does it relate to life? 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.

Daniel Scrivner (05:49):
Sure. And it's imprinted with human qualities or human-like qualities, or it can be-

Kevin Kelly (05:54):
Lifelike qualities. I don't actually think it's very human. I think it's lifelike. In other words, the origins of technology are not in human minds, but actually back at the big bang. And it was present before us because actually I think when animals use their minds to make… beavers make dams and birds make nests, those are kinds of technologies. So it's something that has preceded us, it works through us and will extend beyond us. So that was my realization, but technology can work at biological scales, which fit us very well.

Daniel Scrivner (06:32):
Yeah. And you've written a lot about that in What Technology Wants, which I was just rereading and is just, you do such a beautiful job in that book. I would highly recommend it to anybody because you manage somehow, like for me, I feel like so much of my life and so much of what I know and so much of my career, my career wouldn't exist without technology and you do an amazing job in the book of approaching it as a historian, a philosopher, and a futurist. And I'm wondering for anyone that hasn't read that book, which I highly encourage everybody to read, but can you share a little bit about what you landed on or the big ahas you had when you thought about What Technology Wants?

Kevin Kelly (07:11):
It was a long time coming because when I sent out to write the book, what I was hoping to do was to find a bunch of really smart people, professional philosophers, or historians of technology who could relate to me the theory of technology, and I would write it down and make it clear. Well, it turned out that there wasn't one, there wasn't a plausible, workable theory of technology, unlike Darwin's evolution for biology and nature. Well, I went up trying to have to cobble a proto theory together and to run to the end, and the spoiler is that the theory is basically that technology is an extension of the evolutionary process. It's evolution accelerated, that it's driven by the same dynamics that drive the self-organization of the planets and the galaxies and life itself.

Kevin Kelly (08:11):
And that it in many ways, has a direction similar to the direction that evolution has. And so we can answer what technology wants by answering the question, what does life and evolution want? And just to be clear, that question is controversial within the field of evolution in biology, because there are many smart people who maintain that there absolutely is no direction in evolution. And for me, in my looking at the evidence, I would say there absolutely is directions in evolution and the technium technology is following those same directions.

Daniel Scrivner (08:56):
And can you share a little bit about what you think that direction is?

Kevin Kelly (09:00):
Well, I would say it's plural directions and to be clear, it's not a destiny, there's no destination. These are directions. These are directions in the sense of, as I explained, one of the directions is that evolution and technology always moves towards the more complex. It rarely goes the other way of making things simpler. It generally makes things more complicated. We can increase the number of simple things, but the general pattern of evolution, so evolution is not really still evolving bacteria, but it's evolving other things because bacteria's… there'll be mutations and there'll be small advances in that space. But the open area is towards more complexity to make things ever more complicated. Same thing with technology in general is going to tend towards making things more complicated, which suggests that in the future, the devices you have will be ever more complicated. Now they may have a beautiful, simple egg like interface.

Kevin Kelly (10:10):
They may look as shiny and round as an egg, but inside they will be more complicated and they might even require more sophisticated knowledge to harness their full power. So that's one direction towards more complexity. Another direction is towards diversity. This is true in life. So we have a very simple, where all the organisms are initially evolved. They're very similar to each other. They're blobby, but over time evolution makes increasingly various different kinds of organisms and the same thing with technology will make ever increasingly diverse kinds of technology. So that's, again, not at a destination, that's a general direction. And the third one just for illustration purposes would be there's a general move in evolution from the general to the specific. Things are multi-purposed in the beginning and over time they tend to get more and more specific.

Kevin Kelly (11:12):
And so we have maybe a bacteria that could live almost anywhere, and then over time we have bacteria that can only live in hot springs, above 50 degrees centigrade with a certain amount of sulfur. And the same thing we've seen in technology, we have a camera in the beginning and then we can make a high speed camera and then we can make an underwater high speed camera, then we can make an underwater infrared high speed camera. So becoming more and more specific from the general. And that would say in the future, whatever we have now, phones or cars that there will continue to be ever more specific versions of those, cars that are amphibious cars, cars that are only made to travel long distance or cars that are only made to travel around the block. Whatever it is, we're going to have more and more specific versions of things.

Daniel Scrivner (12:05):
Yeah. It's so interesting listening to you say that, because on that third point about tending towards specialization, it feels like we've definitely seen that happen in tools. It used to be that there was a general purpose tool we might all use to work. Now there's an individual chat tool and a meeting tool and multiple… And so there's this massive proliferation going on. So if you're an entrepreneur in one of those spaces, do you think that, is there any reason to try to defy specialization then? Because I see both in the space, people going after all in one tools, as well as building super, super niche specific versions of specific tools. Any thoughts in terms of how to apply that idea or that thinking?

Kevin Kelly (12:45):
You could make a case that a Swiss army knife is a specialized tool, in that it's being promoted as a general purpose multi-use tool. And of course, the thing about the Swiss army knife is that as any one of those tools, it's not as good, there's trade off as if it was a specialized tool. So yes, there are attempts to be that multi tool than a Swiss army knife. Again, there probably isn't a huge space for them. Maybe you can have one or two, but it sounds like it's a viable specialization, which is to be this multipurpose is a better way to put it, and understanding that it's a very delicate position to be in because you have trouble doing anything really well.

Daniel Scrivner (13:35):
Particularly well.

Kevin Kelly (13:35):
And then of course the other thing is whenever there's a new territory being developed, the first tools will probably be general purpose as they try to figure out, and it's an obvious way to occupy that space. And people, the owners, the inventors will try to hold on to that position as long as possible when these other specialized tools come up. So there will always be new specialized tools, but if you would say, well, and technology has been around a long time, I don't know, cars, automobiles, there is you could say, a general purpose car, a car that does offroading and suburban car and long haul and is lightweight. No, there's just going to be trade offs. And that's the engineering principle of everything has a trade off. Everything's a trade off that you can't optimize all things. And that's a lesson by the way later on, if we talk about AI. One of the reasons why I don't believe in a singularity in AI, because you cannot optimize all the factors in intelligence at the same time. You always have to have trade-offs.

Daniel Scrivner (14:46):
Yeah. It's a fascinating perspective just to flip that and think about it as it is a form of specialization and sure it's one way to compete, but it puts you in a brittle position, which is really interesting. I want to go back to one of the things you said there just a few minutes ago, as you were talking about a general arc or trend with technology is leading towards more and more complexity, but that may not show up at the interface layer. It's just that what could be underlying that interface is more complexity. Does that mean that that interface layer is over time? You think that that will stay simplistic and will be a way of, I don't know, containing or I don't know, helping people understand and manipulate that complexity?

Kevin Kelly (15:25):
I think you put it very well. That's exactly what I think. I think that what that interface is one of the ways that we engineers, humans manage this ever increasing complexity. And I have another example of that interface managing complexity, which is the default. So most complicated software programs are so complicated and you have so many choices that for the beginner, doesn't want to think about and just be overwhelming and crushing to have to deal with deciding all these things, so you insert or you create defaults. And the defaults hide the possibilities from you until you are ready to summon them, and then at that point, when you're educated enough and powerful enough, you have enough capabilities, you can then change the defaults. But until you do, that complexity is hidden from you. And so this idea of skinning a skin to the complexity of a very, very simple interface is one of the ways that we finite beings are going to deal with the complexities that we're creating. And we'll have things like defaults where you can get as much of that complexity as you want and no more than you need.

Daniel Scrivner (16:46):
Do you think that that's been a reason that design as a discipline, as a career has taken off because they exist at that realm of sculpting what that interface is, and any thoughts about how that might evolve or become more-

Kevin Kelly (17:00):
Again, I think you're absolutely right. That is what the design approach has… a big part of their job is understanding that you are forming this interface to complexity basically, and the ones that do it well, like an iPhone and others understand where human beings are comfortable and what kinds of gestures and interfaces require the least amount of cognitive energy. And then you hide things behind that or inside of that. And I think yes, in the future, as things become ever more complex, designers who can master the complexity themselves in order to render it simple fight for everyone else will be in great demand.

Daniel Scrivner (17:49):
That's a wonderful way of putting it. I want to change course a little bit and talk about some of your work with WIRED magazine. So again, just as a little bit of context for people listening, you co-founded WIRED magazine 25 years ago and you still write one article per year, and I want to talk about that in a second. But one of the things I just to go back to that origin story, can you share a little bit about from the moment in time, take us back 25 years ago, what did you hope that that magazine would accomplish and what did you hope that that would help do in the technology space?

Kevin Kelly (18:21):
I can answer that by telling you an ambition that Louis Rossetto, who was the main parent of WIRED, the main founder, he used to persuade me to join. And after showing me the prototype, which I was very wowed by because it did something that I'd been trying to do, but even better because he brought people into it and I was making a magazine about the ideas of WIRED without the people. He said, “I want to make a magazine that feels like it's been mailed back from the future”. And that was when I said, “Okay, sign me up because that's exactly what I want to do.” I want it to be a package, a message from the future. And what that entailed in some ways was just as if you were to read, it's like a current issue of WIRED today 25 years ago, and it would be mail-back from the future, there'd be a lot in it that would be assumed that would not be explained.

Kevin Kelly (19:20):
And that's one of the things that we were trying to do, was we were trying to talk up to the readers rather than talk down, which was a very common stance for mainstream magazines and stuff. Pretend that you're writing to a seventh grader or something. When you use the word DNA, you've got to explain it. And it's like, I don't ever want to see an explanation of DNA again, because we were talking up, we were using language as if we were talking to each other. And I would tell writers, “Look, you are writing, not to this. You're writing to me. I am your audience. And I am bored, and I have read a lot. So you have to really amaze me. Don't talk down, you're talking to me”. And so that sense of one, of a peerage was part of what we were trying to do.

Kevin Kelly (20:12):
And then this other idea of taking William Gibson's observation of the future already being present, but were unevenly distributed, I described my goal to go out and find those little corners of the world where their future has already erupted. And we were going to bring them back and say, “Look at that, there's more of that coming”. And so that's what I hoped to do was to basically not report on the future sense, but actually report on where the future was in the present. And so I think we did that successfully, at least while I was there. I think we temperamentally had a optimistic vision, but I did not even realize at the time that that was going to be so important. Over time, it’s turned out that our optimism was the secret sauce. But when I began, I had no idea that that was really what would distinguish WIRED in the long run from others was our levels of optimism, which I think it has lacked a little bit in recent years, but I've only gained even more optimism about the future.

Daniel Scrivner (21:26):
Agreed. It's definitely the debate now is a lot less optimistic, maybe should be. Can you share a little bit about if you were trying to make the case to somebody, not to convince somebody that's not optimistic about technology, because I'm not sure if that's a useful exercise, but if you were just talking with someone and trying to make the objective case of why we should be optimistic about technology, what's the story you would tell there?

Kevin Kelly (21:47):
My main evidence for my 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 300 years, a pretty steady, but minor increase over each year that it could stop. 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 that we've seen over the last couple hundred years due to technology will continue. That's, I think, the most convincing argument and that again, the Delta, the amount of good that we create compared to the amount of stuff that we destroy is only a percent.

Kevin Kelly (22:54):
It's a minor degree, and that percent is invisible. You can't really see that Delta except in hindsight, except if you turn around and look because then it's compounded over time and that's how we get civilization. And so that's why the hindsight's so important because you can't really see it right now, a 1% difference in the good versus the bad. But if you do turn around and honestly look at it, you'll say, yeah, it's been increasing tiny bit, tiny bit, but over time, that piles up, that accumulates into something that we call civilization.

Daniel Scrivner (23:36):
And I love the way you state that argument because I feel like, well, there's a preponderance of evidence if you look backwards, but it's not to say that technology is overwhelmingly positive, but it does move us in the right direction. It does compound-

Kevin Kelly (23:49):
There's a net gain, I would say. I would say, and I'm sure critics would agree that most of the problems we have today have been caused by technologies that we've invented in the past. And I would say that almost all the problems we're going to have in the future are going to be caused by technologies we've invented today. And I think most critics would probably agree with that. Most techno skeptics or dystopians. Where I diverge is that I believe that the solutions to the problems caused by technology is not less technology, but better technology.

Daniel Scrivner (24:25):
It's just moving forward, pushing it forward.

Kevin Kelly (24:27):
Right. That we can't turn the technology off or prohibit it or ban it or turn it away because then we don't get to steer it. What we want to do is we want to make better technology to solve the problems. And of course, those better technologies will themselves cause new problems, which will need new technology to solve them, which we call new problems. And so people say, “Well, what are we gaining from all that?” And the simple answer is that we gain choices. We gain options, opportunities and choices, which is why we move to cities. It's what the future gives us, it’s the difference between a small village with beautiful scenes and organic food and strong families. That's the one thing it doesn't have. It doesn't have choices.

Daniel Scrivner (25:19):
I want to go back a little bit to one of the things you mentioned when you were talking about WIRED. And I'm so glad I asked that question, because you gave a wonderful… I had no idea about some of the backstory of why you ended up writing for it, but once you said that, it became very clear that that's been my experience of WIRED magazine. But you talked about the goal was in part to cover things that were at the fringe where the future was already here. It was just in a little pocket and it's not distributed yet. And the last piece that you wrote for WIRED was around Magic Leap. And I think it was a wonderful, it was the most in-depth story that I've read about what they're building. Would you mind sharing a little bit of what that experience was like for you with everyone listening?

Kevin Kelly (26:00):
So I wrote the Magic Leap article a couple years ago, but actually the last article I wrote was called Mirror World, which was about the thing that Magic Leap is trying to do, which is this augmented reality, this version of the world that you see or access with smart glasses. The Magic Leap piece was a little bit more somewhat about AR, but it was about the general dynamic of having virtual worlds. And it was not so much about Magic Leap itself. That was on the cover just as click bait. But the article was much more about the power of the virtual worlds and what we might do with AR and why it's so compelling. So one of the… a very common demo for virtual reality, given at places like Stanford VR lab is to have you go into a room, a normal office room, and you don the dark goggles and suddenly you're in that same room in a cartoon version of it.

Kevin Kelly (27:02):
And then moments later, the floor of that virtual world drops away and there's a plank which extends out into the middle of the air and there's a little kitty at the end. And the kitty is asking for your help. And your job is to walk out on this plank and rescue the kitty. And almost nobody could do it. I couldn't do it. My knees are shaking. I'm sweating. I'm trying to inch my way out over this plank. In my logical mind, I know that I'm just in exactly the same room that I have been, but I feel like I'm going to die. That feeling, that experience is so strong and it's a trick. It's a trick, that trick of presence, of immersion. It's similar to the trick of motion that a cinema gives us when the rocket is zooming across the screen, there is no movement.

Kevin Kelly (28:02):
It's a series of still images one after the other, that our brain assigns motion to and we would swear that it went across the screen. So our brains are easily tricked, and that one single trick has been exploited by Hollywood to make these incredible blockbuster films that are based on the hacking of our brain. One little hack around a little curious thing of our brain. And that's what VR is running off of. It's running off of a hack where if you have a spatial three-dimensional thing, you can be persuaded that that thing is present and you are there even though you know you're not, you feel like it is. And that feeling and experience of presence is so strong that it will overwhelm any other parts of your brain.

Kevin Kelly (28:58):
And that kind of presence and power is very powerful for learning things, for conveying information, for all kinds of reasons. And that's what we're going to exploit with the spatial computing of these magic glasses and smart glasses, because they're able to do that among other things. So that's the foundational innovation in AR, VR, MR and what they now call XR just to include them all. And so that XR, that's the foundation of this, the spatial volumetric 3D in time capture can persuade us in a way that we're unaware, subconscious and extremely powerful and all the other things that we experienced in VR and AR derived from that fundamental experience.

Daniel Scrivner (29:56):
You talked about a few different, so we got VR, AR, XR. I think there was another R somewhere in there.

Kevin Kelly (30:03):
MR. Mixed reality.

Daniel Scrivner (30:05):
MR. Mixed reality. When you think about those, so obviously those are similar in that they're in a wave that's still coming, but they're also very different in the way that they're executed and in the experience that they give you. When you think about that, is it that each of those just has different applications and they're not so much competing with one another or is there one of them you're more bullish on than the others?

Kevin Kelly (30:26):
That's a fair question. I would say this. I would say that what we would call AR, what I call mirror world, some people call spatial competing is the superset and that things like VR and MR are subsets of the superset, which is AR. In other words, any device that can do AR can do VR, but not any VR device cannot do AR. And the way an AR, augmented reality device does it is it simply blocks out the outside world. It just becomes non-transparent and then you have VR, but that is hard for VR goggles to become transparent, because it's completely different technology. So the superset will be covered mostly with the augmented reality smart glasses that can do VR as a hack. They may not do it again. To specialize, they may not do it as well, but they could certainly do some version of it.

Daniel Scrivner (31:27):
And have you started work on your next article and can you share any of what you might cover or explore there?

Kevin Kelly (31:33):
So what I'm exploring now is the term they call it generative art. And so the premise, or I should say the common knowledge is that AI is not creative. This is, again, the moving goal posts. So in the beginning, difference between computers and humans was all, they can't think whatever, they can't play chess. And so then they play chess, and well, they can't play Go. Well, okay. Then they play Go, and well, they can't be creative. Well, no, they can be creative. But the interesting thing, the thing that I'm learning is that they are creative in a different way, they have a non-human creativity. And so I'm trying to use AI to be creative, to generate art, to make paintings and writing and music.

Kevin Kelly (32:17):
And what's coming around to, is this idea that you humans work with them because they're two different minds and whatever, and AI makes by itself is not going to be very interesting to us, but working with them as a partner, we're able to create some very interesting things. And so it's going to be along the lines of I'm anticipating again this idea that this is the future broken out, I'm anticipating in the future, many, many, many people will be working with AIs. And so the question is, what is that like? What are some of the things we want to do well when we do that? How do we work with an AI being creative? So that's what I'm looking at by trying to see what art we can make together with an AI.

Daniel Scrivner (33:03):
Yeah. It's fascinating hearing you talk about that. It immediately makes me think of, have you read the book or heard of Red Moon?

Kevin Kelly (33:08):
No. Well, I haven't read it. I don't think I've heard it, but I definitely haven't read it. So Red Moon.

Daniel Scrivner (33:14):
Yeah. Red Moon. I think you would love it.

Kevin Kelly (33:16):
Who's it by?

Daniel Scrivner (33:17):
It's a good question. I'd have to look it up really quick. He's by a prolific science fiction author.

Kevin Kelly (33:21):
And why would I like it?

Daniel Scrivner (33:23):
So it's talking about working with AI. So just the premise of it for anyone listening is it's set on the moon and it talks about in this futuristic world where largely the US and China are competing on the moon. And it's a silent, quiet, underground war, but there's conflict there. But one of the stories that's in it is centered around, I don’t know, maybe you would best call him an analyst and he has an AI that lives on his computer. He's named it. He gives it assignments. He talks to it. It'll ping him when it has an update on an assignment that he'd given it. To me, we're clearly not there yet. And I don't know if we'll get there in my lifetime, but that was a small glimpse into what that could look like. And I know that you've written science fiction books. I know that you're a huge fan. Is there any book that you, or any vision of the future of how humans might interact with AI that you have a lot of affinity for or that you think there's something interesting?

Kevin Kelly (34:19):
I've worked on this group of people with Spielberg to design the world 2050 for Minority Report. And we had Tom Cruise's character doing gestures. And I think if I was to design a Hollywood movie picture about it set in the future and someone was working on a computer, I would imagine them using sign language of a new type. Not these big operatic gestures, but finger gestures, micro fingers controlling around, mumbling to themselves speaking. So [inaudible 00:34:52], this is somebody working on the computer, [inaudible 00:34:55], and they may even be looking up because they could be working in 3D, and my son and I call that ingenic media where you are using an interface in 3D to create a 3D world. So right now, 3D games are created on 2D screens, but they're moving to actually create the games inside with ingenic interfaces and ingenic controls.

Kevin Kelly (35:25):
And that ingenic interface for 3D has not yet been invented. So the windows mouse metaphor has not yet been invented for the spatial mirror world that we are likely to be working in, in the far future. But I think looking around, doing this indicating and talking, this might be how we are going to be communicating with our computers in the future, voice is certainly part of it and gestures of some sort, the other part.

Daniel Scrivner (36:00):
It's fascinating, because it makes me think about Ray Dalio has a piece in his book Principles where he talks about, and I think this is a really undercover part of that book. Because a lot of people, Ray Dalio, people that know him, he’s somewhat polarizing figure, people react at a high level to his book and it's about creating a meritocracy and they judge him on, has he done that successfully yet? But he has one piece in the book that I think's really undercovered, which talks about that he thinks everybody should be thinking of what they do in terms of algorithms.

Daniel Scrivner (36:28):
And that you're basically trying to codify what you're doing there, but there's that idea of us as humans, starting to think about what we're doing a little bit more algorithmically and what is the underlying logic there and how could we express it? But one of the things I love about your vision and that I loved about that book, Red Moon is it almost is like technology and AI becomes a collaborator where we can ask a question of it or say, what do you think of this? Or what happens if we blow this up to X? And I think that starts to become really interesting.

Kevin Kelly (36:54):
And the metaphor for me that is most easily conveyed about that relationship is imagine AIs, again, they're plural of many different varieties, thousands of different species of them, imagine them as artificial aliens. So these will be like an alien from another planet who comes down, who has a mind that thinks very different than we do. And like Spock and Kirk, you're going to have this and they're going to be frustrating at time because they're going to be dumb smartened. You they're going to be incredibly smart in some things and incredibly dumb in the others, but we'll use them because the two types of mind thinking together is so much more powerful.

Kevin Kelly (37:38):
And so far where we've had that ability to test this out, we've shown that to be true. So in chess right now, there's use of AIs in chess, which are very smart and there's a league, a freestyle league of chess where you can play chess at a high level, either as a grand master or as a computer or as a centaur team of human plus computer. And generally the ones that win are the team humans plus computer. So human plus computer is smarter than human in this chess and smarter than the computer because they have two different ways of thinking and that's very, very powerful. And so we could see teams where they have like a Star Trek bridge, where there's all kinds of different types of AR aliens who are working as a team to try and solve a problem.

Daniel Scrivner (38:43):
I love that analogy of Kirk and Spock. That feels very apt. So I want to talk about… just touch on a couple other things quickly. One of those is you started a free weekly newsletter four years ago called Recomendo, which I love. And I feel like a lot of people promise you'll get less signal, more noise out of this newsletter. I think you actually achieve that very well.

Kevin Kelly (39:02):
Thank you very much.

Daniel Scrivner (39:03):
And it's in part because you have a really strict cap of only having six things that go into each edition. And I think one other thing that then makes that even more interesting is it's yourself, it's Mark Frauenfelder of Boing Boing fame. It's Claudia Dawson. So there's three minds approaching this problem. You've got a fixed number of things. What does that process look like each week? And what typically, where do you end up finding the things that go in there? And is it like you voting on it, or?

Kevin Kelly (39:29):
One of the things I tell people stories about making creations is that you would think that once you do something for four years or whatever it is that it would get easier. My experience at WIRED magazine was that every single issue was a miracle that it made it to the printer on time. And people who make movies say the same thing that every single one of them is a miracle that it's done. It doesn't matter how many times you do it because generally what happens is that you are trying to increase the quality. You're always bumping it up. And so it's always on the edge of almost not happening. And so for us, the process is pretty organic and there are some weeks where I might have something at the beginning of the week and others are my deadline time and it's a deadline, I've got to come up with something.

Kevin Kelly (40:21):
And so generally we have a Google doc and I'll put ideas, and not even right through you, but here's what I am. I'm going to claim this one, Mark Colonia. And so we just enter the stuff into Google doc and as we think of them, and we are always aware that we need to come up with something, and so in my travels, as I'm going around and I encounter something that reminds me of that, or I want to try it out. And the premise of Recomendo which is different from Cool Tools is that these are things that we personally recommend and have used. So that's another constraining factor. It's not just something we've heard about. That was Cool Tools. It's just like, no, no, we are using it or doing it and...

Daniel Scrivner (41:07):
You're swearing by it.

Kevin Kelly (41:09):
Right. And so part of that process, you ask how it's written, is actually trying to use these things to constantly be trying out a new tool, a new place, or watching something and then coming back. And so this forces us to be open and curious to try new things because that's part of the job and that's where most of the time goes, is okay, someone recommends an app. Okay, well let's try the app and see if it works. Or here's a shortcut, does that really work? And so that's where most of the effort actually I would say is.

Daniel Scrivner (41:47):
Do you have a recommendation you've put your name next to that you would share, or that you're super excited about still that you've made recently? Something to share with the audience?

Kevin Kelly (41:56):
We are actually making a book right now, four years of Recomendo, the best of four years. And what's amazing is that we all generally stand by most of the recommendations that we've made. I'm still vibrating from the tremendous documentary that I saw a month ago called My Octopus Teacher on Netflix. And it's one of the best documentaries I've ever seen. And I've seen a lot of documentaries because they have a site called true films that reviews documentaries. And it's about this guy who went to visit the same small octopus on kelp reef every day for a year and filmed his encounters with it. And the two became very deep friends, and it was what the octopus taught him. It's amazing. Amazingly filmed, amazingly profound. It echoes into oceanic themes. It's just really, really great. So that was an example of something that I recommended.

Daniel Scrivner (42:56):
Sounds wonderful. I need to go, I've heard that mention before, but that's the best sell I've heard that. Yeah. I will go watch it after this. So there's a million more questions I could ask you but I want to be respectful of your time. And so I'll leave it there for today. But just one closing question is I typically would ask a couple, but just that we're short on time. Is there anything that you would like to share with the audience? As a final word, just requests, comments, complaints, anything that you would just put forward to share?

Kevin Kelly (43:21):
Well, you seem to be interested in technology and we've talked a little bit about it and I've talked about my optimism and a little bit of alignment with what we're just talking about in Recomendo of trying new things. What I would say about technology is that I try to be a minimalist in my own adoption of technologies, despite the fact that I try many things, there are actually very few things that I will end up using for many, many, many years. And that's deliberate in a certain sense, but that part of trying things I think is really important for people as we head into new technologies.

Kevin Kelly (44:02):
And the analogy that I would say is that I think it's unfair to try to judge technologies by imagining things, well, what they could do or couldn't do, their harms or problems. And that we should really evaluate technologies based on the data of how they're actually used. And therefore, what I suggest is that we need to use technology in order to find out what it's good for. So we need to embrace technology in order to steer it. And I think it's okay to judge technology. You've been using it for a while and say like social media and decide, okay, it's doing this. And this is how it needs to change. That seemed entirely fair to me. One of the things I did in 1989 was I brought together something called the virtual reality jamboree, it’s called Cyberthon.

Kevin Kelly (44:50):
And the idea was I brought together all the existing virtual reality setups. At that time, we opened it up for 24 hours and we wanted as many people to come in and try VR as possible, because even at that time, people were writing about VR who had never, ever used it. It was like, come on. We're going to make this as public as possible as many people could come in. So then you can write about it and what your experience was. So I would say my default stance is to embrace these technologies and embrace them and through use, trying to steer them where we want them to go.

Daniel Scrivner (45:28):
It seems like a very clear-eyed way to think about it. Thank you so much for your time, Kevin Kelly, it's been wonderful talking with you.

Kevin Kelly (45:33):
It's my pleasure. Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Daniel Scrivner (45:39):
Until next time, thank you so much for tuning in. For show notes, including links to everything mentioned in this episode, visit There you can also sign up for my weekly newsletter where each week I send out a single email with all of the best quotes, themes and ideas from the latest episode. To sign up for that, visit Just one more thing before you take off. If you enjoyed this episode, please leave a quick review in iTunes or Apple podcasts. Great reviews help us land great guests. So if you've enjoyed this episode, take 30 seconds to leave a short review. We would so appreciate it. Thank you so much.