#12 How They Built It: WIRED - On Technology's Origins, What Technology Wants, and Advising Steven Speilberg on Minority Report | Kevin Kelly, Founding Executive Editor

In this episode of Outliers, I sit down with Kevin Kelly, Founding Executive Editor of WIRED magazine, best-selling author, and publisher of Recomendo. We talk about his optimism about technology and how he expects it to evolve.
Last updated
August 14, 2023
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Kevin Kelly is the publisher of the incredibly weekly newsletter, Recomendo, and co-host of the Cool Tools podcast.
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#12 How They Built It: WIRED - On Technology's Origins, What Technology Wants, and Advising Steven Speilberg on Minority Report | Kevin Kelly, Founding Executive Editor

“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 Times, The 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


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.

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Daniel Scrivner (00:00):

Kevin Kelly, I am so excited to chat with you. Thank you so much for your time, I've been looking forward to this conversation for a ridiculously long time.

Kevin Kelly (00:07):

It's a real privilege and pleasure to be here with you. And I'm so glad you invited me.

Daniel Scrivner (00:12):

Thank you so much. I want to start with something that really stood out to me is 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.

Daniel Scrivner (00:30):

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. 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 (00:48):

I was growing up in high school, kind of hippie-ish, and like hippies, I was kind of keeping technology at my arms length. I was very influenced in high school by Henry David Thoreau who wrote Walden, which was sort of my hero, and the prospect of sort of living a simple life, simple meaning that much stuff around not much technology in particular was very appealing to me.

Kevin Kelly (01:15):

And I set off after high school with that kind of a bias in mind. And I 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, and started a business selling mail order, [inaudible 00:01:34], travel guides. And I use 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, and on the modem, I discovered at the other side of it was this emerging weird country, the online-ness bulletin boards and all that kind of stuff.

Kevin Kelly (01:57):

And for the first time, I became a little bit interested in what the 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.

Kevin Kelly (02:19):

And 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 into the tent of me rethinking technology overall. And as I got deeper into it, and there was more of it, and eventually it got involved in actually making it with the well.

Kevin Kelly (02:43):

I felt that I was seeing a different face of technology in 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. 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.

Kevin Kelly (03:12):

Artificial things are in some ways one of really complicated, very similar in lifelike, and can be in a probably more organized, and managed with the same principles. And so my journey where I ended up was reexamining 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.

Kevin Kelly (03:45):

And so that journey kind of kept going, and still going right now, where I've tried to understand more precisely, what is this thing we call it technology? In the cosmological sense, 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.

Daniel Scrivner (04:23):

Sure. And it's imprinted with human qualities, or human like qualities, or it can be-

Kevin Kelly (04:28):

Life like 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 kind of was present before us, because I actually, I think when animals use our minds to make... Beavers make dams, and birds makes nest, those are kinds of technologies. It's something that has preceded us, it worked through us, and will extend beyond us. That was my realization, but technology can work at biological scales, which fit us very well.

Daniel Scrivner (05:07):

And you've written a lot about that in what technology wants, which I was just rereading and it's just... You do such a beautiful job in that book. I would highly recommend it to anybody because you manage somehow 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.

Daniel Scrivner (05:26):

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, I guess, what you landed on, or the Big Aha you had when you thought about what technology wants?

Kevin Kelly (05:45):

It was a long time coming because when I set 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.

Kevin Kelly (06:06):

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 kind of run to the end. And the spoiler is that 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 is in many ways has a direction similar to the direction that evolution has.

Kevin Kelly (06:54):

And so we can kind of answer what technology was by answering the question, what does life and evolution want? And just to be clear, that question is controversial within the field of evolution and 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 (07:31):

And can you share a little bit about what you think that direction is?

Kevin Kelly (07:34):

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.

Kevin Kelly (08:01):

We can increase the number of simple things, but the general pattern of evolution. Evolution is not really still evolving bacteria, but it's evolving other things because bacteria is kind of the mutations and there'll be small advances in that space. But the open area is towards more complexity to make things ever more complicated. The 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.

Kevin Kelly (08:39):

Now, they may have a beautiful, simple egg like interface. 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 a full power. That's one direction towards more complexity, another direction is towards diversity and this is indeed true in life.

Kevin Kelly (09:05):

We have a very simple where all the organisms are kind of initially evolved, they're very similar to each other, they're kind of blobby, but over time evolution makes increasingly various different kinds of organisms, and same thing with technology will make ever increasingly diverse kinds of technology.

Kevin Kelly (09:27):

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 kind of multi-purposed in the beginning, and over time, they tend to get more and more specific.

Kevin Kelly (09:46):

And so we have maybe a bacteria that can live kind of 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 technology, we have a camera in the beginning, and then we can kind of make a high speed camera, and then we can make an underwater high-speed camera. Then we can make an end of winter infrared high-speed camera to becoming more and more specific from the general.

Kevin Kelly (10:15):

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 in Fabius cars, cars that are only made to travel on 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 (10:40):

It's so interesting listening to you say that, because on that third point about kind of tending towards specialization, it feels like we've definitely seen that happen in tools. It used to be that there was kind of a general purpose tool, we might all use to work. Now there's an individual chat tool, and a meeting tool, and multiple...

Daniel Scrivner (10:55):

And so there's this massive proliferation going on, I mean, I guess if you're an entrepreneur in one of those spaces, is there any reason to try to defy specialization then? Because I see both in this space, people going after all in one tools, as well as building super, super niche specific versions of specific tools. I guess, any thoughts in terms of how to apply that idea or that thinking.

Kevin Kelly (11:19):

You can make a case that's a Swiss Army knife is a specialized tool, is a specialized tool in that is 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 is not as good, there's trade-off, as it is if it was a specialized tool. So yes, there are attempts to kind of be that multi tool, that Swiss Army knife.

Kevin Kelly (11:48):

Again, it probably, isn't a huge space for them. Maybe you can have one, two, but it sounds like it's a viable specialization, which has 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 (12:09):

Particularly well.

Kevin Kelly (12:10):

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 kind of try to figure out, and it's kind of 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.

Kevin Kelly (12:35):

They'll always be kind of new specialized tools, but if you would say, well, technology has been around a long time. I don't know cars, automobiles. There is, I guess you could say a general purpose car. A car that does off-roading, and suburban car, and long haul, and it's lightweight.

Kevin Kelly (12:57):

I mean, 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 (13:21):

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 brutal 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.

Daniel Scrivner (13:42):

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 kind of, I don't know, containing, or I don't know, helping people understand and manipulate that complexity?

Kevin Kelly (14:00):

I think you put it very well, that's exactly what I think. I think that interface is one of the ways that we engineers, humans manage this complexity of ever increasing complexity. And I have another kind of example of the interface managing complexity, which is the default. So, so most complicated software programs are so complicated and you have so many choices that for the beginner, it doesn't want to think about, and it would just be overwhelming and crushing to have to deal with deciding all these things.

Kevin Kelly (14:35):

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 were kind of educated enough, and powerful enough, and you have enough capabilities, you can then change the defaults. But until you do, that complexity is hidden from you.

Kevin Kelly (14:57):

And so this idea of kind 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 kind of get as much of that complexity as you want and know more than you need.

Daniel Scrivner (15:21):

Do you think that that's been a reason that I guess design as a discipline, as a career, has taken off because they kind of exist at that realm of sculpting with that interfaces. And I guess any thoughts about how that might evolve to become one-

Kevin Kelly (15:34):

Again I think you're absolutely right. That is what the design approach is. 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 are kind of understand where human beings are comfortable, and what kinds of gestures, and interfaces require the least amount of cognitive energy. And then you kind of hide things behind that are 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 simplified for everyone else will be in great demand.

Daniel Scrivner (16:23):

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. 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 I guess 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, I guess, 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 (16:56):

I can answer that by telling you ambition that Louis Rossetto, who was the main parent of Wired, the main founder, used to persuade me to join. And after showing me the prototype, which was... I was very wowed by because it did something that I've 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.

Kevin Kelly (17:24):

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, "Hey, sign me up, because that's exactly what I want to do." I want to have bear 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 we'd be back mailed back from the future.

Kevin Kelly (17:49):

There'll be a lot in it that would be assumed that will not be explained. And that's one of the things that we were trying to do, is we were trying to talk up to the readers rather than talk down, which was very common stance for mainstream magazines, and stuff. Pretend that you're writing to a seventh grader or something.

Kevin Kelly (18:10):

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 were writing not to this, you're writing to me, I am your audience. And I am bored and I read a lot, so you have to really amaze me, don't talk down, you're talking to me."

Kevin Kelly (18:39):

And so that sense of one of kind of a peerage was part of what we were trying to do. 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 some more of that coming.

Kevin Kelly (19:08):

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.

Kevin Kelly (19:35):

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 into 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 (20:00):

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 (20:22):

My main evidence for my optimism is history. Look at the last couple 100 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 of pretty steady, but minor increase over each year, that it could stop, if it stopped tomorrow, things could suddenly be different and it would cease.

Kevin Kelly (20:54):

That is possible, there's a greater than zero chance, but it's very, very unlikely. The statistical probability is it that those forces that inertia, that momentum would continue, and the progress we've seen over the last couple 100 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, it's a minor degree.

Kevin Kelly (21:31):

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 is 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, "It's been increasing tiny bit, tiny bit," but over times that piles up that accumulates into something that we call civilization.

Daniel Scrivner (22:10):

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 (22:24):

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 vented today. And I think most critics would probably agree with that. Most techno skeptics or dystopians, where I diverge is I believe that the solutions to the problems caused by technology is not less technology, but better technology.

Daniel Scrivner (22:59):

It's just moving forward and pushing it forward.

Kevin Kelly (23:01):

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 this problems, so people say, "Well, what are we gaining from all of that?"

Kevin Kelly (23:28):

And the simple answer is that we gain choices, we gain options, opportunities, and choices, which is why we moved to cities. This is why... Is what the future gives us as 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 (23:53):

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 for 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 the Wired magazine.

Daniel Scrivner (24:10):

But you talked about the goal was in part to cover things that were kind of 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 (24:35):

I wrote the magic leap article a couple of 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 AI, but it was about the general dynamic of having virtual worlds.

Kevin Kelly (25:02):

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 AI, and why it's so compelling. So one of 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've done the dark goggles. And suddenly you're in that same room in a cartoon version of it.

Kevin Kelly (25:36):

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.

Kevin Kelly (26:06):

I in my mind, my logical mind, I know that I'm assistant exactly the same room that I have been in, but I feel like I'm going to die. That feeling, that experience is so strong, and it's trick, it's a trick. That trick of presence of immersion it's similar to the trick of motion that cinema gives us when the rocket is zooming across the screen, there is no movement. 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.

Kevin Kelly (26:48):

Our brains are easily tripped in that trick, that one single trick has been exploited by Hollywood to make these incredible blockbuster films that are based on that hacking of our brain. One little kind of 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 were there, even though you know you're not, you feel like it is.

Kevin Kelly (27:24):

And that feeling and experience of presence is so strong that will overwhelm any other parts of your brain. And that kind of presence of power is very powerful for learning things, for conveying information, for all kinds of reasons. And that's what we're going to explore with the spatial computing of these magic glasses and smart glasses, because they're able to do that among other things.

Kevin Kelly (27:57):

That's sort of the foundational innovation in AR VR, MR, and what they now called 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 of subconscious, and it's extremely powerful, and all the other things that we experienced in VR and AR kind of derived from that fundamental experience.

Daniel Scrivner (28:31):

You talked about a few different, so we've got VR, AR, XR. I think there was another R somewhere in there.

Kevin Kelly (28:37):

MR, mixed reality.

Daniel Scrivner (28:38):

MR, mixed reality. When you think about those, 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 I guess, is there one of them you're more bullish on than the others?

Kevin Kelly (29:01):

That's a fair question. I would say this, I would say that the... What we would call AR what I call mirror world. Some people call special computing 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 of VR device cannot do AR.

Kevin Kelly (29:27):

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 for a VR goggles to become transparent, because it's completely different technology. The superset is, what we covered mostly with the augmented reality smart glasses that can do VR as a hack. They may not do again to the specialized, they may not do it as well, but they could certainly do some version of it.

Daniel Scrivner (30:01):

And have you started work on your next article, and can you share any of what you might cover or explore?

Kevin Kelly (30:07):

What I'm exploring now is the term they call, generative art. And so the premise, or I should say the common knowledge is that AI is not creative. I mean, this is sort of, again, the moving goalposts. In the beginning, the difference between computers and humans was all they can't think whatever, they can't play chess, and so then they play chess. Or they can't play go, well, and then they play go. Well, they can't be creative, well, no, they can be creative.

Kevin Kelly (30:37):

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. I'm trying to use AI to be creative, to generate art, to make paintings, and writing, and music. And what's coming around to this idea that you humans work with them because they're two different kinds of minds, and whatever an AI makes by itself is not going to be the very interesting to us, but working with them as a partner, we're able to kind of create some very interesting things.

Kevin Kelly (31:09):

And so it's going to be along the lines of anticipating again, this idea that this is a 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? That's what I'm kind of looking at by trying to see what kind of art we can make together with an AI.

Daniel Scrivner (31:38):

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 (31:43):

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 (31:48):

Red Moon. I think you would love it.

Kevin Kelly (31:50):

And who's it by?

Daniel Scrivner (31:51):

It's a good question. I'd have to look it up really quick. He's by a prolific science fiction author.

Kevin Kelly (31:56):

And why would I like it?

Daniel Scrivner (31:58):

It's talking about working with AI. Just the premise of it for anyone listening is, it's set on the moon. And it talks about kind of in this futuristic world where largely the US and China are competing on the moon, and it's kind of a silent, quiet, underground war, but there's conflict there.

Daniel Scrivner (32:15):

But one of the stories it's centered around, I don't know, maybe you would best call him like 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, it just we're clearly not there yet, and I don't know if we'll get there in my lifetime.

Daniel Scrivner (32:35):

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 (32:52):

I've worked on this group of people with Spielberg to design the world 2050 for minority report. And we had Tom Cruise 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.

Kevin Kelly (33:26):

[inaudible 00:33:26], there's somebody working on the computer [inaudible 00:33:29], and they may even be looking up because it could be working in 3D, and my son and I call it that ingenic media, where you are using an interface in 3D to create a 3D world. Right now 3D games are created on 2D screens, but they're moving to actually create the games inside within ingenic interfaces and ingenic controls.

Kevin Kelly (33:59):

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 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 (34:34):

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 undercovered part of that book, because a lot of people, Ray Dalio people that know him, he's somewhat polarizing figure. People kind of react at a high level to his book, and it's about creating a meritocracy, and they kind of judge him on has he done that successfully yet?

Daniel Scrivner (34:55):

But he has one piece in the book that I think is really undercovered, which talks about that, he thinks everybody should be thinking of what they do in terms of algorithms. And that you're basically trying to codify kind of what you're doing there, but there's kind of 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?

Daniel Scrivner (35:15):

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 (35:29):

And the metaphor for me that is most easily conveyed about that relationship is imagined AIs again, they're plural of many different varieties, thousands of different species of them. Imagine them as artificial aliens, these will be kind of 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 it going to be frustrating at time because they're going to be dumped smarten.

Kevin Kelly (35:59):

And 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. 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.

Kevin Kelly (36:26):

And there's a league, the freestyle league of chess where you can play chess at the high level, either as a grandmaster, or as a computer, or as a centaur team of human plus computer. And generally, the ones that win are the team, humans plus computers. 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 aliens who are working as a team to try and solve a problem.

Daniel Scrivner (37:17):

I love that analogy of Kirk and Spock. It feels very apt. 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, Recommender, which I love. And I feel like a lot of people kind of promise you'll get less signal more noise. Out of this newsletter, I think you actually achieve that very well.

Kevin Kelly (37:36):

Thank you very much.

Daniel Scrivner (37:37):

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 fame, it's Claudia Dawson. So there's three minds approaching this problem. You've got to fix 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 (38:04):

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, they would get easier. My experience of 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 the miracle that it's done.

Kevin Kelly (38:29):

It doesn't matter how many times you do it, because what generally what happens is that you are trying to increase the quality. You're always kind of 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's some weeks where I may have something at the beginning of the week, and others are deadline time, and it's a deadline, I've got to come up with something.

Kevin Kelly (38:55):

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 always are kind of 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, the premise of recommender, which is different from cold tools is that these are things that we personally recommend and have used. 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 (39:42):

Or swearing by it.

Kevin Kelly (39:43):

Right. And so part of that process you ask how's written, is actually trying to use these things to constantly be trying out or new tool, a new place, and then or watching something, and then coming back. And so it's kind of 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, there's someone who recommends an app, 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 (40:21):

Do you have a recommendation you'll 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 (40:31):

We are actually making a book right now, four years of recommender of 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 I have a cycle true films that reviews documentaries.

Kevin Kelly (41:00):

And it's about this guy who went to visit the same small octopus on a 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, kind of echoes into oceanic themes. It's just really, really great. That was example of something that I recommended.

Daniel Scrivner (41:30):

It sounds wonderful. I need to go, I've heard that before, but that's the best sell I've heard yet. I will go watch it after this. 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 (41:56):

Well, you seem to be interested in technology, and we've talked a little bit about it, and I've talked about my optimism in kind of a little bit of alignment with what we're just talking about in recommender 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.

Kevin Kelly (42:24):

And that's kind of deliberate in a certain sense, but that part of trying things is, I think is really important for people as we head into new technologies. 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.

Kevin Kelly (42:54):

And therefore, what I suggest is that we need to use technology in order to find out what it's good for. We need to embrace technology in order to steer it. And I think it's okay to judge technology that you've been using for a while, say like social media and decide, it's doing this and this is how it needs to change, that seems totally fair to me.

Kevin Kelly (43:16):

One of the things I did in 1989 was I brought together something called the virtual reality [inaudible 00:43:23], it's called cyberfun. 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-

Daniel Scrivner (43:44):

Come on.

Kevin Kelly (43:45):

We're going to make this as public as possible, as many people could come in, and then you can write about it, and what your experience was. I would say my default stance is to embrace these technologies, and embrace them, and through use, try to steer them where we want them to go.

Daniel Scrivner (44:03):

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 (44:07):

It's my pleasure, thank you for having me, I really enjoyed it.

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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