Member's Eyes

Kevin Kelly

Portrait of Kevin Kelly

Leveraging AI to deliver smarter products and services

Longtime editor and writer Kevin Kelly served as the founding executive editor of WIRED, an American monthly magazine that focuses on how emerging technologies affect society and culture. WIRED is published also in the UK, Italy, Germany, and Japan in their respective languages. The website of the Japanese edition features Japanese articles as well as translations of foreign articles. Kelly is an active contributor to the New York Times, Economist, Science and other publications. 'The Inevitable’ is his 2016 book discussing about the twelve technological forces that he forecasts which will shape the next thirty years.

Articulating each of his proposed technological forces in gerund form, Kelly treats them as connected actions, each of which will become tendencies that continue over the coming 30 years. The twelve mega trends are as follows:

1. BECOMING
2. COGNIFYING
3. FLOWING
4. SCREENING
5. ACCESSING
6. SHARING
7. FILTERING
8. REMIXING
9. INTERACTING
10. TRACKING
11. QUESTIONING
12. BEGINNING

In a speech he gave in Japan to mark the publication of the Japanese edition, Kelly gave particular emphasis on three of the above trends—cognifying, interacting, and tracking. Let’s take a closer look at these.

In ‘The Inevitable’, Kelly writes that it is hard to imagine anything that would have the same impact on society as cheap and powerful as artificial intelligence (AI). Even a very tiny amount of useful intelligence embedded into an existing process boosts its effectiveness to a whole other level. The advantages gained from cognifying inert things would be hundreds of times more disruptive to our lives than the transformations gained by Industrial Revolution.

The word “cognifying” might be a little difficult to understand, but Kelly says that it is a coined word meaning “making things smarter”.

In his book, Kelly provides a number of examples of the possibilities opened up by using AI to create smarter products and services. For example, in cognified laundry, washing machines would adjust the wash cycle to the contents of each load as directed by smart clothes. Another example is cognified sports. Smart sensors and AI can create new ways to score and referee sporting games by tracking and interpreting subtle movements and collisions. Also highly refined statistics can be extracted from every second of each athlete’s activity to create elite fantasy sports leagues.

Internet of experience enabled by VR

Kelly cites virtual reality (VR) as a leading technology driving interacting. He writes that cheap, abundant VR will be “an experience factory” that we’ll use to visit environments too dangerous to risk in the flesh, such as war zones, deep seas, or volcanoes. Or we will be able to experience things that we easily can’t as humans— visiting the inside of the stomach, or the surface of a comet.

And this interacting will not be limited to just games or travel or entertainment. Usages such as holding virtual conversations with distant work colleagues are almost sure to become more and more common. Kelly argues that with the spread of VR and augmented reality (AR), “we are moving from the 'Internet of Information' to the 'Internet of experience'.”

“Experiences are going to be the new currency. You’re going to buy experiences, download them and share them. And the experiences provided by VR won’t be just intellectual or dramatic. They might include, for example, the experience of having someone nearby to comfort you when you’re sick, or of viewing a demo right in front of your eyes. VR will enable all sorts of experiences. And if you learn with VR, you’ll understand things much more deeply since you’ll experience them with your whole body, and they’ll be ingrained as more long-lasting memories as a result.” 

Kelly goes on to say that “Degrees of interaction are rising, and will continue to increase. Yet simple noninteractive things, such as a wooden-handled hammer, will endure. Still, anything that can interact, including the smart hammer, will become more valuable in our interactive society. We have only begun to invent novel ways to interact. The future of technology resides, in large part, in the discovery of new interactions. In the coming 30 years, anything that is not intensely interactive will be considered broken.”

A society where everything is tracked

The third trend cited by Kelly as being particularly important is tracking. Thermometers, heart rate monitors, and all sorts of other medical devices are being shrunk to microscale for insertion into watches, glasses, clothes and other everyday items. You can now measure your health parameters wherever you are at any time, and an increasing number of people are using such devices to monitor and manage their health. Alternatively, by daily recording and saving your actions, emails, schedules, and so forth, you can create a viable alternative to a diary.

However, quite apart from this self-tracking, Kelly envisages a future in which our actions will be tracked in totally unexpected ways.

“We—the internet of people—will track ourselves, much of our lives. But the internet of things is much bigger, and billions of things will track themselves too. In the coming decades nearly every object that is manufactured will contain a small sliver of silicon that is connected to the internet. One consequence of this wide connection is that it will become feasible to track how each thing is used with great precision. The design of the internet of everything, and the nature of the cloud that it floats in, is to track data. The 34 billion internet-enabled devices we expect to add to the cloud in the next five years are built to stream data. And the cloud is built to keep data. Anything touching this cloud that is able to be tracked will be tracked.”

Kelly says that he has investigated devices and systems that routinely track people in the United States. These include postal mail, power and water consumption, mobile phone location and call logs, civic cameras, grocery loyalty cards, and web activities, to name but a few. This trend is unavoidable, and Kelly argues that in such a surveillance society, “coveillance”—mutual surveillance, watching the watchers—will be vital. Kelly proposes that in a coveillant society, everyone will have “a human duty to respect the integrity of information, to share it responsibly, and to be watched by the watched.”

The challenge is to strike the right balance between respect for privacy and benefiting from personalized services. We’re entering an era in which each and every one of us needs to be aware of this reality.