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Deep Reading for the Future

Julia Champtaloup By Julia Champtaloup Published on September 12, 2016

The future is inevitable. We know it is coming, but are we prepared for the changes it will bring? Can we even contemplate what those changes might be? As our world evolves at a frenetic pace, we struggle to keep up with even small technological advances. What about the larger forces revolutionizing all aspects of our lives?

The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future promises to guide us through the 12 technological trends that will be the most influential over the next 30 years or so. Author Kevin Kelly, founding editor and Senior Maverick of Wired magazine, has long been a guru on all things tech and future-related. His latest book is all encompassing and optimistic about the coming changes that are inevitable.

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As Kelly touches on almost every topic in our technological history and future, it is comforting to be reminded that technological advances and developments from the past have ultimately fed and will feed into the technological advances of the future. History has shown that this progression has helped our society and continues to do so everyday. We had the telephone, television, space shuttles and now we have the Internet.

For those thinking they might like to fall behind the advances, Kelly reminds us that we are already dependent on our personal devices and many technologies that we take for granted. We are connected via our smart devices, wristwatches, and even cars. As a society, our satisfaction is based on the next, newer thing. Many of those next, newer things are the ones that we become dependent on.

The future holds many things we can foresee, but many that we cannot. Kelly urges us to embrace aspects of technology and big data (even what we don’t understand), trusting that they will be beneficial in the future. Describing complex trends in how technology and data are flowing, being shared, accessed, filtered and more, is a lofty exercise and one that takes readers through a universe of new worlds.

Currently, we stand at a crucial crossroads of accelerating and converging forces that make reading this book even more compelling. According to Kelly, there has never been a better time to invest in start-ups, invent things and move into enabling and disruptive new technologies, precisely because of this convergence of technologies. Kelly is convinced we are at a time that those in the future reflect on with envy.

The breakthroughs that have unleashed the arrival of the long-awaited artificial intelligence and the accelerating technological advances are: cheap parallel computation, big data and deep learning algorithms. Convergence of these trends along with powerful cloud-based computing and large data storage capacity means that these breakthrough trends will work to keep improving artificial intelligence and machine learning. Smarter machine learning will lead to deep learning, and further machine learning will move faster with improved technology and more data and so on.

While technology is busy exploring the future for us, we have to come to grips with quick advances in machine learning that will help computers figure out more for us as they gather more intelligence for their own operations. Our learning will advance and accelerate on a scale we have yet to experience. More and more captured information will turn into smart data that we can apply in a multitude of purposeful ways. Big data, in particular, is a tool with great potential now at our fingertips. We just have to be mindful of how we utilize it and manage it.

One aspect Kelly touches on is the future of employment. What will machine learning and automation mean in terms of job losses? The advent of automation historically meant many thousands of jobs were lost but new industries were created. In the future, with advance artificial intelligence and automation, new industries will also be created. Kelly predicts that by the end of the century 70% of all jobs will be replaced by automation.

We are already at the inflection point of robots taking over many of our standard jobs. Robots are inevitable and so is automation. In fact, there are many jobs that robots can and will do better than humans. And jobs that robots will do which humans aren’t able or willing to do. The main role of humans in the future, according to Kelly, will be to create jobs for robots. As humans, we will always have the advantage of creative and complex thinking skills and that is why Kelly is not fearful of artificial intelligence.

At present, our world is an intertwined club of individuals creating and sharing their own content. Free flowing content and quick accessibility has become standard in our every day lives. We can find information quickly and searching becomes easier. The more we search the more we create and contribute to the online universe of shared data. We have given ourselves over to this world of shared data and personal information.

Still, one of the biggest technological forces that will shape our future is big data. Governments and private companies are holding massive amounts of private and individual data but are not sharing it. Kelly says eventually we might have an open source where all the data merges; although he admits the time when companies freely share their data might be a long way off in the future.

Inevitably, it has to be the way of the future. We are faced with an avalanche of data and content for which we need filters. The library of everything quickly overwhelms us and we expect help to hone our information consumer habits.

We have already become dependent on help in making choices and filtering incoming information. But for higher-level applications, such as health, medicine and science we need even smarter filtering and data analysis.

Kelly believes that we are now at a moment of an awakening. We may look back and see this as a time that brought us together, making us a more civilised population. Clearly,  this is a critical time, with global clouds converging and shared data enabling positive advances in everything from health care to education to employment.

For many in the world today, most technological advances are overwhelming but also inaccessible. This is an area that needs more international management and awareness; areas Kelly doesn't address. One of the main roles of a civil society should be to ensure accessibility, not only to new technologies, but also to the future itself. Kelly neglects to address how this might happen, insinuating it will happen as the Internet and flow of data becomes more open and shared. Hopefully, the future is one of convergence for all, not just for some.

The Inevitable: Understanding The 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future is encouraging  about our ability to embrace fast paced changes but also to use them for the betterment of society. It is also a wake-up call: be mindful and use our intelligence wisely to anticipate trends to ensure we are active participants in shaping our future.

For Kevin Kelly, most of the future is already here while the rest of us are busy catching up. 

    Julia is a Sydney based writer covering sustainable living, innovation, books and art.