What Technology Wants by Kevin Kelly

Reading Time: 2 minutes

What Technology Wants is written by Kevin Kelly. If anyone deserves the term digerati its Kevin Kelly. Kelly worked on the Whole Earth Catalog, a hippy guide to useful stuff, he was involved in The WELL and was a founder of Wired magazine.

What Technology Wants follows on from previous works that Kelly had written. Out of Control looked at how software created a parallel infrastructure to the real world. At the time ‘software agents’ were a thing and artificial intelligence was here but unevenly distributed. Out of Control was written in 1992, yet forecast ideas like ‘digital twins’ – software simulations that are currently in vogue.

His book New Rules for the New Economy looked at the economic principles that technology and and web directly impacted. This seemed to build on work done to also write the Encyclopedia of the New Economy, which was published as a three part series in Wired magazine, the same year.

So it seems appropriate that Kelly took a long term viewpoint and wrote What Technology Wants as a historical, economic and philosophical analysis of technological progress.

Kelly puts forth the case that technological momentum, what he calls the technium has a momentum of its own and that it is inevitable. The idea that every innovation has its time. This is why innovation can seem lumpy and why innovations like television and the light bulb can claim to have dozens of inventors.

The technium seems to build momentum with each key development put in place across fields science, technology and information theory.

Short of societal collapse, it is not something that can be fought or turned back but can be managed to get the best from it. It also isn’t the kind of starry-eyed futurism that the likes of George Gilder had turned out in his book Telecosm. Kelly appreciates the double edged sword that technology represents.

This then poses questions around a number of areas from economics to ecology.  I would expect this book to be dinner party fodder as a kind of thinking man’s Malcolm Gladwell. More book reviews here.