The Inevitable

By: Kevin Kelly



Change is inevitable. Author Kevin Kelly lists the 12 “inevitable” forces that he believes will shape our future. He uses the word “inevitable” to mean forces rooted in the nature of technology, rather than in the nature of society. He chose twelve verbs that convey continuous actions that will inevitably continue for at least three more decades.

Those verbs are: becoming, cognifying, flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, interacting, tracking, questioning, and beginning. This summary will describe each of the twelve.


Upgrading has become a type of hygiene to our technology: you do it regularly to keep your devices healthy. The machines slowly change their features over time – they are “becoming.”

Technological life in the future will be a series of endless upgrades. This “becoming” era will make everyone a newbie. The most important technologies that will dominate in the future haven’t even been invented yet, so of course we’ll be newbies to them. Also, they will be in a constant cycle of upgrades, so the users will be in a constant cycle of returning to being a newbie. We won’t have time to master anything before the next update comes out.

Instead of a utopia or dystopia, technology is taking us to protopia – the state of becoming, rather than a destination. It is a process. It is incremental improvement or mild progress.

The future will be the product of a process – a becoming. The innovation of the last thirty years has set us up for success, but the future is going to be different. The things we make will constantly and relentlessly becoming something else. Today is a wide open frontier.


Cheap, powerful, ubiquitous artificial intelligence is going to change everything. Kelly believes that one day, AIs will be connected to each human mind in addition to quintillions of online transistors and the continuous feedback loops of civilization. When this arrives, we will be able to reach it through any digital screen in the world. And because it will be merged with human intelligence, it will be hard to say exactly what it is.

Cognification is inevitable because it is already here. The electronic genius Watson is an AI that appeared on Jeopardy! in 2011. Since then, he has gotten bigger and smarter. Now, he can diagnose diseases based on symptoms that are nearly always correct.

Many other companies are launching Watson-like services. Google bought an AI company called DeepMind and they have developed an AI that can learn how to play video games on their own. Soon, everything will have an AI component. Hours of personal music will be written by AIs, clothes will tell the washing machine how they want to be washed, and patients can be tracked and given personalised treatments that are adjusted daily.

Three recent breakthroughs have made way for the arrival of artificial intelligence: cheap parallel computation, big data, and better algorithms. AI will only continue to improve.

AI will inevitably take some of our jobs, but it will free us up to discover new jobs that we never imagined needed to be done. They will let us focus on becoming more human than we were.


The Internet is the world’s largest copy machine. It can copy every character, word thought, and message millions of times – and it does. The instant reduplication of data, ideas and media underlines the major sectors of the 21st century economy. The flow of copies is inevitable.

Our attention has moved away from solid goods to flows of intangibles. We seek out fluid services that continuously update. We want everything to happen in real time. If we deposit money in the bank, we want it to show up immediately. In order to operate in real time, everything has to flow.

Because copies are ubiquitous, they become worthless. The things that can’t be copied are scarce and valuable. To be successful, you need to sell things that cannot be copied – generative values. A generative value is a quality or attribute that must be generated at the time of the transaction, such as immediacy, personalisation, interpretation, authenticity and accessibility, embodiment, and discoverability.

These cannot be copied, cloned, stored and warehoused. Generative qualities add value to free copies and therefore are something that can be sold.


Today, more than 5 billion digital screens light up our lives. Digital display manufacturers will produce 3.8 billion new screens per year. The future is of the screen.

Screen culture is fast, and as liquid and open-ended as a Wikipedia page. Screens are always on, and always showing us something else to read or look at.

With screens as books, reading becomes much more communal. I can highlight and share my favourite passages from a book, and soon I will be able to link and tag between books and readers to turn reading into a networked event.

Screening is an inevitable force of the future.


In today’s world, possession is not as important as it once was. And accessing is more important than ever. Five deep technological trends accelerate this long-term move away from ownership and toward accessing.

Dematerialisation: Things are now being produced with fewer materials. Some items have no materials at all (such as apps). There is a big migration from “ownership that you purchase” to “access that you subscribe to.”

Real-Time On Demand: Access is a way to deliver new things almost immediately. Instead of calling a taxi, giving them your address, waiting for it, and fumbling with your wallet to pay, now you can do it all automatically in real time with Uber. It decentralises work and makes it happen in real time.

Decentralisation: Technology has enabled decentralisation. The more our society decentralises, the more important accessing becomes to keep relations fluid.

Platform Synergy: A platform is a foundation created by a firm that lets other firms build products and services upon it. There is now an ecosystem of interdependent platforms.

Clouds: A cloud is a colony of millions of computers that are braided together to act as a single large computer. A cloud is more powerful than a traditional supercomputer because its core is spread across many chips in a massively redundant way. Now, you can access anything from anywhere using the cloud.


Sharing and sampling content is the new default. Collaboration is the way of the future. Not only are we sharing more about ourselves (on sites such as Facebook and Instagram), but we also work together toward a large-scale goal.

Sites like Wikipedia are run with the help of individuals around the world that share their time, knowledge, and expertise to create something.

The largest, fastest growing, most profitable companies will be the ones that have figured out how to harness aspects of sharing that are invisible and unappreciated today.


In our world, there are millions of songs, books, articles, movies, TV shows and other things for our consumption. We employ a manner of filtering to help us make the choice of what to take in.

Facebook filters what shows up on your newsfeed. Amazon filters and shows you items they think you may like based on your buying history. Google filters the search results you see.

Filtering systems will be extended to other decentralised systems beyond media. A filter focuses content as well as attention. Our attention is the only valuable resource we produce without training. More filtering is inevitable because we can’t stop making new things. Chief among the new things we will make are new was to filter and personalise.


Modern technologies are combinations of earlier technologies that have been rearranged and remixed. We are in a period of productive remixing. And the more new technologies that come out, the more combinations are possible. Remixing offers exponential growth.

The entire global economy is tipping away from the material and toward intangible bits. It is moving away from ownership and toward access. It is tilting away from the value of copies and toward the value of networks. It is headed for the inevitability of constant, relentless and increasing remixing.

Every creation that has any value will eventually and inevitably be transformed into something different. The most important cultural works and the most powerful mediums will be the ones that have been remixed the most.


Virtual reality is a fake world that feels absolutely authentic. A simulated environment that you can enter at will is long overdue. Virtual reality is already on its way.

We are equipping our devices with senses – eyes, ears, and motion – so that we can interact with them. They will not only know we are there, they will know who is there and whether that person is in a good mood.

In the future, all devices will interact. If it does not interact, it will be considered broken. The interaction expansion will give us more senses, more intimacy, and more immersion.

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 obsolete.


We already live in a time of tracking. We track our diet, fitness, sleep patterns, moods, blood factors, genes, and location in quantifiable units. Soon, tracking everything will be the new normal.

Humans are inherently bad with numbers. In the long term, self-tracking will go far beyond numbers. One day, there will be constant streams of data flowing from our bodily senses.

There will be a constant monitoring of vital body measurements; an interactive, extended memory of people you met, conversations you had, places you visited, and events you participated in; a complete passive archive of everything you have ever produced, wrote, or said; and a way of organising, shaping, and “reading” your own life.

To the degree this life-log is shared, this archive of information could be leveraged to help others work and to amplify social interactions. Health logs could advance medical discoveries.

There is already a long list of things we do that are tracked: car movements, highway traffic, ride-share taxis, long-distance travel, drone surveillance, postal mail, utilities, cell phone location and call logs, civic cameras, commercial and private spaces, smart home, home surveillance, interactive devices, grocery loyalty cards, e-retailers, IRS, credit cards, e-wallets and e-banks, photo face recognition, web activities, social media, search browsers, streaming services, book reading and fitness trackers. The list expands each day.

We are on our way to manufacturing 54 billion sensors every year by 2020. This web of sensors will generate another 300 zillionbytes of data in the next decade. We will be astounded at what is possible by a new level of tracking ourselves.


What we used to believe was impossible is now happening all around us. The majority of the most amazing inventions have not even been invented yet. Which means we should get used to some unexpected “impossible” things happening.

Every minute a new impossible thing is uploaded to the internet and that improbable event becomes just one of hundreds of extraordinary events that we’ll see or hear about today. Certainty itself is no longer as certain as it once was, which is why questioning is inevitable.

Technologies that generate questions will be valued more. Question makers will be seen, properly, as the engines that generate the new fields, new industries, new brands, new possibilities, and new continents that our restless species can explore. Questioning is simply more powerful than answering.


Thousands of years from now, historians will view this time as the beginning of an amazing movement. A movement of animating inert objects with tiny bits of intelligence and linking billions of their own minds into a single supermind.

The scale of what we are becoming is hard to absorb. But it’s happening. The phase change has already begun. We are marching toward firmly connecting all humans and all machines into a global matrix. The direction of this process is clear. In the next 30 years, we will move toward increased flowing, sharing, tracking, accessing, interacting, screening, tracking, screening, remixing, filtering, cognifying, questioning, and becoming.

And it’s only the beginning.