Wired Co-Founder Kevin Kelly Gives 36 Lectures on Our Future World: Education, Movies, Robots, Autonomous Cars & More

Giv­en recent events, 2019 may now seem to us like the dis­tant past. But to those who were think­ing hard about the future the year before last, noth­ing that has hap­pened since has been whol­ly unex­pect­ed — and espe­cial­ly not to those who’d already been think­ing hard about the future for decades. Take Kevin Kel­ly, co-founder of Wired mag­a­zine and writer on tech­nol­o­gy as well as a host of oth­er sub­jects. It was in 2019 that state telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­ny Chi­na Mobile com­mis­sioned him to give a series of 36 short video lec­tures on the “Future of X”: not the future of the inter­net in Chi­na and the future of India in com­pe­ti­tion with Chi­na, but a range of top­ics that will sure­ly affect us all, no mat­ter our part of the world.

Self-dri­ving cars, vir­tu­al real­i­ty, 5G, robots: Kel­ly has giv­en con­sid­er­a­tion to all these much-dis­cussed tech­nolo­gies and the roles they may come to play in our lives. But the impor­tant thing about them isn’t to know what form they’ll take in the future, since by def­i­n­i­tion no one can, but to devel­op habits of mind that allow you to grasp as wide a vari­ety of their pos­si­bil­i­ties as you can right now.

The future, as Kel­ly frames it in his talk on uncer­tain­ties, con­sists of “known knowns,” “known unknowns,” and “unknown unknowns.” Those last, bet­ter known as “black swans,” are events “com­plete­ly unex­pect­ed by any­body” that “change the world for­ev­er.” As exam­ples of pos­si­ble black swans to come he names World War Three, the dis­cov­ery of cheap fusion ener­gy, and, yes, a pan­dem­ic.

Soci­etal prepa­ra­tion for the future, to Kel­ly’s mind, will involve devel­op­ing “a very sys­tem­at­ic way of col­lect­ing these unknown unknowns and turn­ing them into known unknowns.” Per­son­al prepa­ra­tion for the future, accord­ing to his talk on schools and learn­ing, will involve cease­less acqui­si­tion and refine­ment of knowl­edge and under­stand­ing.

If we want to thrive in an uncer­tain future, he argues, we should “adopt a method of learn­ing called delib­er­ate prac­tice, falling for­ward or fail­ing for­ward,” in which we keep push­ing our­selves into unknown intel­lec­tu­al ter­ri­to­ry, always remain­ing “new­bies” at some­thing, assist­ed all the while by tech­nol­o­gy.

Just a cou­ple of decades into the 21st cen­tu­ry, we’ve already caught a glimpse of what tech­nol­o­gy can do to opti­mize our learn­ing process — or sim­ply to enable learn­ing where it would­n’t hap­pen oth­er­wise. “I don’t imag­ine that we’re going to go away from a class­room,” Kel­ly says, but we also “have the online video world, and more and more peo­ple today are learn­ing how to do an amaz­ing vari­ety of things, that we would­n’t have thought would work on video.”

Of course, since he spoke those words, one black swan in par­tic­u­lar has pushed much of human­i­ty away from the class­room, and we’ve found out a good deal more about what kind of learn­ing works (and does­n’t) over the inter­net. The future, it seems, is now.

You can watch the full playlist of videos, all 36 of them, below. We also rec­om­mend his very insight­ful book, The Inevitable: Under­stand­ing the 12 Tech­no­log­i­cal Forces That Will Shape Our Future.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What Tech­nol­o­gy Wants: Kevin Kel­ly @ Google

The Best Mag­a­zine Arti­cles Ever, Curat­ed by Kevin Kel­ly

What Books Could Be Used to Rebuild Civ­i­liza­tion?: Lists by Bri­an Eno, Stew­art Brand, Kevin Kel­ly & Oth­er For­ward-Think­ing Minds

Octavia Butler’s Four Rules for Pre­dict­ing the Future

9 Sci­ence-Fic­tion Authors Pre­dict the Future: How Jules Verne, Isaac Asi­mov, William Gib­son, Philip K. Dick & More Imag­ined the World Ahead

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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