From highway robbery to Internet Cavalry
KEVIN KELLY — THE INEVITABLME — UNDERSTANDING THE 12 TECHNOLOGICAL FORCES THAT WILL SHAPE OUR FUTURE — 2016
The author is a granddaddy of the startup world since he is one of the founders of WIRED, but as a granddaddy he has apparently missed a train along the (Rail)way, which is natural since he only flies, but there are some people who are still using trains or even buses, you know, long distance of course, not yet self-driving but that will happen soon. So I will use the Internet to communicate with our constant flying granddaddy from the train that takes me to some capital city in the vast world. Tomorrow it should be Paris.
Of course there have to be TWELVE technological forces since we are completely enslaved in our societies by a whole set of Christian numbers that are nothing but ideological. Twelve apostles, the twelve forces of the future of saved humanity. Saved? Well, hardly salvaged actually, so saved I doubt it. But TWELVE is for me like trying to pass water in a violin and expecting fluid music. The point is that the author does not seem to see that ideological manipulation. If he saw it he would be cynical since he would be consciously manipulating the readers, which he is doing let’s say unconsciously. And that’s going to be my first point. What are those TWELVE technological forces?
Page 8: “becoming, cognifying, flowing, screening, accessing, sharing, filtering, remixing, interacting, tracking, questioning, and then beginning.” I have taken the superfluous capital letters off. If we looked at each one in the twelve chapters of the book, we would easily find that “becoming” and “flowing” are the same thing, “anicca” in Buddhist terms, nothing ever stays stable for more than a geometric point of time, everything is always changing, etc. The last one, “beginning,” is not even conceivable as a force of whatever what because it is the very consequence of this “anicca”: if everything is ever changing then every dimension-less punctual instant is the beginning of the next moment and the end of the previous moment, hence it is nothing but becoming and flowing. I am already down at ten, the decimal system, modern times, the metric system of the new pound and the dollar against the old fashion twelve pennies in one shilling and twenty shillings in one old pound and twenty-one shillings in one old totally obsolete guinea. But I could go on and show that he is splitting simple invention into several elements, unluckily lengthwise. Note too that some of these forces are nothing but forces that are as old as humanity since they are the difference between Homonins and all other animals. To be clear I will borrow from the Australian Museum the definition of the term:
Hominid — the group consisting of all modern and extinct Great Apes (that is, modern humans, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans plus all their immediate ancestors).
Hominin — the group consisting of modern humans, extinct human species and all our immediate ancestors (including members of the genera Homo, Australopithecus, Paranthropus and Ardipithecus).
Hominins in my practice of linguistic phylogeny starting with the older Hominids (monkeys and apes) but climbing one step up with Homo Sapiens and probably Homo Neanderthalensis and Homo Denisovans that reach the level of articulated languages, rather limited in the last two Homo branches and fully developed only in Homo Sapiens. Between the lowest Hominids and the three Hominins I just quoted there must have been some slow but very limited improvement since articulation was developed but probably in a limited way by the Homo (Faber or whatever) from which the three Homos I have quoted are descending. This language developed on the basis of linguistic calls among all Hominids excluding Hominins (I assume this point from all the surviving Hominids excluding Hominins). These calls are not articulated in their morphology nor in their syntax. In fact, they have neither morphology nor syntax because they would have to be articulated to have that. Morphology presupposes the rotation of vowels and consonants in the calls, which is not the case, and syntax presupposes that the calls when they are associated keep their basic meaning which is not the case: a complex call has a meaning that has little to do with its components. The only syntax they have is not articulated. It is pure succession, one call after another but no real syntax, not even concatenation which implies a hierarchy between them. What does that mean for Kevin Kelly?
A lot. “Cognifying” as he calls it is the basic human competence developed through the construction of the mind from experience confronted to the world in which humans have to survive using language and building, constructing, inventing that language along with developing the competence that is behind: conceptualization; Everything becomes an item that is symbolized by a word that has an abstract meaning. This abstract meaning enables men to speak of anything in the absence of this anything which monkeys can’t do, except after long contact with some humans who have spent a lot of time to teach them how to do it. They may have a brain that permits it but they have never developed it naturally. They call about a danger when the danger is present. Luckily we can speak of many things in their absence. Then he could have seen (I thought at one evanescent moment he was going to see the point, but it was a flimsy impression) that the whole process of constructing the mind and language requires from every individual within a social context to discriminate what is captured by the senses and processed as plain sensual raw material by the brain: discriminate in order to identify, meaning to extract from this raw material recurrent forms and items that are then named with words. This is what he calls filtering. We never “see” everything we “see”. The two verbs do not have the same meaning. The first one is “to identify items captured by our visual sense of sight.” The second is only “to sensually capture what is capturable by our eyes.” Filtering is between these two. I would agree that machines, and that started a long time ago, are helping us filtering what is captured by our senses, including our mind, and language is the first invention and machine that filters our sensual sensations and then perceptions, but that is in no way new. Filtering is the consequence of conceptualization. It is because we can conceptualize trees that in a forest at first sight we only see the trees. It is because we conceptualize lions as dangerous that we can look at a landscape in Africa for instance and screen it in order to only capture lions in that landscape. By pretending this is the result of some technological development the author misses what is essential in man, or humanity. So now we have only nine. Shall we go on?
One more. “Questioning” is the fundamental quality of Homo Sapiens and a few more Homos (Neanderthalensis, Denisovans, etc. maybe). It is because Homo Sapiens has never accepted what they saw or captured through their senses that we are where we are. Stonehenge is based on an enormous amount of questioning of the world, of what was visible in the world and the conceptualilzation of what they could understand in that visual perception they had of the world. Questioning is basically human, and it is the stepping over and beyond plain instinct. It has nothing to do with modern technology, though modern technology can only be creative if we use it with a strong alert questioning stance on our side. Kevin Kelly speaks of the matrix somewhere though it is not the film, but he should reflect on that trilogy. If Neo did not have that questioning stance in the third film particularly he would not be able to defeat the matrix, or at least to keep it at bay. Then we have reached eight, and even so I don’t like that number which is in our culture the second coming, the apocalypse, the end of the world, Doomsday, etc. Yet I like it because it is the numerical key of the Buddhist “nibbana,” in Pali in my text, enlightenment, the threshold between plain survival and mental creativity. I don’t like “nirvana” because it does not have that sense, or meaning, in the old Vedas or in Hinduism. In other words, Kevin Kelly misses what is essential in the human mind: our mind always tries to look for regularity, some kind of pattern, form, architecture, gestalt that can be captured in numbers, in geometry, in words, in any other conceptualized element. He speaks of “numeracy” to designate number-literacy but he says too that man is by definition or nearly unable to capture numbers. This is wrong, granddaddy. It is true if we consider children do not learn how to mentally calculate anything, but this is wrong because even the worst innumerate people can capture numerical sequences. It is amazing how people always say there are two possibilities in any situation and when they want to be complex they bring up a third one. That’s numeracy at times based on the senses like children who start conceptualizing by bringing together objects they can discriminate because they have one common element like being round, hence a bottle and a football can be in the same class, round and long, or an apple and an orange. All of them are round in a way or another, though the bottle is a little bit different, but a banana will never be there. It is not round but long. On the other hand, a banana and a Star of David are going to be in the same class because they both are yellow, at least if the concerned child discriminates yellow items. A child can do such things even before he can speak, as soon as he can see (just after birth) and he can discriminate items in the continuously naturally indiscriminate environment he captures for the first time. It is even proved that if we make a child play on such elements as soon as he is born that may be good for all children and super good for those who will eventually develop autism.
This being said, and since I will not accept to be manipulated in such a way, I will consider a few of the deep ideological concepts Kevin Kelly transports in his discourse and tries to make me accept without any discussion since they are declared inevitable because technological inventions are producing them.
The first one is the arrogance with which he asserts something that is purely both absurd and inhumane. Page 77: “we are all photographers.” Page 77: “we will all become musicians.” Page 78: “we are all filmmakers now.” And we should quote the whole chapter 8 “remixing.” He does not even wonder if we all want to be photographers, musicians or filmmakers. Luckily this is not true even potentially: some will never develop the qualities necessary to be photographers, musicians (what about the necessary perfect ear?) and filmmakers. For him in his purely visual approach of things remixing is the basic creative “holy grail” as he says of this evolution. To be creative is for him to have visual literacy or digital literacy that enables supposedly everyone to pick twenty tit bits here and there and put them in a bag and shake them and pour them on a screen and there you are it is the masterpiece of the century. He knows it is absurd but that enables him to reject the very concept of intellectual property because you cannot do that with protected works. If you go out in a pasture you will find flowers and you can pick them. The cows are not going to complain. You might have after a while a nice bouquet or bunch of flowers. They are wild so they won’t last long, even in water. But once again even the owner of the pasture is not going to complain. The bull in the pasture might dislike your presence but it won’t be because you are picking flowers. Now try to do what a certain boy named Sue is doing in one famous song by Johnny Cash and you will be arrested or attacked by a posse of vigilantes if you pick flower in the beautiful flowerbed of Mrs. Smith 802 North Orange Street in Dunn, North Carolina. But try to go into a flower-shop and pick some flowers for your lover or partner or even mother. I don’t think you will not run into trouble, in fact you will run into trouble except if you have picked the flowers to buy them their proper price. That’s what Kevin Kelly suggests though. But that is stealing and nothing else but stealing and the success of Netflix, for one and only one example, is proving that more and more people are becoming conscious of the theft and go back into some legal procedure. He quotes the case of cellphones when they appeared. I remember the case of Walkman’s before. Many people told the inconsiderate gross people who did not care for their neighbors anywhere with their Walkman’s or cell phones and it is because of these people who protested that there was an evolution in social practices and why the industry produced telephones that do not ring any more, etc. He considers it came all by itself. Of course not. It was the result of the action of millions of people who required other people to please turn off the ringing of their telephone, turn the sound down on their machines and get their phone calls in such a way that it did not disturb the whole planet.
But let’s go one point further. Even the most digital literate person, even the most visual literate person will have to provide us with the guarantee that the result of his digital gleaning and assembling or his visual pilfering and remixing will be a masterpiece, or even a good anything. Amazon Kindle is providing anyone who wants to write with self-publishing means. First, and I read many of them, all books published there are not great, many books published there are not even good. Many are average and frighteningly copycat in nature. Some authors asked me to review their books or even edit them before uploading. I did because I am a good Samaritan, but most of the time the editing suggestions were not followed and the reviews were at times resented. My principle is that any book I review is going to be reviewed with the same criteria in mind as any other book, be it Shakespeare or Byron or Stephen King. At times it is easy to see the models. At times an autobiographical book is presented as a novel but does not fit in the genre because of some autobiographical elements that block. If the character is yourself, you are not going to be very nasty with him or her. But a novelist is always nasty with his characters because the characters are supposed to do what the plot is telling them to do. But real life is the plot of an autobiographical book and in real life people are not characters, they do what is acceptable for them to do in order to at least survive and at best thrive. That’s so far the shortcoming of JK Rawlings in her Cormoran Strike series. She cannot really endanger her Cormoran Strike because he is the detective, the novel is a thriller, so he has to survive for one and to solve the problem. That’s the standard model from Conan Doyle to Agatha Christie, though Conan Doyle killed his Sherlock Holmes at least a couple of times and Agatha Christie makes her Poirot commit a murder at the end. She understood that Poirot’s fascination for crime is in fact the deepest ever impulse if not instinct in him to eliminate criminals, and it is easy for him because he knows all the tricks. He is deeply immoral.
The author sure is right. There are going to be more and more people making (I do say making) music but composing is another story. It requires inspiration that will create something absolutely new from only notes and silences and beats, the traditional eight notes of the scale and the traditional lengths of notes and silences, and the traditional rhythms, or even the traditional polyrhythms. But the new composition that has one chance to become great (and more than one chance is better) is something that is not borrowing from others and that is not copying other. Fair use insists on the fact that what is borrowed has to be used with a different intention, purpose, end. That’s what Kevin Kelly does not know nor discuss. And he ignores it on purpose when he says: “US copyright law gives a temporary monopoly to a creator for his or her creation in order to encourage further creation, but the monopoly has extended for at least 70 years after the death of a creator, long after a creator’s dead body can be motivated by anything.” (page 209) This is a conglomerate of absurdities. It is not “at least 70 years,” which I find too long anyway, but it is a maximum of 70 years and there is no discussion to lengthen it. He could have said that it meant for a book published at the age of 25, an easy 120 years of protection, but only 70 years after death. Then it is supposed to motivate an author during his life, but it is supposed to motivate all authors to become authors and to create during their lives. It makes that profession attractive because it brings an income in and it provides the author with an inheritance that will benefit the next generations. No one complains because some grandchildren live and at times very well, on what their grandfathers accumulated in gold, real estate, shares, etc. Why should it be different for intellectual property? But once again the motivation to create when alive is in order to transmit to the next generation a valuable inheritance. And the motivation is generic for a profession and not only individuals, just like being a civil servant is a motivation for someone who wants to have authority and to have a cushy job, a lot cushier than street sweeper, even with a street sweeping machine.
The last point is about the universal library anyone can access to find anything they want. He is unluckily right: all searches on the Internet are filtered by machines that build, more or less, their filtering procedure and devices by themselves by accumulating experience, on the basis of a program that is installed in them. The filterers are various procedures inscribed in the program to satisfy the interest of advertisers, webpages, readers and search providers. Advertisers look for webpages that are enabling their ads to be most effective economically. Webpages look for ads that finance them and readers that click on the ads since the financing comes from those clicks, hence the ads must satisfy some need or curiosity in the readers, hence their basic interest that makes them access this particular page. Readers want to find information they can use and there the machine used to get that information is the fourth element that screens what it provides with their own interests. They want to make the readers come back to the search engine, but at the same time they want to promote the sites that pay for that promotion either directly or via the advertising they can carry at the initiative of this fourth character: the search provider. He has that very right but he does not come to the conclusion that he should reach; He sees his daily life in twenty years as being entirely governed by “screens” that is to say by machine from the alarm-clock in the morning to the turning of the lights off in the evening. And he forgets machines can go on working for you and influencing you when you are sleeping: he has not read Brave New World. He can see how the information you get is entirely manipulated and how it manipulates us. He can see that millions of people provide content to millions of sites free. That content he knows and says is work but it gets no salary and it is paid by the privilege that the owners of the sites will generously grant the users the privilege of staying on the sites and going on providing free content that attracts advertisers and paying customers. Even worse he knows that all these beautifully free sites develop prime/premium subscriptions for special members who will have privileges provided they pay in order to put their content on the sites for free. Open access is highway robbery and it is the content providers who pay those who make fortunes from that content they get for nothing, and more and more they get along with a fee paid by the highway traveler.
In this situation they reinvent author-paid publishing and that will discriminate between the mashup mash or mush, at the bottom, then the average author-paid published pieces of any sort that are slightly more creative, and on top the best authors and creators will have their own self-publishing and self-creating always self-promoting, distributing and circulating sites that will bring in a real income but that will also be in the hands of the best creators. Prince is the acme of that third type of creators. If the future Kevin Kelly suggests one day comes true, then you can be sure that the hierarchy I am suggesting will develop and faster than you may think.
Read this book to develop some kind of paranoia about the future and at the same time be sure that will not happen, either because there will be a Butlerian revolution (see Dune if you do not know what I am speaking about) or more probably a third world war that will bring us back to the caves where we came from, though originally it was not always and everywhere caves. The arrogance of the technological guru Kevin Kelly tries to be is such that it should make you smile at times, but be sure the populistic Trumps of today are the products of this technology. We see the mess they are creating.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU