Friday, June 24, 2011

Book Review: What Technology Wants

With this book, Kevin Kelly breaks new ground in his insightful theory of technology or the technium as one of the living kingdoms of nature.
(Co-posted as Kevin Kelly, Living Technology)

Kevin Kelly (born 1952) is the founding executive editor of Wired magazine, and a former editor/publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog. He has been a writer, photographer, conservationist, and student of Asian and digital culture.
"I say there is no species of technology that have ever gone globally extinct on this planet"
Kevin Kelly
He is also editor and publisher of the Cool Tools website, which gets half a million unique visitors per month. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers' Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. He authored the best-selling New Rules for the New Economy and the classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control.

His interests and goals are to make an attempt at an “all species” web-based catalog in one generation. He is also sequencing his genome and co-organizes the Bay Area Quantified Self Meetup Group.

He is considered a technology guru. What we all know about technology is that it significantly affects human as well as other animal species’ ability to control and adapt to their natural environments. The human species’ use of technology began with the conversion
of natural resources into simple tools. But Kelly wants us to see the technology from a perspective much broader, complex and analytical. All his effort is focused on expressing the existence of technology as the emerging seventh kingdom of life on earth.

Kelly’s most notable book-length publication, Out of Control: The New Biology of Machines, 
Social Systems, and the Economic World (1994), presents a view on the mechanisms of complex organization. The central theme of the book is that several fields of contemporary science and philosophy point in the same direction: intelligence is not organized in a centralized structure but much more like a bee-hive of small simple components. Kelly applies this view to bureaucratic organisations, intelligent computers, and to the human brain.

Kelly thinks that technology and biology trend in the same way: diversity, specialization, complexity, exchange, evolution. While the atom is simplicity defined, technological networks represent a messy complexity. And the truth is that understanding how networks operate is critical to understanding how the economy works. The change in technology systems, is increasingly of a nature biological. Networks grow and evolve, the economical systems are increasingly seen as living things.

What Technology Wants is a nonfiction book by Kevin Kelly focused on technology as an extension of life. The book is an experience which helped inform his perspective on what he has coined the Technium (a word to designate the greater, global, massively interconnected system of technology vibrating around us).

Biological life is a self-organized molecular structure capable of exchanging energy and matter with the environment in order to sustain themselves, renew and finally experiment. Due to biology being a complex system of energy and matter, Kelly views technology as an extension of one’s life. Diversity, specialization, complexity, increased sociability and co-evolution are all found in Biology. Thus technology, being a biological entity, tends towards the same things. Technology can be explained with the same metaphors or concepts used to understand biology.

This technological structure transcends in all our explorations and investigations: in particle physics, programming artificial synthetic life, in the abstraction of the economy, the functioning of the Internet, software, social networking, etc. The influence of innovation on networks will be the same or even more impact than the influence of financial innovations.

The technology we have created ourselves, reflect our own desires and longings that have made possible an expansion of what we perceive due to the impulse towards preservation, development and more connectivity. Kelly says it better, compared to an infinitum game.

“Technology is the channel where the infinitum game is played. And this is how we embrace technology because it is an essential part of our way of being. It is to understand what we are. ”

The flow of technology is not a continuous stream, but rather a series of discoveries and new developments. There is no doubt as to the massive impact of technology on life, nature and the functioning of organizations.

To Kelly, technology is anything useful that has been created by the mind. It is an extension of our own existence. Technology is not an enemy of nature, on the contrary, it is a branch of it. It has been and remains part of our history, it all depends on how we want it to integrate with us.

We should not fear technology, or predispose to the unknown, the positive potential exceeds the negative. The key is To Not Solve The Problem, But Adventage Of Opportunities. Technology is part of us, so we must align ourselves to it, extending and accelerating as a whole.

In fact, the greastest technology humans have ever invented is humanity itself. Kevin Kelly.

We include a video segment from a TED conference, where Kelly presents his views.  If you cannot see the embedded video here is the link:

Posted by Lilly Cruz Guillen - If you would like to see other posts by her, you may visit her blog at

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