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Kevin Kelly: What Does Technology Want?

In this TED Talk, executive editor of Wired Magazine and digital culture enthusiast Kevin Kelly leads a discussion about our relationship with technology and its effect on our human nature and life experience.

I highly recommend watching the video in its entirety in order to fully understand Kelly’s concepts, but here are a few of his ideas that I found particularly thought provoking:

Technology as the 7th Kingdom of Life


Kelly explains this concept by comparing the evolutionary adaptations of organisms to “hacking” the rules of life.  Organisms tend to adapt in unique ways that advance the way they live out their lives and interact with their surroundings.  One example he cites is a solar power sea slug that incorporates chloroplasts inside of its body to serve as an energy source.  This sea slug has found ways to use resources around it to advance its own life.  Furthermore, it seems that all classifications of life have a natural tendency to evolve in similar thematic directions, which Kelly narrows down to: ubiquity (spreading of life all over the world), diversity, specialization, complexity, and socialization.

Of course, these trends also apply to technology.  As technology has advanced, it has also become more ubiquitous, diverse, specialized, complex, and socialized.  Technological advancements seem to mirror the evolutionary adaptations of organisms, in a way creating a new kingdom of life as technology itself.

The Infinite Game

Kelly also describes life as being an infinite game.  What he means by this is that a finite game is one played to win, whereas an infinite game is one that is “played to keep playing.”  Life, therefore, seems to be an infinite game in that during our lives,  as Kelly says, “every person has an assignment.  Your assignment is to spend your life discovering what your assignment is.”    The infinite nature of this game of life is what perpetuates life and has fueled life forward throughout time in a constant effort to advance the ways life is lived.  And since life is about survival, and evolution is about extending and improving life by “hacking” or adapting, technology can be seen as a way of advancing evolution.  Kelly describes technology as “the medium in which we play the infinite game.”

If these ideas sound confusing and complex, it is simply because… they are.  Watching Kelly’s full lecture is the best way to grasp his concepts, since he does the best job of explaining them.  After watching his lecture though, there are many questions to contemplate:

-Should technology really be considered it’s own kingdom of life (even as an extension of humanity)?  Or is it better to see it simply as a tool that humanity uses in order to better our own lives (perhaps like the sea slug that takes advantage of the chloroplasts)?  Is technology more than just a medium of human expression?

-In what ways does technology effect and define our life experience as humans?  Is it inherent in our nature to produce and advance technology?

And taking that one step further…

-Is technology an invention of mankind, or is it simply a natural “cosmic force” that drives the infinite game of life?

Kelly may not provide definite answers to these questions, but his musings on these subjects and his unique perspective certainly make for an interesting discussion about technology.

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