Kevin Kelly:

"What Technology Wants" (2010)

(Copyright © 2011 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Kevin Kelly's claim to fame is to have been the publisher and editor of the magazine "Whole Earth Review" and then the co-founder of the magazine "Wired" in 1993. Kelly's book could be one of the most profound meditations on the meaning of technology since Ellul's "La Technique" (1964). That book, which incidentally came out the same year as Marcuse's "L'Homme a un Dimension" (1964), Barthes's "Elements de Semiologie" (1964) and McLuhan's "Understanding Media" (1964), viewed technology as an evil force that was creating an artificial world to replace the natural world. In that artificial world humans were to be the slaves, technology the master. Technology's goal was to create perfect order and subject humans to it. Technology was the instrument of the dehumanization of society. Technology's ultimate purpose was to create paradise on Earth and therefore to make the biblical Paradise irrelevant.

Kelly's take is almost the exact opposite: technology is good and it is our ethical duty to create as much as possible of it. He reaches this conclusion by first drawing a parallel between organic life and the life of technology. More precisely, he compares the biosphere with the "technium", the set of all interconnected technologies. He argues that the evolution of the technium is driven by forces that are similar to the ones that drive the evolution of life. He disagrees with Gould: biological evolution does have a direction. The direction is towards complexity. Kelly believes the same kind of law and direction is at work in the technium.

Technology is inevitable. Many inventions were "invented" at the same time by different people in different places: those people were just the practical vehicle that technology used to emerge; but it would have emerged anyway. Basically, technology parasites on human minds in order to survive, reproduce and evolve, just like memes do.

The supremacy of technology is becoming obvious: we depend on technology. Our extended phenotype (to use another biological concept) contains an increasing component of technology without which we would not survive.

However, the net effect of the growing complexity and diversity of technology is, in Kelly's opinion, positive. What technology "wants" is progress towards more and more freedom for us. The more technology we have, the more choices we have, and the more freedom we enjoy. Technology increases our free will. Technology, in fact, allows human genius to emerge and prosper. Without technology the human race would not have had Mozart and VanGogh.

In the end, Kelly comes up with his own version of Ethics. A technology can never be bad just like an animal species cannot be bad: they are the product of evolution. It makes no sense to ask whether a species is good or bad. It makes no sense to ask whether a technology is good or bad. Kelly thinks that we have a duty to maximize technologies in society at large, i.e. to invent everything that can be invented, because technology gives us more freedom.