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What Technology Wants Hardcover – 14 Oct 2010

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Books (14 Oct. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670022152
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670022151
  • Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 258,780 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Kevin Kelly helped launch Wired magazine and was its executive editor for nearly seven years. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Economist. His previous books include Out of Control and the bestselling New Rules for a New Economy. He lives in Pacifica, California.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Thomas King on 15 Oct. 2010
Format: Hardcover
WHAT TECHNOLOGY WANTS offers a highly readable investigation into the mechanisms by which technology advances over time. The central thesis of the book is that technology grows and evolves in much the same way as an autonomous, living organism.

The book draws many parallels between technical progress and biology, labeling technology as "evolution accelerated." Kelly goes further and argues that neither evolution nor technological advance result from a random drift but instead have an inherent direction that makes some outcomes virtually inevitable. Examples of this inevitability include the eye, which evolved independently at least six times in different branches of the animal kingdom, and numerous instances of technical innovations or scientific discoveries being made almost simultaneously.

Kelly believes that technological progress has a symbiotic relationship with human population growth: technology makes increased population possible, while also relying on it to create both new minds that can be applied to further innovation and new consumers for those innovations. The book suggests that population is likely to peak and perhaps decline as global living standards rise and women choose to have fewer children, and it offers a number of possible scenarios under which it may be possible to decouple future progress from population growth.

One of the most interesting chapters delves into the possible dystopian side of advancing technology. The book quotes at length from Theodore Kaczynski's "Unibomber Manifesto." Kelly is willing to acknowledge the obvious logic of many of Kaczynski's arguments, even as he bemoans the fact that some of the most "astute analyses" of these issues comes from a mentally unbalanced murderer.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Martin DS on 2 July 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I like Kevin Kelly's writing when he describes how digital technologies interact with our daily lives but he goes too far with this book in terms of a technologically deterministic view of the digital revolution. The title sums this up - technology does not want anything, it is neutral. If you can see past this then there are some good parts to the book and it is certainly worth a read.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By E Lanscombe on 8 Sept. 2013
Format: Paperback
A frustrating read. While Kelly's enthusiasm for the impact of the internet on our lives is undeniable it is also rather simplistic. The title and strapline of the book sum this up. Technology does not want anything - it is not conscious. It is certainly not a "living force" as the subtitle suggests.
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Format: Paperback
Don't be fooled by the cover of the book (which bills the author, Kevin Kelly, simply as cofounder of "Wired") into thinking that it's only about recent digital technology. Inside, there is a refreshingly long view of technology, starting with stone scrapers. I heartily recommend What Technology Wants because I think it's awesome and important. Awesome (in both senses of the word) because it demonstrates an impressive breadth and depth of knowledge and is very thought-provoking. Important because everyone uses technology and is affected by other people's use of it.

Kelly sets the scene by confessing to contradictions in his own relationship with technology. For example, he runs websites but has no TV or smartphone. But he points out that all of us accept some technologies while rejecting others. In order to know how to respond to technology, it's no good starting with specific questions, such as whether we should allow human cloning or cars that park themselves. Rather, we have to look at past trends in technology as a whole and then try to extrapolate from those trends to see where technology is going. He frames this process as figuring out what technology wants.

To ascertain past trends, Kelly examines biological evolution and technological development. The central thesis is that the development of technology mimics the evolution of genetic organisms in that both share several traits, including moving from the simple to the complex, from the general to the specific, and from energy waste to efficiency. Both are seen as information systems with major transitions in the level at which information is organised.
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26 of 33 people found the following review helpful By James-philip Harries on 24 Mar. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If you like this sort of thing (from the chapter "Ordained Becoming")
"I make the case in this chapter that the course of biological evolution is not a random drift in the cosmos, which is the claim of current text-book orthodoxy. Rather, evolution - and by extension, the technium - has an inherent direction, shaped by the nature of matter and energy."
Then you'll like this book.
If however you find this a bit overblown and begin to get bored by phrases such as
"The technium is the way the universe has engineered its own self-awareness"
or
"...we stand at the fulcrum of the future"
(both quotes from p 357)
then you won't.
Personally I found the book like being forced to listen to the ramblings of a pothead and just wished the author would go and raid the fridge to give me a break.
This is a pity, because Kevin Kelly's thesis is fascinating. Knowledge (what he portentously calls the technium) grows and as it grows it becomes more like life; self organising, self reproducing and co-operative.
This has profound teleological and social implications, which sadly don't really get thought through. Instead, we get a mess of anecdotes from evolutionary biology and sociology to support the idea of the existence of this "technium". There is also a book within the book, a discussion which quotes the unabomber so extensively that one suspects a case of copyright infringement. Lucky for us, and lucky for Kelly, the unabomber is serving 1,000 years in jail so probably can't sue.

You'd think it impossible to write a boring book on such a subject as the "technium". Kelly proves that on the contrary, it's easy. He credits his editor, a certain Paul Tough, with rescuing the book from verbosity. Maybe it was even worse before, so we should be grateful for small mercies. God, mercifully for Him, is absent until the last pages, where he is permitted a small walk-on part by the author.
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