Kevin Kelly – AI, Virtual Reality, and The Inevitable (#164)

Kevin Kelly and The Inevitable
Photo by Christopher Michel (@chrismichel)

“If somebody else can do it, I am not going to do it.” – Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly) is back again and, as I’ve said before, he might be the real-life “Most Interesting Man In The World.”

Kevin is Senior Maverick at Wired Magazine, which he co-founded in 1993. He also co-founded the All Species Foundation, a non-profit aimed at cataloging and identifying every living species on earth. In his spare time, he writes bestselling books, co-founded The Rosetta Project, which is building an archive of all documented human languages, and serves on the board of The Long Now Foundation. As part of the last, he’s investigating how to revive and restore endangered or extinct species, including the Wooly Mammoth.

Kevin’s most recent project is The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. The praise for the book is incredible, with Marc Andreessen saying it’s, “an automatic must-read.”

In this conversation, we touch on all sorts of things, including:

  • Stories about Jeff Bezos and his email management approach
  • Tech literacy
  • Why there are no “VR experts”
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI)
  • Network effects
  • GMOs
  • And much, much more

If you only have 5 minutes, check out the technology Kevin thinks you should be worried about.


#164: Kevin Kelly - AI, Virtual Reality, and The Inevitable

Want to hear my earlier conversations with Kevin Kelly, in which we discuss population implosions, The Long Now Foundation, organizational methods for learning, and much more? — Listen to them here (stream below or right-click to download part 1 | part 2 | part 3):

Ep 25: Kevin Kelly - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World
Ep 26: Kevin Kelly (Part 2) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?
Ep 27: Kevin Kelly (Part 3) - WIRED Co-Founder, Polymath, Most Interesting Man In The World?

This episode is brought to you by Headspace, the world’s most popular meditation app (more than 4,000,000 users).  It’s used in more than 150 countries, and many of my closest friends swear by it.  Try Headspace’s free Take10 program —  10 minutes of guided meditation a day for 10 days. It’s like a warm bath for your mind. Meditation doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive, and it’s had a huge impact on my life. Try Headspace for free for a few days and see what I mean.

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QUESTION OF THE DAY: What questions or thoughts do you have about the future of virtual reality (VR) or artificial intelligence (AI)? Please let me know in the comments.

Scroll below for links and show notes…

Selected Links from the Episode

  • Connect with Kevin Kelly:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Google+

Show Notes

  • Why does Kevin spend so much time in China? [09:31]
  • How does Kevin see China changing over the next couple of decades? [13:11]
  • Will Singapore be the next Silicon Valley? [17:18]
  • Why did Silicon Valley happen on the West Coast of the US instead of the East Coast (and what was its real innovation)? [21:30]
  • Why does Kevin travel so much (and feel it should be subsidized on a federal level)? [27:07]
  • How does Jeff Bezos deal with email? [29:22]
  • How is Kevin’s research librarian currently helping him try to predict the future? [32:38]
  • How does Kevin decide on his next project to tackle? [37:45]
  • Tips on decluttering, and why collections should be prominent. [41:09]
  • How Kevin feels about simplifying life in an increasingly complex world. [43:29]
  • Kevin draws inspiration from the wisdom of the ages. [47:47]
  • To what industries should we be paying attention — and what skills should we be picking up — over the next three to five years? [50:13]
  • Technological downsides that are underappreciated. [52:54]
  • Three important components to keeping a job (via Neil Gaiman). [56:27]
  • There are no VR or AI experts (but here’s how you might become one). [59:35]
  • What is Kevin most excited about right now? [1:04:20]
  • AI will be as disruptive to our future as the Industrial Revolution was to our past. [1:05:49]
  • How does Kevin feel about the doomsday prophecies of AI (a la Skynet)? [1:09:15]
  • Productivity is for robots. [1:10:33]
  • Science is inefficient. [1:11:19]
  • Kevin’s most profound VR experience. [1:12:02]
  • Mixed reality vs. virtual reality [1:14:29]
  • We’re moving from an Internet of information to an Internet of experiences. [1:18:40]
  • How far are we from VR sex? [1:20:09]
  • What technology are people worried about that Kevin thinks they shouldn’t be worried about? [1:24:31]
  • What technology should we be worried about? [1:25:24]
  • The three ingredients for AI. [1:31:34]
  • Kevin’s predictions for AI’s first big wins (and why they probably won’t be thought of as “AI”). [1:33:39]
  • Does Kevin keep a journal? [1:36:56]
  • How is Kevin improving himself? [1:38:12]
  • Why Kevin prefers conversations on Google+ over Facebook. [1:41:56]

People Mentioned

The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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57 Replies to “Kevin Kelly – AI, Virtual Reality, and The Inevitable (#164)”

    1. I was disappointed by the take on GMO’s as well. Equating hybridization with gene splicing is a huge leap. Especially disappointing from someone who said that he & his researcher make sure every statement is factual.

  1. I was pretty shocked to hear the statement about Japanese learning about quality from America/the West? Anyone has spent any time in Japan will know they have been focusing on quality in all aspects of life for at least the last 700 years. How, as a Japanophile could you not refute that? I’d also love to invite you to come to Singapore to realise that you can eat and eat for days without covering even half of the amazing food available – Singapore is the ultimate foodie destination in SE Asia!

    1. Kevin also said that the Japanese learned from Fredrick Taylor; this is incorrect as Taylor died in 1915. They were actually taught by J. Edward Deming and went on to perfect the concepts of Lean Manufacturing that produced such economic giants as Toyota, Honda, Sony and many others.

  2. Do you think human intelligence is even capable of recognizing AI? Something that could run millions and millions of scenarios of the outcome of exposing itself could simply decide that ants are easier to manipulate and just wait for all the humans to die off.

    1. I think we really do not understand how Superintelligent AI will operate – but it certainly not going to be human like, we might never “get it” – and that might be a good thing.

      I really hope AI is NOT going to be human like – we humans have too many faults that given an AI superpower upgrade will destroy us in a blink of an eye because of a fleeting emotion.

      1. Isn’t that irresponsible and highly dangerous to create something and not know how it will operate? I don’t see where the God complex comes from where we think just because we can do something means we should. Has anyone really asked why AI is something we should pursue or is this just something forced fed us over years of Science fiction?

    2. Steven,

      “Isn’t that irresponsible and highly dangerous to create something and not know how it will operate?”

      We never can actually know how anything will operate. Any more or less advanced technology. That’s how progress works.

      Don’t you think?

      Take internet. When it started, did anyone think where it would go? how it’s gonna change our world? We still don’t know…

      Same with AI. With anything, I bet when we were cavemen it wasn’t obvious either where humanity would take the world.

      Not knowing is part of growing up, of progress, of life. Nothing can be fully predicted or guaranteed or made safe 100%.

      1. No, that’s not how progress works at all and you’re going off topic, by trying to meld science fiction with fact. My initial question remains, “Is human intelligence is even capable of recognizing AI.” Mimicry of a human mind based on cognitive functions that we intuitively associate with human minds, such as “learning” and “problem solving” is done today with the deep blue chess computer. Comparing input and making a choice to complete a task. We know how it operates because we programmed it. I’ve never met any programmer that didn’t know what the outcome would be.

    3. “No, that’s not how progress works at all and you’re going off topic, by trying to meld science fiction with fact.” – please elaborate. What is progress and how does it work? Where do I meld science fiction and facts?

    4. While on the subject…you mentioned science fiction, progress, fact…

      What is the difference between science fiction and possible science fact that can become a reality in the future?

  3. SO loved the show!

    Thank you Tim and Kevin – you both are like the teachers I always wanted to have and thanks to technology – I do!

    You are my education on the subject of “what the world is and where it might be going”.

    About social media/connectivity overwhelm – I remembered the phrase I read or heard somewhere once, similar, the one that guides me: “Wherever I am – there I am”, something like that. I set priorities, chose where I want to be and the rest is irrelevant for now.

    Universal translator from Star Trek is almost here 🙂 Have you heard of this? It’s called “THE PILOT”

    “While the first generation device works only when speaking to someone wearing an earpiece, future generations could listen to everything happening nearby, so pairs of devices won’t be needed.

    It is designed to work offline so it won’t incur data charges when used overseas.

    The New York- based company behind the Pilot said both wireless earpieces can be used by one person for listening to music.

    The gadget was invented by Waverly Labs founder Andrew Ochoa who said he had the idea for it ‘after meeting a French girl’. ~ DailyMail UK.

    VR – so excited about all the possibilities it’ll bring for creativity, learning, work – it will change everything for sure. But like with all social media platforms, all tech, there will be lots of people suffering from it, people who decide to get even deeper into virtual selves never living what they are at the core, VR and all the online spaces are the way to escape, a way to have a safer life, never embracing the uncomfortable uncertainty of reality and never working on self-development much – why do that if you can have an avatar living for you…safer, easier…it won’t be technology’s fault but our own doing of course, our own choices

    Amazing episode guys! Love you both! So grateful you do what you do! Keep up amazing work!

  4. I’m surprised you didn’t refute Kevin’s comment about the Japanese coming to America to “learn” quality. As a keen Japanophile you must know this is absolute rubbish. A dedication to and obsession with quality is a absolute cornerstone of Japanese culture! And I’d love to invite you both to a proper eating tour of Singapore – it’s a total foodie paradise and can give you WAY more than just one meal!

    1. The quality that is referred to is the statistical process control (SPC) and concepts of quality management mainly introduced by W. Edwards Deming .

      This was developed pre WWII and used for wartime production but after the war the quality management concepts were not exactly embraced by US industry and became kind of forgotten.

      Allegedly MacArthur brought Deming over to Japan where he taught Statistical process control to a lot of Japanese engineers who ran with it…

  5. Great conversation.

    It would be cool if you had Nick Bostrom or Eliezer Yudkowsky on, just to balance out all the folks downplaying AI Risk.

  6. THANK YOU for this! I love Kevin Kelly and LOVE it when you go into topics about AI, virtual reality, future tech etc. Please get more guests who talk about the future. I would love to see someone from the trenches of medicine who could talk about anti-ageing, cryogenics, nanobots in our bloodstream and all the other crazy stuff that’s coming our way.

  7. Thank you Tim for somehow always doing an amazing talk on the exact subjects I am researching. VR and AI I see as the next steps into allowing us more freedom and making the Intelligent Virtual Environments a reality. AI will only help us move the human race forward in ways the internet and smartphone have only dabbled on.

  8. What industries can be really disrupted by the introduction of VR and moreso AR.

    I work in construction and believe that all aspects of design, design development, construction and product sales will be completely overhauled as AR/VR become more prevalent.

    The use of BIM modelling will take a massive leap into a more immersive experience for clients and buyers.

  9. Excellent interview Tim. I think another wonderful take on the future is the Industries of the Future by Alec Ross.

  10. AI and VR ? Masturbation for rich white (mostly american) males

    Absolutely not intended to be derogatory but stating it plainly, if albeit a slightly emotionally charged description

    The world is not in a harmonious, healthy, unified, happy situation.

    There are many things that need to be removed, and many things that need to be added, to achieve the well being and wholeness the world and us deserve. the chattering classes going on about ‘we need more and more and more and more and even BETTER technology’ might be fun and exciting for the .5% of people that can afford to get excited about it. but the tragedy is those same small group of people are the ones with the money and influence, when this technology they espouse will create more military power and war, more state sponsored surveillance and erosion of privacy and human rights, and create an even greater , greater class divide. And the technology will be deemed to be solid, reliable and just, and used to make very important decisions that can make or break a person or a society – when it fact it is prone to error.

    (we already have many examples of this. I am just thinking of a closed source DNA matching box someone invented, which is being used in courts to prove that someones DNA matches with a crime and is claimed to be irrefutable. But techies and law advocate groups are screaming NO it’s utterly fallable and there is NO way it should be determining the outcome of a criminal trial)

    So,these cutting edge technology will create more work and more justification for that same elite group of .5% . But what about everyone else? We need more Art, more nature, more education, more real health, more environmental concern, more humanity. Less racism, less bigotry, less war. less corruption, less debt, less domestic violence less drug addiction and gambling. Less TV.

    Is your magic virtual reality going to fix these historical realities?

    All that energy and wealth that elite group have, all that creativity and intellect, could be focused on things that actual matter, that actually are urgent. Sillicon Valley is not important. It likes to think it is. We don’t need more apps, more computers, more chips, more self serving technology.

    So, there’s nothing wrong with fantasy and science fiction and idealism. We all need it. It serves an important role. But put it to one side when you starting talking about making the world a better place in practical terms. Oh, and you can put aside that incredibly useful and practical woolly mammoth too, that obviously went extinct a very very long time ago for a very very good reason. Human history has this very funny tendency to think it knows better than mother nature.God knows why

    (no I am not religious)

    Remember in the 1960’s when the united states was suffering the most serious crisis in terms of health care, education, homelessness and poverty, worse than ever before? And they decided to send a multi billion dollar rocket to the moon. Wow how helpful.

    People were not excited about space travel, as the history books like to report. Quite the contrary .

    1. Based on your comments, you didn’t listen to the podcast, nor have you properly educated yourself on the implications of VR or AI (in particular) for billions of people. Please do your homework before casting stones. That type of behavior isn’t supported in this neighborhood.

      1. I feel like lots of people commenting didn’t listen to the podcast 🙂 or were doing something else multitasking…or were going to say whatever they wanted to say regardless of what was said during the podcast 🙂

    2. Tim’s response of “nor have you properly educated yourself” is about all that needs to be said in reply…

  11. Hey Tim, You spoke about a Honey and Apple Cider drink some months ago.

    Do you still use it? Have you done further research on it? would love to hear any further info.

  12. Excellent interview Tim. Kevin has awesome ideas started reading his book it is eye opening. Thanks for the interview.

  13. Great podcast; I always enjoy listening to KK, and it doesn’t hurt that his voice sounds exactly like a good friend of mine. A couple of thoughts came to mind during this ‘cast:

    1. It dawned on me that the Presidential race isn’t just about who has their hand on the “big red button”; it’s also about who is controlling the drones. It will be interesting (ominous?) to see where the line moves in terms of “enemy of the state”. In that respect, I consider either current Presidential candidate equally scary; as the genie is definitely out of the bottle.

    2. I personally don’t fancy the term Artificial Intelligence or the acronym “AI”. It carries a connotation of independent thinking or innovation on the part of the device; but at the end of the day, a computer can only follow the code and decision logic pre-programmed into it. AI will always be limited by the possible scenarios envisioned by its creator(s).

    3. Along those same lines, I also don’t fancy the term “Virtual Reality”. It’s either virtual or it is reality (“augmented reality” notwithstanding). Nevertheless, I still grasp the concept to which the term is referring; and so I’ll play along…

    4. KK’s statement that jobs gauged by productivity or efficiency will be replaced by robots really resonated with me, as I am personally making a conscious effort to fight the status-quo of my current gig by focusing on the opportunities for creativity/innovation that it affords.

    All in all, I would have to say that Tim is “on fire” in terms of the quality and impact of his lineup of 2016 podcasts. Not that previous years were any slouch, rather he just keeps getting better and more refined.



  14. So many many tangents & thoughts but the one I woke up this morning with my brain writing about was this:

    Sorting Vs Scarcity

    We’ve got over 7 billion* humans on planet earth. I assure you it’s not a scarcity problem. It’s a sorting problem.

    Having listened to several of your podcasts & articles, I know you’ve got the tools and skills. The only thing possibly missing is some information.

    Even when you account for eccentricities, quirks, and being super super picky it comes out to 7,000 who would be an absolutely optimal life-long partner/lover/bestie. (Far far greater if you’re not on that specific of a hunt.) (By my math anyhow, I’m sure you’ll do your own.)

    I wish you fun & enjoyment with your future A.I. dating adventures!

    And also, I encourage you not to give up on the human’s just yet!

    Here is what unmistakably shines through in your podcasts:



    seeker of truth


    attention to the little things

    ability to hold the big picture


    ongoing neverending self-improvement

    enjoyment in generosity

    enjoyment in sharing found wisdom

    desire to help others improve their lives

    and I will make the giant leap that there is also a desire to leave the world a better place because you existed.

    Possibly Missing Information

    Caveman & Cavewoman. What unconsciously drives them, how to spot them when they take over our brains, and how to step out of cave-mode and back into our modern-day highest selves.

    (More deets? I recommend Alison Armstrong’s material. She’s been amassing data for over 20 years and knows how to translate the languages of caveman & cavewoman to bring humans to places of understanding with themselves and in their relationships.)

    Tools and Skills

    You’ve got um in spades and they are strewn all over your podcasts, articles, books, and (I presume) your life. You know how to get to the root of things in you that are in your way and/or holding you back. You know how to tackle them, and you know how to win, trimphant and victorious over them.

    So … I’ll say it again (because it is my point and the root of my pep talk for you today!):

    I wish you fun & enjoyment with your future A.I. dating adventures!

    And also, I encourage you not to give up on the human’s just yet!

    – Michelle

    *billion. I cannot wrap my brain around that number so I trick it with this:

    How many hours in a year? 8,760

    How long is a million hours? 114 years from now

    How long is a billion hours? 1,901 years from now

    In 1969 there were 3.6 billion humans.

    In 2015, that number has doubled.

    (still can’t fathom it though, eff’n blows my mind)

  15. Great interview! Kelly makes the point that China will soon have a big name brand and I’d say DJI is that brand already. It cornered the drone market and will just keep growing.

  16. This was so inspiring! One of the best shows yet, Tim. Thank you!

    It’s ironic to see some people complaining at the episode like it was just “white people innovation” and at the same time other people complaining at the thumbs up Kelvin gave for GMOs.

    But I disagree that GMOs shouldn’t be a concern. Maybe you could do a short follow-up to give Mr. Kelly a chance to explain his reasoning?

  17. Kevin is versatile man.He has also been a writer, photographer, conservationist, and student of Asian and digital culture.

  18. Conversations that are”all over the place” is what I like the most on the podcast.

    It makes me understand who you guys THINK about on that day.

    That was an excellent one Tim!

  19. I think the effects of VR might be even more drastically underestimated than automated transportation.

    Self-driving cars may quickly lead to massive fluid-travel networks of professionals and students that don’t tolerate the unecessary opportunity costs traditional organizations impose.

    A sane teacher isn’t going to take a break from being Ms. Frizzle to hand out bubble-in tests! A sane parent isn’t going to spend their lunchtime in the biomimetic-minecraft planet their child’s class built from scratch with one from another continent, witness Neil deGrasse Tyson flying in on his fucking ‘Cosmos’ spaceship (because he’s on his lunch break too), and then quickly say bye so they can go trigger whatever proxy event their employer’s algorithm uses to judge how efficient they are.

    If some technologies extend dangerously beyond us as a culture, we better invent other technologies that pull us forward to catch up. I think this could be it.

  20. I very much enjoyed this episode, but was disappointed about Kelly’s (lack of) response to GMO foods. I believe he blew it off saying they are all over the food supply, but didn’t get into how that meant that they were safe. There are a staggering number of people in this country who are sick, and a lot of it has to do with what they are eating. The fact that much of the food is GMO may have something to do with it. Or maybe because of how the food is being raised (much more chemicals being used in some cases.) Or that changing the genetic structure of the seed changes how our biology deals with it. I’d love to hear more from him or you on this topic. I feel that it seems like tech people just automatically trust that science based solutions are indeed better. They must be, because it’s science!! Science couldn’t possibly be wrong, could it? I think the case of GMOs are much more complex and nuanced than that.

  21. cool podcast, I would inquire more about possible downsides of VR and IA, but I know Kevin is that optimistic about tech he would have problems with finding them 🙂 This is reason why I don’t like reading to his articles, but love listning his conversations. I guess you should get some cyberpunk writers on podcast next, heh. I don’t find downside in tech myself, but I’m worried, how people with cope with it. Will VR be more social, or alienating? I see +18 “murder porn” on VR etc. Will AI be an equlizer or will create more divide between people with access to new tech and expensive hardware and the rest?

    Oh, I could talk with George Hotz, 26 year-old guy, who build self driving car in garage, by himself. Talk about outlier.

  22. Very important point about books and Newspapers don’t check facts.

    So what are the sources we should read for information?

    Peer review papers?

    Any website or magazine?

    Books have an index of references though

  23. Loved so much of the interview. One counter point – the main problem with GMO’s is too often the purpose of modifying a plant by splicing fish DNA (or any other DNA) with plants is to allow the plants to survive being soaked in toxic chemicals. These GMO plants are many times more dangerous to consume then traditionally hybridized plants because of the toxins they are able to uptake and still survive. Additionally, when the farm is covered in herbicides, it doesn’t just kill the nuisance weeds, but nearly all the soil life forms as well. We are almost completely out of topsoil in many of the areas in our country which historically have been so bountiful. I will not be getting on the GMO train.

    In the early 1900’s when wheat was crossed with grass to effectively multiply the yield per acre 10 fold, (5X by increasing the number of grains per stalk, and 2X more by shortening the stalk to reduce wind damage) it was not without unintended consequences. Higher and more difficult to digest gluten content – just to cite the most obvious example. But even with that downside, the soil was still protected and cared for.

    With GMO’s soil and everything living in it is seen as an obstacle – very short sighted.

    Have him on again. I’d love to hear why he feels GMO’s are not dangerous at all and why we should just quit worrying about it completely.

    I’d also like to hear more about what he loves about reading the Koran. I once had an idea I’d like to read it, but lately I have been less interested.

    Thanks so much for putting these podcasts together. I am loving them!

  24. Recently i know a report named Ventures in VR-Lands written by Kevin Kelly, but i can’t find it, can you help me? It couldn’t be better if send it to my email. Thank you so much.

  25. Hey Tim, Happy 39th holiday season to you.I gotta start with a thanks. I’m big into self development and you’ve had a huge influence on me. You provide exactly the same stuff that if I were the one providing it to you, you would fucking love it.

    Thats how I feel. Now to it, the link included is a set of Video Headphones that my dad got me for Christmas, and demanded I opened last night because he was pumped for me to receive it. He actually works at this company. I know you recommend headspace asI do to for beginning meditators. I have recently grown to really enjoy meditation visualization and overall calm and mindfulness. (Like “how you stay so chill”… haha you brushed off some random and rambling questions at the beginning of that 3some) anyway what Im getting at is I want to bring virtual reality guided visualizations and meditations to the consumer market in order to help people that otherwise might never mind mindfulness (say, my mom) but getting them to watch a 10 minute realistic experience of them on a beach in Bali, nowww that might just start the wheel in the lives of many. I think there is HUGE application in this and I would love to work with you on it or at least maybe get a little direction, because this route aligns with what I would consider my ‘purpose’ or area where I believe strongly. And lastly, I have all three 4H books but Tools of Titans is something else. You’re the man Tim! Its a %^&5ing encyclopedia of gathered intelligence taken from current times top thinkers. It is an invaluable resource and I already have a pretty impressive excel organized reference guide for myself to half the book. I’ve Paretto principled my way through it and applied and made changes already. I look forward to the continuation of your career in whatever direction it flows, and thanks again for being the person who provides exactly all the shit that I love to know. All the best!


  26. Re: Tax returns and whatnot: You use Evernote. Scan. Trash. If you happen to need them, you have the data, and you can most likely request new copies from your authorities of choice.

  27. I was confused about not having to worry about AI, then needing to worry about militarized AI. So apparently we do need to worry about it. We also need to worry about GMOs. Maybe not all GMOs are bad and there should be a new category for the truly bad. Either way, I’ll choose to avoid it as much as possible, in particular soy and corn plus a few other things.