Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Kevin Kelly (@kevin2kelly). Kevin helped launch and edit Wired magazine. He has written for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, among many other publications.
He is the author of the new book Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. Other books by Kevin Kelly include Out of Control, the 1994 classic book on decentralized emergent systems; The Silver Cord, a graphic novel about robots and angels; What Technology Wants, a robust theory of technology; Vanishing Asia, his 50-year project to photograph the disappearing cultures of Asia, and The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, a New York Times bestseller.
Kevin is currently co-chair of The Long Now Foundation, which is building a clock in a mountain that will tick for 10,000 years. He also has a daily blog; a weekly podcast about cool tools; and a weekly newsletter, Recomendo, a free, one-page list of six very brief recommendations of cool stuff. He is also a Senior Maverick at Wired. He lives in Pacifica, California.
Transcripts may contain a few typos. With many episodes lasting 2+ hours, it can be difficult to catch minor errors. Enjoy!
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Tim Ferriss: Good afternoon, this is Edward Murrow. Ladies and gentlemen.
This is Tim Ferriss. Welcome to another episode of The Tim Ferriss Show, ladies and gentlemen. I have one of my favorite people in front of me, Kevin Kelly. Who’s Kevin Kelly? Kevin Kelly helped launch and edit Wired magazine. He has written for The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among many other publications. He’s the author of the new book Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. I have a lot to say about this book. We will get into it. Other books by Kevin Kelly include Out of Control, the 1994 classic book on decentralized emergent systems; The Silver Cord, a graphic novel about robots and angels; What Technology Wants, a robust theory of technology; Vanishing Asia, his 50-year project to photograph the disappearing cultures of Asia, and The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future, a New York Times bestseller.
Kevin is currently co-chair of The Long Now Foundation, which is building a clock in a mountain that will tick for 10,000 years, of course. He also has a daily blog, a weekly podcast about cool tools and a weekly newsletter, Recomendo, a free, one-page list of six very brief recommendations of cool stuff. You can find that at recomendo.com. That is R-E-C-O-M-E-N-D-O.com. I was going to say R-E-C-O-M-E-N-DO.com. You get the idea. So recomendo.com. Take a look. He is also a senior maverick at Wired and lives in Pacifica, California. You can find him on Twitter @Kevin2Kelly, Kevin, the number two, Kelly, and all things Kevin at kk.org. Kevin, nice to see you again.
Kevin Kelly: Tim, it’s always a pleasure and just seeing you makes me happy.
Tim Ferriss: Likewise.
Kevin Kelly: So glad to be here.
Tim Ferriss: Hey, I saw you walk in. I was chatting with Harley of Shopify earlier today, and you walked in, and I saw you across the room with your yellow baseball cap on. Doesn’t hide the beard, though. So, I spotted you and also just made me very happy to see you. I was thinking about that and how incredibly valuable that is. What a gift.
Kevin Kelly: It is. And I’m glad to be seen. And so I’m so glad to be able to share with you another time of exploring some ideas and just see where they go.
Tim Ferriss: Now, ideas, you’re a man of ideas, and I thought for comic relief, we might start with a list of possible topics to discuss with Kevin Kelly. So, I just want to read these, because people who are perhaps not long-term listeners may not have heard our previous conversations. And I believe the title I used, you did not choose this, I chose it, for our first conversation, was “Kevin Kelly, the Real-Life Most Interesting Man in the World.” Something along those lines. People may say, “What hyperbole. What is this nonsense?” But wait, allow me to list the possible topics, and I ask every guest to send possible bullets for exploration. So, here we go. And then I will return to a few of these.
“The most popular thing I’ve ever written: 1,000 True Fans.” “2008: why we built a clock that will tick for 10,000 years inside a mountain.” “I’ve had a daily blog for 20 years, for five years a weekly podcast.” “At Wired, we invented the click-on advertising banner for the web. Next, I spent 11 years creating a huge graphic novel about angels and robots, released on Kickstarter, The Silver Cord.” We’re going to come back to that. “My failed campaign to discover all the species of life on Earth.” “In 2003, I made a long bet on the collapse of the global human population by 2060.” “My TED Talk on why we should be optimistic in 10 minutes.” “The most important article I’ve ever written.” “My case against belief in an AI singularity.” “My most recent piece in Wired extolling the glories of generative AI engines of wow.” “I co-founded The Hackers Conference in 1984, still going.” “My 50-year passion project,” and this goes on, “weighing 30 pounds,” about Vanishing Asia.
“I rode my bike across America twice, once west to east, once north to south.” “I make a piece of art every day.” “My biggest audience, and most of my fans are in China, where I’m known simply as KK.” “I have a screen credit for working with Spielberg on the sci-fi concepts for Minority Report.” “With a friend, I built a two-family house from scratch, cutting down the trees.” It goes on and on and on, right? “The story of my religious conversion on This American Life in 1997.” “I made a music video in 1969, 12 years before MTV.”
Lest people think I’m exaggerating —
Kevin Kelly: It sounds ridiculous now that you mention it.
Tim Ferriss: It does sound ridiculous, and thank God I’m a specialist in the ridiculous. So I thought we would start with this bet. “In 2003, I made a long bet on the collapse of the global human population by 2060.” What is a long bet and which direction did you bet? Were you betting on or against?
Kevin Kelly: Sure.
Tim Ferriss: And why?
Kevin Kelly: So Long Bets is a service that we set up at the Long Now Foundation, which I can explain a little bit more about that, which is meant to encourage long-term thinking. So we made a place where we could have a long bet, meaning more than two years, about some socially significant wager. And the idea would be that there would be a public bet and you’d be accountable for it, and there’d be money involved in the wager. And the idea was to also require people to put the logic of why they were going in a certain direction. And that, over time, if you had enough of this, you could see which kinds of logic and what kinds of thinking would win more often.
And to get around the laws of betting at the time, which basically is illegal to make a bet, that’s been kind of slowly changing. But we engineered a kind of a hacker, which you could make a donation to. Well, you would use the money and the money would go to the foundation, the nonprofit of the person who won the bet.
So my bet, and by the way, there are a lot of people who bet on, including Warren Buffett, made a million-dollar bet that basically index funds would beat any investment hedge fund. He won. Well, again, his charity won. My bet about the population was that the population of the world, the global population of the world, by 2060, I think it was —
Tim Ferriss: 2060.
Kevin Kelly: — would be the same as it was at the time of the bet, which is, I think, 2003. So the idea is that we are coming up to a peak of human population that would then on the other side go down. So you very commonly see the chart of the rising population. But it’s interesting to me that you never see what happens on the other side. And what happens on the other side as far as we can tell, is that it plummets. And that’s because —
Tim Ferriss: Resource scarcity?
Kevin Kelly: No.
Tim Ferriss: Education and falling birth rates?
Kevin Kelly: Just falling birth rates because modern people, on average, are not having more than two kids per couple. And this is common. So fertility is falling all around the planet, including right now, even in the US. And everything that we’ve tried, we being humans, have tried collectively to counter that, has not worked. So Japan is famously losing the total number of people, not just having a lower birth rate. They actually have a decline in population, but they’re actually not the lowest birth rate, which is South Korea. And China is aging, Mexico is aging faster than the US. So all the people that have been coming from Mexico, Mexico will want to have come back at some point. So it’s a really significant change. And again, it’s possible that we could use technology to change it, maybe have artificial wombs or who knows what.
But right now, for the average person, they’re not inclined to have a lot of children. And the people who do have children don’t have enough to cover for those who don’t, in terms of the world population. You can have immigration, which is what the US has been doing all along, basically stealing people from other countries. But that doesn’t help you globally.
So here’s where it’s the problem. For a lot of environmentalists, this is good news because there’s less people who are —
Tim Ferriss: Consuming.
Kevin Kelly: Consuming resources. But throughout history, we’ve always only had rising living standards with rising population.
Tim Ferriss: Really?
Kevin Kelly: Yes. We have no experience —
Tim Ferriss: Do you think those are causal or correlated?
Kevin Kelly: That’s the question. I think there’s obviously some feedback loop where the more people you have, the more ideas you have, the more wealth you have, and that allows you to have more kids. But we don’t know. So, all we can say is we have no experience in having living standards with a smaller population, a smaller audience, smaller market every year.
Tim Ferriss: What do you think are the implications of this? And is 2060 just after the apex? Will it have been declining for a period of time? When is the projected apex, if you have a projection?
Kevin Kelly: Right. So that’s one of the evidences is that this peak is keeps moving closer. Okay. Because —
Tim Ferriss: Right. It’s not static.
Kevin Kelly: Well, it’s not static, but it also means that there’s all the projections about the increase in population that people are assuming and built into some of these demographic models are being revised all the time. So that peak keeps moving closer. And the height of the peak, the numbers of actually how high it is, is changing.
I think one of the things that’s really important to understand for us in our society right now is that if you ask any question at the global level, the answer is, “We have no idea.” And the one thing we know most about is human population. And I think our number or counting of that is probably off by 10 percent, plus or minus. And that’s the thing that we know the most about globally. But if you ask how much fresh water is there? How much electricity is being generated? Globally, the answer is is that we really don’t know. We have a very poor view of us globally, partly because there’s areas of the world that are so undeveloped, we don’t have very good countings —
Tim Ferriss: I see poor view meaning we just have very incomplete understanding.
Kevin Kelly: Yes. We don’t have a global census, we don’t have a global way of viewing. We have now satellites that can help us see, but they can’t count everything. And so I think what we’re doing as a species is moving into this era where we’ll become a global. We have a global economy, we have a global view, a global machine. All the internets connected together and we’ll act more globally and maybe increasingly some global governance, but we’re not there yet. And so even something as primal and essential, as foundational, as our population, I think we don’t even, don’t know.
Tim Ferriss: Have you had any exposure to or interaction with the Santa Fe Institute? I have not. But I’ve recently had conversations with a number of people, Bill Gurley and others who are involved, complex adaptive systems. And I’d just be curious to know what your exposure has been, what your opinion is.
Kevin Kelly: So my first book was written about basically the Santa Fe Institute. Out Of Control was based from a conference that was initiated by a conference I went to at Los Alamos, and Santa Fe was hosting one of the first conferences. I would go down there and talk to all the scientists. And this is in the late ’80s. And that was the beginning of the sort of complex adaptive system view of the world. And so that’s what Out Of Control is about, is looking at that view and saying the way biology works and the way this complex technology works are very similar. They have very similar dynamics because they’re complex adaptive systems. What we want to make with the internet, with all its penetrations, that you can think of spam as an invading virus that you have to — you can’t eliminate, but you have to treat it like an immune system where you keep it at bay.
And so adopting some of these biological dynamics and applying it to machines and a lot of the work in trying to make robots and early AI, again, we’re modeling off of what was being learned and often reported or sponsored by the Santa Fe Institute and that kind of approach to complex adaptive systems.
So, yes, I think it’s incredibly important. And for me, it was a transformative framing of the complicated things was to think of them in these terms. My whole book was about the fact that the world of the made and the world of the born are basically the same, two faces of the same kind of dynamic. And so you could look at how meadows work in ecosystems, and then you could look at the internet, which was just beginning, and now of course, it’s in full bloom. And you can see how social media, they have similar behaviors.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. And you can find thing in one that you then find in the other in surprising ways, sort of life imitating art and art imitating life, in the sense that we think we have invented gears. And then we are like, “Oh, wait a second. Actually, there are insects that use gears for types of jumping.” How wild is that?
Kevin Kelly: Right. So, there’s biomimicry, that was the field, which was kind of using those as models for ideas and frameworks for trying to make mechanical things. And that only takes you so far. I mean that was the, maybe the genius or the breakthrough in the Wright Brothers, which is like, we didn’t make flying machines by flapping —
Tim Ferriss: Strapping wings to people.
Kevin Kelly: But by flapping our wings, it was like you put a big surfboard on it and you fly. So, there’s limits to it, and right now with the AI stuff, there’s lots of looking at the neurology and of course we call them neuronets. So there is huge amount of influence. But what I’m saying is even maybe a little stronger, which is that it isn’t as if these mechanical systems are imitating biology. I’m saying they actually have the same dynamics. The dynamics that are powering biology are powering the technium and the technology. It’s the same.
Tim Ferriss: I think we are quite close on that in the sense that both paths end up in the same places. And I would tend to agree. Los Alamos, is there any particular reason they chose Los Alamos?
Kevin Kelly: So, Los Alamos, there were a lot of physicists left over from the Manhattan Project who liked living there. And Murray Gell-Mann was the prime mover. And so he liked it. And I think he might have been instrumental in finding the funding for it, and he was on the chair for a very long time. And they had spaces to convene and people, so Santa Fe was close to Los Alamos, and that was the reason why it was in Santa Fe.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. I’ve been revisiting some of Richard Feynman’s writing.
Kevin Kelly: And he might have been part of that whole thing too. I mean he loved —
Tim Ferriss: He was there, for sure.
Kevin Kelly: I mean, in terms of [inaudible] Santa Fe.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I see, that group. That I don’t know. But certainly that is part of the reason I asked about Los Alamos. It’s on the brain.
So let’s take a hard left, which is I think going to be common in this conversation. And we will probably come back, we’ll almost certainly come back to AI, but I don’t want to open that can of worms just yet.
Kevin Kelly: Right, right. Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: All right. You spent 11 years creating a huge graphic novel about angels and robots. Silver Cord. I am, you may or may not know this, but deeply interested in comic books and collected for a very long time, spent all of my allowance, all of my work money, almost all of it, on comics for a very long period of time, wanted to be a penciller. Why did it take 11 years? And what did the process of translating your thinking and writing to that form look like? What were the steps?
Kevin Kelly: I met a friend who actually was actually comic book artist, had published, and wanted to do another one. And I’d kind of always wanted to try my hand at it because I thought that this was a brilliant genre for communicating lots of things. And particularly if you’re interested in science fiction, it was sort of like to me a little better than a novel because it had that kind of immersive visualization, which I love. I’m a very visual person, but it wasn’t so detailed that you needed to make a movie of it. But we thought we could do both. And we thought that maybe we could write something that would have some appeal, be making movies. So we would try to write it, the script, as if we were writing a movie. And so some of the other associates that we had, worked for Pixar, some story later.
Tim Ferriss: You say associates, it sounds like a law firm. What do you mean?
Kevin Kelly: Well, I mean —
Tim Ferriss: Collaborators. Friends.
Kevin Kelly: Actually, here’s what it was. My friend and these other friends all went to the same church. So we were all in the same church, and there were people who worked at Pixar and some people who worked at ILM.
And so I had this idea of doing this book or this story, and the story was, the premise of it was I was imagining that there would be these interdimensional beings. We’re calling them angels. They’re made out of light because they’re intangible, and that they would look down on humans and weep when they saw us because we were getting the ride that they craved, that embodiment, and we were squandering it. So that’s the basic premise, is that there is this realm and there’s these beings and they’re waiting their turn to be embodied, and they’re looking at us and what we’re doing with — it’s like, “You have the ultimate…”
Tim Ferriss: You’re blowing it, guys.
Kevin Kelly: And you’re blowing it. It’s like, what would I do? I would smother my face with mango juice and I would take a dive into the ocean and swim underwater, the whole — so that was the premise of it. And then the added part of it was that some of these angelic beings would try to cheat by becoming embodied into robots. They wouldn’t go through the traditional preparation that you require of moral guidance and whoever else you needed to be before you were allowed to be in a human. But they were going to cheat by coming into robots.
Tim Ferriss: Skipping a few steps.
Kevin Kelly: Skipping a few steps, and these would be kind of unhinged or rogue because they weren’t. So, anyway, that’s the premise. So you had these angels and robots and it was a graphic novel, and we would tell stories. And the issue was I’d never written fiction in my life, although the Pixar people had. They were from the story side, and I couldn’t draw to the level necessary. So, we worked on it. And the reason why it took 11 years was we made it way too big. Instead of doing it like little 20-page things.
Tim Ferriss: Decided to do —
Kevin Kelly: Decided the whole thing. 300.
Tim Ferriss: Lord of the Rings in one go.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. No, actually, we got a advance from Simon & Schuster to do it, and we were late in delivering, and the guy who bought it left. They wanted it back, blah, blah, blah.
Tim Ferriss: Occupational hazard in publishing.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly right. So it took us that long just to finish, and we actually Kickstarted it to print it.
Tim Ferriss: When you were generating the story, were you doing it in effectively screenplay form?
Kevin Kelly: Yes. It was written as a screenplay script.
Tim Ferriss: And what did you hope? What did you collectively, and maybe it was different person-to-person, hope this story would do, if anything?
Kevin Kelly: It’s a really good question, and that’s the most important question you always want to be asking yourself when you’re doing these. What effect do you want to have on people? How do you want them to feel after they’re done? Do you want them to change their behavior? And for me, it was this idea of the genesis of it, which was to nudge people a little bit more, to take advantage of this special time that we have to interact with each other. This is what you get by being embodied, is that there’s far more influence. We can influence things through the physical way that we can’t when we’re intangible beings. And that was the issue that these other dimensional beings had, is that they don’t have as much influence. It’s really hard for them to influence because having a body means that you can influence things by interacting with them physically. And that’s very powerful.
Tim Ferriss: And experience things.
Kevin Kelly: And experience things, right. And so that’s what it was. It was an ode or a nudge for people to maybe appreciate their own lives, meaning literally their life, much more than they do.
Tim Ferriss: I dig it, Kevin Kelly. You’re good at helping friends, myself included, to do that IRL, in real life too, through experiences, and we may come back to that, but first, the iconic “1,000 True Fans.” The most popular thing you’ve ever written. Why do you think that is the case, and what would you double-down on or revise if you were to take another stab at it today?
Kevin Kelly: So, the honest answer, one of the reasons why it’s very — we can talk about maybe why it’s good and useful and then why it’s popular.
The reason why it’s popular is actually through you. The fact that you included it in one of your books, and that’s sort of lifted it out of my little realm.
The reason why maybe it kind of resonates with people is because there is sort of an assumption that the goal is to hit it big, the big-time bestseller, a hit. And most people kind of come to associate those numbers, that kind of large scale, with success. And the idea that success could look differently, that you could have a more modest-size scale and that be successful, sometimes is dismissed as lifestyle businesses or whatever.
And I kind of realized that technology would allow a different version of that. You could have it, that it was possible and that it would be good. It would be good for people. And so that was, I think, people can resonate with that because it’s a viable alternative option to things that was not spoken before. It was not even really on the radar. And when I wrote it, when I first wrote it, before you even saw it, there was no Kickstarter, there was no Patreon. And I was challenged with people like Jaron Lanier to say, “Well, that’s a nice theory, but there isn’t any evidence that this is actually working.” It was actually at that time, I did a follow through and I tried to find evidence, and there was evidence of established artists from publishing, or music, or studios who had already an audience and could move off of that to their own, But there wasn’t any evidence of an indigenous organic growth from nothing. Now there is. Every day people write to me, and meet me, and say, “Yes, I have been able to do that,” inspired someone by hearing of that possibility.
Tim Ferriss: Is there anything that you would modify in that piece, or emphasize more?
Kevin Kelly: I did a modification for you where I talked about the fact that, again, one benefit and one disadvantage. The one benefit is that part of what we’re doing is, if all you need is 1,000 true fans, then even if your interests are one in a million, given the population of the Earth of billions of people, that means that there’s 1,000 people who potentially, on the planet, who will share your interests. So if your interests are only one in a million people can identify with, that you still have enough.
Then, the second thing was that, just to emphasize to people, this is not for everybody, that tending the fans and interacting with them is almost like a halftime job, at least, maybe even more. Not everybody’s suited to do that. An artist might just want to paint, they don’t want to deal with fans. We see more of dealing with fans, what it means, is it’s not always pretty, and it can burn you out.
So I just want to emphasize that this is an option. Secondly, you don’t have to go all the way. You can have your thousand true fans and then you can have lots of other casual fans and other fans which would allow you to have other people help you. So it’s not just you. Then, secondly, for some people you want to have intermediaries. It’s just not something you want to spend your time doing and that’s perfectly fine, but it’s a really great place to be able to start from. Maybe you don’t want to land there, but that’s one of my pieces of advice, is that where you start is not where you’re going to land, and so this is a good place to start.
Tim Ferriss: That’s exactly what I was going to say, which is even if you want to hypothetically build a huge company and change the world, although I’m very skeptical of people who lead with that, I think most businesses fundamentally are lifestyle businesses. If you really double-click and look at it closely enough, even if someone aims to be a Fortune 500 CEO. In any case, the point I want to make is even if you have these very lofty large scale goals, beginning with the exercise of reading “1,000 True Fans,” and at least considering what your approach would be to accomplish that first, is a great fundamental step.
Kevin Kelly: Right? And, partly, that is because you get 1,000 true fans by accumulating them one by one, and if you are focused on today I’m going to get one more additional customer, that is tremendously powerful. Customer by customer, are they happy, am I giving value to them? If you can focus on that, that is incredibly a superpower.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, for sure, and if you can take those 1,000 true fans and some subset of them become your PR slash marketing forces, then things can multiply very quickly. I promised left turns, we’re going to take another left turn. Your failed campaign to discover all the species of life on Earth. So we went, I wanted to hit a highlight, and maybe this is also a highlight, but I would love for you to expand on this. Lessons learned. What happened?
Kevin Kelly: So there was conversation I was part of, and I was sitting next to a billionaire who said, “It’s actually hard to give away a billion dollars,” and for some reason I thought at that moment, well, actually I know what I would do, and that would be I would hire all the local indigenous people and have them be barefoot taxonomists and go out and discover, and catalog count all the living species on this planet because we’ve never done that, and by the way, if we found life on another planet, that’s the first thing we would do is a systematic survey of all the life on that planet, but we haven’t done that on our own home planet, and because you’re paying locals, it would distribute that money down really, really fast.
Stewart Brand was sitting next to me and he thought it was a cool idea, and then I didn’t think anything more of it because I have ideas, I have a lot of ideas, I’m giving it away, and then a week later, Stewart said, “Let’s do that idea,” and I said, “What idea?” I’d forgotten about it already.
He said, “You know, the idea at dinner about accounting all the species,” and I said, “Yeah, I don’t know. It’s like we’re not taxonomists. I’m not a biologist,” and Stewart’s hunch was that, with new technology, and this is my bias too, we might be able to do that in addition to it.
Tim Ferriss: Could you just briefly explain for people who don’t know who Stewart Brand is?
Kevin Kelly: So Stewart Brand is a close friend and the person who first hired me. He invented The Whole Earth Catalog in 1969, and the best way to describe The Whole Earth Catalog is it was kind of like your information guide to the world before there was the internet. Steve Jobs famously called it “the internet before there was an internet.” It was internet printed on newsprint because it was reader generated.
So before YouTube, before anything, if you wanted to find out how to build a house, or repair your VW bug, or start a homeschool, or keep bees, where would you go? There was literally no place to find that information. Libraries didn’t have that information. There was no internet to look it up, but The Whole Earth Catalog started to accumulate those, and there was, readers of it would send in their versions like, oh, the best book on gold panning is this thing, and then Stewart would run it, print it, and run it, right away. And there was no advertising. It was kind of reader supported.
So that was Stewart Brand. He went on to do things. We started The Well together, which was the first online access to the internet and other things. So, he’s my hero, and he just had a recent book, a biography written about him by John Markoff, The New York Times‘ tech writer, and Markoff’s theory is — and so anyway, Stewart has been sort of at the center or at the leading edge of almost, first the beatniks, and then the hippies, and then the digital thing —
Tim Ferriss: He’s like the Forrest Gump of 25 seminal moments in history.
Kevin Kelly: Right. He’s kind of always there. His background was biology. He was a biologist for a study with Paul Ehrlich, who was The Population Bomb guy on the other side of this argument about population. So, Stewart was sitting there, Stewart started along now with me, and Danny Hillis, and Peter Schwartz to think about, to encourage long-term thinking, to be a good ancestor. How do we be good ancestors? And, at that dinner, Stewart said, later on, he said, we should really try and do this. It would be kind of a great thing. So, we actually started a foundation called All Species. I named it All Species Inventory, All Species Foundation, and we were going to try and raise money, not from the usual sources that funded taxonomy. We didn’t want to take any money from there because it was really pitiful, the amount of money, but to find it from the Silicon Valley and get money for developing the technology that would be able to do that, and it was just too early. It was just too early.
Tim Ferriss: Too early in what respects?
Kevin Kelly: Well, right now, on my phone, I have Merlin, which will identify a bird song. I have [Seek], which will identify almost any plant or mushroom. That’s what we needed.
Tim Ferriss: I see, technologically speaking.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, and you needed it because even those aren’t going to identify a new one, if you have an app that can identify the known ones, then you’re only going to bother the taxonomists with one that isn’t identified, so right now, otherwise, people are just sending the about, oh, this is a —
Tim Ferriss: Too much replication.
Kevin Kelly: — brand new species and they’re saying, no, this is not a new one, don’t bother me with that one. So that’s what we needed, and we were just 25 years too early in terms of technology being available to be able to assist this, and so it became kind of a catalog of existing species, and that was the thing that shocked us, was, okay, well first we need is a list of all the existing species. This is whatever this is, 2008 or something. There isn’t one. It was like, what?
Well, there’s all these taxonomic publications that they’re all buried in these obscure publications that haven’t been digitized yet. It was like, so I was like, oh, my gosh, this is even further behind than we thought, so that is sort of what it became. It became kind of a program just to digitize the existing known species, and then the other thing is that, as they started to do that, they realized that there was this huge duplication of species having more than one name because there being, you know, somebody in Germany and somebody in Japan, and not even knowing that they’re talking about the same thing.
So it was failed in the sense that we still don’t know all the species on this planet. We don’t even know how many we don’t know, and we’re still only beginning to have a central, integrated, comprehensive, complete catalog of what we do know, and it’s called the Encyclopedia of Life, and E.O. Wilson, before he died, was involved in that,
Tim Ferriss: The legendary E.O. Wilson.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Mr. Consilience.
Kevin Kelly: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Stewart Brand. Let’s spend a little more time on Stewart Brand.
Kevin Kelly: Who has been a guest on your show.
Tim Ferriss: He has been a guest. He’s spectacular. He is, what would you say his age is now?
Kevin Kelly: He’s 86, maybe.
Tim Ferriss: Something like that, and I interviewed him not that long ago, and he was doing CrossFit two or three times a week.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, right. Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Also, military background, you just have to read his bio to even begin to try to believe it. He would be, also, maybe on your short list for real-world most interesting men in the world.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Now, I recall chatting with Stewart, I believe, about resurrection of species. So the potential of Jurassic Park style, resurrecting, say, woolly mammoths and reintroducing some of these large, terrestrial, herbivores for any host of reasons. What do you think the future holds for those types of plans?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah, so Stewart, Ryan Phelan, and I, who did All Species, and Stewart and Ryan went on to do the Revive and Restore is the name of their program, and it is to originally, the totem animal was the mammoth, the woolly mammoth, was to bring that back, and there are a lot of very interesting reasons why to do that, and the way that they do, is basically to take existing Asian elephants and winterizing them through breeding.
Tim Ferriss: I got it.
Kevin Kelly: Accelerated breeding. So you’re not just going to hatch out of a test tube, a brand new wooly mammoth. There would be a sense in which you would kind of reuse the line of existing elephants to try and reverse engineer that.
Tim Ferriss: You take a Mendelian approach to —
Kevin Kelly: But that’s a little bit longer term, and actually, Stewart and I went to, and George Church, went to Siberia to go get samples of the mammoths that were being exposed by the thawing permafrost.
Tim Ferriss: Wow.
Kevin Kelly: So to get the DNA from the right, through the trunk —
Tim Ferriss: Jurassic Park Seven, scene one.
Kevin Kelly: Right, right.
Tim Ferriss: Opening.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly, so that was quite an experience, but there are other animals that are closer to being able to, they’re going to be a little bit easier to do it.
Tim Ferriss: Wow. All right, well, optimism. You’re one of the most optimistic people I know, I think, that is a great influence on me and the world, and I sometimes push back on some of it.
Kevin Kelly: Of course. You should.
Tim Ferriss: So what would be your, doesn’t have to be an elevator pitch, could just be a very long elevator ride because we have infinite time —
Kevin Kelly: 30 floors.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, exactly. That’s right. Moving as slowly as you would like — what is the argument for why we should be optimistic?
Kevin Kelly: Generally, people see optimism as kind of a temperament, it’s a sunny view, and I think there is some of that, and I have a natural amount of it, but over time, I’ve actually become even more optimistic than my general tendency, deliberately. It’s kind of like a learned optimism, and I think the reason we should be as optimistic as we can is because it is how we make really good things, good, complicated things.
It’s hard enough. Well, I mean, it’s very hard to make good complicated things work because generally there’s more way things can fail than they can succeed, and it’s very unlikely that we’re going to make something really good that’s complicated, inadvertently. They’re hard to do. So we have to see it and believe that it can be done, and that is where the optimism comes in, is envisioning something and then believing that you could make it real. Because, when we look back on history, and that’s where a lot of my optimism comes, we realize that most of the things that we have now have been made by people who are optimistic. Reviewing that it was possible to make them, and believe that they were going to make them, and could imagine them.
So, I think of it as a work of imagination where you kind of imagine a good scenario, which is harder to do than imagining a scenario where it fails or collapses. It is much easier to imagine how things break than it is to see how they work, and that’s why entrepreneurs and all the others are rightly lauded because they’re going against that grain. It is hard to imagine how we could have this thing that seems like it is improbable, and most things that work are improbable. That’s the definition from the Santa Fe complexity theory, is that things breaking down is the probable. Complicated things working are improbable by definition.
And, so you’re against the improbable. And that work of imagining the improbable and having the improbable succeed, and believing it can, is optimism, which means that the optimists are the ones who shape our future. So I’d like to give a little story of a car, and you need to have brakes on the car to steer the car —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I’m with you so far.
Kevin Kelly: — but the engine is actually the more important element, and so there are people and there are organizations, and there are methods that are going to be doing the braking, and I think they’re essential. I want brakes in the car, but I just feel that the brake can overwhelm and cause stagnation, and that we also wanted to remember to focus on making the engine even stronger, and so I emphasized the engine.
Tim Ferriss: So I want to take a closer look at the engine. So if things breaking down are the probable, and there are many more ways things can go wrong than they can go, if I’m hearing you correctly, and maybe also bringing in some of my own position, it would be that you can have, that active optimism is probably more valuable than passive optimism in the sense that —
Kevin Kelly: Yes, yes.
Tim Ferriss: — the belief that you can make things turn out all right, as opposed to the belief that things will turn out all right, and therefore, I can go about my day and not concern myself with worries about A, B, C, D, E, all the way through Z, and I’m curious if you suddenly had The Kevin Kelly Institute for Active Optimists, how you would cultivate this, or maybe encourage it in more people because I do see optimists who are, not panicked, not necessarily paranoid, but they are very interested and excited and feel some moral obligation to focus on really high leverage, solving really high leverage problems, or creating new technologies.
I also see techno optimists that are like, well, if A, B, and C gets bad enough, if the temperature of the Earth gets to X, Y, and Z, then we’ll have these technologies, it will all be fine, and if this happens, then that’ll all be fine, and people thought oil was going to run out by this year, but they didn’t factor in that as the number of barrels per year produced went down, the price would go up, and then all these other technologies, like fracking, became viable, and voila, no problem. I view those caps as somewhat different, and I’m just wondering if you have any perspectives on that.
Kevin Kelly: I love your distinction between passive optimism and active. I think that’s brilliant and right on, but I guess the reality is that you can’t be active about everything. You have to select —
Tim Ferriss: Totally.
Kevin Kelly: — and choose, and so there is a sense in which, okay, there is a greater than zero chance that the Earth could be impacted by an asteroid, and it would be really devastating, and one of the most devastating things that could ever happen to this planet, far beyond, even with climate change. And —
Tim Ferriss: It would definitely change the climate.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly, and very fast, so it’s really good that there is now a group of people who are thinking about that, and there’s the B1612 Foundation, which is just tracking all the asteroids, what was it called? B1612, after The Little Prince.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, got it.
Kevin Kelly: It’s a viable thing that they’ve been behind all the tracking of all the asteroids and upping that, and then, recently, we just sent something that hit the asteroid and deflected, so that’s the first cosmic impact we really had in the cosmos.
Tim Ferriss: Pretty wild to think, like the monkeys on a spinning rock —
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. Right.
Tim Ferriss: — figured out to deflect asteroids.
Kevin Kelly: So it’s good that there is a small group of people, but we don’t need to have that be our concern for making national policy every year. Really, that probability is so low, that it shouldn’t really be a factor in us making our decisions about what we’re going to do this year. So that’s passive, in that sense, but it is, I can be passive about it because there is another group of people that is active about it.
Tim Ferriss: And you know that a group is active.
Kevin Kelly: Right, so what might help other people? I think for me, one of the major things for me was the more I thought about the future, the more I became interested in history, and the more I read history, the more reality of progress became. I think just acknowledging the reality of progress would go a large, huge step in helping our optimism.
Tim Ferriss: Now, I’m interrupting, not to push back, but just for definition of terms. What do you mean by “progress,” because that word can be used to mean in a lot of different things. In what sense?
Kevin Kelly: That’s right. It’s a very loaded word, and I’m using it to mean, simply, that —
Tim Ferriss: Angels of our better nature type stuff?
Kevin Kelly: Yes. How would I say it? It means that, overall, on average, this is a better place to live than at any time in the past, and this is the kind of Obama test. I don’t know if you’ve heard about that, but it’s like if you were to be born randomly in any time period, it could be male, female, poor, rich, you’re totally at random, on some average thing. What time do you want to live in? What time period? And there’s no way you want to be anything before, at least, 50 years ago, and maybe not even within 50 years.
So, because we intuitively understand that this is actually the best time to be alive, but there is a recognition of, so what are the currents that made that? What has allowed that? What’s operating? Is it still going? And from my view of history, and I had the chance to live in the past, and on a time machine, we’ll talk about that in a minute —
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Wow, I didn’t see that coming. Yes, I got time. I’m taking note. Time machine, question mark.
Kevin Kelly: I’ve been in the time machine and it’s very, very clear that we’ve been on a momentum in a trajectory of progress, and it’s possible that could stop tomorrow. It’s highly unlikely that it’s going to stop tomorrow, so there is just, all the conditions that make that, suggest that it will continue, and so part of our optimism can come from that.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Time machine’s coming up.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, I want people to stick around. Right after this commercial break, folks. No, I’m not going to take a commercial break, but I do want to ask you, given the bet on collapse of global human population, do you think that by 2060, if we’ve peaked out at the top of the roller coaster, do you think this progress is inextricably linked to population growth and population density, and if that’s the case, do you think we might be looking at regression?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not trying to turn you to the dark side.
Kevin Kelly: No, no, no, no.
Tim Ferriss: I’m just curious.
Kevin Kelly: You’re doing, you’re asking the exact right question. I think there’s a movement called Degrowth, the degrowth movement.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not familiar.
Kevin Kelly: So these are people who basically see the troubles of the world, in particular the climate one, coming from our addiction to growth. That growth, this is kind of the consumer, capitalistic kind of idea that grow, grow, grow, grow, and they’re saying, it’s finite. We can’t continue to grow, and we have to degrowth, stop growing, and there’s a little bit of a confusion in English because there’s two meanings of the word growth. There’s growth to add more pounds, to add more and more stuff, to get bigger, wider, heavier, to have more things, to sell more refrigerators, to sell more bottles of wine, but there’s another meaning of the word growth, which is probably closer to what you’re interested in. Personal growth, developing, maturing —
Tim Ferriss: Or knowledge growth.
Kevin Kelly: Knowledge growth.
Tim Ferriss: I guess, in a sense, it’s the same as the first, but it’s —
Kevin Kelly: No, it’s increasing its complexity.
Tim Ferriss: Infinite in capacity.
Kevin Kelly: It’s taking the same number of atoms and having a more complex arrangement. It’s going from a jellyfish to a chimpanzee or something, and so that complex, adaptive system, where you have increasing levels of complexity and more exotropy in it, that is a different kind of growth.
Tim Ferriss: What is exotropy? Now, I know what entropy is.
Kevin Kelly: It’s the opposite.
Tim Ferriss: Exo, like exoskeleton —
Kevin Kelly: Right, so it’s the definition of entropy, right, is increasing disorder, and then there’s something called negative entropy, which is what I’m talking about. But that’s a double negative. I don’t like double negatives. So exotropy is basically an increase in order.
So exotropy is this idea of this increasing order that comes at the cost of increasing entropy. So that’s the thing. So you get your system like a living cell is actually increasing the generation of entropy as it increases its order. It’s like the magnifying glass with the sun. You ever seen that?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: There’s a little bright spot in the middle of a lens in the sun, but all around it is a shadow. Because it’s taken all the light —
Tim Ferriss: Right, and concentrated it.
Kevin Kelly: From around and concentrated in. So there it generates a shadow.
Tim Ferriss: Right, so they go together.
Kevin Kelly: So they go together. So what type of growth is an increase in complexity? So you have an economy where instead of trying to sell more bottles of wine, you try to sell the same number of wines, but better wine.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Kevin Kelly: That’s a different kind of growth. That’s the kind of growth that we can shift into. So we’re just increasing the quality of things.
Tim Ferriss: Do you think there are incentives that will drive that?
Kevin Kelly: Well, the decreasing population.
Tim Ferriss: How are we going to keep our revenue numbers the same? Well, everybody’s leaving.
Kevin Kelly: Right. You have a smaller market every year, a smaller audience. So one way is to make things better. To make better stuff. Okay. And we have, so refrigerators, if you just count how many refrigerators are being sold, you can have increasing numbers, but you could sell refrigerators and make them better every year, which is what we’ve been doing. And that’s actually not often caught into the accounted for in economics. It’s just like it’s GDP is how many refrigerators per unit are you making, but they’re not saying, “Well, actually these new refrigerators are better because they use less energy. They make ice as well as refrigerate, they do all these other things.” That’s not really accounted for. And so we can change how we account for things and we start to measure something different just other than expansion, the more stuff. So we need some new metrics. So yes, I am optimistic that we can change our understanding and what we aim for. It’s not inevitable though.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Well, time will tell and makes me want to be a better student of history. Also, as you pointed out.
Kevin Kelly: So the time machine. I know that you’re going to —
Tim Ferriss: Time machine.
Kevin Kelly: I know you’re going to ask about the time machine.
Tim Ferriss: Oh, it’s there. It’s right there at the top right. Time machine question mark. For those who think I’m lying. It’s right there.
Kevin Kelly: Time machine. I took a $20 bus ride in northern Afghanistan in 1975 somewhere. And I arrived in a different century, literally in a different century. I had no map. I had not met anybody, heard of anybody who ever went there. I mean, there was obviously lots of Afghans, but I mean no tourists. I had no idea if I could get there. It was literally a name on a very poor map.
Tim Ferriss: How did you choose it?
Kevin Kelly: It was so remote and I wanted to see what was at the end of the line.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Kevin Kelly: And here was a town, and I don’t know, maybe there’s a hundred thousand people in this town.
Tim Ferriss: That was a good size.
Kevin Kelly: A good size town. There was no electricity in the town. They didn’t have street lights. They would have a guy at night go and light kerosene lamps, the street lighter. They would throw their shit into the strait, I mean out the window kind of stuff. And of course, there was a futile structure. I mean, they had basically slaves and child brides and the whole thing. It was just medieval in every way. Very little metal. There was no signage on the town. There was no signs. Didn’t need signs.
So it was like, I’m in a different century. I’m in a different century. And that experience of seeing what you get when you had development and technology, and of course you could see all the challenges and the problems. But the main thing that I learned from that experience is the thing that we get is we get choices and options. That’s ultimately what we get from the technology. So the people growing up there had — their occupations were fated, they were destined. If you’re going to to be male, you’re going to be a farmer, maybe a blacksmith.
If you’re a woman, you’re going to be a wife and a mother. And that was it. If you took the bus all the way into the city and went somewhere else, you’d be in a grimy, gritty slum. But you had a choice for the first time of what you could do. And maybe, not then, but now, if you took that bus ride, you might be a web manager, web designer, a yoga teacher, a mortgage broker, whatever. You have choices. And that’s what they do not have. They had very strong family, good identity, tremendous support, maybe organic food, but no choices.
Tim Ferriss: AI.
Kevin Kelly: From the 15th century to today.
Tim Ferriss: Even as I understand it, some, let’s call them AI researchers, computer scientists with familiarity with AI, couldn’t have even predicted several years ago, us having today.
Many choices, maybe some difficult choices, maybe some difficult outcomes, I might go so far to say. And I wanted to read something. This is from your Wired piece, November, 2022. And this is after spending months creating thousands of images using AI, excellent piece. I think it’s limitless creativity.
And there’s one line that stuck out to me and I was like man, that’s a strong statement. I kind of wish Kevin hadn’t included this because I think it’s going to be hard to defend and I would like to talk about it.
And this also pairs with an article I only started recently reading from Marc Andreessen. And as I understand it, the basic premise is that AI will not cause an increase in unemployment. Which is a bit broader than the line that we have here. So let me read it.
“I have spent the past six months using AIs to create thousands of striking images, often losing a night’s sleep in the unending quest to find just one more beauty hidden in the code. And after interviewing the creators, power users, and other early adopters of these generators, I can make a very clear prediction: Generative AI will alter how we design just about everything.”
Period. Side note, I completely agree with this.
“Oh, and not a single human artist will lose their job because of this new technology.”
So maybe I should ask you to clarify this, because I work with tons and tons and tons of contractors. And there are artists right now I’ve worked with who are going to be replaced. At least some of their functions will be replaced by AI. So I would predict they will lose that specific job. Not necessarily with me, but at some point in the next few years, they will probably lose that job. If they have adapted to using the technologies, I think, or carved a niche for themselves, they will find another job. But they will lose jobs.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: So how would you expand on this statement?
Kevin Kelly: There might be a little bit of semantics here because I would say that it will replace many tasks, but not their job.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Kevin Kelly: So this is what AI does, we replace tasks. There are tasks that we do. Most jobs are complex with different tasks. And a lot of these tasks will go to the AI, but not necessarily the job.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Kevin Kelly: Because the job will shift and you’ll have different tasks. Part of that strength is that I would actually maybe even expand this even broader. And people, and I welcome feedback on this, my claim would be that I don’t think there’s anybody in any field that’s lost their job because of AI. So far. There’s tasks that have gone away, but not jobs. And a lot of the worry about this AI is what I call third-person worry.
They’re saying, “My job/hobby, I’m not going to be replaced.” But I can imagine somebody else, or maybe I can imagine my friend losing it, but I’m still waiting for someone to say, “I lost my job.” A real person with a real name who’d lost their job because of AI. And so far, I haven’t. I maybe even offer like a $200 bounty if you could tell me the name, specific person who lost their job because of AI of any sort. And it’s because —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, why take such a binary bet? I know you like these bets. I would take the opposite side of that bet. But please continue.
Kevin Kelly: Well, you can take it by giving a name. So it’s partly —
Tim Ferriss: I just have to fire somebody and then I can take the $200.
Kevin Kelly: Well, no. But you’re at the AI. That’s what I’m saying, because of AI.
Tim Ferriss: Well, I would’ve to replace him with AI.
Kevin Kelly: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And then I can blame it on AI.
Kevin Kelly: Right. Okay. And we won’t be able to do that right now.
Tim Ferriss: Okay. Let’s take an example, if I may.
Kevin Kelly: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Logo design.
Kevin Kelly: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: That is what somebody does day in, day out.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Tim Ferriss: They design logos.
Kevin Kelly: Right. And I’ve gone to some of the logo designers, AI logo. There are logo AI designers right now and they’re amazing. But here’s the position, and this is my position is what we get from these AIs currently right now, are universal personal interns. They’re intern, they’re doing the work of interns.
Tim Ferriss: UPIs.
Kevin Kelly: UPIs. Okay. And they’re really amazing, but you have to check their work. It’s embarrassing to release their work without improvement. The intern work. So I’ve used these logo AI generators and I’ll work with them over and over again. And this is what the artist will be doing. The artist is going to be working with their interns, generating all these possibilities, tweaking them. They’re kind of like a director or a conductor. They’re managing the interns and they’re not releasing the intern work unedited, unpolished, uncurated. And that’s what their new tasks become. The artists.
Tim Ferriss: I’m not totally convinced, however, I think that will happen. But I do think some rank and file will perhaps need to find new jobs. At the very least, if someone has AI as the UPI, I would imagine if you have a brand design studio that focuses on logos with 30 employees, some of which are junior, there might be some shuffle. But we can — go ahead.
Kevin Kelly: So, I mean there’s going to be a lot of art generated from these entities, these AIs, and I always want to say plural, always plural. There’s not one AI. There’s AIs, all different species. But most of that work is being used for areas that are blank now, where there is no pictures, where there isn’t anything. So I have, my assistant actually has for years woken up in the middle of the night to write her dreams down. And now she feeds those dreams into the AI and she illustrates them. And they’re just amazing. There were no illustrations before. Now they’re illustrations.
Tim Ferriss: Yup.
Kevin Kelly: I used them to generate images for my slides. There were no pictures before. Now there are pictures. So it’s not like I’m replacing somebody —
Tim Ferriss: It’s not a zero sum.
Kevin Kelly: I’m filling it in.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: So the major, and by the way, there’s about 30 million brand new, never-seen-before images generated every day with these image generators. 30 million. And I would say about maybe 95 percent or maybe 98 percent of them, there’s an audience of one. It’s for the pure pleasure of seeing this. It’s like you would take a walk out into nature and just see a beautiful scene. It’s like, “I’m just enjoying this.” This is why they’re mostly being generated. The predominant number of them, just because they’re beautiful. Okay? And so they weren’t there before. You could not have your own private museum of these really cool images, maybe no one will ever see again.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: Okay. And so that’s what they’re being mostly used for is filling in the blank spaces. And that’s also true, again, of a lot of the other intern work that may be writing things that nobody else but the boss sees.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Let’s look at this a little more closely. So I will say, just as a means of setting the table, I’m deeply, deeply interested in these tools, which is why, and the effects that they will have on the creative economies, the economy period, broadly speaking, society. I think they’re very underestimated.
Kevin Kelly: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: And I’d love to get your take on that in a bit. I’ve run AI art competitions related to some of the fiction that I’ve put out and have been absolutely blown away. I also sympathize with some artists, say on ArtStation or DeviantArt, who are part of the training set who are popularly mimicked, right? Prompt, yada, yada, yada. In the style of, fill in the blank. And I can understand why these artists would be upset, feel threatened, maybe be financially impacted. I imagine their commission work might be. How do you think that’ll shake out? And I know based on some of the conversations that we’ve had, that I believe your perspective is if people are relevant, they’re going to be copied anyway, right?
Kevin Kelly: Mm-hmm.
Tim Ferriss: And if they’re not, it doesn’t really matter if they’re in the training data. Something along those lines. And so Picasso’s influence is going to be seen all over the place no matter what. But how do you think this will shake out in the next handful of years? Because I understand why people would have an aversion as artists.
Kevin Kelly: Sure, sure. So I think there will be people, companies who will make training sets. They’re all opt-in in some capacity, maybe most of it’s already out of copyright. And they’ll be sold as greenwashes, ethical training sets, whatever it is.
Tim Ferriss: Fair trade AI artwork.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. And then there could be a lot of them where people will use it. They’ll train the things on their own work. Like, help me make more images in my style.
Tim Ferriss: I am doing some experiments with that right now.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. And then there’s going to be this ability over time to require less of a training set. For right now we can, only way we train these is the more, the billions, the better. But a human toddler can learn the difference between a cat and a dog just with 12 examples. And when we start to have more targeted like that, I think people will start to clamor to be included in the training set.
Tim Ferriss: What needs to happen for the AIs to require far fewer examples in these training data sets?
Kevin Kelly: We don’t know. That’s the short answer.
Tim Ferriss: Got it. But we suspect it’s inevitable.
Kevin Kelly: Well, we have existence proof because we have toddlers.
Tim Ferriss: Toddlers.
Kevin Kelly: So many. But it may require, right now there’s kind of a brute force, these neuralnets. Brute force meaning that they’re very flat and they didn’t work in the beginning because they weren’t big enough. And the bigger we make them, they seem to overcome a lot of the problems. But it’s really clear to most people that we can’t get all the way to where we want to go just with these flat. Because these models, basically they do one or one and a half things. They do pattern recognition and pattern generation. That’s all. They don’t do symbolic logic, inductive reasoning. Current ones aren’t capable of that.
Tim Ferriss: Irony. Tough.
Kevin Kelly: Irony. It’s just amazing that they have gone as far as they have, and we keep expecting that they can’t go any further. But they keep surprising us. But we’re pretty sure that they can’t go all the way. And the example I would use is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is a flat, the idea was flat. It comes up from the bottom, it’s bottom-up. It’s like how far can you make it reliable, an encyclopedia just from the bottom-up? Well, a lot farther than you would initially thought. But we also know that Wikipedia has succeeded because in recent years has been more top-down control of the editors.
And you have to have for ultimately what you want a combination of mostly bottom-up that’s somewhat regulated by some top-down control, editorial control, all that kind of stuff. And that’s what we don’t really have in AI right now. We have just the bottom-up. It’s very, very bottom-up. And there is just a suspicion looking at the Santa Fe work on complex adaptive systems that you will want to have some top-down governance to assist this bottom-up to get where you want to go.
Tim Ferriss: You’ve interviewed just about everybody. You can get to just about everybody. And I know you’ve spoken to the who’s who of AI and any adjacent field that you want to investigate. You know lot of people. And you know a lot of people that know a lot of people that know a lot of people. So you’ve spoken to so many. And you have, I would say, one of the more impressive Nostradamus-like predictive track records. What would be your predictions, speculations within the next five to 10 years? Could be a shorter timeframe of what you think.
Kevin Kelly: In AI?
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. So here’s what I would expect. The thing I want to emphasize is that there’s plural, there’s AIs. So this idea of the monolithic AI taking over, they’re like machines and they follow the general engineering maxim, which is that you cannot optimize everything. There’s always trade-offs. So we’re going to engineer these AIs to be good for certain things, but not as good as something else in another dimension. And we already see that with say, the image generators, some favor artists, some favor photography. There’ll be different personalities. The one that does painting the best probably isn’t going to be the best for writing. They’ll be some kind of transformative —
Tim Ferriss: They’re all equally bad at hands, I’ve noticed.
Kevin Kelly: Right. And so I say that the general stance we’re going to have is what I call dumbsmarten.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Kevin Kelly: They’ll be really smarten.
Tim Ferriss: Is that Pennsylvanian Dutch?
Kevin Kelly: I don’t know. It’s kind of like that. It’s Amish. It’s dumbsmarten. We’re just going to be furious. It’s like, how could you be so dumb when you’re so smart about these other things? This is going to be their typical reaction. It’s like, you’re insanely brilliant, but you’re so dumb here.
Tim Ferriss: Sounds like half of Silicon Valley.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. dumbsmarten is going to be engineered and we’ll have multiple, so it’ll be more and more difficult to kind of generalize. But what I’m saying is that they’re going to be engineered for specific tasks primarily. And there will be a general one, but the general one would be kind of like the Swiss Army knife. It’s like good generally, but not really the best in any one tool. That’s the engineering maxim. And so we should expect multiple varieties of these. And I think the other thing is that they’re the best, for me, the best stance is to think of them as artificial aliens.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Kevin Kelly: Aliens meaning they could be like Spock or Yoda. Very, very smart, but they’re just doing things differently than we would do. If they have a sense of humor, it’ll be a little off. But that is actually their benefit. The benefit is because they help us think different, and that’s what we’re going to be using them for. That’s what people are already using them for, is generate ideas. There’s probably an idea that no human would ever come up with. And that helps me come up with a new idea. So that stance of — and then the third thing I would say about the AIs is that most of them will be unseen.
They’ll be behind the office operating things. The plumbing, the infrastructure. And that’s actually a sign of their success. Technologies succeed when we don’t see them anymore, we don’t think about them. They become boring and that the majority of the stuff won’t even be outward-facing. It’ll be just behind the scenes. And then this idea of consciousness, consciousness is a liability. You don’t want your car to be conscious. You want it to drive. You don’t want to be worrying about whether it should major in finance, you want it to focus on the road. So there will be advertising AIs as conscious-free, right? So there are certain —
Tim Ferriss: Dumb and obedient.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, exactly.
Tim Ferriss: Extra $30 per month.
Kevin Kelly: Right. Exactly. So I think that I would say a couple things. One is I think AI overall is underhyped, but the current version, we won’t even call AI in 30 years. We’ll look back and that wasn’t it. So it means that there’s no AI experts right now. So I think, but in the short term, we’re probably overestimating this idea, the vast unemployment stuff. Not in the next couple of years for sure.
Tim Ferriss: So everything you’ve said makes sense and —
Kevin Kelly: Right, right.
Tim Ferriss: Tools will get specialized. They will become so embedded that we will cease to think about them.
Kevin Kelly: Hopefully.
Tim Ferriss: Hopefully, right, in the same way that you waved at the lights, we have all sorts of lights in here. But it’s not like we walk into any room with artificial light and we think, “Good Lord!”
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: “What is this miracle of engineering?”
Kevin Kelly: Right, right.
Tim Ferriss: “And human ingenuity.” I think most folks would be like, okay, okay, so why is it underhyped, right? What should surprise people or what are people not appreciating?
Kevin Kelly: Well, so I was involved with the internet. I was living online for at least 10 years before 1992, ’93 when wires started. And in a certain sense, it was like we couldn’t get anybody to just take it seriously. It was dismissed as teenage boy stuff. And it was kind of that’s what it was. But I felt like, no, this is really significant. This is really powerful. And what changed it was an interface change, became visual for the first time in the web was pictures and stuff. And that’s when everybody switched on. Most of the AI happening today has been happening for years. What’s new is that we now have an interface. We have the conversational, it’s this idea of the large language model. We have a conversational interface. And that suddenly was oh, the power that’s been there for years is now suddenly accessible.
It’s like having the pictures on the web. And so we’re suddenly thinking about it, suddenly in people’s faces in the same way that the internet was completely fringe. And then when the web came along, it very rapidly became mainstream. I remember the first time I saw my gas station, the pump, there was like a URL. I was like “Oh, my gosh, this is like, it’s here.” I have the same feeling right now happening with the chat bots and the image generators is these capabilities have been around for at least a decade. But now what’s new is we have a language interface, a conversational interface with them. And the power’s just sort of completely in our faces now.
And so where do we go from there? I think we are going to then start to apply this to everything. It’s going to be, I mean, as we speak every day there’s people embedding this and they’re going to embed it with this interface. So I think we’re going to move to this having a whole ‘nother level of interfacing with this machine with language. And that’s very, very powerful. We’ll just go through the whole thing. It’s like take X, add the language interface to it. That’s really powerful.
Tim Ferriss: What are you hoping to use AIs for over the next six to 12 months?
Kevin Kelly: So first of all, I generate, post an AI picture every day. I have been for —
Tim Ferriss: When did you switch from manual to AI?
Kevin Kelly: Last June, almost a year ago. And —
Tim Ferriss: Which tools do you mostly use?
Kevin Kelly: I tend to go to Midjourney still. Midjourney for those who don’t, has a very curious interface. It’s a Discord channel.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: And at first I was completely bamboozled and infuriated with that, but I came to see it as genius.
Tim Ferriss: Why is that?
Kevin Kelly: Because everybody’s working in the open. It’s like the ultimate learning vehicle. And I learn something every time I go on.
Tim Ferriss: Being a student in the surgery theater back in the day.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. You’re seeing how other people do it. It’s not behind closed doors. They’re doing it in public. And oh, my gosh, you learn so much that way. So fast. And what’s interesting, the year before that, I did a piece of art every day on my iPad with Procreate. And I spent almost as much time on the AIs making an image as I do when I make it myself.
Because again, the accusation among the painters in the 1800s when the photography came along was, “Oh, you guys, you just push the button.” And we realize of course now, that photography is not just pushing the button. There’s a lot more involved in making a really great photograph than just pushing the button. You have to be in the right position and all this kind of stuff. And the same thing with the AI art. It’s all, “You’re just clicking.”
No, no. It’s like photography. I feel I have some of the same kind of a stance that I have and I’m photographing, I’m kind of hunting, searching through it, I’m trying to find a good position, a good area where there’s kind of promise. And I’m moving around and I’m trying, and I’m whispering to the AI, how about this? I’m changing the word order. I’m actually interacting, having a conversation with it over time. And it might take a half hour or more to get an image that I am happy with. And I’m at that point, very comfortable in putting my name as a co-creator of it because I have, me and the intern have worked together to make this thing.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, so you have the art application. Any other applications?
Kevin Kelly: In the future? In the next six months. I’m actually using the chatbots to help write.
Tim Ferriss: Chatbots. ChatGPT.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, ChatGPT, Bing, and stuff, and Google. For me, I’ve always had problems making that first draft. It’s just a killer.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. And I know the feeling.
Kevin Kelly: You know the feeling. I find it helpful in making the first draft.
Tim Ferriss: How do you prompt it? What would be an example approach?
Kevin Kelly: All different ways. And I’ve been collecting this. And here’s the thing about —
Tim Ferriss: Your book of spells.
Kevin Kelly: Yes. Here’s the thing about it, is that this is an important lesson about technology, is that we have to use it to figure it out. There’s something I call thinkism, which is this reliance on trying to solve problems by thinking about them, which is very appealing to people who like to think. And you can only go so far with thinkism because all the things we’re discovering about this, none of the inventors of this had any idea that they could be used this way.
Tim Ferriss: That’s cool.
Kevin Kelly: Right? And so we’re discovering, we collectively, by using it are discovering its capabilities and eventually its harms. But that’s important because this is how we steer the things. And so the problem with trying to prohibit or turn it off or ban it, is that you don’t get to steer anything. Going back to that metaphor.
So right now through use we’re uncovering all these things. And I’ve been trying to track how people are actually using them. For instance, chats. There’s a couple prompts. So here’s the thing, these chat models, basically what they generate are wisdom of the crowd kind of knowledge. The wisdom of the crowd is very famous, counting the jelly beans. If you average all the attempts by humans to count the number of the jelly beans in a bottle, the best guess, the most accurate, was the average of it. And that’s what we’re getting with the chat. It’s taking everything as written, the plus and the minuses, the geniuses and the jerks, and it’s averaging out. And that’s what it’s giving you is an average.
So most of the content generated by the chats is broadly correct, very average, very bland. And a lot of what you’re doing with the intern is pressing them. So one of the tricks is that you can ask for it to be a little bit snarkier or more professional.
Tim Ferriss: So let’s say you’re starting tabula rasa. Idea popped into your head in the shower. Okay, I want to give a rough draft a shot. What is the step number one, step number two?
Kevin Kelly: So it depends, but I might ask it to do a summary of what’s known about this. Tell me everything that it knows about it. And then maybe write a first draft with bullets, five bullet points. And then I might —
Tim Ferriss: Could you give a real example or a example you might use?
Kevin Kelly: I’m trying to think of the last one I did.
Tim Ferriss: How the Egyptians influenced Roman architecture. I don’t know, making that up.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly right. You could do that. Give me the five bullet points and stuff. And then you could have questions about some parts you didn’t understand or expand bullet one citing more sources or give me an example of a day in the life of this or 10 more examples of how this might play out. You could expand it that way. You could also shrink it in terms of summarizing, making bullet points or what’s the key takeaway or how about if I wanted to have a teachable moment out of this. And so you would have all these kinds of things flowing around. And then, again, it’s the intern at work. It’s good but you’re not going to use it. You’re probably rewriting it. It maybe gives me some ideas I didn’t have or maybe the structure of how it organized it, that’s pretty good for four of them. And so it’s a start. And for me —
Tim Ferriss: It gets you past the breath hold of the empty page.
Kevin Kelly: For me, this is really big, this is getting going. And then you can also use it later on. I have a friend who writes scripts and they do, “Show me all the weak plot points in this or…”
Tim Ferriss: Could you explain that?
Kevin Kelly: You put the script in and they’ll say, “What are some of the contradictory plot points?”
Tim Ferriss: That’s a great use.
Kevin Kelly: Right. Just another set of eyes.
Tim Ferriss: Thinking about fiction, you could find internal inconsistencies.
Kevin Kelly: Internal inconsistencies or where’s continuity broken or things like that. Or you also could — here’s something I used, my book, which we’ll get to, my publisher asked for talking points. So I said, “Make a list of nine talking points for this book.”
Tim Ferriss: Time machine number one. Woolly mammoth number two.
Kevin Kelly: It made a good list. Again, I didn’t, couldn’t really use the list, but I could use it to make the list.
Tim Ferriss: It was a starting point.
Kevin Kelly: It was a starting point. And here’s another thing. So I have a friend who has a blog, a daily blog, they generate 40 posts a day.
Tim Ferriss: I can probably guess who this is.
Kevin Kelly: Probably guess who it is.
Tim Ferriss: 400? I was like, “That’s a lot.”
Kevin Kelly: 40 a day. So they use it to help write headlines. They’ll give the thing — they’ll say, “Give me five headlines.”
Tim Ferriss: Now I’ve actually not used, say, ChatGPT for this. There’s an upload function where you can upload your document and then use that as the basis or part of the basis for the prompt.
Kevin Kelly: Yes. Write some headlines. He says this is really, really good with suggesting something that they hadn’t thought of. Or he said, also, sometimes he’ll give it the posting, and said, “Give me a great punchline at the end.”
Tim Ferriss: That’s cool.
Kevin Kelly: And again, it’s the intern. They’re pretty good.
Tim Ferriss: It’s going to give you something, though.
Kevin Kelly: Give you something to start with.
Tim Ferriss: I’ll give you an example from my own life, just for fun. A friend of mine suggested this because he sent me a text, he said, “This is pretty interesting.” And he used ChatGPT, he’s been exploring all these tools in great depth and I’ve played with a lot of them, but not in the depth that he has. And he had suggested a podcast guest, John Vervaeke, who was on not too long ago, and he simply put in a prompt along the lines of, “What are questions that Tim Ferriss might ask John Vervaeke on his podcast in the style of Tim Ferriss?” And they weren’t perfectly polished, but they were not bad.
Kevin Kelly: Right? Exactly. Not bad is, I think, the title. I mean, that’s what we’re talking about. It’s a not-bad intern.
Tim Ferriss: Right?
Kevin Kelly: Okay. It’s a not-bad intern, it’s a universal, not-bad personal intern. They’ll get better. And I think also, again, they’ll get specialized. So in 15 years, 15 years — so here’s my reluctance about that. I saw VR for the first time, Jaron Lanier in 1989, ’87. I could see that in five years. I mean, it was so good. It was so amazing.
Tim Ferriss: “We’ll be at Ready Player One in 1992.”
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. So what’s happened in the 30 years since then? The state of the Oculus, whatever, it is about the same as what I saw with Jaron Lanier. But it’s a million times cheaper. But it really isn’t a million times better. So I don’t know, I think this is the time for scenarios. I think I could have bunch of different scenarios rather than making a prediction.
Tim Ferriss: Sure. Great.
Kevin Kelly: And one of the scenarios is that it doesn’t get exponentially better, but it just gets exponentially pervasive.
Tim Ferriss: Which you would think would automatically — not automatically, that’s a strong word, would make it better in terms of access to larger data sets?
Kevin Kelly: Yes, again, I think one of the things that might come — we might have a much more tailored version of this. So going back to your attempts to train it on your own stuff or to maybe have a more customized version of stuff that you want. So it’s maybe relatively the same level, but it’s much more personalized and tailored and customized to what you do and how you do it. And also —
Tim Ferriss: Also tailored for my audience. And I’ve already seen a few people do this because my transcripts are available on the website. I want to train an AI on my transcripts and also a lot of material that I produce so that the most common questions I get can be sourced from actual answers I’ve given.
Kevin Kelly: So I have a doctor friend who runs a popular pediatrician site, ask the doctor these questions, and he has trained it on all his 20 years of answering questions to his patients to do a chat. And it works pretty good. And it’s, as they say, better than no doctor. And that’s literally trained on his replies. And I think more of that will be coming, even better. So whether we get to the point where we can do the deductive reasoning of the transfer learning, I don’t know, because we haven’t really seen that much. So that’s one scenario, is we suddenly make another big innovation leap and we have another — besides just being able to synthesize pattern stuff, we can actually do these other kinds of cognition. That would be huge. But there’s no evidence that that’s going on.
So another scenario is just that we have more of this on a larger scale, more pervasive, more tailorised, like in the way that, I don’t know, there’s probably been no real advances in social media in the 10 years it’s been around.
Tim Ferriss: All right, Excellent Advice for Living. Damn it, Kevin, I’ve been trying to get you to talk about this and you keep pushing back. I was going to segue to this because you mentioned using AI to think differently, as a catalyst for thinking differently. And it made me think of advice that I’ve certainly read of yours and we’ve probably had conversations about it, which related to career advice for people, say, in their twenties and exploring avenues and creating for themselves or attempting to create for themselves jobs and activities that don’t have clear labels. And using that, among other tools, as a way to learn to think differently.
But let’s zoom out. So I’m holding two copies of the book. One is very, very tiny. This is a prized possession, now. I’ve read it probably 12 times. I have many, many notes and there are all sorts of notes in here. Excellent Advice for Living. Now the tiny version I have says, “Seeds for contemplation,” which I also like. And then there’s the very beautiful cover of this galley that you handed to me just before we started recording. Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. How did this come to be? What is the genesis story?
Kevin Kelly: So I would write down bits of advice to help me change my own behavior. I like to reduce something that I could say to myself, to repeat to myself, to remember something as a way of changing my behavior. And that kind of encapsulation and reduction to a little tiny sentence, for me, it was a handle to grab hold of it and bring it forth when I needed it. And an example would be if I know I have something in my household and I can’t find it, then when I finally do find it, I’d say to myself, when I’m getting ready to put it back, “Don’t put it back where I found it, put it back where I first looked for it.” So I had my flashlight, “Put it back where you first looked for it.” So I’m reminding myself that. And so I would start to write things down.
Another one would be if I’m invited to do a talk or go meet somebody or have coffee, whatever it is, I would say to myself, “Would I do this if it was tomorrow morning?” As kind of a filter to really make sure it passed that hurdle, because eventually it will be tomorrow morning and I have to think about it. And so I would say, “I got this invite. Well that’s kind of interesting, good. But would I do this tomorrow morning?” So making it into some portable way that I could remind myself very easily. And I start to get in the habit of writing these down and I realized a lot of it was advice that I wish I had known earlier.
I have three kids. And the way of our parenting was the opposite of helicopter parenting, was very hands off. And we did not give them much advice ever. When I was growing up, I didn’t really pay attention to what my parents said, I paid attention to what they did. And I figured that’s what our kids were doing too. So we try to model behavior rather than to say it. So neither my wife or I have ever really gave much advice, but I thought that now that I was writing it down that I should give them advice. So I began this idea of trying to extract out and put into a little handle of something encapsulated that I could give to my kids. I did a bunch when I was 68. On my birthday I released it to my son at that time, who was a young adult, just becoming a young adult. And a lot of people loved it and it ricocheted around the internet. I did it for a couple more years and I realized that I had a lot to say. I was finally giving advice that I’d been giving myself —
Tim Ferriss: Bottled up for all these decades.
Kevin Kelly: — for 70 years. I was giving it out. But it’s scattered around the internet. And I thought it would be really handy to have it in a book. So I made a prototype myself, just made a little book. I made five copies and I sent it around to see if it worked as a book. And this book also has my little doodles in it. And it worked. And so I sent it to a publisher, they loved it. They said they didn’t like the doodles, and so they said, “No art by you.” So it’s in a portable form. And actually I realized afterwards, although it was not in my head at the time, but it’s very tweetable.
These are tweets. And so they work at the attention span of a young person these days and they transmit well. And so the version you have here has about another hundred that aren’t even in this —
Tim Ferriss: Oh, look at this. So just when I thought Christmas was far away.
Kevin Kelly: I tried to make them as practical as possible, actionable, not conventional, positive, if at all possible, and short. “You can find no better medicine for your family than regular meals together without screens.”
Tim Ferriss: Let me throw a few out just because I have so many notes in here. So I’ll mention a couple and one that I may not get verbatim, but I’ve thought quite a bit about, because when I look back at all the places I’ve spent time, it’s totally true. It’s something like if an outdoor patio is less than six feet wide, no one will ever use it.
Kevin Kelly: A balcony. No one will use a balcony unless it’s —
Tim Ferriss: Never, ever.
Kevin Kelly: Never.
Tim Ferriss: And I thought about it, I was like, “That a hundred percent maps to all of my experience.”
So we have, “What you do on your bad days matters more than what you do on your good days.” This also overlaps with a lot of my thoughts on ritual and routine versus relying on, say, discipline. “Greatness is incompatible with optimizing in the short term,” and it goes on and on. I’m just mentioning a few that I’ve highlighted for myself. “You don’t marry a person, you marry a family.” That’s a big one.
Kevin Kelly: I decided you don’t marry a family, you marry a country because my wife is from a different country.
Tim Ferriss: And who knows, maybe a hundred years from now you don’t marry a person, you marry a planet, a species. “If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.” “Don’t aim to have others like you, aim to have them respect you,” which also helps in saying no to things that you won’t want to do tomorrow morning. Are there any that come to mind for you — here it is, “A balcony or porch needs to be at least six feet deep or it won’t be used.”
Then there are some very, very specific recommendations. “Learn to tie a bowline knot. Practice in the dark with one hand for the rest of your life. You’ll use this knot more times than you could ever believe.” True. I only learned that knot, I want to say, in 2012, and I’ve used it a million times since. What are some here that people have responded particularly well to? Are there any that pop out, that come to mind?
I’ll buy you some time. “When you feel pressure to pick a choice, don’t forget the choice of not choosing any.” That’s one I starred for myself.
Kevin Kelly: One thing that has surprised me is that there’ve been no overlap in people’s favorites. No overlaps in people’s favorites. I don’t know what to make of that. But anyway, that’s what it is. So I’ll tell you some of my favorites.
When you’re in your twenties you should spend a little bit of time doing something that’s sort of crazy, insane, unprofitable, unorthodox, orthogonal, because that’s going to be your touchstone and the foundation of your success later on. Try and deliberately — don’t try for something successful or creative. Do something very, very strange and weird. It’s kind of like to the other bit of advice of the thing that made you weird as a kid can make you great as an adult if you don’t lose it.
Tim Ferriss: Yes.
Kevin Kelly: I mean, this is very true.
Tim Ferriss: It’s true. It’s very true. Very true.
Kevin Kelly: So one of my favorite bits of advice that can be expanded, which is, “Don’t aim to be the best. Be the only.”
Tim Ferriss: Category of one.
Kevin Kelly: Here’s the category of one. Right before us you are living that. Even though if 10 years ago, I don’t know when you started your podcast —
Tim Ferriss: Almost 10. It’ll be 10 years next year.
Kevin Kelly: You want to be doing something where it’s hard to explain to your mother what it is that you do. So it’s like, “What is it? Well, it’s not quite radio. I don’t know. It’s like talking.” And so that’s where you want to be. You want to be the only. You want to — and that’s a very high bar because it requires a tremendous amount of self-knowledge and awareness to get to that point, to really understand what it is that you do better than anybody else in the world. And for most of us, it takes all our lives to figure that out.
And we also, by the way, need family, friends, colleagues, customers, clients, everyone around us to help us understand what it is that we do better than anybody else because we can’t really get there by yourself. You can’t do thinkism, you can’t figure your way there, you have to try and live it out. And that’s why most people’s remarkable lives are full of detours and dead ends and right turns because it’s a very high bar. But if you can get there — you don’t need a resume, there’s no competition. And it’s easy for you because you’re doing it. You’re not looking over your shoulder, you’re just right there. So don’t aim to be the best. Be the only.
Tim Ferriss: On the easy front, a question that I’ve sometimes asked my friends because the things that are right in front of us all the time are sometimes the hardest to see —
Kevin Kelly: There you go.
Tim Ferriss: — is what do you think is easy for me that is harder for other people? Because sometimes you take, I shouldn’t say — oftentimes take it for granted because it’s just what you do and you don’t even see where you have something that falls into that category.
Kevin Kelly: I actually use that, in a similar form of the question, at dinner parties when I’m sitting next to a buddy. So one of my bits of advice is that almost everybody knows a lot more about something than anybody else around them. And so I’ll sit down, it’s like, “What do you know more about than most people?” And I feel it’s my job to find out what that is. And it’s not obvious, it’s not always obvious, you have to work at it, but it’s always amazing.
Tim Ferriss: Yes, totally.
Kevin Kelly: If you can get there, they know something that’ll just blow your mind. And so that’s my assignment when I go to a party. That person knows an amazing amount of something, but it’s not going to be obvious, but they’ll tell me.
Tim Ferriss: I have a close cousin of that that I sometimes use myself, which is once someone has shared, or maybe it’s already known what they do professionally, their primary gig, let’s just say it’s finance in some capacity. And I might just ask — could be anything though, doesn’t matter. And I would just ask, “If you had to give a TED Talk, 20 minutes long, but it couldn’t be on anything that people at this table know you for, including finance, what would it be on?” And you get some of the most out-of-left-field responses and it opens the floodgates to a really interesting conversation.
I’m going to mention a couple more. “Your enjoyment of travel is inversely proportional to the size of your luggage.” This is 100 percent true of backpacking. It is liberating to realize how little you really need. And if people are not familiar with our first conversation, they should listen to it and they will realize that you walk the walk with that. You have certainly walked the walk with that and are minimalist in so many ways.
I want to ask a follow-up question to one of these. “For the best results with your children,” I starred this one, “Spend only half the money you think you should, but double the time with them.” One of the letters, I don’t get a lot of physical letters, but one of the letters that I most look forward to every year, I think it’s your year in review or Christmas perhaps, but you give a recap and you talk about the family and adventures and so on. What have you found to be some of the best investments of time with your kids? Because abstractly I bet most parents would nod their heads and say, “Of course, that makes sense. Absolutely.” But not all ways of spending time with kids are equal, I would imagine. For building intimacy and a relationship with your kids or maybe other things, what have you found to be really good uses of time?
Kevin Kelly: I don’t know enough about this generally, but I can only tell you what we have done ourselves. And for me —
Tim Ferriss: That’s what I’m asking.
Kevin Kelly: For me, what I’ve seen is a couple things. One is making things together. I’m a maker and so I have to work against my better instincts to be too involved or take over too much, but to really allow that cooperative, joint, making together. And it’s fun for the kid and it’s fun for me. And you get to see frustrations, overcoming frustrations, making mistakes, overcoming mistakes. So there’s a tremendous amount going on, both of them learning and me learning about them. And that togetherness is really great.
Tim Ferriss: What kind of stuff have you made together?
Kevin Kelly: We’ve made go karts, we’ve made gingerbread castles, we’ve made Styrobot. I don’t know if you — one of my all time favorites was making Styrobot with my son.
Tim Ferriss: I remember Styrobot.
Kevin Kelly: It was made from recycled styrofoam. It’s nine feet tall. Just art projects, helping in the garden, doing chores together. I would say travel is undoubtedly one of the best learning experiences, so much that I think as a nation we should subsidize travel, but as a family, if you can afford it. And I don’t mean that it’s going on vacation, the kind of travel I like is where you are learning. It’s like a learning experience, it’s an experience and oh, my gosh, is that so powerful.
And I would say one thing about it, that I’ve learned doing it, and that is that I was a little concerned when we were doing very intense travel with my kids at a younger age, they, at times, didn’t seem to be paying attention. They seemed not to be aware, or they were maybe wanting to stay in the hotel and play cards or things like that when we were in Tibet, whatever.
But later on I found out that actually they were paying attention, but they couldn’t process it at the time. So the experience was there and they would reprocess it over time and it would become more and more valuable as they had more and more to interpret it. And that trip, which I thought was a failure at the time, because they were not really appreciating it, but actually grew in importance. And so don’t be dismayed if you take your kids on a great adventure and they’re kind of not impressed or they’re not changed or whatever. No, no, no. They haven’t yet been able to process it and they’ll process it over time.
Tim Ferriss: Any other tips for traveling with kids? Because I can imagine a family trip that it is, well, certainly very different from a Kevin Kelly family trip where a family has gone to five countries, they’ve stayed in the Four Seasons in each one, the kids have been on their phones the entire time. And you can fill in the rest of the picture. So what would be perhaps some recommendations? And I’m not saying people should sleep on the sidewalks, just you can travel and not actually leave the comfort of your own usual scaffolding.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, no. One of the bits of advice is like, “A vacation plus a disaster equals an adventure.” One of the times I rode my bicycle across the US was from Vancouver down to Mexico on the coast. And I rode with my son who was a teenager, and I had his nephew who was a teenager along. That was an incredible experience. And doing that together, like an adventure together, was tremendous for them because it took them out of the San Francisco bubble and they could see the real world. And again, it was a learning experience about overcoming, doing things that seemed hard, but turned out to be things that you just could do. So I would say yes, try new things.
Another thing that I think is really good for travel is to almost go somewhere at random. I mean literally. So our policy for our family was to follow passions and interests rather than destinations. So every kid, we would say, “We’re going to follow your passion for our vacation this year. Whatever you’re interested in.” If you were interested Anne of Green Gables, okay, we’re going to go to Nova Scotia and visit all the Anne of Green Gables sites. If your kid — [Ed. note: Correction to the above—the setting for Anne of Green Gables was Prince Edward Island.]
Tim Ferriss: What is Anne of Green Gables? I probably should know.
Kevin Kelly: Anne of Green Gables is a popular children’s or young adults’ story.
Tim Ferriss: I see.
Kevin Kelly: Anne of Green Gables. And there’s a series of books and it was based in Nova Scotia and there’s kind of a big following about that.
Tim Ferriss: Got it.
Kevin Kelly: So our son was interested in dinosaurs when he was very little. Okay. We’re going to go to all the dinosaur digs and dinosaur museums and dinosaur excavations we could find. And that was the theme. And they were very engaged in that vacation. We were in an RV and we’re going around visiting dinosaurs because that was — so the child got to pick.
Tim Ferriss: So the follow-up question I had after the bicycle story was whether your kids have always been game for these adventures, or whether you’ve cultivated/Jedi mind-tricked them into being more game? Because I would have to imagine, this is speculation, but there are parents listening and they’re like, “I could never convince my teenage…”
Kevin Kelly: Oh, I see.
Tim Ferriss: “…son to go cycling for weeks at a time or months at a time,” whatever it might be. And maybe that’s just out of the box —
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. No —
Tim Ferriss: — they’ve been ready to go.
Kevin Kelly: I guess I would say, it was not an issue that we had. Yeah, they were always up for it, particularly, again, if you have something that’s surrounding their own passion.
Tim Ferriss: I was imagining that if you’ve — what’s the right term? If you folded them into the process of making these decisions from an early age, they relate to these things differently than if —
Kevin Kelly: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: — everything has been an assignment.
Kevin Kelly: Right. So I think that’s how you do it. It is an extension. And we homeschooled our son for one year and part of that home year of homeschooling, we weren’t home, we were traveling. And again, it was this idea of, “Where would you like to go? You get to set some of the things.” And that was total engagement. You want to make sure that it’s —
Tim Ferriss: You’re invested.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah, you’re invested.
Tim Ferriss: All right. I’m going to grab a few more here. “If an elementary school student is struggling, first thing, check their eyesight.” Good advice, something I need to get checked ’cause my family has quite a bit of glaucoma and intraocular pressure issues and I haven’t had them checked in a long time, so I’ll get there. “Purchase the most recent tourist guidebook to your hometown or region. You’ll learn a lot by playing the tourist once a year.” This is something I did. I went out and I actually got the guide books. And you do pick up a lot.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: You pick up a lot. I did this in San Francisco too.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It’s shocking how much you miss.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: I remember growing up in New York, I never made it to the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building until a German friend visited me 10 years ago and was shocked that I had never been to either of these things. And I was like, “You know, maybe I should at least spend an afternoon and go see these things.” And it was a blast. It was a lot of fun.
Kevin Kelly: One Thanksgiving day we went into San Francisco and rode the cable cars, which we had never been on. And it was the perfect day because there was nobody else on them for Thanksgiving day. And so, yes, it’s a way of, again, I favor things to help you learn, give you new experience, and treating your own neighborhood is a great way to do that.
Tim Ferriss: So I’m giving some more — I could keep going ’cause there’s so many good ones. But I’ll give an example of highly tactical and specific, all right. “To signal an emergency, use the rule of three: Three shouts, three horn blasts, or three whistles.” And then you have the more, I would say, still practical, but conceptual. “When you’re stuck, explain your problem to others. Often simply laying out a problem will present a solution. Make ‘explaining the problem’ part of your troubleshooting process.” And I —
Kevin Kelly: I wish I knew that so much earlier.
Tim Ferriss: I would not have been able to write The 4-Hour Workweek had I not taken this advice. I was totally stuck on an entire section. I was roadblocked, couldn’t make any progress. I was really starting to panic and a writer friend of mine said, “Just have someone interview you about why you’re having trouble and record it.” And I did that, I had somebody who was a ghost writer, I’ve never used a ghost writer, but she knew how to ask questions. Recorded the conversation, didn’t even need the recording because it helped me walk right through it. And by the end, I knew what the solution was. Problem solved.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. Well, I have an assistant and when I get stuck, I’ll start to explain to her my thing. And then by the end it’s like, “Wait a minute, I get it.” I was like, “I didn’t need you. But actually I did need you just to walk you through it.” Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. What would you hope — I’m going to ask you the same question I asked about — is it The Silver Cord or —
Kevin Kelly: The Silver Cord.
Tim Ferriss: It is. I just wanted to make sure I was adding the article or not. So The Silver Cord, what would you hope this to do? What would be success for you? Or is it already successful? You’re like, “Eh, I’ve done it.”
Kevin Kelly: Generally my books have an audience of one. I did this big Asia book.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: 30 pounds, three volumes —
Tim Ferriss: Spectacularly, beautiful, gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous book.
Kevin Kelly: — 9,000 images. There was not one of —
Tim Ferriss: You took every image.
Kevin Kelly: I took every image.
Tim Ferriss: Wrote every caption.
Kevin Kelly: I did all the layout. There’s a thousand pages, each one has a different design. I did the whole thing. And there’s nobody who enjoys that book more than me, just going through it. Of course, I was there, but I made up one prototype book, like this book here is a prototype, and all I wanted was one book. If there was no other books made, I would’ve been happy. But since I was making one, it is so easy to make others. And so it’s like, “If I can share it with you,” send it to my friends, that makes me even happier. So the success for that was having the book. This one is not so much for me. It is if other people also can gain and find ways to repeat these things and improve their lives, that is success for me. So I would hope that a young person like me would hear some of this advice and be able to encapsulate it and repeat it to themselves and make their lives better. That would be a success for me.
Tim Ferriss: I’m going to take a slight detour because that is my wont. I’m going to take a slight detour because this is on my mind. Do you still recommend sabbaticals?
Kevin Kelly: Oh, gosh.
Tim Ferriss: And how would you suggest, maybe for people who have not heard our prior conversations, think about sabbaticals? The value of how to actually take a sabbatical. What does that mean?
Kevin Kelly: Right, right. No, I’m a huge fan of sabbaticals and I think I had some advice in the book. I put it that I think we over overemphasize our productivity and efficiency, but the most powerful thing you can do for productivity is to — the best thing for your work ethic is to have a rest ethic.
Tim Ferriss: Yes. Actually, that’s one I’ve started.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Something along the lines of “The key to a great right work ethic is having a great rest ethic.”
Kevin Kelly: So this idea of, I think goofing off, wasting time, sabbaticals, Sabbaths, taking a Sabbath, are all essential to the creative life. They’re absolutely, it’s almost like sleep. You just have to do it. And it does it by rejuvenating you and shifting your perspective by releasing you from — I mean, there’s just so many things that it works on. And most, I think for me, in my own experience, the best things that I’ve done came after taking — shifting. It’s the clutch. When you’re shifting, you want to put the clutch in, otherwise you just kind of grind. So I think it’s really valuable. And again, not just every seven years, which is a technical sabbatical, but like Sabbaths, vacations, but more importantly, time off and goofing off.
And I think I find that the young people, believe it or not, the ones that I am associated with, don’t goof off enough. They go right from college and their first job and it’s like, no.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: Go. There were people that Wired, they came right from college and after seven years they were still there. I was like, I sit down, like “Why are you here? You should not be here. I mean, when was the last time you goofed off or wasted time?”
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: So no, I’m a big believer.
Tim Ferriss: I can imagine the rest of management must have loved that.
Kevin Kelly: I was the management.
Tim Ferriss: No, were you the only management? Anyway, we don’t have to belabor the point. I’m just management like “Why — wait, why did seven people quit last week?” “Oh, they’ve been talking to that Kelly.”
Kevin Kelly: So I think it’s essential. And so your question of, whoa — this is why I love you. It’s like, give me some practical stuff about how to take a sabbatical.
Tim Ferriss: Or just what might it look like? For someone who — I mean, let’s personalize it. Like for me —
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: — what might a sabbatical look like? What would you consider the minimal viable duration and what would make it a sabbatical, versus me just being in a foreign locale, thinking about the usual stuff?
Kevin Kelly: So my wife’s, both of her companies she’d been at, she was at Genentech for 30 years, and she’s at 23andMe now. Well, Genentech had a sabbatical program, an official one, and it was six weeks every six years, which is basically a European vacation.
Tim Ferriss: Right.
Kevin Kelly: An annual vacation. So I think six weeks is probably, to me, the minimum for a sabbatical. But man, it could be very effective in six weeks. For me, I’ve done things like doing art is something I like. In the old days, you used to have — professors would get sabbaticals and they would do their own project that they were working on, or go to a school somewhere or have a visiting appointment. Travel is a very, very common one. For you, I think your effort right now to work in animation and stuff — what’s the word I want?
Tim Ferriss: I could shadow.
Kevin Kelly: So I guess the general pattern is you want something that’s different in the structure and rhythm from what you normally do. And so our temptation, those of us who like to make things, is to make something different. But that’s not really a sabbatical. We’re kind of in the same rhythm. We’re learning. And so it’s sort of like you want to go in a different direction. And I did a sabbatical once where I just read books and it was like literally, it’s all I’m going to do. I’m going to get up in the morning and I’m going to read books and I’m not going to do anything else. And that was really different from my normal behavior, but incredibly powerful. And by the end, I went to travel ’cause I had to, it was like I blew my gaskets, I had to go.
But that sabbatical of only reading books and reading books all day long. And I could read almost like about an average of a book and a half, about a book a day. ‘Cause some books are really short and some are really long. But I mean the synapse associations that you get from reading a book after book after book, you begin to think that they’re all talking to each other, the authors.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: I mean they’re talking about the same thing, they must have known about each other. It’s impossible, but you have this sense of this all knitting together.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah. Saturation.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. So I think the recipe is to have a different rhythm and a different mode than you normally have. So I don’t know, for you that might be something like —
Tim Ferriss: I’m also used to making, making, making.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: It could be interesting for me just to shadow somebody for a period of time.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Tim Ferriss: Somebody who’s really good in the world of, say animation, using that example, and just watch. I’m not allowed, actually —
Kevin Kelly: There you go. I like that.
Tim Ferriss: To make anything for a while. I just have to watch. That would actually be very challenging for me.
Kevin Kelly: It would be. That’s right. Yeah. It’s like you have to watch somebody. But I do that every evening on YouTube. And again, I could rant about YouTube forever because I think it’s way underrated for an influencer society.
Tim Ferriss: I heard a story, I’m not going to name names.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Actually I can name one name but I don’t want to mention all the names. So mutual friend, Matt Mullenweg.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Tim Ferriss: We were just spending time together and he said you went on a walk with one of his friends.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: And the two of you just talked about YouTube for two hours straight.
Kevin Kelly: Yes, I know.
Tim Ferriss: So why don’t you expand a little bit? All right, so what do you do on YouTube?
Kevin Kelly: I watch, I watch people. No, no, no. I’m sorry.
Tim Ferriss: “It’s this thing called YouTube. It has videos, Tim.” Yes.
Kevin Kelly: No, I watch people work.
Tim Ferriss: You watch people work?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah. I watch people making things.
Tim Ferriss: Like what?
Kevin Kelly: Like people restoring cars, people making boats, people making clay things, just watching people make things.
Tim Ferriss: Huh.
Kevin Kelly: And because I’m a maker and because I learned so much by watching people work. Much more than you ever learn in a book.
Tim Ferriss: And are these just full capture videos or are they giving commentary as they go? Or are they just a kind of a peek over the shoulder as they do their thing?
Kevin Kelly: All the above.
Tim Ferriss: All right.
Kevin Kelly: All of the above. Sometimes they’re time lapses, them just in the shop. Sometimes they’re giving lessons, sometimes they’re showing a technique, sometimes they’re walking through it. Some record their mistakes, some don’t. I mean, I subscribe to so many that it’s hard to generalize. But the point is that why I think it’s underappreciated, is that it’s an accelerant on the learning, the process of people discovering something, putting it up, other people, other makers watching it, seeing, “Oh, that’s a good idea.”
Tim Ferriss: It’s like your visual —
Kevin Kelly: Modifying it —
Tim Ferriss: — your visual discord.
Kevin Kelly: Modifying it, putting their version up, and then two days later someone else has improved it. And brain surgeons are using this right now where a brain surgeon will have an operation, they’ll be filming their operation, they have a little bit of a technique improvement that they’ll watch. Other brain surgeons are watching brain surgeons —
Tim Ferriss: On YouTube?
Kevin Kelly: On YouTube. And within days they’ll have an improvement. And it’s going this fast, unlike years and years of waiting until a paper being published in a paper. It’s like, how can you do that? So it’s this incredible accelerant and the problem — not the problem, but the thing about YouTube is it’s all invisible. It’s not like a bookstore where you see what’s there. You have no idea —
Tim Ferriss: Yeah.
Kevin Kelly: — that this is happening. And it’s tremendous.
Tim Ferriss: It’s like being in the libraries of Alexandria with a blindfold on.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: And you’re only allowed to take it off once you grab something off the shelf.
Kevin Kelly: You have a little tiny peephole. Oh, there’s some books there about astronomy. But no, there’s this huge world. So for me — but anyway, I like your idea of watching people execute at work and not having to produce something. That would be a tremendous sabbatical, or true sabbatical.
Tim Ferriss: It would also be such a shift for maybe because so much of what I do is virtual or on a screen that doing it say via YouTube would not be much of a behavioral shift. And doing it in person, I also travel and move around so much. Being in, say, a fixed location for a period of time —
Kevin Kelly: Right, right.
Tim Ferriss: — would be a very novel experience.
Kevin Kelly: Exactly. Right.
Tim Ferriss: Okay.
Kevin Kelly: So I was thinking of the productivity. There’s one little bit of advice. Actually, I was telling us to David Allen of all people, who was the Getting Things Done guy.
Tim Ferriss: Of course.
Kevin Kelly: There is a tendency — what’s the word? The normal approach to organizing your life, is that you want to be productive. So you want to get through the things that you need done the most productive way in the least time as possible. But I find it’s better to shift over to say, what are the kinds of things I want to do that I want to spend as much time as possible doing? That to me is the focus, is to shift from minimizing the amount of time on things, but to maximize the amount of time to do things that you don’t ever want to stop.
Tim Ferriss: Where you want to maximize the time.
Kevin Kelly: Right.
Tim Ferriss: That was one, I’m not going to go through all the pages to find it, but that was actually one I had my thumb on, literally, that I was going to bring up because that is a piece of advice in the book. I have to ask because I’ve never been able to figure it out, probably because I haven’t asked you specifically. Why are you so — you’re like the — David Hasselhoff is to Germany, what you are to China, you’re huge in China. What is the reason for that, do you think?
Kevin Kelly: It was an accident. It was an accident. So I wrote a book, Out of Control, in the early ’90s, that was ignored in the US. It was way too early. It was just too early. It was talking about decentralized systems, had a whole chapter on crypto in 1994, that actually I gave to Steven Levy and assigned him to follow up. And he later wrote the book on the crypto stuff. Crypto not being the money, but mine was about digital money. And so it was just too early. But it was translated into Chinese at the beginning of the aughts, I don’t know, 2006, maybe five, I don’t remember exactly. And it was actually crowdsourced translated, which was even more interesting.
Tim Ferriss: Okay, because there was so much demand by the Chinese?
Kevin Kelly: No. It was just some fans in China. Basically it was —
Tim Ferriss: That’s a task.
Kevin Kelly: It was crowdsourced.
Tim Ferriss: Yeah, I get it, but crowd — it’s still a task.
Kevin Kelly: So there was one guy, and I owe it all to one guy, who was a real true fan and he organized the crowdsourcing translation of it. And it came out at the right moment that Jack Ma and Pony Ma were beginning to build their — do their internet things. And it was hugely influential on them. And they talk about the book. So everybody else, every entrepreneur in China has to read the book because Jack Ma recommended it.
Tim Ferriss: Right. The Steve Jobs of China —
Kevin Kelly: Exactly.
Tim Ferriss: — is talking about it.
Kevin Kelly: And that’s primarily why it kind of disseminated from that. And then all my other things were translated and I became the prophet of the internet or something because I was talking about these things before there was the things.
Tim Ferriss: Kind of what prophets do.
Kevin Kelly: And so in China there is a little bit of more of a herd mentality where people read it because other people have been reading it and need to read it.
Tim Ferriss: Happens here too.
Kevin Kelly: But even to a larger —
Tim Ferriss: To a greater extent.
Kevin Kelly: And so most of my fans are actually in China. And I still was going there on a regular basis giving talks about the future of X and Y. And the major difference there was that they were actively listening and then executing and doing this stuff rather than — I mean, they were so eager to build and to get ahead, they would say, we’re talking about whatever it is, blockchain, whatever, “Okay, we’re going to start doing blockchain.” It was like they were absorbing it and actually acting upon it rather than just kind of, “Oh, that’s a nice idea.” They were really looking for things to do.
Tim Ferriss: Very proactive.
Kevin Kelly: So it had a huge influence in that way.
Tim Ferriss: So you said you’re known as KK?
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: Do they write it in the English “KK,” or is there — I’m sure they have a Chinese name for you, but —
Kevin Kelly: They say it — there isn’t characters.
Tim Ferriss: It’s just the letter K, letter K.
Kevin Kelly: They can read the letters.
Tim Ferriss: No, I’m sure they can.
Kevin Kelly: No, no, but I mean, it’s just KK. I have a Chinese name.
Tim Ferriss: What is your Chinese name?
Kevin Kelly: Kǎiwén Kǎilì.
Tim Ferriss: That is a great name.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah.
Tim Ferriss: That is a great name.
Kevin Kelly: But —
Tim Ferriss: You could slightly change that and sell yourself as a K-pop star in the US. It’s all the rage, you can do really well. [foreign language]. Cool older brother.
Kevin Kelly: Yeah, right.
Tim Ferriss: That’s you, man. That’s how I think about you. Well, is there any other advice you’d like to give or anything else you would like to say about Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier? Or any other thoughts you would like to share? Any closing comments? Requests of my audience?
Kevin Kelly: Yes.
Tim Ferriss: Formal complaints you’d like to lodge? Anything at all?
Kevin Kelly: Let’s see. No, I think there is one little piece of advice at the very end, which maybe sums up the assignment, which is kind of your goal in life is to be able to say, on the day before you die, that you have fully become yourself. So I really want to emphasize this idea of fully becoming yourself and the difficulty and the challenge that is to discover what that is, but how powerful that is. And that’s true whether you’re starting a company, or becoming an artist, or a teacher, whatever it is. And the reason why I’m very pro on technology is that I think it enables us, helps us, generally, to become more of ourselves. That we all have mixtures of talents in us that actually need external tools to help us express things. And so I am interested in increasing that pool of possible tools in the world so that all of us would have some chance to really expressing our genius and fully becoming ourselves.
And that includes having clean water and education and access to transportation. Those are all the fundamental tools in addition to the kind of high tech stuff. But I really do believe that all of us have a unique genius. I mean, every evidence I’ve seen in the world, and people around the world suggest that that’s true. And so if I can at all unleash people to attempt to fulfill their best self, to be more of their selves, to be fully them, then that would be a success for me.
Tim Ferriss: Kevin, it’s so nice to spend time with you. So much fun. Always is.
Kevin Kelly: It always is, Tim. You make me happy. I just love your sincerity. Thank you.
Tim Ferriss: You too, man. Thanks so much. And I have read my little bootleg copy of Excellent Advice for Living probably 20 times. It really is something that you can refer to again and again and again. And each time you read it with a new pair of eyes, because you’re in a different state, maybe a different place in your life, you also glean different things. So I really can’t recommend this book enough. It’s so easy to read. Excellent Advice for Living: Wisdom I Wish I’d Known Earlier. Go get it folks. You will not be sorry. You will thank me later. And you can be found on Twitter, the tool of the prophet, at “@kevin2kelly,” and on the website, certainly, kk.org, where people can also find “1,000 True Fans,” which everyone should read.
And for those listening, we will have links to everything in the show notes as per usual tim.blog/podcast. Until next time, be just a little kinder than is necessary to not just other people but yourself and strive to become fully yourself. And tools are part of that, advice is certainly part of that, and maybe the combination is part of that. So till next time, thanks for tuning in.
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