Wired founding editor Kelly (Asia Grace, 2002, etc.) attempts to balance a clear-eyed overview of the rise of technology and its place with a grand statement about what it all means.
The author’s arguments are careful and convincing—to a point. What does he mean by technology wanting something? Is he serious? Yes, he is, and patient readers will find that Kelly has read and thought deeply about this question for decades, beginning with his days as a contributor to the Whole Earth Catalog in the ’70s. He cites conversations with several dozen of the best-known thinkers and writers on the subjects of science, technology and cosmology, including Richard Dawkins, Robert Wright, Ray Kurzweil, Freeman Dyson, Stewart Brand and Chris Anderson, to name just a few. What Kelly and colleagues have observed is the steady, sometimes exponential growth of what the author calls the “technium” (the sum total of all human technology), the development of which mostly escaped human notice until Enlightenment inventors and engineers put it into overdrive. Kelly argues that the seeds for this critical mass were sown in the very beginning of time, that the technium wanted to be and just needed the conditions, including sufficiently brainy primates, in place for its existence to be met. This argument, plausible as it seems, ultimately must be taken on faith. The strongest part of the book is the author’s utilitarian defense of technology against technophobic critics—represented at the extreme by the Unabomber—and he holds up the Amish as an admirable example of a society that approaches technology with the proper mixture of suspicion and respect. No matter how someone feels about technology, however, Kelly claims that it will be what it wants to be, and humans need to understand the role we play in its uses and abuses.
Techno-mysticism aside, a timely and urgent book about the possibly dangerous fruits of human inventiveness.