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The Novelist vs The Futurologist

Steel cage match: John Updike mauls Kevin Kelly

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Be gone, wetware!

Futurologists can be extremely silly, but must cleave to two styles. The predictions can be utopian, or apocalyptic, and preferably both - but the futurologist must never let his underlying misanthropy poke through.

Replying to Carr, Kelly begins graciously enough. But it only takes one more exchange, and he gets very grouchy and haughty.

"I am one of those people who believe in progress," he harrumphs, implying that anyone who disagrees with him wants to make us worse off, unhappier, and more miserable. In fact, any kind of disagreement with Kelly is unwelcome. "There are other - and you seem to claim to be one of them - who read the same evidence and see decline and degradation (on average)."

There's even a new word for you to enjoy.

"That's fine. But declinists often mistake progressism as uptopiasm [sic] because where else can increasing and everlasting improvement point to except utopia? Sadly that confuses a direction with a destination."

Kelly's world view confirms the notion that if you scratch a New Economy maven hard enough, underneath you'll find a teleological argument.

"As far as I can see, there is a one-way movement throughout history and the world toward more possibilities." So you can see how far the vision thing goes. But more interestingly, Kelly gives us an idea of what he means when he insists that technology has a moral purpose.

"The internet and the web will better our lives overall and on average", he stresses. An average of what? He then tells us: "A tally of the advances and problems generated by each invention would on average balance out to a wash."

So, say, while gas ovens may be used for the purpose of genocidal slaughter, they can cook a chicken beautifully - and it all "averages" out in the end! What Kelly really means is that he doesn't want to make moral choices about technology, because it can take care of itself. This is invaluable stuff - and 7,400 words shorter than his New York Times feature.

A quick encapsulation of the real Kelly position is: only one of us is permitted to write about the future, and that's me, and there's only one outcome to history, and that's mine. And in doing so he breaks the Golden Rule of Futurology: never show how much you hate humanity. When a technology "transcendentalist" talks in raptures of fusing flesh and machine, you know they're pretty uncomfortable with the idea of being human. When they talk about machine as the fulcrum of artistic creation, you know they're uncomfortable with the idea of human creativity. And as Register readers so often point out, the confusion between information and knowledge shows a contempt for human understanding and intelligence.

Beardless, and vulnerable to Out Of Control machinery: Kevin Kelly

Be gone, wetware.

Which inspires us to in turn, inspire you. Here's a competition for all Reg readers.

In a homage to Kelly's own twelve New Rules for the New Economy ("twelve dependable principles for thriving in a turbulent world"), we invite you to suggest as many New Rules for the New Misanthropy as you can. The first, "Anti Social Software - technology that helps you zone out awkward intrusions from "declinists" - has already been coined. T-shirt prizes go to the best.

Give us your best. ®

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