Kevin Kelly's 25-year bet with a neo-Luddite has been decided

In 1995, Wired co-founder Kevin Kelly (also my friend and business partner for 30 years) made a $1,000 bet with neo-Luddite Kirkpatrick Sale. If civilization had collapsed by the end of 2020, Kirkpatrick would win the bet. If not Kelly, would win. The judge was a man who had edited books written by Sale and Kelly.

Twenty-five years later, the judge has made his decision. Steven Levy wrote an engrossing article about the bet and the outcome in Wired.

In the final pages of his Luddite book, Sale had predicted society would collapse "within not more than a few decades." Kelly, who saw technology as an enriching force, believed the opposite—that society would flourish. Baiting his trap, Kelly asked just when Sale thought this might happen.

Sale was a bit taken aback—he'd never put a date on it. Finally, he blurted out 2020. It seemed like a good round number.

Kelly then asked how, in a quarter century, one might determine whether Sale was right.

Sale extemporaneously cited three factors: an economic disaster that would render the dollar worthless, causing a depression worse than the one in 1930; a rebellion of the poor against the monied; and a significant number of environmental catastrophes.

"Would you be willing to bet on your view?" Kelly asked.

"Sure," Sale said.

Then Kelly sprung his trap. He had come to Sale's apartment with a $1,000 check drawn on his joint account with this wife. Now he handed it to his startled interview subject. "I bet you $1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe," he said.

Sale barely had $1,000 in his bank account. But he figured that if he lost, a thousand bucks would be worth much less in 2020 anyway. He agreed. Kelly suggested they both send their checks for safekeeping to William Patrick, the editor who had handled both Sale's Luddite book and Kelly's recent tome on robots and artificial life; Sale agreed.

"Oh, boy," Kelly said after Sale wrote out the check. "This is easy money."

Kevin also wrote about the bet on his website.