Excerpts from “Who Owns the Future?” – Jaron Lanier – parts 1-5

Excerpts from “Who owns the future?” by Jaron Lanier – parts 1-5

“It would be impossible to only use existing terminology to communicate the ideas in this book. The problem is not that there are no relevant, familiar terms, but that all the pre-existing terms have baggage or common uses that are just enough askew from what I need to say that they bring more confusion than clarity. So unfamiliar terms and expressions will appear. An appendix contains a list of some of these terms, along with the pages on which they first appear. Think of it as the high priority index.” p.xiii


“The idea that mankind’s information should be made free is idealistic, and understandably popular, but information wouldn’t need to be free if no-one were impoverished. As software and networks become more and more important, we can either be moving toward free information in the midst of insecurity for almost everyone, or towards paid information with a stronger middle class than ever before. The former might seem more ideal in the abstract, but the latter is the more realistic path to lasting democracy and dignity.” p.5

“Starting back in the early 1980’s, an initially tiny stratum of gifted technologists conceived new interpretations of concepts like privacy, liberty, and power. I was an early participant in the process, and helped to formulate many of the ideas I am criticising in this book. What was once a tiny subculture has blossomed into the dominant interpretation of computation and software-mediated society.” p.9

“Digital technologists are setting down the new grooves of how people live, how we do business, ho we do everything – and they’re doing it according to the expectations of foolish utopian scenarios. We want free online experiences so badly that that we are happy not to be paid for information that comes from us now or ever. That sensibility also implies that the more dominant information becomes in our economy, the less most of us will be worth.” p.12

“New technological synthesis that will solve the great challenges of the day are less likely to come from garages than from collaborations by many people over giant computer networks. It is the politics and economics of these networks that will determine how new capabilities translate into new benefits for ordinary people.” p.13

“In a world of digital dignity, each individual will be the commercial owner of any data that can be measured from that person’s stae or behaviour. Treating information as a mask behind which real people are invariably hiding means that digital data will be treated as being consistently valuable, rather than inconsistently valuable.” p.16

“Modern future oriented concepts of money only make sense in a universe that is pregnant with possibility. In the ancient world, when money and numbers were born as one, noone seems to have expected the world to embark on a project of inexorable improvement.” “Money allows blood enemies to collaborate; when money changes hands we forget at least for a moment the history of conflict and the potential for revenge.” p.26

“Modern ideaas about money answer the need to balance planning against freedon. If we make no promises of consistency to each other, life would become treacherous.” p.28

“An economy is like a cosmology, An expanding market, like an expanding universe, has unique laws and local phenomena. Growth is necessary in a healthy market, and it doesn’t have to come at the expense of the environment or other precious thigs we hold in common. Growth is merely honest if the goodwill of ordinary people is to be acknowledged instead of forgoten. That means a little inflation – not too much – is proper, as people get better at doing things in ways that are acknowledged to be good for one another. This is such a basic idea that is can be hard to see.” p.29

“we don’t know as much as I believe we one day will about the implications of specific network designs, but we already know enough to improve what we do.” p.35

“Ordinary people are relentlessly spied on, and not compensated for information taken from them. While I would like to see everyone eventually pay for music and the like, I would not ask for it until there is reciprocity.” p.45

“Moral hazard has never met a more eficient amplifier than a digital network. The more influential digital networks become, the more potential moral hazard we’ll see, unless we change the architecture.” p.49

“The primary business of digital networking has come to be the creation of ultra-secret mega-dossiers about what others are doing, and using this information to concntrate money and power. It doesn’t matter whenther the concentration is called a social network, an insurance company, a derivatives fund, a search engine, or an online store. It’s all fundamentally the same.” p.54

“Great fortunes are being made on shrinking the economy instead of growing it. It’s not a result of c=some evil schen=me, but a side sefect of an idiotic elevation of the fantasy that technology is getting smart and standing on its own, without people.” “Information supremacy for one company becomes, as a matter of course, a form of behaviour modification of the rest of the world.” p.55-56

“The lure of ‘free’ will beckon. Get educated for free now! But don’t plan on a job as an educator.” p.89

“To the degree big data can seem magical it can also be spectacularly misleading. Is this not clear? Perceiving magic is precisely the same thing as perceiving the limits of your own understanding.” p.106

” … data concerning people is best thought of as people in disguise.”p.112

“What will people be when technology becomes much more advanced? With each passing year, our abilities to act on our ideas are increased by technological progress. Ideas matter more and more. The ancient conversations about where human purose is headed continue today, with rising implications.” “The data that drives ‘automation’ has to ultimately come from people, in the form of ‘big data’. Automation can always be understood as elaborate puppetry.” p.114

“… reasons to avoid ‘meme’ in this case; the primary one being that good ideas are not remotely as plentiful as varieties of traits in natural organisms. You might fins this set of ‘technological humours’ to be useful. If so it is only becuse the solution space for how a person can react to accelerating tehnological change is small.” “(note; No end of ontologies has been proposed to describe the human condition, from the enneagram to the DSM. Ontologies can be fun and useful,but of course it’s essential not to take them too seriously.)” p.115

“Once the groundrules of live are changed, you no longer hae the ability to understand what you might have forgotten from a previous incarnation. No adult really knows what was lost in the process of growing up, because the sdult brain cannot quite realise the mentality in which childhood memories are fully meaningful. With that level of change comes a kind of partial death.” “It is impossible for us to completely enter the experiential world of the hunter gatherer. It’s almost impossible to concieve of the subjective texture of life before electricity. We can’t fuly know what we have lost as we becme more technological, so we are in constant doubt of our own authenticity and vitality. This is a necessary side effect of our survival.” p.121

“After we learn how to survive global climate change, the earth will not be the same place as it was before. It will be more artificial, more managed.” “It is hard to be comfortable accepting the degree of responsibility our species will have to assume in order to survive into the future. The game was entered into long ago and we have no choice but to play.” “If ever there is an illusion that humans are becoming obsolete, it will in reality be a case of massive accounting fraud. What we are doing now is initiating that fraud. Let’s stop.” p.125

“When you hypothesise better solutions to todays way of dealing with complex problems, you are automatically also hypothesising a lot of new ways to fail.” p.143

“Google might eventually become an ourobouros, a snake eating its own tail, unless something changes. This would happen when so many goods and services become software-centric, and so much information is ‘free’, that there is nothing left to advertise on Google that attracts actual money.” p.146

“The true star toward which we navigate is freedom from particularity.” p.153

“A sanctioned malaise has been in effect for some decades now; it is accepted in some circles that future history will not be coherent. From here on out the human story will no longer unfold in a sensible way. We are said to be entering into a fate that will resist interpretation. Narrative arcs will no longer apply.” p.156

“Overall, story finds its home in network age struggles just as well as it ever did in ‘civilisational clashes’, court intrugues, romantic triangles, or any other narrative pattern from the past.” p.157

“Making choices of where to place the barrier between ego and algorithm is unavoidable in the age of cloud software. Drawing the line between what we forfeit to calculation and what we reserve for the heroics of free will is the story of our time.” p.159

“The core ideal of the internet is that one trusts peole, and that given an opportunity, people will find their way to be reasonably decent. I happily restate my loyalty to that ideal. It’s all we have. But the demonstrated capability of Facebook to to effortlessly engage in mass social engineering proves that the internet as it exists today is not a purists emergent system, as is so often claimed, but largely a top-down, directed one. … We pretend that an emergent meta-human being is appearing in the computing clouds – an artificial intelligence – but actually it is humans, the operators of Siren Servers, pulling the levers.” p.182

“… lulled by the concept of ever more intelligent AI’s, [we] are expected to trust algorithms to asses our aesthetic choices, the progress of a student, the credit risk of a homeowner or an institution. In doing so, we end up misreading the capability of our machines and distorting our own cpabilities as human beings. We must instead take responsibility for every task undertaken by a machine, and double check every conclusion offered by an algorithm …” p.184

“Belief in the specialness of people is a minority position in the tech world, and I would like that to change. The way we experience life – call it ‘consciousness’ – doesn’t fit in a materialistic or informational worldview. Lately I prefer to call it ‘experience’, since the opposing philosophical team has colonised the term ‘consciousness’. That tern might be used these days to refer to the self-models that can be implemented inside a robot.” “… consciousness provides ontology for particles. If there were no consciousness, the universe would be adequately described as nothing but particles, Or, if you prefer a computational framework, only the bits would be left, but not the data structures. It would all mean nothing, because it wouldn’t be experienced.” p.187-188



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