Jaron Lanier (born May 3, 1960) is an American computer scientist, philosopher, visual artist, and author. Commonly known as the father of Virtual Reality, Lanier founded the very first Virtual Reality company, VPL Research, in 1984 as a result of his unemployment when Atari inc. was split up that same year. Ever since coining the term "Virtual Reality", Lanier has become an outspoken figurehead in the realm of ethics regarding technology, arguing that algorithmic driven content online is negatively impacting society. Lanier has also written several books on technology, highlighting the ethical pros and cons inherent to the web.
- 1 Early Life
- 2 List of Significant Published Works
- 2.1 You Are Not a Gadget (2010)
- 2.2 Who Owns the Future? (2014)
- 2.3 Dawn of the New Everything (2017)
- 2.4 How we need to remake the internet (2018)
- 2.5 Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018)
- 2.6 Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet (2019)
- 2.7 VR and the Problem of How We Talk About Tech (2019)
- 3 Ethics
- 4 References
Shortly after his birth in New York City, Lanier and his parents left New York, roaming the United States before settling in an outback on the west side of Texas, at the boarder of both New Mexico and Mexico proper. Lanier's family made sure to settle in an area with access to good schooling, and sent him to a school in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, across the international boarder. Soon after settling in, Lanier's mother was killed in a car accident, and the house she had bought for her family burned down the day after construction was completed. Afterward, Lanier's father bought an acre of land in New Mexico with what money they still had, and managed to find work nearby. The two lived in the desert for some time, before they managed to execute their plan to build a house. Lanier designed the house as a geodesic dome, while his father helped him in getting permission from the authorities to build the design. After moving out of his childhood home, Lanier visited his mother's friend in NYC, and after roaming the U.S., landed a job in Silicon Valley.
List of Significant Published Works
You Are Not a Gadget (2010)
In his first published book, You Are Not a Gadget (2010), Lanier talks about his experience as one of the first individuals to see the potential changes and improvements that the web could bring to the world, being a member of Silicon Valley during the 1980s. He details the problems and benefits of the internet, explaining the mistakes and successes that were made early on in the World Wide Web’s lifetime.
Who Owns the Future? (2014)
In Lanier’s second published work Who Owns the Future? (2014), he explores the digital network, and ultimately asserts that, in order to properly balance the world economy, we must first fix our information economy. Lanier argues that the internet’s structure creates a terrible inequity regarding information and the freedoms of people online. In his book, Lanier proposes an information economy that rewards royalties in exchange for data to people using the internet.
Dawn of the New Everything (2017)
Dawn of the New Everything (2017) is written as a half-manifesto, half-exploration into the nature of Virtual Reality. In this book, Lanier details his life story, from his upbringing in New Mexico, to the founding of his first start-up in Silicon Valley. Lanier describes Virtual Reality as more than some new technology, explaining that VR has the ability to further humanity’s understanding of themselves and the world around them.
How we need to remake the internet (2018)
Lanier has also given a TED Talk titled How we need to remake the internet (2018), in which he describes his ideas and concepts for the internet, explaining several concepts from his previous books in a consolidated manner. Lanier talks about behaviorism and how the internet influences people, advertising online, and paying for content, giving the example of Netflix and HBO. Lanier explains that, as a result of these services, the world is in a period called Peak TV, where paying for content makes that content better. Lanier proposes the idea of peak social media, where users can get the information they want from the internet, rather than conspiracy theories or bad medical advice. Lanier further explains that companies like Google and Facebook would benefit from such a model, so such a hypothetical would be in the benefit of those companies.
Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018)
Lanier’s book Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now (2018) Is a mini-book that presents several arguments for deleting and distancing oneself from social media entirely. Lanier said in an interview that he began writing the book after realizing that he had not written about the dangers of social media as a standalone concept. Coming off of the 2016 presidential election, Lanier decided to present his personal philosophy and reasons against using social media. Lanier said in the same interview that his book was driven by journalistic interest, and was intended as a mini-book. However, with the event of the Cambridge Analytica scandal breaking in early 2018, Lanier was compelled to revise the book before printing. Upon this request, the publisher told Lanier that he wouldn’t be able to increase the original page count, and would only be able to use existing white-space on the pages. This somewhat limiting condition still allowed Lanier to include his thoughts on more topical events of early 2018.
Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet (2019)
In addition to his books, Lanier has written many opinion pieces for multiple news organizations. In his New York Times op-ed Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet (2019), Lanier condenses the main points of his book Who Owns the Future? (2014), and describes the problems and solutions that everyday users face. Lanier introduces the concept of Data Dignity, a conceptual representation of the internet where an individual has the moral rights to all information on the internet, introducing the concept of MIDs (Mediators of Individual Data), organizations who protect their members personal information.
VR and the Problem of How We Talk About Tech (2019)
In his Medium magazine article VR and The Problem of How We Talk About Tech (2019), Lanier describes the way people respond and act when using Virtual Reality technologies. In addition to his description of how people experience VR, Lanier also touches on his personal experiences, and speaks of his own wonderment with the technology. Lanier goes on to describe his displeasure with various conceptual technologies, and his personal thoughts on the ethical implications presented by popular media, such as Star Trek.
Lanier has developed the concept of a world wide web in which all individuals are paid royalties for their data on the internet, arguing that companies, such as data brokers, who collect information on their users should reimburse those users for the data that they collect. Many people have dismissed Lanier for being too idealistic in his ideas. Despite the criticisms that he has received, Lanier is confident that the mistakes and problems which have plagued the internet can be fixed, as long as tech giants, such as Google and Facebook, are willing to adapt to new ideas. In Lanier's TED talk, he expands more upon his proposed ideas by referencing Norbert Wiener's book The Human Use of Human Beings. Lanier explains Wiener's hypothetical future of a global computer system, where all people own devices that give them feedback based on certain actions they take. Wiener explains that such a society would be unable to face it's problems, but clarifies that his idea is just a thought experiment, and that such a future is technologically infeasible. Lanier points out in his TED talk that such a hypothetical is exactly what came to pass, and that humanity must undo such a future if it is to survive. Lanier has proposed multiple ways in which the internet could be fixed, one such solution being the idea of peak social media described in his TED talk. The other being a dignified data future, a collection of ethics ideas called Data Dignity.
This proposed dignified data future involves MIDs, organizations that people can trust by law to protect their personal information on the internet. Lanier explains MIDs as similar to labour unions, where members of such organizations can enjoy strength in numbers, going on to describe them as paying their members for using the internet, similar to a pension. Lanier's idea of the MID is that, if people were to join one of these organizations, their online privacy and information would be protected by law. This protection would allow such individuals increased anonymity in their usage of the internet, giving them freedom to move about without needing to worry about constant surveillance.
- Lanier, Jaron. "Dawn of the New Everything: a Journey through Virtual Reality." Vintage, 2018. ch. 1.
- Lanier, Jaron. "Dawn of the New Everything: a Journey through Virtual Reality." Vintage, 2018. ch. 2.
- Jaron Lanier TED Talk, Link to Lanier's TED Talk.
- CNET Book Club, Lanier's interview with CNET
- Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet | NYT Opinion, Jaron Lanier's op-ed with the New York Times.
- VR and the Problem of How We Talk About Tech, Jaron Lanier's op-ed with Medium.com.
- Jaron Lanier Fixes the Internet, Timestamp to Lanier's explanation of Data Dignity.