Category Archive 'Jaron Lanier'
26 Apr 2018
Jaron Lanier tells New York Magazine how Big Internet Tech Companies went wrong.
We used to be kind of rebels, like, if you go back to the origins of Silicon Valley culture, there were these big traditional companies like IBM that seemed to be impenetrable fortresses. And we had to create our own world. To us, we were the underdogs and we had to struggle. And weâ€™ve won. I mean, we have just totally won. We run everything. We are the conduit of everything else happening in the world. Weâ€™ve disrupted absolutely everything. Politics, finance, education, media, relationships â€” family relationships, romantic relationships â€” weâ€™ve put ourselves in the middle of everything, weâ€™ve absolutely won. But we donâ€™t act like it.
We have no sense of balance or modesty or graciousness having won. Weâ€™re still acting as if weâ€™re in trouble and we have to defend ourselves, which is preposterous. And so in doing that we really kind of turn into assholes, you know? …
when you move out of the tech world, everybodyâ€™s struggling. Itâ€™s a very strange thing. The numbers show an economy thatâ€™s doing well, but the reality is that the way itâ€™s doing well doesnâ€™t give many people a feeling of security or confidence in their futures. Itâ€™s like everybodyâ€™s working for Uber in one way or another. Everythingâ€™s become the gig economy. And we routed it that way, thatâ€™s our doing. Thereâ€™s this strange feeling when you just look outside of the tight circle of Silicon Valley, almost like entering another country, where people are less secure. Itâ€™s not a good feeling. I donâ€™t think itâ€™s worth it, I think weâ€™re wrong to want that feeling.
Itâ€™s not so much that theyâ€™re doing badly, but they have only labor and no capital. Or the way I used to put it is, they have to sing for their supper, for every single meal. Itâ€™s making everyone else take on all the risk. Itâ€™s like weâ€™re the people running the casino and everybody else takes the risks and we donâ€™t. Thatâ€™s how it feels to me. Itâ€™s not so much that everyone else is doing badly as that theyâ€™ve lost economic capital and standing, and momentum and plannability. Itâ€™s a subtle difference. …
I think the fundamental mistake we made is that we set up the wrong financial incentives, and thatâ€™s caused us to turn into jerks and screw around with people too much. Way back in the â€™80s, we wanted everything to be free because we were hippie socialists. But we also loved entrepreneurs because we loved Steve Jobs. So you wanna be both a socialist and a libertarian at the same time, and itâ€™s absurd. But thatâ€™s the kind of absurdity that Silicon Valley culture has to grapple with.
And thereâ€™s only one way to merge the two things, which is what we call the advertising model, where everythingâ€™s free but you pay for it by selling ads. But then because the technology gets better and better, the computers get bigger and cheaper, thereâ€™s more and more data â€” what started out as advertising morphed into continuous behavior modification on a mass basis, with everyone under surveillance by their devices and receiving calculated stimulus to modify them. So you end up with this mass behavior-modification empire, which is straight out of Philip K. Dick, or from earlier generations, from 1984.
Itâ€™s this thing that we were warned about. Itâ€™s this thing that we knew could happen. Norbert Wiener, who coined the term cybernetics, warned about it as a possibility. And despite all the warnings, and despite all of the cautions, we just walked right into it, and we created mass behavior-modification regimes out of our digital networks. We did it out of this desire to be both cool socialists and cool libertarians at the same time.
02 Jun 2006
Tech guru Jaron Lanier objects to new-fangled collective-based web phenomena, like Wikipedia, as Digital Maoism, and comes out for individualism.
Reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is impossible to be sure…
..the problem is in the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it’s been elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective with the most verity and force. This is different from representative democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various historical periods. The fact that it’s now being re-introduced today by prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and like, doesn’t make it any less dangerous…
For instance, most of the technical or scientific information that is in the Wikipedia was already on the Web before the Wikipedia was started. You could always use Google or other search services to find information about items that are now wikified. In some cases I have noticed specific texts get cloned from original sites at universities or labs onto wiki pages. And when that happens, each text loses part of its value. Since search engines are now more likely to point you to the wikified versions, the Web has lost some of its flavor in casual use.
When you see the context in which something was written and you know who the author was beyond just a name, you learn so much more than when you find the same text placed in the anonymous, faux-authoritative, anti-contextual brew of the Wikipedia. The question isn’t just one of authentication and accountability, though those are important, but something more subtle. A voice should be sensed as a whole. You have to have a chance to sense personality in order for language to have its full meaning. Personal Web pages do that, as do journals and books. Even Britannica has an editorial voice…
..The artificial elevation of all things Meta is not confined to online culture. It is having a profound influence on how decisions are made in America.
What we are witnessing today is the alarming rise of the fallacy of the infallible collective. Numerous elite organizations have been swept off their feet by the idea. They are inspired by the rise of the Wikipedia, by the wealth of Google, and by the rush of entrepreneurs to be the most Meta. Government agencies, top corporate planning departments, and major universities have all gotten the bug.
09 Jan 2006
Jarod Lanier (above) writes about Technology the way certain of my college friends used to talk about these kinds of things after a couple of hash brownies. This specific (brilliant, crossing the barriers of a variety of separate and distinct topics, wildly original and speculative, and a trifle daft) form of discourse was referred to in our circles as space-ranging. Criticized by his interlocutors for his prolixity, for the profusion of his ideas, for their chaotic disorganization, and for indulging in the characteristic intellectual overreach of the seriously stoned, one Early Concentration Philosophy classmate of mine, had on a particular occasion declared memorably in his own defense: “I am a Space Ranger!”
As the rings of Saturn fade distantly in the view-finder, Lanier remarks:
As it happens, I dislike UNIX and its kin because it is based on the premise that people should interact with computers through a “command line.” First the person does something, usually either by typing or clicking with a pointing device. And then, after an unspecified period of time, the computer does something, and then the cycle is repeated. That is how the Web works, and how everything works these days, because everything is based on those damned Linux servers. Even video games, which have a gloss of continuous movement, are based on an underlying logic that reflects the command line.
Human cognition has been finely tuned in the deep time of evolution for continuous interaction with the world. Demoting the importance of timing is therefore a way of demoting all of human cognition and physicality except for the most abstract and least ambiguous aspects of language, the one thing we can do which is partially tolerant of timing uncertainty. It is only barely possible, but endlessly glitchy and compromising, to build Virtual Reality or other intimate conceptions of digital instrumentation (meaning those connected with the human sensory motor loop rather than abstractions mediated by language) using architectures like UNIX or Linux. But the horrible, limiting ideas of command line systems are now locked-in. We may never know what might have been. Software is like the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which each day is the same. The passage of time is trivialized.
But, as is often the case in space ranges, there is some very good stuff in here. The concept of the Antigora, i.e., a privately owned marketplace whose owner benefits both from its use by, and from the volunteer labor of, entrants is potentially quite useful.
I have a strong suspicion that Lanier’s use of Agora, and variations thereon, as his preferred term for one kind of marketplace and another, stems from the influence of the late Samuel Edward Konkin III (1947-2004), founder of a unique strain of California counter-cultural Libertarianism which he called Agorism, whose theories were promulgated via Sam’s own Agorist Institute. Potlatch metaphors were also a characterististic trope of Konkinian Libertarianism. One can hear the echo of Sam Konkin’s sunny optimism in the following analysis:
Perhaps it will turn out that India and China are vulnerable. Google and other Antigoras will increasingly lower the billing rates of help desks. Robots will probably start to work well just as China’s population is aging dramatically, in about twenty years. China and India might suddenly be out of work! Now we enter the endgame feared by the Luddites, in which technology becomes so efficient that there aren’t any more jobs for people.
But in this particular scenario, let’s say it also turns out to be true that even a person making a marginal income at the periphery of one of the Antigoras can survive, because the efficiencies make survival cheap. It’s 2025 in Cambodia, for instance, and you only make the equivalent of a buck a day, without health insurance, but the local Wal-Mart is cheaper every day and you can get a robot-designed robot to cut out your cancer for a quarter, so who cares? This is nothing but an extrapolation of the principle Wal-Mart is already demonstrating, according to some observers. Efficiencies concentrate wealth, and make the poor poorer by some relative measures, but their expenses are also brought down by the efficiencies.
An amusing read and a fine provocation. John Perry Barlow, Eric S. Raymond, David Gelernter, and Glenn Reynolds will all be replying.
Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.
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