Jaron Lanier and ‘Who Owns the Future?’

Jaron Lanier, originally uploaded by jjn1.

From my Observer piece about Jaron Lanier…

Jaron Lanier is that rarest of rare birds – an uber-geek who is highly critical of the world created by the technology he helped to create. Now in his 50s, he first came to prominence in the 1980s as a pioneer in the field of “virtual reality” – the development of computer-generated environments in which real people could interact. Ever since then, he has attracted the label of “visionary”, not always a compliment in the computer business, where it denotes, as the New Yorker memorably put it, “a capacity for mercurial insight and a lack of practical job skills”.

In person, he looks like central casting’s idea of a technology guru: vast bulk, informal attire, no socks, beard and dreadlocks. Yet he also has good people skills. He’s friendly, witty, courteous and voluble. His high-pitched voice belies his physical bulk and he giggles a lot. He’s a talented musician who is widely read and he writes accessible and sometimes eloquent prose. His latest book – Who Owns the Future? – is a sobering read for anyone who worries about what cultural critic Neil Postman called “technopoly” – the belief that the primary goal of human labour and thought is efficiency and that technical calculation is superior to human judgment.

I enjoyed our conversation very much. And found his new book very thought-provoking.

When taking his portrait (above) I asked him to think of someone or something of which he strongly disapproved. This made him laugh uproariously. I got the feeling that he’s not a great hater.

LATER: Jon Crowcroft’s Amazon review of the book.