Who Owns the Future?

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Overview

Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.

Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never been more urgently needed. He shows how Siren Servers, which exploit big data and the free sharing of ...

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Overview

Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.

Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never been more urgently needed. He shows how Siren Servers, which exploit big data and the free sharing of information, led our economy into recession, imperiled personal privacy, and hollowed out the middle class. The networks that define our world—including social media, financial institutions, and intelligence agencies—now threaten to destroy it.

But there is an alternative. In this provocative, poetic, and deeply humane book, Lanier charts a path toward a brighter future: an information economy that rewards ordinary people for what they do and share on the web.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Online commentators often write about the democratizing effects of new technologies. A less frequent subject is how these advances concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, undermining the middle class and our shared prospects. Thanks to that disturbing trend, recent dramatic breakthroughs in digital technologies have not brought great wealth to the world. Jaron Lanier's Who Owns the Future? not only describes those troubling developments; it explains what we can do to prevent the collapse of an already endangered middle class. (P.S. Lanier qualifies as a revolutionary thinker. He isn't just a pioneer in virtual reality researched; he coined and popularized the term.)

Michiko Kakutani
“Brilliant.”
bestselling author of Reamde and Cryptonomicon - Neal Stephenson
"Everyone complains about the Internet, but no one does anything about it . . . except for Jaron Lanier."
bestselling author of Turing's Cathedral - George Dyson
"Who Owns the Future? explains what’s wrong with our digital economy, and tells us how to fix it. Listen up!”
economist and author of The Nature of Technology - W. Brian Arthur
“This book is rare. It looks at technology with an insider’s knowledge, wisdom, and deep caring about human beings. It’s badly needed.”
author of The Master Switch - Tim Wu
"Who Owns the Future? is a deeply original and sometimes startling read. Lanier does not simply question the dominant narrative of our times, but picks it up by the neck and shakes it. A refreshing and important book that will make you see the world differently."
Financial Times
“Lanier has a poet’s sensibility and his book reads like a hallucinogenic reverie, full of entertaining haiku-like observations and digressions.”
The Guardian
"One of the triumphs of Lanier's intelligent and subtle book is its inspiring portrait of the kind of people that a democratic information economy would produce. His vision implies that if we are allowed to lead absorbing, properly remunerated lives, we will likewise outgrow our addiction to consumerism and technology."
London Evening Standard
"Lanier has a mind as boundless as the internet . . . [He is] the David Foster Wallace of tech."
USA Today
"This ambitious book is about how to help ordinary people survive and prosper at a time when advances in computer technology make it increasingly difficult for some people to find a job."
Carolyn Kellogg
"A smart, accessible book that takes a critical look at our online state of affairs and finds it out of balance."
Salon
"One of the best skeptical books about the online world."
Joe Nocera
The most important book I read [this year] . . . Provocative, unconventional ideas for ensuring that the inevitable dominance of software in every corner of society will be healthy instead of harmful.
TechGenMag.com
”Lanier’s book mixes scholarly analysis with a series of intriguing ideas on how to take back control of our virtual identity.”
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
“Daringly original . . . Lanier’s sharp, accessible style and opinions make Who Owns the Future? terrifically inviting.”
The New Republic
“Lanier’s career as a computer scientist is entwined in the central economic story of our time, the rapid advance of computation and networking. . . . [Who Owns the Future?] not only makes a convincing diagnosis of a widespread problem, but also answers a need for moonshot thinking.”
The New York Times - Janet Maslin
…[Lanier's] first book, You Are Not a Gadget…was a feisty, brilliant, predictive work, and the new volume is just as exciting. Mr. Lanier bucks a wave of more conventional diatribes on Big Data to deliver Olympian, contrarian fighting words about the Internet's exploitative powers. A self-proclaimed "humanist softie," he is a witheringly caustic critic of big Web entities and their business models…Mr. Lanier's sharp, accessible style and opinions make Who Owns the Future? terrifically inviting.
Publishers Weekly
Information can’t be free if the digital economy is to thrive, argues this stimulating jeremiad. Noting that the Internet is destroying more jobs than it creates, virtual reality pioneer and cyber-skeptic Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget) foresees a future when automation, robotics, 3-D printers, and computer networks will eliminate every industry from nursing and manufacturing to taxi-driving. The result, he contends, will be a dystopia of mass unemployment, insecurity, and social chaos in which information will be free but no one will be paid except the elite proprietors of the “siren servers”—Google, Facebook, Amazon, and the like—that manipulate our lives. Lanier’s extrapolation of current trends to an economy where almost everyone will be judged redundant is incisive and scary. Unfortunately, his proposal for safe-guarding the middle class—micropayments for the supposedly valuable but currently free information that ordinary people feed into the Web, from consumer profiles and friending links—feels as unconvincing and desperate as the cyber-capitalist nostrums he derides. Lanier’s main argument spawns fascinating digressions into Aristotle’s politics, science-fiction themes, Silicon Valley spirituality, and other byways. Even if his recommended treatment seems inadequate, his diagnosis of our technological maladies is brilliant, troubling, and well worth the price. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (June)
From the Publisher
“Daringly original . . . Lanier’s sharp, accessible style and opinions make Who Owns the Future? terrifically inviting.”

“Lanier’s career as a computer scientist is entwined in the central economic story of our time, the rapid advance of computation and networking. . . . [Who Owns the Future?] not only makes a convincing diagnosis of a widespread problem, but also answers a need for moonshot thinking.”

"Lanier has a mind as boundless as the internet . . . [He is] the David Foster Wallace of tech."

“Lanier has a poet’s sensibility and his book reads like a hallucinogenic reverie, full of entertaining haiku-like observations and digressions.”

"Everyone complains about the Internet, but no one does anything about it . . . except for Jaron Lanier."

"Who Owns the Future? explains what’s wrong with our digital economy, and tells us how to fix it. Listen up!”

"Who Owns the Future? is a deeply original and sometimes startling read. Lanier does not simply question the dominant narrative of our times, but picks it up by the neck and shakes it. A refreshing and important book that will make you see the world differently."

“This book is rare. It looks at technology with an insider’s knowledge, wisdom, and deep caring about human beings. It’s badly needed.”

"One of the triumphs of Lanier's intelligent and subtle book is its inspiring portrait of the kind of people that a democratic information economy would produce. His vision implies that if we are allowed to lead absorbing, properly remunerated lives, we will likewise outgrow our addiction to consumerism and technology."

Library Journal
Computer scientist, revolutionary thinker, and a leading researcher in the area of virtual reality who either coined or popularized that term (depending on whom you ask), Lanier is the person to listen to about technology. Here he argues that while digital technologies should be guaranteeing our financial health, given the efficiencies they deliver, the information economy has in fact concentrated wealth in the hands of a few—weakening our middle class and hence our democracy. Lanier doesn't just sling arrows but makes suggestions—including monetizing data now treated as being cost free.
Kirkus Reviews
A sweeping look at why today's digital economy doesn't benefit the middle class and the ways that should change. If many tech books today offer dire, sky-is-falling warnings, then Lanier (You Are Not a Gadget, 2011, etc.) takes that idea a step further: The sky is falling and will continue to fall until it crushes the entire middle class under its weight. Until recently, new technology has always created new jobs, but in this new information economy, "[o]rdinary people ‘share,' while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes"--e.g., when Facebook purchased the photo-sharing service Instagram for nearly $1 billion. Lanier claims this trend is "setting up a situation where better technology in the long term just means more unemployment, or an eventual socialist backlash." Although the author opens with this provocative thesis, what follows is a meandering manifesto bogged down by its own terminology. Lanier includes an appendix listing "First Appearances of Key Terms" (many of which he coined), but readers may wonder why the author couldn't explain this jumble of economic theories and futuristic ideas in more lucid terms: Rather than create the word "antenimbosian," why not just say "before the advent of cloud computing"? This isn't to say that Lanier hasn't come up with some exceptional theories. For instance, he hypothesizes that self-driving cars "could be catastrophic" for the economy. Driverless taxis would rob new immigrants of jobs and deny them a "traditional entry ramp to economic sustenance." However, these concepts are so lost in a heap of digressions, interludes and fables--including the continued recurrence of a fictional seaside conversation between a citizen of the future and a "neuro-interfaced seagull"--that the signal-to-noise ratio may prove to be too much for all but the most dedicated tech readers. An assortment of complex and interesting ideas, buried under the weight of too much jargon.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451654974
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 104,252
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jaron Lanier is a scientist and musician best known for his work in Virtual Reality research, a term he coined and popularized. Time named him one of the “Time 100” in 2010. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 29, 2013

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newb

    *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Tuesday, June 4, 2013

    Not so long ago the Internet was seen as the next great economic engine. The optimism was never higher than at the peak of the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, of course; but even after the dot-com bust in the early 2000s, many believed that this was but the growing pains of an emerging industry, and that in the long run the Internet would yet provide the foundation for a new and improved information economy.

    Since that time, it is certainly the case that the Internet has spawned a few major successes, as well as a host of hopefuls. However, it cannot be said that the economy has enjoyed a great boost since the Internet exploded. On the contrary, the economy has, at best, stagnated--and it currently shows no signs of escaping its slump. So what went wrong?

    According to Silicon Valley luminary Jarion Lanier, the problem is not so much with the Internet per se, but with how it has been set up, and how the major Internet companies themselves are organized. To begin with, major Internet companies tend to form monopolies, or near-monopolies, and on a global scale (mainly because Internet networks are able to reach a global audience and undercut local players, but also because these networks are more valuable to their users as they grow larger). The formation of monopolies and near monopolies destroys competition, of course, which compromises economic growth.

    Even more important than this, though, is that Internet megaliths employ relatively few people, and have very little overhead (thus they simply don't contribute much back to the economy). You see, the business plan of most successful Internet companies is to offer a particular service for free (such as Internet search efficiency with Google, or social connecting with Facebook, or business connecting with LinkedIn, or an auction platform with eBay, or music and video files on a sharing site etc). The framework of the platform is provided by the company, but the content of the service is provided by the users. The site attracts users with the prospect of a free and useful service, and the site itself makes revenue through selling advertising space. Oftentimes, the company collects information from its users through its activities on the platform, and uses this information to help target them with ads and/or sells this information to third parties so these third parties can use it themselves.

    Lanier's book is a sprawling affair occasioned with numerous fairly bizarre flights of fancy (I didn't mind this so much since Lanier is fairly interesting, and has a unique perspective), but the core ideas here are very intriguing and worthy of serious consideration. The problem with Lanier's solution at this point is that the economy has not yet slumped enough in order to convince us that Lanier's theory must be true, and that radical solutions are needed (and Lanier's solution is radical). Nevertheless, should events continue to play out as Lanier foresees, his solution may well become attractive at some point. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com on or before Tuesday, June 4; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 17, 2014

    Terrible. Extremely WORDY. Seems more interested in exhibiting a

    Terrible. Extremely WORDY. Seems more interested in exhibiting apparent encyclopedic knowledge of people and world events in history. A clear and concise story would have been a lot better. Seems to be restating the same theory repeatedly with innumerable examples. Cannot recommend this book.

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