By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Jaron Lanier
Narration by: Pete Simoneilli
Society is at the threshold of change. Jaron Lanier writes about the information age in “Who Owns the Future”. Just as the industrial revolution and two world wars mechanize human production, the computer and internet “informationize” mechanical production. Lanier bluntly explains human employment will decline in proportion to computerization of production.
Lanier is neither posturing as a Luddite nor abandoning the principles of democratic’ capitalism. He suggests human beings need to understand their changing role in society. Lanier implies failure to understand human’ role-change will compel disastrous reactions; i.e. reactions like the Luddites of the Industrial Revolution or socialist, fascist, and communist sympathizers of the post-industrial world.
Lanier argues that automation is replacing jobs at a faster rate today than in the 20th century. Human nature does not change; i.e. money, power, and prestige remain the motive force of human achievement. Achievement in the past is based on productivity from the work of human hands with the assistance of mechanization.
The days of human assistance in mechanization are steadily being reduced by computerization. Lanier forecasts a future of abundance where the goods of life will be available upon request; without the assistance of human hands. No one knows how far into the future humans must travel to arrive at that age of abundance but Lanier suggests it will happen. Lanier has an abiding faith in human beings’ ability to adapt and control technological change.
Lanier infers human initiated technology will continue to eradicate disease, and manipulate the “atomized” world to manufacture the necessities and desires of life. Replication machines will become common household appliances to manufacture diverse products, ranging from food to toothbrushes, from “goop”; i.e. a universal term for atomic particles. Industries will become more automated and less dependent on human employment. Lanier suggests now is the time for society to understand the change. As means of production reduce the need of human hands, the contribution humans make to society will increasingly become information based.
Lanier begins to explain the concept of information monetization. Information monetization is something that exists today but is mistakenly understood as something that is free. Examples are Facebook, Google Search, Amazon.com, Microsoft Windows 10, Apple ITunes, governments, and other organizations that Lanier calls Siren Servers. Nothing is free. The price humans pay is information about themselves, their needs, desires, habits, interests, etc. Every phone call, every web search, every email, every purchase made tells Siren Servers what product they can sell, what price they can sell it at, and how much money, power, and prestige they can accumulate.
Lanier suggests that the concept of Siren Servers should be expanded to include defined populations, common-interest groups, and individuals. Lanier argues that information humans now give for free should be monetized. Every person that produces information that increases another’s money, power, or prestige should be compensated.
Lanier notes employment continues to be an integral part of living life. Compensation for one’s personal information should be proportionally paid to its originator, based on the quantitative use by others of that information. It does not eliminate unemployment but it offers a more broadly applicable potential for employment. It does not eliminate poverty or extreme wealth, but it offers potential for broadening the middle class. More significantly, it does not demand the impossible; i.e. a change in human nature.
There is a slippery slope aspect to Lanier’s idea. The slippery slope is the intrusive requirement of government regulation inherent in any compensation system based on information contribution. Who decides what information is being used by another, and what should the rate of pay be? One may argue that amount of compensation is a fault of any economic system but how far down the road of “1984” would a nation go before becoming a creature of totalitarianism?
The point is that human nature does not change. Though Lanier may be absolutely correct in societies’ transition from industrialization to computerization, people remain greedy, power-hungry, and hubristic. Can democratic capitalism resist totalitarianism in an Information Age? America’s two most current Presidents (one politically right of center and the other left of center) suggest otherwise. Also, Lanier’s age of abundance presumes technology will keep pace with human needs, desires, and habits. Global warming, rare earth monopolies, and population increases suggest otherwise.
“Who Owns the Future” is an insightful view of the modern world. Unlike those who revile modernity and pine for a return to an idealized past, Lanier offers an alternative. Lanier strikes one as a Socratic seer of modernity.
Link below is a synopsis of Jaron Lanier’s history. If interested, copy the following IP address and place it in your search engine: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2001/dec/29/games.academicexperts