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Who Owns the Future? Paperback – March 4, 2014
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“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.” (Joe Nocera, The New York Times)
“Daringly original . . . Lanier’s sharp, accessible style and opinions make Who Owns the Future? terrifically inviting.” (Janet Maslin The New York Times)
“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 Republic)
"Lanier has a mind as boundless as the internet . . . [He is] the David Foster Wallace of tech." (London Evening Standard)
“Lanier has a poet’s sensibility and his book reads like a hallucinogenic reverie, full of entertaining haiku-like observations and digressions.” (Financial Times)
"Everyone complains about the Internet, but no one does anything about it . . . except for Jaron Lanier." (Neal Stephenson bestselling author of Reamde and Cryptonomicon)
"Who Owns the Future? explains what’s wrong with our digital economy, and tells us how to fix it. Listen up!” (George Dyson bestselling author of Turing's Cathedral)
"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." (Tim Wu author of The Master Switch)
“This book is rare. It looks at technology with an insider’s knowledge, wisdom, and deep caring about human beings. It’s badly needed.” (W. Brian Arthur economist and author of The Nature of Technology)
"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." (The Guardian)
About 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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Segments that stood out or were most memorable for me included Lanier's description of Siren Server effects, his map out and summaries of nine "dismal humors" of futurism and one hopeful one (based on Ted Nelson's earlier work on "two-way links"). I also really appreciated the graph (page 209) that visually represents the hypothesis of the book that the degree of democracy/participation will rise as the cost of information increases. Of particular interest to me were his comments on how we could earn and spend as well as barriers and leadership scenarios for transitioning to more humanistic arrangements.
As others have indicated, this book is dense, covers much ground, and it can be challenging for a reader to connect all the various pieces. However there are nuggets at every turn, and hanging in or returning to the text is worth it to get the insights and concerns from this tech insider. While his alternative future may not be "the one," hopefully more will heed his cautions and consider ways to promote middle class growth as the networked information economy continues to advance. Perhaps, like Odysseus, we will be able to overcome the dangerous aspects of the Sirens to further progress in the human journey.
Specifically how the concentration of data and distribution of risk by those who own the data creates a significant risk to our capitalist based economy and over the long term to the very companies that create the situation. Thus, I find it strangley ironic to write this review for free on the Amazon bookstore...
Whether you agree with Jaron Lanier and his observations or not, my sense is that you will be better informed of the situation he describes by reading his book.
This book puts together bits and pieces of things about the Information Industry/Economy that I have watched, but never quite managed to get all together. Here it is - and we all need to understand it.
I'm glad this book was recommended to me, and I have gotten several friends to read it - all truly appreciate it.
My Jaron Lanier library is growing - sure glad he is there, thinking and writing.
And all this critique is beautifully written and a delight to read, interludes included. It is obvious that Lanier, on top of being a talented musician and computer scientist is also a talented (and convincing) writer. However, he is no economist and his knowledge of economics is very fuzzy - as explained in another comment here that you should read, A.J. Sutter's. Likewise, the fix he proposes - even in broad outline - is simply not realistic.
Not realistic because of technical problems. Even if a team of techie geniuses manage to come up with a credible system (not likely), the nanopayments are likely to be so "nano" that transaction costs would eliminate any value created. Identifying people's contributions to the Net are impossible: how do you separate who has added what to whom? And to what extent a new idea is in debt to an old one (the "legacy" problem, assuming of course that the idea originator is not dead - or should his or her descendents inherit?)
And not realistic because of social problems. The owners of "Siren Servers" (Google, Apple, Amazon etc) are not likely to change their business model - it's a winning model, why break it? Of course, they won't. Which means that this book will remain on an academic shelf, as far as the solution proposed is concerned. But not as far as the critique is concerned: that isboth good and useful. Shake Silicon Valley, make 'em see they're not such marvels!
After that the books becomes quite repetitive and descombabulated with the author coming in an out of topics without much clarity focus and direction.