American Computer Philosophy Writer, Computer Scientist and Composer of Classical Music
Jaron Lanier, fully Jaron Zepel Lanier
American Computer Philosophy Writer, Computer Scientist and Composer of Classical Music
There has been over a decade of work worldwide in Darwinian approaches to generating software, and... nothing has arisen from the work that would make software in general any better.
Virtual Reality represents a new mystery on the order of the mystery that nature presents us. It's a mystery that's entirely human-made in that it's the intersection of people in Virtual Reality that creates the mystery, that creates the chaos that will make it into a full-scale reality that's worthy of being experienced. I don't view machines as becoming conscious myself. It's not that I'm opposed to the notion; it's simply that I think that it's the wrong question to ask. But I do think that there will be a new emergent social consciousness that can only exist through the medium of Virtual Reality. Virtual Reality is the first medium that's large enough not to limit human nature. It's the first medium that's broad enough to express us as natural beings. It's the first medium within which we can express our nature and the whole of nature to each other. Actually, that's all rather vague, so let me just say that when we can make nature ourselves, we can empathize with the nature that there is and appreciate it fully.
What if only humans are real, and information is not?
You have to remember that virtual reality won't be mature for everyday use for decades perhaps, and we don't know what the real situation will be like then. It will undoubtedly be different, so to talk about how it can help, we have to talk about the present and talk about computers. I'll tell you how I think about the economic role of computers, and this might be a little cynical, but I think it's actually pretty accurate. In the industrial revolution, which is still continuing in less developed parts of the world, machines were created that replaced human labor and created free time for people. But our economic system is based on earned capital, so that if you have this free time, you also don't earn any money to buy food. And this creates a crisis. The question is, if you're going to create all this leisure time with all these industrial machines, how do you justify paying people within a capitalist system so that they can survive? I think computers are the answer. I think computers are this sort of massive work program that keeps everybody busy manipulating information, and thus able to earn their bread.
There is no difference between machine autonomy and the abdication of human responsibility.
Wal-Mart impoverished its own customer base. Google is facing exactly the same issue long-term, although not yet.
What these critics forget is that printing presses in themselves provide no guarantee of an enlightened outcome. People, not machines, made the Renaissance. The printing that takes place in North Korea today, for instance, is nothing more than propaganda for a personality cult. What is important about printing presses is not the mechanism, but the authors.
Zombies are familiar characters in philosophical thought experiments. They are like people in every way except they have no internal experience....
There is nothing more gray, stultifying, or dreary than life lived inside the confines of a theory.
We already knew that kids learned computer technology more easily than adults, It is as if children were waiting all these centuries for someone to invent their native language.
When children are growing up, they face a profound conflict between the internal world of their dreams and imagination, in which everything's possible and fluid, and the practical world in which they have parents, food, and friends, in which they're not alone, and in which they can survive. So as kids grow up, they have to gradually de-emphasize this world of imagination and celebration and emphasize the practical world, unless they're willing to be alone in their insanity and completely dependent on others for survival. Of course it's possible to integrate the two, but it's so hard, like walking a tightrope. I think the reason that kids instinctively love computers, and especially love virtual reality, is that it really does present a new solution, a way to make imaginary worlds that we can be together in, just like the real world.
There will always be humans, lots of them, who provide the data that makes the networked realization of any technology better and cheaper.
We don?t currently have a complete enough scientific understanding of how the brain works or how common sense works. But we talk as if we do. We?re always talking about how we?ve implemented artificial intelligence or how we have created a so-called smart algorithm. But really we?re kidding ourselves. This is very hard for people who run big computers to admit. They always treasure the illusion that they are working with completed science ? which they aren?t ? and that they have already attained cosmic mastery of all possible cognition.
When developers of digital technologies design a program that requires you to interact with a computer as if it were a person, they ask you to accept in some corner of your brain that you might also be conceived of as a program.
There?s a fundamental dilemma that is intrinsic to the math of economies, which is to the degree that you give individuals in an economy self-determination, and you have different individual outcomes and people invent their own lives and so on, you?ll engender a spread of outcomes, where by any particular measure some people will be left behind. Different measures might find different subpopulations left behind. But you?ll have some kind of a distribution in which some people are at the bottom of the distribution.
We have repeatedly demonstrated our species? bottomless ability to lower our standards to make information technology look good.
When machines get incredibly cheap to run, people seem correspondingly expensive.
They tend their doppelg„ngers fastidiously. They must manage offhand remarks and track candid snapshots at parties as carefully as a politician. Insincerity is rewarded, while sincerity creates a lifelong taint. Certainly, some version of this principle existed in the lives of teenagers before the web came along, but not with such unyielding, clinical precision.?
We imagine "pure" cybernetic systems, but we can prove only that we know how to build fairly dysfunctional ones. We kid ourselves when we think we understand something, even a computer, merely because we can model or digitize it.
When we ask people to live their lives through our models, we are potentially reducing life itself. How can we ever know what we might be losing?
This digital revolutionary still believes in most of the lovely deep ideals that energized our work so many years ago. At the core was a sweet faith in human nature. If we empowered individuals, we believed, more good than harm would result.
We should treat computers as fancy telephones, whose purpose is to connect people. Information is alienated experience. Information is not something that exists. Indeed, computers don't really exist, exactly; they're only subject to human interpretation. This is a strong primary humanism I am promoting. As long as we remember that we ourselves are the source of our value, our creativity, our sense of reality, then all of our work with computers will be worthwhile and beautiful.
When you change the contents of your circle, you change your conception of yourself. The center of the circle shifts as its perimeter is changed. The liberal impulse is to expand the circle, while conservatives tend to want to restrain or even contract the circle.
This might seem like a tricky concept, but it?s straightforward. When you make money from some sort of digital network scheme, there?s a mixture of lock-in or network effect versus the actual value you provide. If you want to ask what the difference is, it?s not that hard to determine, because if ordinary people have the mobility not to be locked in, then you can calculate what happens to your price when they leave. Eventually, digital infrastructure businesses would probably turn more conventional levels of business profit ? 7% instead of 7,000% [laughs]. The lock-in effect is independent of the value of the corpus that you?re using to calculate whatever it is you do. So the value of individual contributors would cumulatively be the value of the corpus, and what you would do as a business is a value-add on that.
We?re locked into a continued belief that investing in a particular kind of information-technology venture is good for society, when actually these often seem to be pulling society apart and creating ever more extreme income inequalities. We seem unable to connect the dots between the continued dysfunction of the financial sector, even as it expands profitability, and the rise of information technology.