Interview with Jaron Lanier, Internet pioneer, entrepreneur, writer and musician

Jaron Lanier

Jaron Lanier, is the altruistic idea of the internet dead?

Jaron Lanier: Well, the problem… I was perhaps a creator of this altruism when I was younger. In a way it should be dead. The internet should be a tool that we attempt to improve in a way that is somewhat ‘dispassionate’, like any other technology. It should be like making a better road or a better air traffic control system. I kind of regret the idealism now. I feel that there are too many people interested in the internet who are too ideological and you have certain ideas like, I don’t know, open source or something that become causes in their own without consideration for ultimately strange and surprising sideeffects. The idealism is taking off on its own and it is becoming impractical in many cases.

Is the internet in the digitization the solution of all our problems or our downfall?

Jaron Lanier: To the degree you believe that digital technology does anything by itself, then it has fooled you. Everything is still done by people and only human responsibility can have any effect, whether positive or negative. So, unfortunately that means that those who believe in technology the most are using it the worst.

So what is the biggest threat: Greedy man or the intelligent machine?

Jaron Lanier: There is no such thing as an intelligent machine. That’s a fantasy that’s used to manipulate people who will then accept direction from the machine. It’s not so much that people are greedy. There might be a few. My sense is that the current generation of entrepreneurs who are ready to take a look into technology are for the most part not really money motivated. They might enjoy parallel influence. They might enjoy social status but not particularly money. I think the problem is more that we all fool ourselves, whether it is the e-leader or not. I think we all tend to believe that the technology will somehow do something for us when, ultimately, it is only our own responsibility and very very difficult politics and compromise that can create any betterment.

And what is the stronger feeling: Being proud of that you predicted all this already 30 years ago? Or being worried of the way the future will go?

Jaron Lanier: I’m still very much an optimist in the big picture. And I always want to be wrong when I’m pessimistic. So, I don’t know about pride. I mean I’m kind of proud that people like virtual reality again. That’s nice, I like that. That it comes back into the culture. But there is very little room for pride, we have so much work to do, you know?

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