Notes for Jaron Lanier Who Owns the Future?

Key concepts: free information idea, micropayments, Silicon Valley metaphysics.

Related theorists: Luc Boltanski, Eve Chiapello, Bill Gates, Sherry Turkle.

My code should pass through like this in comments surrounding visual or audible text of original work being annotated falls within fair use when encoded to form doctoral dissertations PHI.


To Lanier our network usage as the little people being monetized by a few powerful corporations by their siren servers, seems the problem of the times; my hypothesis is that the problem is complicated with humans getting dumber for want of spending ten to twenty percent of their time programming, working code, replaced by ordinary computer application use like alienated labor in front of machinery control panels monitoring gauges, pushing buttons, turning dials.

(1-2) The clamor for online attention only turns into money for a token minority of ordinary people, but there is another new, tiny class of people who always benefit. Those who keep the new ledgers, the giant computing services that model you, spy on you, and predict your actions, turn you life activities into the greatest fortunes in history.

Suggests building IT infrastructure such that humans always rewarded for using.

(2) This book promotes a third alternative, which is that digital networking ought to promote a two-way transaction, in which you benefit, concretely, with real money, as I do.

Value of Instagram compared to Kodak begs the question where did all the employees go to work that ball of dough; overlay Boltanski and Chiapello logic.

(2) Instagram isn't worth a billion dollars just because those thirteen employees are extraordinary. Instead, its value comes from the millions of users who contribute to the network without being paid for it. Networks need a great number of people to participate in them to generate significant value. But when they have them, only a small number of people get paid. That has the net effect of centralizing wealth and limiting overall economic growth.

Value collectively created by ordinary users atomized, a new form of alienation of labor saps value from middle class and keeps the weak weak, does not strengthen or make them smarter.

(2) Instead of enlarging our overall economy by creating more value that is on the books, the rise of digital networking is enriching a relative few while moving the value created by the many off the books.

Imply building user monetization measurement and compensation built into cultural software assuming much smaller number of individuals are directly paid.

(3) The alternative introduced in this book is not a utopian idea; it won't be hard to foresee its annoyances and messiness. However, I will argue that monetizing more of what's valuable from ordinary people, who turn out to be the uncompensated sources of the data that make networks valuable in the first place, will lead to a better future.

Assume privileged at lesser proportions incorporate middle class like class of chief programmers and other elite salaried corporate positions; imagine doing with academic position or virtual as independent contractor, a rhizomorphous employability lifetime income generator genius.

(3) That will make power and clout honestly distributed, and might even lead to a persistent middle class in an information economy, which would otherwise be an impossible goal.

(3) An appendix contains a list of some of these terms, along with the pages on which they first appear. Think of it as the high-priority index.

First Round

The Problem in Brief

Most future productivity will be software mediated, and software might subsume all future revolutions; current trend is toward hyper unemployment.

(7) But eventually most productivity probably will become software-mediated. Software could be the final industrial revolution. It might subsume all the revolutions to come.
(8) Instead, if we go on as we are, will probably enter into a period of hyper-unemployment, and the attendant political and social chaos.

Put Up or Shut Up

Material cost of digital systems because they do not treat people as special; people need to be paid for their life long small contributions to the networks.

Lanier goes beyond points made by Turkle and others that we are diluting our humanity through idolizing digital phenomena, considering the material cost of the asymmetry between big servers collecting data and individuals using them.

(8) People are not just pointlessly diluting themselves on cultural, intellectual, and spiritual levels by fawning over digital superhuman phenomena that don't necessarily exist. There is also a material cost.

The solution to the material asymmetry is to pay people for information gleaned from their network use and that they directly contribute, and make them pay for the servers they believe are free.

(9) Pay people for information gleaned from them if that information turns out to be valuable.
(9) As software and networks become more and more important, we can either be moving toward free information in the midst of insecurity for almost everyone, or toward paid information with a stronger middle class than ever before.

Break out of free information idea into universal micropayment system; Gates noted the early Internet of the 1990s needed to address billing, but probably not symmetrical.
(9) A new kind of middle class, and a more genuine, growing information economy, could come about if we could break out of the “
free informationidea and into a universal micropayment system.

Moore's Law Changes the Way People Are Valued

Direct experience of consumer electronics has been primary influence of technology; exhilaration over Moores Law has lead to religious emotion among many technologists.

(9-10) The primary influence on the way technologists have come to think about the future since the turn of the century is their direct experience of digital networks through consumer electronics.
(10) Whatever is going on, the exhilaration of accelerating change leads to a religious emotion in some of the most influential tech circles. It provides a meaning and context.

Commonsense expectation that online services will continue to become cheaper, but really in exchange for acquiescence for being spied on.

(10) As information technology becomes millions of times more powerful, any particular use of it becomes correspondingly cheaper. Thus, it has become commonplace to expect online services (not just news, but 21st century treats like search or social networking) to be given for free, or rather, in exchange for acquiescence to being spied on.

Essential but Worthless

Humans who provide data making social software valuable are treated by those systems as essential but worthless.

(12) There will always be humans, lots of them, who provide the data that makes the networked realization of any technology better and cheaper. This book will propose an alternative, sustainable system that will continue to honor and reward those humans, no matter how advanced technology becomes.

The Beach on the Edge of Moore's Law

Utopian claims of Silicon Valley metaphysics include immortality in VR, accelerating change, abundance and singularity.

(12) A heavenly idea comes up a lot in what might be called Silicon Valley metaphysics. A common claim in utopian technology culture is that people—well, perhaps not everyone—will be uploaded into cloud computing servers later in this century, perhaps in a decade or two, to become immortal in Virtual Reality.
(13) The key terms associated with this sensibility are
accelerating change, abundance, and singularity.

The Price of Heaven

Endgame of universal transparency in ambient abundance played with even libertarians tolerating surveillance by technical few on far less technical many.

(14) Surveillance by the technical few on the less technical many can be tolerated for now because of hopes for an endgame in which everything will become transparent to everyone.
(14) Bizarrely, the endgame utopias of even the most ardent high-tech libertarians always seem to take socialist turns. The joys of life will be too cheap to meter, we imagine. So abundance will go ambient.
(14-15) In the meantime, those true believers encrypt their servers even as they seek to gather the rest of the world's information and find the best way to leverage it.

The Problem Is Not the Technology, but the Way We Think About the Technology

Problem with how we think about technology, not technology itself: elite networks generate fortunes tossing trinkets to the masses who believe they are participating in sharing cultures, providing them free content and information that can be marketed by the elite powers.

(15) We've decided not to pay most people for performing the new roles that are valuable in relation to the latest technologies. Ordinary people “share,” while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes.
(15) Whether these elite new presences are consumer-facing services like Google, or more hidden operations like high-frequency trading firms, is mostly a matter of semantics. In either case, the biggest and best-connected computers provide the settings in which information turns into money. Meanwhile, trinkets tossed into the crowd spread illusions and false hopes that the emerging information economy is benefiting the majority of those who provide the information that drives it.

Saving the Winners from Themselves

Progress Is Compulsory

Progress Is Never Free of Politics

Must look at the whole system to find the costs of apparently free content and services.

(18) The illusion that everything is getting so cheap that it is practically free sets up the political and economic conditions for cartels exploiting whatever isn't quite that way. When music if free, wireless bills get expensive, insanely so. You have to look at the whole system.

Back to the Beach

Lanier uses talking robotic seagull throughout book as avatar for the Big Other, reminiscent of cyberpunk science fiction dystopias.

(18) You are thirsty. Random little clots of dust are full-on robotic interactive devices, since advertising companies long ago released plagues of smart dust upon the world. That means you can always speak and some machine will be listening. “I'm thirsty, I need water.”
(18) The seagull responds, “You are not rated as enough of a commercial prospect for any of our sponsors to pay for freshwater for you.”

A Simple Idea
Just Blurt the Idea Out

The simple idea is that digital information is really just people in disguise because people play a crucial though small role in creating it.

(19) So we begin with the simple question of how to design digital networks to deliver more help than harm in aligning human intention to meet great challenges. A starting point for an answer can be summarized: “Digital information is really just people in disguise.”

A Simple Example

New economic model for online life based on digital dignity treating information as individual-based, therefore consistently valuable, suggests a new spirit of capitalism based on nanopayments motivating contributions to symmetrical information economy.

(20) At the end of the day, even the magic of machine translation is like Facebook, a way of taking free contributions from people and regurgitating them as bait for advertisers or others who hope to take advantage of being close to a top server.
(20) In a world of digital dignity, each individual will be the commercial owner of any data that can be measured from the person's state or behavior. Treating information as a mask behind which real people are invariably hiding means that digital data will be treated as being consistently valuable, rather than inconsistently valuable.
(20) These nanopayments will add up, and lead to a new social contract in which people are motivated to contribute to an information economy in ever more substantial ways. This is an idea that takes capitalism more seriously than it has been taken before. A market economy should not just be about “businesses,” but about everyone who contributes value.

Big Talk, I Know

Ancient Anticipations of the Singularity

Aristotle refers to robotic servants of Greek mythology; modern AI gifts us with automation so we do not need to pay each other.

(22) “if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves” (Politics).
(23) Aristotle was recalling Homer's account of the god Hephaestus's robotic servant creations. They were nerd's delights: golden, female, and servile. . . . The artificial intelligence in the server gifts us with automation so we don't need to pay each other.



Abundance and freedom without politics always an illusion promoted by the greatest beneficiaries of civilization; always hoped that technologies could supplant territorial conquest.

(24) But in Aristotle's words you get a taste of what a nuisance it can be to accommodate others. Something was lost with the advent of the polis, and we still dream of getting it back.
(25) In every case, however, abundance without politics was an illusion that could only be sustained in temporary bubbles, supported by armies. The ghosts of the losers haunt every acre of easy abundance. The greatest beneficiaries of civilization use all their power to create a temporary illusion of freedom from politics. The rich live behind gates, not just to protect themselves, but to pretend to not need anyone else, if only for a moment. In Aristotle's quote, we find the earliest glimmer of the hope that technological advancement could replace territorial conquest as a way of implementing an insulating bubble around a person.

The Cybenetic Tempest

Money as Seen Through One Computer Scientist's Eyes
Money, God, and the Old Technology of Forgetting

Theological sense of elite servers.

(31) An opaque, elite server that remembers everything money used to forget, placed at the center of human affairs, begins to resemble certain ideas about God.

Lanier, Jaron. Who Owns the Future? New York: Simon and Schuster, 2013. Print.