Monday, May 20, 2013

Book Review: "Who Owns the Future?"

Jaron Lanier makes savvy points in Who Owns the Future? Ordinary slobs have been suckered into giving their information away to monopolies in California; Creative people have been suckered into giving their stuff away to publicize their talents; This lifestyle only works if you're living with your parents; Something's got to change.
The problem? We think of information as “free,” but that only works in an economy that isn't largely information-based. Soon, the info economy will swallow all else. It’ll be world of self-driving cars, 3-D printers, robot nurses, etc. Granted “free-info,” most folks will be out of work. Lanier writes: “If we go on as we are, we will probably enter into a period of hyper-unemployment, and the attendant political and social chaos. The outcome of chaos is unpredictable, and we shouldn’t rely on it to design our future.” Lanier's nightmare future resembles Kurt Vonnegut’s Player Piano—universal automation that makes most people useless. (He complicates matters by saying that this “automation” is a shuck. Computers and computer networks aren’t really doing the thinking: they’re mining data and crowd-sourcing—without paying the human brains that did the original thinking.) But this situation is unsustainable.
“We’re setting up a situation where better technology in the long term just means more unemployment or an eventual socialist backlash. Instead, we should seek a future where more people will do well, without losing liberty, even as technology gets much, much better.” Lanier, no socialist, has a capitalist solution: “Pay people for information gleaned from them if that information turns out to be valuable.” How? Stay tuned.

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