TALK SHOW WITH HARPER SIMON | EPISODE 14
Internet Economy, Digital Shape Shifting and Future Philosophy with Jaron Lanier
Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, author, and composer. Lanier is one of most celebrated technology writers in the world, and is known for charting a humanistic approach to technology appreciation and criticism. He was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2014. His book “Who Owns the Future?” won Harvard’s Goldsmith Book Prize in 2014. His books are international best sellers. “Who Owns the Future?” was named the most important book of 2013 by Joe Nocera in The New York Times, and was also included in many other “best of” lists. “You Are Not a Gadget,” released in 2010, was named one of the 10 best books of the year by Michiko Kakutani, and was also named on many “best of year” lists. He writes and speaks on numerous topics, including high-technology business, the social impact of technological practices, the philosophy of consciousness and information, Internet politics, and the future of humanism. In recent years he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine, one of the 100 top public intellectuals by Foreign Policy Magazine, and one of the top 50 World Thinkers by Prospect Magazine
Author, computer scientist and composer Jaron Lanier talks about the current state of the Internet economy and where things are likely to head in the future, as well as the concept of computer singularity and the role big business now plays in data collection on individuals.
While some industries – such as music and movies – have clearly been harmed by the proliferation of free content online, Lanier cites the example of television, which is actually enjoying kind of a golden age as more people pay specifically or what they want to watch.
Another struggling industry cited is investigative journalism, which Jaron said has suffered because of downsizing at major news organizations. “If you look at world news organizations, most of them are having to converge on a few correspondents who are left in the field, and so there’s this very strange lack of diversity and depth in reporting.”
While he points out that while citizen journalism can play some role in getting information to the public, this can never replace quality reporting. “It’s a funny thing, quality is really different from quantity, and you can’t just throw a lot of amateurs at something and get professional, in-depth reporting – there is such as thing as quality.”
He cites examples of workers being displaced by machines as the need for human labor becomes obsolete, and points out the lack of viable solutions to correct the problem.
“There’s not too many ideas on the table about what to do about the economy as technology gets better,” Jaron said, adding that increasing automation across industries is creating a void of middle-class jobs. “If robots are driving the cars and making the food and whatever, there’s no more middle-class jobs, and no amount of retraining and education is going to get most people jobs.”
One proposed solution to get around this is to provide a basic income model where everybody gets a stipend.
“The easiest example for me is the one with language translators,” he said. “People who translate between languages are losing their prospects, just like recording musicians and investigative reporters, photographers, and so on.”
In this case, machine translation has overtaken human translation, but Jaron argues that if there was a way to keep track of how the human translators were contributing in necessary ways to the surge in automatic translation, they could be adequately compensated.
Jaron addresses the big money being made by server companies, which are responsible for routing all the information and “free stuff” being used by everyone else. These companies are using so-called siren servers to collect information on individuals that can be exploited and/or monetized.
He also speaks about what he calls the information imbalance that is having a devastating impact on the economy and keeping wages low.
The idea is that corporations have loads of information on potential employees, allowing them to predict which individuals will fit into the company, rather than taking a risk on hiring based on unknown factors. This puts the job seeker at a disadvantage and allows companies to pay lower wages and provide fewer benefits – even in good economic times.
Watch the full interview for more on how technology is affecting so many sectors of the world economy and to hear a discussion of singularity, and why this idea that computers are freestanding intelligences can actually make humans less intelligent.