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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Information Revolution
In this book, writing about the all encompassing digital future that modern society is inexorably edging toward, Lanier is essentially writing about how the fundamental way society works could change.

The digital revolution (unlike other historical revolutions in production) follows a winner-takes-all-model that relentlessly concentrates wealth and challenges...
Published 13 months ago by Mr. D. J. Brindle

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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A manifesto for protecting privilege
This is an odd book, partly because of the way it is structured and partly because the author spends a lot of the time trying not say what he wants to say. In places it is genuinely brilliant - the interlude about Silicon Valley and the New Age movement should be developed into a book of its own - but in others it is confusingly disingenuous.

On the surface,...
Published 12 months ago by El Loro


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34 of 36 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A manifesto for protecting privilege, 9 July 2013
This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
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This is an odd book, partly because of the way it is structured and partly because the author spends a lot of the time trying not say what he wants to say. In places it is genuinely brilliant - the interlude about Silicon Valley and the New Age movement should be developed into a book of its own - but in others it is confusingly disingenuous.

On the surface, this is a book about the way we are moving, globally, towards an information economy, a dangerously centralised, unequal economy. It's structured in short sections, broken down into bite sized chunks, topped and tailed by interludes - the all too common, lazy approach to editing in books from the US at the moment. However, as the author develops his thinking, I wonder whether this structure is, like some other aspects of the book, an attempt to disguise some of his ideas.

Take the stylised graphs on page 34. We are shown a standard distribution and an inverted exponential distribution with, significantly, no labels on the axes. Instead, that "in an economy with a strong middle class, the distribution of economic outcomes might approach a bell curve "whereas "the new digital economy, like older feudal or robber baron economies" gives us the inverted exponential graph. Sounds good, particularly with nebulous language like "economic outcomes" presented in a bite sized gobbet, but a little reflection reveals it to be hogwash. The bell curve might show the distribution of incomes across a national population with a strong middle class but the distribution of wealth is almost always shown by the second graph, strong middle class or not.

These graphs are important because they both underpin and undermine the rest of the book.

They underpin because the book isn't so much about the unequal information economy as managing the impact it has on the middle class and maintaining the standard distribution of "economic outcomes". However, it eventually becomes clear that the author means the US middle class within the US economic model. This is where the graphs, particularly the second one, undermine the message of the book. Considered from a wider, global perspective, the distribution of "economic outcomes" by any definition are skewed, giving us not a bell curve but the grossly unequal second graph. With this in mind, the author now seems less concerned with re-engineering the information economy to give a fairer outcome than maintaining global inequalities. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

If this seems disingenuous, at times the author seems naive to the point of contradiction. For example, he suggests that people have one set, life long, online identifier, like an NI number, to allow them to fully benefit from online participation. The reality of such centralisation seems to escape him, not just its very real threat to liberty or its impossibility to manage but its fundamental incompatibility with his overall, market led, proposals.

This insistence of the power of the market is also problematic. The book largely and conveniently ignores the impact of market deregulation and globalisation on the middle class it wants to protect, eg the decline of western manufacturing to the global inflation caused by increasing prosperity in the developing world.

Capitalism, it seems, is The One True Way. Keynesian economics, although successful in the past, have no place in a future without factories or banks so it's not even worth explaining what they are - although there is a helpful footnote to tell us they are named after John Maynard Keynes. Marx is reduced to a straw man who "wanted what most people, including me, don't want: a committee to make sure everyone gets what's best for them". So what if capitalism doesn't work fairly at the moment, it's just a matter of tinkering and tuning to find an "ideal mechanism [that] would be fluid enough to reward creativity [...]withstand inevitable giant hurricanes of capital flows [...] graceful and ordinary [...] strenghened, not weakened, as more and more people embrace it".

Where do Chinese factory workers and Caribbean farmers and African miners and the woman who works behind the counter in Greggs come into this? They don't. In the future, we will have machines like 3d printers that can synthesise anything from a pacemaker to a pasty, removing the need for raw materials, factories, food markets, international trade or anything other than a purely defensive military. Capitalism without the means of production, no less!

As Michael Moore has pointed out, being part of the US middle class is a wonderful thing but it's naive to think that everyone else aspires to it. This book may go down well in suburban USA but, from this corner of Surrey, what's in it for the rest of us?
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Information Revolution, 1 July 2013
By 
Mr. D. J. Brindle (Prestwick, Scotland.) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
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In this book, writing about the all encompassing digital future that modern society is inexorably edging toward, Lanier is essentially writing about how the fundamental way society works could change.

The digital revolution (unlike other historical revolutions in production) follows a winner-takes-all-model that relentlessly concentrates wealth and challenges the livelihood of an ever increasing number. Progress should reward more people, not fewer. Lanier notes that in a socially responsible society the economic benefits would be shared by the bulk of the populace with smaller numbers of people at one end getting by on very little and small numbers at the other end raking in the billions (meaning most of us would live in relative comfort and security somewhere in the middle). The digital revolution is increasing wealth and freedom for only a tiny fraction of the population: The corporations with the biggest computers, gathering data for free from everyone else. One illuminating statistic to illustrate this is to compare Google with General Motors. Google is worth $300 billion on the stock market, almost seven times that of GM. But Google only employs 53,000 people compared to the 202,000 of a flagging GM.

Lanier writes passionately in this book, involving the reader by proposing a way of dealing with this unsustainable scenario.

His main idea is to recognise a person's information as private property. So any large corporation that harvests anything from your social networking, purchasing or even phone records would have to pay you for the privilege. But he doesn't go into details of how you would even to begin to set up such a system. The author freely admits he hasn't thought it all through which goes some way to explain the somewhat rambling approach I found in this book. It is an occasionally dense read, but always fascinating and the author's credibility in the industry is of the highest grade.

Who Owns The Future is certainly worth a read for anybody with even the faintest interest in the unyielding digitisation of the way we live. Just be prepared to concentrate hard on the more dense parts of the book.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who Owns the Future?, 2 Jan 2014
By 
J. Charlesworth (Lewes, E. Sussex United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
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Jaron Lanier may be an expert in virtual reality, but this book felt like a jumbled mess of a whinge-a book that reads like a TED talk.

Lanier complains-quite correctly-that the tech industry is not a meritocracy and laments that the nerds have failed to do better than anyone else in resisting the lure of big capitalism. However rather than focusing on how we can fix real and vital issues of social injustice, he instead complains that corporate giants fail to reward users who allow their data to be sold. While it's a valid point that we should be wary of being ripped off by big corporations, it seems a trifle short-sighted to complain about this while maintaining that capitalism is fine and dandy. Lanier repeatedly complains that the middle-classes are in danger at the same time as pointing out how most wealth is controlled by a few very rich individuals, with a long tail of the population living in poverty. I can't imagine why the middle classes are given such a focus, rather than people who actually struggle to get by (visit Silicon Valley and the extent of this injustice becomes immediately apparent).

I found myself physically wincing every time he railed against socialism (and/or the ideas of Marx, whose theory he is quite willing to use, while abusing Marx's name) while saying that capitalist corporations ought to behave more fairly towards website users-of course it would be possible for them to pay users for data, in the same way that any employer pays an employee a wage, but nothing in capitalist theory predicts that corporations should be especially nice to their customers, so it comes as little more than a passing disappointment when tech companies like Facebook or Google turn out to be just as nasty as, say, Tesco or McDonalds. He does not touch on issues such as tech workers being expected to work for free for open-source projects or online-publications recycling blog posts as original content.

And yet this-and Lanier's previous book-have had a string of glowing reviews in the press.I suspect in reality we don't know where we're going in this digital society and we're all getting fed up with the banality of life regurgitated through facebook and a constant stream of advertisments, so any vague promise of something different is snapped up by media pundits as prophecy. Unfortunately, Lanier's prophecy is rather nightmarish-I cannot imagine a world where people are reimbursed for posting on social media sites; office workers do not need incentives to be distracted. I'd much rather read about virtual reality or obscure musical instruments, two areas in which Lanier doubtless has much wisdom to share.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Provocative warning of the information future, 27 Jun 2013
By 
Bernardette Lugner (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
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In this fascinating and provocative book, Lanier makes the point that the American economy (he does not consider anyone else's) has been changed by the rise of "siren servers" -- like Facebook, Amazon, Google, and financial systems. These seductive and apparently free services take information about us and sell it. They replace physical businesses with information services (think of e-books, or streamed music and video). In the process, money is accumulated in huge amounts by a very few companies and the people at the top of them, while the middle classes, people who work for a living, are thrown out of work and impoverished. We see how the business practices that protected the livelihoods of the middle classes have been eroded.

All this is driven from California, says Lanier, by graduates of a few elite universities and residents of San Francisco. The rest of us have been degraded into poor suckers. You will have to decide whether his lessons apply to our own economy; it seems to me that, mostly, they do.

It is happening because of advances in network technologies, social engineering, and the seductive appearance of "stuff" being free. Do not expect any logical progression of ideas in this book. Lanier makes his point by staccato sentences which get very tiring to read in their unvarying rhythm and assertiveness. I took quite a number of sessions to get through the book. By making the same point again and again in different ways, we are eventually to be persuaded. Supporting evidence is a bit thin -- mostly web links and news items -- and some American anecdotal stories. It looks as though Lanier sees himself as a technological prophet, and we had all better listen, or else.

Lanier's only remedy for what is going wrong is that we should all be micro-credited for the information about us that is harvested by the "siren servers" and even our own governments. He seems hazy on notions of taxation and regulation, and ignores other uses of the internet apart from the ones with which he is familiar. He never mentions social and business communication (messaging and email), pornography, and politics. We have many recent examples of the use of network services to organise political mobs both for good and evil. Ah, but that wasn't in the USA. He also ignores the use of the internet for and against terrorism. His focus in this book is on money, who gets it now, and who might get it in the future.

For all its annoyances, this is a book well worth reading. If you are not young, rich, clever and American, or at least three out of four of those, it might make you despair. And it might make you a lot more careful what you put into Facebook or Google. You know, on the internet you are no more obliged to be truthful and transparent with them than they are with you. As Jaron Lanier explains, we aren't their customers, we are their raw material.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An imaginative leap in thinking about our digital future, 13 April 2013
This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
Jaron Lanier makes a persuasive case that the manner in which network services such as those offered by Google, Facebook and iTunes operate - by trading information services in exchange for using personal data (click-throughs, ratings, GPS locations, and so on) - will have to change if our economies are to survive the coming automation of many kinds of human work.

Currently, economies are driven predominantly by actions in the real world (work, resulting in the production of goods and services) and not the digital one. As computer systems become more powerful (in raw performance through Moore's Law) and better at reasoning (through increasingly sophisticated software and the availability of larger, ever-growing sets of data from which to draw inferences) human work is increasingly vulnerable to digitalisation and automation.

Of course each of the individual items of data that go into a Google Analytics report or the construction of an eBay reputation are worth very little. But they are the 'raw material' for those and many other services. It is only by processing huge volumes of such data that they acquire value, and that is what the service providers do. But the original 'raw material' belongs to those who generate the data by their actions - everyone who uses internet services.
Lanier's argument is not for privacy per se, but for the attachment of value to the information that we currently supply to service providers in exchange for the 'free' use of their services. It is a sophisticated chain of reasoning concerning the economics of data and its ownership in the future world that Lanier projects in which digital information, its derivation from raw data and its deployment becomes the most important ingredient in a huge range of human activities many of which are currently performed by humans using only limited support from computers.

He illustrates that the economy is already being undermined by describing the impact of internet services on industries that have already been digitalised - books, recorded music, film and video - and goes on to argue that the undermining process will accelerate and is likely to lead to economic collapse when digital information is the basis of most human activity. Lanier demurs from putting a timescale on that in the book; 20 years was a period that I heard him mention during a recent interview. We cannot roll back the technical advances that have led to this and we probably wouldn't wish to. But they will have a profound impact on economic and political structures. A successful economy requires a large majority of the population receiving sufficient income to purchase and enjoy the goods and services that the economy produces.

Lanier writes as a technologist and his social predictions are based on his projections of current technical trends. They chime very well with recent studies and analyses coming from a small but growing group of economists, represented for the purposes of this review by Race Against the Machine, a recent book by two MIT economists.

Despite the disruptive diagnosis, Who Owns the Future is not a pessimistic book; it celebrates the talented and often delightful behaviour of most human beings and goes on to discuss a world in which humans are at the centre despite the ever increasing sophistication of the technology. But talent and delightful behaviour are not what most people are paid for.

Useful information is derived from raw data (whether it be represented numerically, textually, linguistically, visually or in any other form) by processing. Some processing is rule-based but depends on processing very large amounts of data, often in real time - driving, robotic surgery and other tasks that we had until recently imagined were the preserve of humans. Some processing is much more complex and depends on layered choices and interpretations - writing novels, composing music, proving theorems, teaching mathematics. But the impact of Moore's Law for computing power and progress in software design and construction in the past 50 years has enabled autonomous networked services to emerge that supply valuable information to almost everyone in modern societies and their growth is accelerating.

It is well known that in human affairs the best answers to questions are obtained from a source with access to the widest range of up-to-date information. The internet takes that conclusion a step further - questions are best answered by a service that has access to all the relevant data and can process it in a relevant manner.

Because the internet makes information equally available everywhere, there is a bias in favour of the 'star performers', whether they be musicians or search engines. For many networked services, the star-performing servers will be those holding the largest amount of raw data combined with the best algorithms and computing resources to process the data. Data becomes concentrated in the hands of a few very powerful and successful services. Lanier has coined the term Siren Servers for those service providers - because they lure us to use their services and in so doing, they glean more data from us about our preference and behaviour.

In Lanier's view the problem is not the technology nor the people who created it, nor the people who use it. The problem is the way in which people and technology currently interact in the networked world. What we can do is to ascribe appropriate value to the information conveyed (and stored and processed) by giant server-based systems and the services that are based on them and to reward the originators of the data on which it is based with 'nano-payments'. The author doesn't attempt to describe an alternative network or an information architecture that would fully meet that requirement. But he provides an interesting sketch of one, based on the reconstruction of links by making them two-way (as was originally intended by Ted Nelson, the inventor of hyperlinked information). That would enable credit to be ascribed where it's due by tracing the reverse links back to the originators or owners of each piece of data.

The social model conjured up is a lifestyle of 'active leisure' in which the most active and the creative are the best-rewarded, but the average citizen receives more than a living wage. All in the form of nano-payments. The realisation of this model would depend on the establishment of a market for data created continuously by people's activities, some deliberate and with the intention of receiving financial reward but much of it unconscious. The book says only a little about how such a market would be constructed and how a transition to it would be managed. It is therefore, understandably, a work in progress impelling us towards the construction of solutions to the disruptions it describes.

The book is an an impressively imaginative leap in thinking about our digital future, replete with examples, technical insights and carefully-developed scenarios ('Interludes' in Lanier's terminology). It is idiosyncratically written but once you get used to the author's slightly elliptical style, highly enlightening and persuasive.

Key quotes:
- 'If network technology is supposed to be so good for everyone, why has the developed world suffered so much just as the technology has become widespread?'
- 'Digital information is really just people in disguise.'
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5.0 out of 5 stars essential reading, 17 April 2014
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This review is from: Who Owns The Future? (Hardcover)
Its not too often that one encounters actual new ideas. When one does, its not immediately clear what has happened. This book has more than one. Jaron is a curious fellow. Sometimes you feel that he needs to drive wight he break on so that the rest of us can stay up with his thoughts. I think this is genuinely significant piece thinking.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good but tough, 9 April 2014
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I read this book after reading about Jaron Lanier rather than about the book, but I am glad I did. I wont hide the fact that I found it a tough and difficult read at times (I had to read some parts twice), but I'm not a techie so thats to be expected. Its a very good read and profile of how the future of online retailling could and probably will end up. If you like to understand this sort of thing, its an excellent book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Disjointed but riveting argument, 13 Mar 2014
At times I found it hard to keep reading "Who Owns The Future?" because Lanier is prone to jump from point to point and conclusion to conclusion in a rather illogical manner.

That being said, Lanier's concerns about the direction our society is choosing, towards a future controlled by siren servers, with humans serving as data points to the technology rather than being served by it, are 100% valid. Essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the rise of Tech behemoths profiting from the data we willingly give them. Essential reading for the tech optimists who see Facebook, Google et. al as the leaders for a new, benevolent, utopian future.
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4.0 out of 5 stars heavy stuff, 19 Feb 2014
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want to know where we are not going, then read this, take time, its a heavy read, and needs thought
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3.0 out of 5 stars Huge topic ambitiously treated, 6 Dec 2013
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This ideas in this book are huge and the author attempts to deal with the topics by using his experience as one of the key individuals that was involved in techonolgy, the internet and all things cyber since these terms were invented. The execution is good but it lacks real detail and leaves the reader wondering how the great ideas would actually pan out in reality. In defense of the author the topics he is dealing with are in constant flux and perhaps so vast no one, not even a super computer could predict.
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Who Owns The Future?
Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier (Hardcover - 7 Mar 2013)
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