Who Owns The Future? — Jaron Lanier

JARON LANIER has been around a long time. And he’s, I guess, what you’d probably call a futurist. That’s how I describe him at least.

And the things he says sound really crazy a lot of the time.

For example:

You sit at the edge of the ocean, wherever the coast will be after Miami is abandoned to the waves. 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.’ The seagull responds, ‘You are not rated as enough of a commercial prospect for any of our sponsors to pay for freshwater for you.’ You say, ‘But I have a penny.’ ‘Water costs two pennies.’ ‘There’s an ocean three feet away. Just desalinate some water!’ ‘Desalinization is licensed to water carriers. You need to subscribe. However, you can enjoy free access to any movie ever made, or pornography, or a simulation of a deceased family member for you to interact with as you die from dehydration. Your social networks will be automatically updated with the news of your death.’ And finally, ‘Don’t you want to play that last penny at the casino that just repaired your heart? You might win big and be able to enjoy it.’

And doesn’t that just read like fiction?

But when I think about it a little bit more, something about his whole book Who Owns the Future? seems just so plausible.

LANIER’s main argument is that in the future, it would be silly to use cash money as the main currency. Instead, you should receive an economic avatar which is paid in information that it contributes to super servers which he (I must say, annoyingly) calls Siren Servers.

If you’re confused, don’t worry. This is confusing. It’s interesting but it’s so confusing. Here’s an example from his book:

You meet a future spouse on an online dating service. The algorithms that implement that service take note of your marriage. As the years go by, and you’re still together, the algorithms increasingly apply what seemed to be the correlations between you and your spouse to matching other prospective couples. When some of them also get married, it is automatically calculated that the correlations from your case were particularly relevant to the recommendations. You get extra nanopayments as a result.

And that’s the idea.

Interested in why I think this sounds so plausible? Check out this Medium post from a couple of weeks back that I saw someone post. 

I honestly can’t tell if LANIER is for or against a society like he is describing. It doesn’t really matter.

It sounds initially very scary that large swathes of a population would have their jobs eaten by a few super servers that hold data. The paranoid among us will fear a panopticon style society where we’re never really sure who is watching us.

I guess there are benefits to it as well.

The popularity of the basic income, an idea that is currently circulating policy making offices, seems to indicate that we’re already looking for alternatives to earning an economic incentive.

Maybe such a technologically backwards approach to LANIER’s future is the first step?


Here’s a bonus out of context snippet that I loved:

There’s an old Buck Owens song called ‘Act Naturally,’ which was also famously sung by Ringo Starr. ‘They’re gonna make a big star out of me … and all I have to do is act naturally.’


Still feel as if this book sounds a little out there? Check this out.

I just searched the title of a book I own and found out that Google knows how much I paid for it and when I ordered it from Amazon.

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