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Who Owns the Future?

3.78  ·  Rating details ·  3,298 ratings  ·  341 reviews
The “brilliant” and “daringly original” (The New York Times) critique of digital networks from the “David Foster Wallace of tech” (London Evening Standard)—asserting that to fix our economy, we must fix our information economy.

Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with t
Hardcover, US, 367 pages
Published May 7th 2013 by Simon & Schuster (first published March 7th 2013)
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Rachel Bayles
May 29, 2013 rated it liked it
I liked this book, and I can't recommend it, except for the most dedicated technophile. This book is like being stuck in an elevator with your most brilliant friend, and a bottle of wine. Some of the conversation will be interesting, and some of it may seem brilliant, but you won't be able to remember half of it later. His musings range from mild to extreme, and much of it I did not feel like I had the brain power to understand its implications. I would have to read it a second time, just to get ...more
Sep 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Should you read this book? Yes. There are three reasons why: 1. His prescriptions may be useful. 2. Even if his prescriptions are unrealistic, the first two-thirds of the book are still a worthwhile way of looking at what's presently going on in our economy. 3. Even if he's totally wrong, he's entertaining, rather like Antonin Scalia. I haven't read any coherent negative reviews of this book, mostly negative reviews by people who have grasped 1% of the argument from reading about it online and a ...more
Imagine yourself reading the latest article from your favorite news source on the screen of your smartphone; you might have enjoyed the article enough to share it with your friends on Facebook. You might have also decided to check your e-mail and converse with your friends via a messaging app; all the while paying nothing for the services you used, except the monthly phone bill - or possibly not even that, if you used a device such as a tablet and free wi-fi.

But are these services - which infor
May 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis remarked on the increasing fragmentation of stories that the world could use a little less whimsy ("Wes Anderson") and a little more Tolstoy. Jaron Lanier makes a similar point regarding the pitfalls of digitalization and the economic and human cost of erasing context. Even better, he does so without sounding like a raving Luddite. He proposes a system of micropayments that would weave individual contributions into a more stable economic narrative. My cynical si ...more
“To my friends in the “open” Internet movement, I have to ask: What did you think would happen? We in Silicon Valley undermined copyright to make commerce become more about services instead of content: more about our code instead of their files.

The inevitable endgame was always that we would lose control of our own personal content, our own files.

We haven’t just weakened old-fashioned power mongers. We’ve weakened ourselves.” (p.207)

This book is a labor of love. We humans are being gifted
Erhardt Graeff
Oct 17, 2013 rated it liked it
The first half of Lanier's book is a strong critique of the current trend in computing and business toward aggregation and exploitation of consumer data. He calls companies like Facebook and Google, as well as financial companies that make rapid trades and find loopholes in the markets algorithmically, "Siren Servers." This is a helpful concept and framing of the problem. Lanier then looks to a future dominated by Siren Servers while technological innovation continues to make humans less relevan ...more
Stephanie Sun
"We do know that Siren Servers can die. It happened to Lehmann Brothers... Individual Siren Servers can die and yet the Siren Server pattern perseveres, and it is that pattern that is the real problem. The systematic decoupling of risk from reward in the rising information economy is the problem, not any particular server."

I'm sure much savvier readers and technologists than me will roll their eyes at a neologism like "Siren Servers," Jaron Lanier's nickname for the entities (Amazon, Facebook, G
Brian Warren
Apr 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Computer scientist and tech visionary Jaron Lanier has spent his impressive career contributing to many of the most ubiquitous technologies of our time. From virtual reality (a term he coined) to start-up companies that are now a part of Adobe, Oracle and Google, Lanier is a man forever out in front of Silicon Valley’s most forward thinking gurus.

In his new book, “Who Owns the Future?” Lanier laments the current state of the middle class and points part of the blame for the loss of middle class
Nuno R.
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Both this and Radical Markets: Uprooting Capitalism and Democracy for a Just Society (which I haven't finished yet) seem to focus on how to make capitalism work. Which, I sugest, even radical leftists should not dismiss immediately, since today so many just want to disrupt it (and our lives as colateral damage, which their philosophy prohibits them from caring about).

Even classic capitalism (where the productive are rewarded and so on) is better than what we are heading towards at high speed. Th
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Basic premise: The internet was supposed to make life easier for artists and entrepreneurs who were going to sell their art, music, information, etc. to a worldwide audience. Instead, with the rise of the internet, the middle class has dissipated, the wealthy have become superwealthy, and many have become poor in the process. Jaron Lanier looks at why this has happened and how to solve the problem. The problem seems to be caused by what he called siren servers which are organizations like google ...more
Apr 21, 2013 rated it liked it
I found "Who Owns the Future?" (I won an advance copy on Goodreads) to be an intriguing forward looking piece with a hypothesis that made me stop and reconsider my current ideas, especially with regard to the Internet. Lanier suggests that rather than creating jobs and stimulating the economy, the Internet is actually taking jobs away and not producing the new knowledge-based jobs as expected. He proposed solutions that truthfully I doubt that I'll see implemented in my lifetime, or that will ev ...more
Jun 20, 2013 rated it really liked it
Lanier raises a lot of provocative points here about the trends of big data and Siren Servers / cloud computing. Warning against the economic impact of tech-fueled market disruption, he makes the case for a middle class of users feeding into the servers. In a future of 3D printers and automated-everything, it will otherwise be easier than ever to be marginalized. Compare the number of employees at Instagram to the number at Kodak in its prime, etc.

"Google might eventually become an ouroboros, a
Oct 08, 2020 rated it it was ok

“You can’t see much of a server as it can see of you.”

Lanier takes us through a world of Siren Servers, Soft blackmail, differential pricing, punishing network effects and many other dark corridors of the online world as he observes the architecture and culture that he is partly responsible for, again calling for changes that will almost certainly never happen.

“Machine vision has massive creepiness potential. Weren’t wars fought and many lives lost precisely to prevent governments from gaining
Aaron Thibeault
May 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
*A full executive summary of this book is available here:

The main argument: Not so long ago the Internet was seen as the next great economic engine. The optimism was never higher than at the peak of the dot-com boom in the late 1990s, of course; but even after the dot-com bust in the early 2000s, many believed that this was but the growing pains of an emerging industry, and that in the long run the Internet would yet provide the foundation for a new and i
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: netgalley, nonfiction
Obviously, the future turned out quite a bit different from what we thought it would, almost completely devoid of space travel or robot butlers, while our cell phones do things the U.S.S. Enterprise's communications devices never could. One thing that we really did not think much about in the past was the rise of big data, and how the internet's number one way of making money would one day be putting ads in front of our faces. In Who Owns the Future?, Jaron Lanier, a pioneer of virtual reality t ...more
I'm giving Jaron Lanier's work five stars for the fact that I must have turned down the corner on a hundred pages because the book is thought-provoking. Three stars go to the editor. This is my second review of a book where I blame the dev edit of a book. In this case I think Jaron's work could have been more concise and a hundred or so pages lopped off and nothing would have been lost. I blame the loss of that editor on exactly what Jaron writes about in his book--the loss of a middle class due ...more
Oct 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is excellent. In it, Jaron Lanier attempts to design a more humanistic economy in such a way that does not require government enforcement. Rather, the idea is to make large-scale changes so that the forces governing the economy naturally bolster the middle class.

As things stand now, we are accustomed to giving our data away for free in exchange for free services such as Facebook (or Goodreads for that matter). The short term gains seem enticing, but Jaron argues that over the long run,
Jun 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: science
June 21. Lanier is a futurist, but he's a realistic one: no fluffy science fiction technological utopias are dangled here. There's this idea among some popular futurists of a "post-scarcity economy" -- that humans will become digital and upload themselves into the cloud. How this will happen seems to be explained with much hand waving, along the lines of "and then a miracle occurred." However, Lanier argues that the way we use digital technology today is not going to make everything all right in ...more
Jul 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This book was a bit meandering - it felt like it really got going around page 200 which was unfortunate, because the core ideas he presents are truly very interesting. Made me think of potential future digital economies completely outside of frameworks I am familiar with.

The first 200 pages weren’t bad, but just not focused. Which was ultimately okay because Lanier is extremely creative with his illustrations of the future, and I suspect he’ll be correct in some aspects (in the way that you can
Jul 16, 2014 rated it liked it
Lanier presents thought-provoking ideas about the role the internet has played in reducing the middle class and sending us on a road towards a new feudalism. One of his principal ideas is that networks like the internet facilitate the power of what he calls "siren servers" (e.g., Facebook and Google), which, like stars coalescing in a new galaxy and increasing in gravity, attract more users, and power, the more users that they have. These siren servers then make a killing off of the personal inf ...more
Karel Baloun
Aug 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Lanier aims for a “humanist information economy”, and as a long participant in the non-free software economy including at Microsoft, Lanier carriers some biases about the price of information, which fatally undermine his very well written and carefully argued, very long exposition.  

In an homage (far longer than i believe is deserved) to Ten Nelson’s fundamental (yet so far technically unimplementable) idea that information should not be free, but rather compensated my micro royalties to creator
Julie Mickens
Amidst our gadget-swoon, nobody is talking about what Jaron Lanier talks about: Who OWNS the massive, vast sea of data that we've all collectively generated over the last twenty years. Lanier is absolutely not anti-technology. Rather, he's seeing further ahead than most of us about its socioeconomic implications -- no, not the implications of USE, the digital divide or shortened attention spans or any morphing of social etiquette -- but the implications of big-data capitalism: Who's gonna OWN it ...more
May 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
“Who owns the future” is call for rethinking the technological and economical development, criticising current agenda. The author is highlighting that information supremacy for one company becomes a form of behaviour modification for the rest of the world. Siren servers are gaining superior information position, by giving the illusion of “free.” The author, giving the examples, notes that free means someone else will be deciding how you live, and your lack of privacy will be becoming someone els ...more
Oliver Brackenbury
Mar 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
We all know that we create value for gigantic companies by providing information, voluntary as well as involuntarily, and that this is "just the price you pay" for getting to play with services like Facebook, Uber, or Meerkat.


I think if more people read this book, we might have a better idea as to how unbalanced that exchange really is. Reading "Who Owns the Future?" not only explores that concept in more depth, it also looks at how the giant Internet companies which influence all our lives h
Alexander Fitzgerald
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
You're either going to love this book or hate it.

Jaron Lanier is a recording musician, video game creator, computer scientist, and founding father of virtual reality. As you can imagine, a man of his talents is not exactly even-keeled. Like your brilliant friends, he is prone to rants that spin in circles. However, you end up listening to him, because he remains so utterly fascinating.

Mr. Lanier's central conjecture in this book is that people should start becoming compensated for information th
Mar 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was a fascinating book with a very promising proposal: turning our current information society into something that would benefit the average person instead of disenfranchising us all and killing the economy. This would be done by paying every person for the use of all the data gathered about that person in the form of nanopayments. If facebook gathers information about you and then uses it to sell ads, facebook would owe you a small part of their profits. A tiny payment to be sure, but if w ...more
Ava Huang
Apr 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
“The primary business of digital networking has come to be the creation of ultrasecret mega-dossiers about what others are doing, and using this information to concentrate money and power. It doesn’t matter whether the concentration is called a social network, an insurance company, a derivatives fund, a search engine, or an online store. It’s all fundamentally the same. Whatever the intent might have been, the result is a wielding of digital technology against the future of the middle class.”

Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I agree with those that say the book is disorganized, and could probably be edited to lose a decent chunk of pages, I still very much thought the book was worth reading, as the ideas and thoughts he presents are novel and I'm convinced very important to think about. I was definitely someone who previously loved the idea of the internet being such a strong advocate in practice of sharing of information for free, but after reading this it explains well that there is a hidden cost to that, th ...more
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: abandoned
Gave up after 25 pages. Don't know what people see in this guy. ...more
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Are there different titles for this book? 3 19 Sep 28, 2014 08:11PM  
Goodreads Librari...: ISBN: 9781451654967 3 19 Jan 22, 2014 08:34AM  

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Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author.
In the sciences:

Jaron Lanier scientific interests include biomimetic information architectures, user interfaces, heterogeneous scientific simulations, advanced information systems for medicine, and computational approaches to the fundamentals of physics. He collaborates with a wide range of scientists in fields related to t

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111 likes · 22 comments
“Here’s a current example of the challenge we face. At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only thirteen people. Where did all those jobs disappear to? And what happened to the wealth that those middle-class jobs created? This book is built to answer questions like these, which will only become more common as digital networking hollows out every industry, from media to medicine to manufacturing.” 10 likes
“Wouldn’t it be easier just to treat the information space as a public resource and tax or charge companies somehow for the benefit of using it?” 4 likes
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