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Who Owns the Future?

3.73  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,823 Ratings  ·  220 Reviews
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 the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.

Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never
Paperback, 448 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Simon & Schuster (first published March 7th 2013)
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The recent exposure of government surveillance of tech companies and their private consumers is sobering, but I confess it is not wholly unexpected. After all, the corporations monitor our tastes and actions already for advertising purposes. Who is to say the intelligence services would not have caught on to this rich new vein of information, free for the taking?

The purpose of this book is a critique of this new trend of information control, and Lanier, our author, has a reputation of lambasting
Rachel Bayles
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
Jun 28, 2013 Sara 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
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
Sep 27, 2013 Emily rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
“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 the
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
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 route 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 relevant an ...more
Jan 08, 2014 Stephen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Brian Warren
May 04, 2013 Brian Warren rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 27, 2013 Merry rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: won-on-goodreads
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
Jul 10, 2013 Adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Oliver Brackenbury
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
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
Paul McNeil
May 11, 2013 Paul McNeil rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, netgalley
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
Denise Rolon
Jul 20, 2014 Denise Rolon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this book to be pretty dry, requiring some discipline to complete (and that was just listening to the audiobook, which is faster than reading for me.) It was worth it though. The situation he describes here is very familiar to me and probably to you too, our changing digital world, but the conclusions he draws, the patterns he defines, those were not as clear. I agreed with some, but not all of what he said, but that's not really the point. The point is to think it through yourself; and ...more
Daniel Cornwall
Useful read for anyone concerned with where the digital economy is headed and how its gains are distributed. I think Mr. Lanier's diagnosis is spot on - our current digital economy is harvesting great economic value from people's online activity and transferring that wealth to themselves "off the books." I also agree with him that this approach is unsustainable and would eventually result in the destruction of the middle class.

He documents his work well and makes it clear when he's talking from
Jan 26, 2015 Darnell rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Some interesting ideas, but so far from the present reality that I don't know how useful they are.
Viet Nguyen
Vài nét về tác giả: Jaron Lanier là nhà nghiên cứu khoa học máy tính tại Microsoft Research, người tiên phong trong lĩnh vực Virtual Reality (thực tại ảo). Ông là người đồng sáng lập một số start-up, sau đó được Oracle, Adobe, Google mua lại. Ông cũng viết nhạc giao hưởng và chơi rất nhiều loại nhạc cụ hiếm.

Trong cuốn sách thứ hai này (tiếp nối cuốn "You are not a gadget"), Lanier chỉ ra vấn đề với nền kinh tế dựa trên công nghệ số hiện nay, và đưa ra một tương lai mới để khắc phục những nhược
Nov 28, 2014 Bruce rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

This book is mostly a waste of time. Here, I'll save you the time of reading it by summarizing everything that the author has to communicate:

Digital networks have contributed to the hollowing out of the ability to earn a living in some occupations, such as creation of music content, and have concentrated wealth into a very few, very wealthy hands that control 'siren servers'. What we ought to do to combat this is to come up with a magical way to change the internet such that everybody gets paid
Jul 25, 2014 Noreen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 04, 2014 CarolynKost rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jaron Lanier is one of the extraordinary people of our time, with charisma, intelligence, and imagination off the charts. He was a fearless maverick as an adolescent, hitchhiking to Mexico City to meet (unannounced) with an author he respected, and somehow was able to hang around (while non-matriculated) MIT professors from whom he wanted to learn. If you ever have the opportunity to hear him speak, do it. I think I'd follow him like Peter followed Jesus. He is a visionary. Read it and see.

He is
Ann Evans
Jul 29, 2013 Ann Evans rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a while, I have been thinking that the structures of government, religion, economics, education, family -- virtually every part of our communal life -- need to be re-thought and re-constuctred. People tinker at the edges, with a sequester here, a charter school there, an independent church over there, but few people have gone back to the root and re-thought the very way we interact and influence each other. Jeron Lanier does.

His book is not even presented as persuasive. He just says what he
David Dinaburg
In 1955, the play Inherit the Wind—a courtroom drama about teaching evolution in the American 1920s—was a circumspect way to critique the communist witch hunts that dominated the era. Time has wiped away the subtext, leaving a fictionalized version of events as the touchstone for contemporary debate. Pinning down the precise moment Inherit the Wind stopped representing McCarthyism and was reborn as an overt discussion of public science education is all but impossible; Who Owns the Future? seems ...more
Jonathan Norton
Reading this book next to Berardi's "After The Future" showed up the similar traits and failings in both books, even though they purportedly came from different ideological spaces and cultural backgrounds. Both writers are really concerned with broader issues that are not specific to the modern tech economy, yet they feel obliged to make that the central peg that all their points have to hang off.

Lanier is concerned with the erosion of the US middle class (shifts in class structure elsewhere, in
May 20, 2013 loafingcactus rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2013
The rise of information technology, big data, and what Lanier calls "siren servers" has developed into an economic structure where value goes one way- from the consumer to the business that holds the siren server. It is no wonder that the public refuses and is enraged against paying for anything or even being exposed to advertising. Lanier offers what he believes is an economic solution, as well a nuanced explanation of why the solution is necessary for a stable society. I'm not sure he ever str ...more
Dec 01, 2013 Seti rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I listened to this book on and was captivated by Jeron's comprehensive and compelling argument that the current system of "Free" Internet is inevetably leading to a concentration of pwer and wealth from the many to the few, further eroding the middle class. I was not convinced of his argument about the possible implementation of a Nelsonian Humanistic Economy as a solution, and a little disappointed the author did not offer a more practical solution(s). Regardless, his perceptive ana ...more
Aaron Thibeault
Jun 06, 2013 Aaron Thibeault rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*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
Oct 02, 2013 Sternej rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so amazing. Imagine you meet a brilliant technologist at a coffe shop. he takes a shine to you and starts meeting with you to explain exactly how information technology is progressing to concentrate wealth to fewer and fewer people at the expense of all of us. He explains how technology if it progresses as it is will continue to wipe out middle class jobs and explains a solution where information is monetized to benefit most people rather than a diminishing selct few. He is optomist ...more
Sara M. Watson
I want to agree with a lot of Lanier's points, namely his focus on human-centered technology (and in this case economies). But his meandering argumentation, his lack of disciplinary rigor in talking about economic concepts, and the overall structure of the book itself get in his way. The concept of the Siren Servers consolidation of capital and power in their winner take all structures is helpful for those who don't really understand the costs of free services. But the characterization suggests ...more
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Are there different titles for this book? 3 16 Sep 28, 2014 08:11PM  
Goodreads Librari...: ISBN: 9781451654967 3 19 Jan 22, 2014 08:34AM  
  • To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism
  • The New Digital Age: Reshaping the Future of People, Nations and Business
  • Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back
  • Race Against The Machine: How the Digital Revolution is Accelerating Innovation, Driving Productivity, and Irreversibly Transforming Employment and the Economy
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
  • Reinventing Discovery: The New Era of Networked Science
  • The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet
  • The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future
  • Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
  • Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now
  • The Internet Is Not the Answer
  • Future Science: Essays from the Cutting Edge
  • What Technology Wants
  • The Daily You: How the New Advertising Industry Is Defining Your Identity and Your Worth
  • The Great Convergence: Asia, the West, and the Logic of One World
  • The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves
  • The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You
  • Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better
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
More about Jaron Lanier...

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“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.” 7 likes
“Distributions can only be based on measurements, but as in the case of measuring intelligence, the nature of measurement is often complicated and troubled by ambiguities. Consider the problem of noise, or what is known as luck in human affairs. Since the rise of the new digital economy, around the turn of the century, there has been a distinct heightening of obsessions with contests like American Idol, or other rituals in which an anointed individual will suddenly become rich and famous. When it comes to winner-take-all contests, onlookers are inevitably fascinated by the role of luck. Yes, the winner of a singing contest is good enough to be the winner, but even the slightest flickering of fate might have changed circumstances to make someone else the winner. Maybe a different shade of makeup would have turned the tables. And yet the rewards of winning and losing are vastly different. While some critics might have aesthetic or ethical objections to winner-take-all outcomes, a mathematical problem with them is that noise is amplified. Therefore, if a societal system depends too much on winner-take-all contests, then the acuity of that system will suffer. It will become less reality-based.” 1 likes
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