Sunday, September 01, 2013

Who Owns the Future? - 1

Reading about the future I am. Specifically 'Who Owns the Future?' by Jaron Lanier. He in recent years arose lion like from virtual reality in the belly of the technology machine and stopped by god to wonder what this technology stuff means. As this 'Smarter Planet' hurdles onward, his manifestos are prescient.  

He discerningly depicts the modern Web taking its users and turning them into "small elements in a bigger information machine". This bigger information subsumed  great blocks of the former Madison Avenue, and in Google it reaches epitome. (Does Lanier know this terrain? Yes, he sold a company to Google ). 

Where Lanier is especially onto something is in his dogged insistence that humans give meaning to the technology, not the other way around. He doesn’t even like you to use the term technology unless you first place it in the specific human context, as I saw on a CSPAN book show he recently did.

Technology – and be sure the perfume merchants at the Apple store daily place this on display - seems like a dream, an evocation. Just as much it seems of late like a religion – one based on tsunamic Godzilla style myth. 

But it's meaning only derives from its use in society, as J.L emphasizes, and I've seen it time and time again. The web wasn’t to be a utopian townhall. It was to be Jeff Bezos riding west to shuffle electrons,to exploit inefficiencies  and best the mortar and bricks with all their mass beginning to gum up the uber machine works of shifting of commerce.

Lanier looks at music. And the mass media advance called MP3. He reverse engineers the historical  supply chain of the old record industry,  store clerks and warehouse shufflers and Teamsters carrying the rackjobs, and women placing records into sleeves made of cardboard – all making a living in the wake of song. All reduced to rubble by the download, for the benefit of the listener (who can now imagine and get any music practically), but more to the point, to the benefit of the iTunes store and the Apple shareholders that were there on the way up and out on the way up.

 "It used to be the printing presses were expensive, so paying newspaper reporters seemed like a natural expense to fill the pages," he writes. But when the news became free who would pay? (People look at me like I am a fool sometimes for buying the Times. Cause that stuff is free. Moore's law in Lanier's view starts to collapse when humans come into the equation.. We really don't get these things for free it's "in exchange for our acquiescence to being spied on," in other words, our potential for submersion as data points.

As we look for ethos, we note in Silicon Valley it is Moore's law acting as guiding principle. Chips will become more powerful and more cheap and take on more functions as they shrink. He calls it "10 Commandments wrapped into one." (p. 10) Yes, Moore's law is describing the magical nonlinear growth of said semiconductor prowess… I have seen it in volume cost projection for a Mostek Ethernet chip, I have seen it as the power in the imagination of the Silicon Valley technology evangelist who cheerfully sees the course of the future in ever disaggregating waves. As the author states: it's something of a religious emotion.

We (Warren Weaver, the Rockefeller Foundation, the young me) worried about too much leisure time in the 60s, with automation pressing at the boundaries. That seems funny today. The social system will instead re-arrange the divvy. The dominant social strata will work to dominate, even if as in the case of Google its scales to many pennies first (and thence to many dollars second). For me, splashing to stay alive in a sea of technology the criticism of Lanier is like a life preserver. Let me study upon adaptation of Lanier's emerging guidance, for I have an inner analytic engine that needs a rebuild. - Jack Vaughan, Sept 1, 2013

1 comment:

Jack Vaughan said...

isnt this always the case? A scifi guys "view of a high-tech tomorrow was always darkened by doubts about the social consequences of scientific advances."

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