Jaron Lanier asks whether we have given up too much power to the big digital corporations

The Guardian: Jaron Lanier, groundbreaking computer scientist and infectious optimist, is concerned that we are not making the most of ourselves. In Who Owns the Future? he tellingly questions the trajectory of economic value in the information age, and argues that there has been a fundamental misstep in how capitalism has gone digital. For Lanier, late capitalism is not so much exhausted as humiliating: in an automated world, information is more important to the economy than manual labour, and yet we are expected to surrender information generated by or about ourselves – a valuable resource – for free.

Information here is a broad term for any conscious intellectual, artistic, or pragmatic contribution to the production of goods, services and cultural output, but it also includes the data that we unconsciously radiate simply by exhibiting certain behavioural and consumer traits. Lanier’s project is to foresee how livelihoods might be better sustained in a world in which information is king.

In his view, disproportionate economic power now accumulates around companies who “own the fastest computers with the most access to everyone’s information”. We donate extremely lucrative information – our interests, demographic predilections, buying habits, cyber-movements – in exchange for “free” admission into social media networks. (Digitisation has also allowed banks to repackage the “information” of a mortgage debt and sell it on as increasingly complex financial products, while excluding the indebted home-owner from a percentage of the profits.) Lanier argues that the early internet years have fetishised open access and knowledge-sharing in a way that has distracted people from demanding fairness and job security in an economy predicated on data flow. [Continue reading…]

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