Voodoo Electronics

Technology for social butterflies

| May 12, 2005

Jaron Lanier is an artsy-fartsy, computer nerd who can find common ground between dissimilar things like cephalopods and virtual reality or musical instruments and weaponry.

A child prodigy whose playmates were scientists and engineers, Lanier enrolled in college at the age of 14 and dabbled in fine arts, music, activism, goat herding, and midwifery. Then he stumbled upon computer programming, and reality was forever changed -- Lanier made it 'virtual.' Now, he thinks he has the answer to the future of technology.

In a candid interview with The Sun magazine, Lanier discusses 'Humanistic technology' -- his response to 'cybernetic totalists' who don't differentiate between humans and computers. 'Virtual reality is precisely a way of thinking about computers that puts humans and human experience at the center,' he says.

So, while complaints abound that today's gadgets are creating a world of shut-ins, Lanier believes technology can help create a new reality -- one where people create ways to interact with one another, and the imagination is our only limitation.

This hopeful theory is based on Lanier's contention that virtual reality isn't an offshoot of video games or television, it's an extension of the telephone -- a means of contact between people. Which makes sense, he says, since people have historically made communication a technological priority. Take the cannon, for example, invented through happenstance when the Chinese were attempting to cast a large musical bell. Or the computer-maker Hewlett-Packard, which was founded to create a music synthesizer for Walt Disney. In these instances, technology was a bi-product of one overarching goal: to 'communicate with each other by making peculiar sounds.'
-- Marca Bradt

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