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
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
— Marca Bradt
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