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The economics of the approaching technological singularity - Jaron Lanier's insightful read

Updated on October 10, 2014

Future economics

As machines start to replace virtually all human jobs, it's really fun to think about where the future is headed. It's also a bit daunting to consider where human beings might be headed, and particularly, where employment might be heading. What is to become of people in such a future? A socialist utopia, as often pictured in "Star Trek" and other sci-fi shows that take place in the future, seems extremely unlikely. Given that people will no longer be needed to do jobs like picking up the garbage, teaching our children, or giving massages, where does that leave us?

The startling revelation is that there is only one thing that is going to matter for the foreseeable future: intellectual property. People are constantly "mined" for their data nowadays, and this data is actually extremely valuable to large corporations like Google, Facebook, and many others. But these relationships are often one sided, with only the companies benefiting in terms of profit from this information. Where does this leave us?

Jaron Lanier's "Who Owns the Future"

My first experience with Jaron Lanier came as a bit of a surprise to me, being extremely optimistic about the role technology plays (and is likely to play) in our lives. I first heard about "Who Owns the Future" in a message board about Singularity stuff, and it was presented as a counter argument to some of the extremely enthusiastic other stuff (Kurzweil, EG). I therefore approached this book searching for a nice counterpoint to my strong beliefs in a positive technological singularity approaching in the next 30 or 40 years. Instead, I found a really insightful look into the near future (20-30 years) of how economics are likely to work. Not only does the author (virtual reality pioneer Jaron Lanier) point out several flaws within our current economic system, but he also points out some interesting solutions.

The big issue Lanier sees with our economy today is that in a rapidly changing world, it is information that is the real currency. Consider this book. If you purchase the actual book itself (paper and everything), you actually own something. I mean, you could actually (potentially) resell it at some point in the future. It has a value that may go down or it may go up. On the other hand, consider an e-book. What do you get with an e-book? First of all, you're not actually "purchasing" anything, but rather you're renting the information from the owner (typically Amazon or another large company).

At the same time, you own personal information, which you're willingly giving up any time you use Facebook, post on Twitter, or even search Google (how do you think that amazing AI algorithm works? It's with mountains and mountains of big data from... you guessed it, you and me), is worth exactly zero dollars today. This is the fundamental change Lanier suggests making for the near future, and the way he lays it out is absolutely fascinating.

The future is not going to be like this



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    • revolutionbjj profile imageAUTHOR

      Andrew Smith 

      4 years ago from Richmond, VA

      Started slowly, but this was a great counterpoint to The Singularity is Near.


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