Jaron Lanier: ‘The Internet is worse’ than Congress

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Jaron Lanier with his khene outside the KCRW studio.

For best-selling author Jaron Lanier, society’s dependence on digital networks kindled the economic recession and is responsible for the declining middle class. “What’s happening here is that we’re centralizing all the wealth with whoever has the biggest computer,” Lanier said, adding that the “Internet is worse [than Congress].”

Lanier is a computer systems expert, futurist, music composer, and virtual reality pioneer. He sold a start-up to Google and helped Wal-Mart, Fannie Mae, banks and hedge funds learn to use computerized information. He’s now working on several projects for Microsoft.

All that has made him a uniquely authoritative critic of the digital economy he helped to create. And in his eyes, we should all be troubled about the concentration of money and power in our digital networks.

“There’s no such thing as information not produced by human beings,” he said. “Machines aren’t autonomous. That’s our fantasy… if we just acknowledge the truth that all value comes from people, and track that, it will make things easier.”

In his book, “Who Owns the Future?,” he argues that Google, Facebook and Twitter should be paying all their users for making those companies rich.

Listen to his conversation with Warren on the digital economy and the future of virtual reality below:

After his chat with Warren, Lanier dedicated a song to KCRW on his khene— a Laotian flute organ made from bamboo and teak, and held together with various items, including iron shavings, “poop from various animals” and sometimes illegal substances.

Lanier playing his khene outside the KCRW studio.
Lanier playing his khene outside the KCRW studio. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

He assured us his khene had no poop or drugs in it. But he did play it in a “nontraditional way.”

Here’s his original tune, dubbed the “KCRW Fundraising Song”:

Lanier will be at the Pages Bookstore in Manhattan Beach tonight @ 7pm.