Jaron Lanier is not yet a household name, but we think he ought to be.
Recently, The New Yorker magazine ran a profile on him (here), so perhaps fame among the educated public, if not the public at large, is now just around the corner for Lanier.
To those who work in the computer industry, who follow the cultural impact of the digital revolution, and who get paid to think about such as things as what it is to have a mind—to all these folks, Jaron Lanier has been a name to conjure with for some time now.
Lanier originally made his reputation as a pioneer in the development of visual programming languages and of virtual reality technology.
Then, in 2000, he published the widely read, much commented-upon, and (in some quarters) roundly denounced online essay, “One Half of a Manifesto” (here). In this piece, he argues, among other things, that the human mind cannot be adequately modeled by any known type of computational device, and that therefore there is no good reason to believe that the analogy between minds and machines, accepted as gospel by wide swaths of contemporary society, is a useful one.
In 2006, he published a new popular essay entitled “Digital Maoism” (here). In this article, he deplores the tendency of Internet culture to elevate the collectivity at the expense of the individual. This piece, too, attracted a great deal of attention, positive and negative, within the computer industry, the Academic cognitive science field, and beyond.
Now, he has published a book entitled You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Vintage Books, 2011), spelling out in greater detail the ideas broached in the two celebrated and controversial articles.
Lanier’s thesis of the sui generis biological character of minds has received deeper philosophical exploration, supported by more rigorous arguments, elsewhere (a subject to which we hope to return in a future blog). But given his status as an apostate of artificial intelligence, his role in our contemporary cultural discourse is an indispensable one. His growing celebrity is well-earned, and we at TBS welcome it.