By Chet Yarbrough
Dawn of the New Everything (A Memoir)
By: Jaron Lanier
Narrated by: Oliver Wyman
American computer philosopher, computer scientist, visual artist, and musician.
Both Da Vinci (as characterized by Walter Isaacson) and Jaron Lanier are self-effacing geniuses without formal education. Both manage to create worlds of imagination.
Lanier’s memoir illustrates how refinement of virtual reality is as groundbreaking as Da Vinci’s understanding of light. History will not likely view Lanier as the Da Vinci of our era but there are interesting similarities.
Not to carry the comparison too far, Lanier magnifies the value of imagination without limiting its potential for both human good and evil.
Da Vinci designs weapons of war that purposely fed the ambitions of his era’s tyrants.
Lanier is one of the pioneers of facial recognition. Facial recognition is a tool that can be used by humanities’ tyrants as well as benefactors. In conjunction with digitizing the lives of everyone, facial recognition implies a “Brave New World” as eminently realizable.
A visit to China reinforces potential for loss of privacy and human volition with the advance of a digitized and monitored population.
One comes away from Lanier’s memoir with an appreciation for his candor about life and his unshaken belief in the value of technology. He recognizes his personal imperfection while maintaining an optimistic view for the world’s rescue by AI as a tool rather than controller of human life. There is some comfort in his opinion, but a listener reserves judgement based on the life Lanier has led. He is undoubtedly a polymath but his memoir focuses more on pleasures than the reality of most people’s lives.
The principle of virtual reality lends itself to Lanier’s obsession with music and entertainment.
Lanier is a musician, among many other talents. He spends some of his time collecting and mastering abstruse musical instruments.
One comes away from “Dawn of the New Everything” with the feeling that VR has greater potential for distraction than humanity’s betterment. There is respite from this perception with Lanier’s explanation of how VR is used for education and training. It is a virtual tool for medical and science education.
On the other hand, VR is a tool for remote murder by a person guiding a drone.
B.F. Skinner, American psychologist, behaviorist, author, inventor, and social philosopher.
Lanier also notes that VR has the potential of making life conform to other’s interest.
The “Dawn of Everything” gives a clearer picture of what it was and is like to become a part of the Silicon Valley. He candidly recounts his rise as a tech mogul, failure, and gadfly.
Lanier’s memoir is at once enlightening and disheartening. He offers a virtual picture of modern life that is influencing, but not yet controlling. Lanier is optimistic. Many listeners will leave his memoir skeptical.