Jaron Lanier Quotations

Jaron Z. Lanier / b. 1960 / New York, USA / Computer Scientist


An economy where advertisers thrive while journalists and artists struggle, reflects the values of a society more interested in deception and manipulation than in truth and beauty.

Advertisers and marketers should be looking to bring new experiences to different parts of the brain. It’s a more profound idea than just dropping a billboard into a video game.

Source: “A Call to Expand the use of Neuromarketing so Advertisers Can Target our Brain,” Center for Digital Democracy, interview with Jeff Chester, September 17, 2011.

If you want to know what’s really going on in a society or ideology, follow the money. If money is flowing to advertising instead of musicians, journalists, and artists, then a society is more concerned with manipulation than truth or beauty.

Source: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).

Funding a civilization through advertising is like trying to get nutrition by connecting a tube from one’s anus to one’s mouth.

Source: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).

Facebook says, “Privacy is theft,” because they’re selling your lack of privacy to the advertisers who might show up one day.

Artificial Intelligence’s False Promises

The Turing test cuts both ways. You can’t tell if a machine has gotten smarter or if you’ve just lowered your own standards of intelligence to such a degree that the machine seems smart. If you can have a conversation with a simulated person presented by an AI program, can you tell how far you’ve let your sense of personhood degrade in order to make the illusion work for you?

Source: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).

There is no difference between machine autonomy and the abdication of human responsibility.

Source: “One Half of a Manifesto,” The Edge, 2003.

We imagine “pure” cybernetic systems, but we can prove only that we know how to build fairly dysfunctional ones. We kid ourselves when we think we understand something, even a computer, merely because we can model or digitize it.

Source: “One Half of a Manifesto,” The Edge, 2003.

Big Tech’s Enablers

There will always be humans, lots of them, who provide the data that makes the networked realization of any technology better and cheaper.

Source: Who Owns the Future? (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Companies Under Big Tech

At the height of its power, the photography company Kodak employed more than 140,000 people and was worth $28 billion. They even invented the first digital camera. But today Kodak is bankrupt, and the new face of digital photography has become Instagram. When Instagram was sold to Facebook for a billion dollars in 2012, it employed only thirteen people. Where did all those jobs disappear to?

Source: Who Owns the Future? (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

Feeding the Cloud

The cloud is driven by statistics, and even in the worst individual cases of personal ignorance, dullness, idleness, or irrelevance, every person is constantly feeding data into the cloud these days. The value of such information could be treated as genuine, but it is not. Instead, the blindness of our standards of accounting to all that value is gradually breaking capitalism.

Source: Who Owns the Future? (Simon & Schuster, 2014).


We should treat computers as fancy telephones, whose purpose is to connect people…. As long as we remember that we ourselves are the source of our value, our creativity, our sense of reality, then all of our work with computers will be worthwhile and beautiful.

Source: Digerati: Encounters With the Cyber, ed. John Brockman (Hardwired, 1996); Chapter 17: “The Prodigy.

Mob vs. Individual

Human beings either function as individuals or as members of a pack. There’s a switch inside us, deep in our spirit, that you can turn one way or the other. It’s almost always the case that our worst behaviour comes out when we’re switched to the mob setting. The problem with a lot of software designs is that they switch us to that setting.

No Free Lunch

Digital technologies are setting down the new grooves of how people live, how we do business, how we do everything–and they’re doing it according to the expectations of foolish utopian scenarios. We want free online experiences so badly that we are happy to not be paid for information that comes from us now or ever. That sensibility also implies that the more dominant information becomes in our economy, the less most of us will be worth.

Source: “Who Owns the Future,” Humanities North Dakota, Fall, 2015.

Perils of Total Connectedness

Some of the fantasy objects arising from cybernetic totalism (like the noosphere, which is a supposed global brain formed by the sum of all the human brains connected through the internet) happen to motivate infelicitous technological designs. For instance, designs that celebrate the noosphere tend to energize the inner troll, or bad actor, within humans.

Pop Culture

Pop culture has entered into a nostalgic malaise. Online culture is dominated by trivial mashups of the culture that existed before the onset of mashups, and by fandom responding to the dwindling outposts of centralized mass media. It is a culture of reaction without action.

Source: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).

Virtual Reality

Back in the 1980s, when the internet was only available to a small number of pioneers, I was often confronted by people who feared that the strange technologies I was working on, like virtual reality, might unleash the demons of human nature. For instance, would people become addicted to virtual reality as if it were a drug? Would they become trapped in it, unable to escape back to the physical world where the rest of us live? Some of the questions were silly, and others were prescient.

Source: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (Knopf, 2010).