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Who Owns the Future?

Thoughts on what is wrong with the current way the information economy works

By Jaron Lanier
15-minute read
Audio available
Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier

Who Owns the Future? explains what’s wrong with the current way the information economy works, and why it’s destroying more jobs than it’s creating.

  • Anyone who wants to know the long-term effects of the internet on the economy
  • Anyone worried about their job being automated in the next decade
  • Anyone who wants to understand what the dominant internet companies of today have in common

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, musician and writer. He was an early innovator in the field of virtual reality and has taught at Columbia University and New York University. His other books include You Are Not a Gadget – also available in blinks.

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Who Owns the Future?

By Jaron Lanier
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier
Synopsis

Who Owns the Future? explains what’s wrong with the current way the information economy works, and why it’s destroying more jobs than it’s creating.

Key idea 1 of 9

New technologies typically grow the economy, but this is not the case with the internet.

In early nineteenth-century England, change was in the air: the invention of an advanced type of mechanical loom had edged many textile workers out of factories, leaving them without work.

In response, some workers got so angry that they stormed factory buildings and smashed the machines that had taken their jobs.

These people were known as Luddites, so named after their leader, Ned Ludd.

Eventually, the government cracked down on their attacks, and the workers found new kinds of jobs and their fury faded.

This story illustrates the commonly held view of how technological advances affect the economy.

First, a new kind of tool or method is invented that helps accomplish a given task – for example, cloth weaving – more efficiently than before. This means fewer people are needed to perform the task, so they are laid off. They become angry and worried about how they will feed their families, until new kinds of jobs emerge where they can once again provide value for the economy. Thus the whole cycle eventually results in overall economic growth.

This pattern has been repeated countless times in history, and many claim that it is happening once more due to the emergence of the internet and the new information economy. For example, online hotel and flight search engines have greatly reduced the demand for human travel agents.

Just as in the pattern described above, the internet has also created new ways for people to provide value to the economy, by creating content and information to be read by others.

Unfortunately, these contributions are not being rewarded with money, which means that the economy is not growing as it did in the past after technological leaps.

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