How we need to remake the internet | Jaron Lanier

How we need to remake the internet | Jaron Lanier


Back in the 1980s, actually,
I gave my first talk at TED, and I brought some of the very,
very first public demonstrations of virtual reality ever to the TED stage. And at that time, we knew
that we were facing a knife-edge future where the technology we needed, the technology we loved, could also be our undoing. We knew that if we thought
of our technology as a means to ever more power, if it was just a power trip,
we’d eventually destroy ourselves. That’s what happens when you’re on a power trip
and nothing else. So the idealism of digital culture back then was all about starting with
that recognition of the possible darkness and trying to imagine
a way to transcend it with beauty and creativity. I always used to end my early TED Talks
with a rather horrifying line, which is, “We have a challenge. We have to create
a culture around technology that is so beautiful, so meaningful, so deep, so endlessly creative, so filled with infinite potential that it draws us away
from committing mass suicide.” So we talked about extinction
as being one and the same as the need to create an alluring,
infinitely creative future. And I still believe
that that alternative of creativity as an alternative to death is very real and true, maybe the most true thing there is. In the case of virtual reality — well, the way I used to talk about it is that it would be something like what happened when people
discovered language. With language came new adventures,
new depth, new meaning, new ways to connect,
new ways to coordinate, new ways to imagine,
new ways to raise children, and I imagined, with virtual reality,
we’d have this new thing that would be like a conversation but also like waking-state
intentional dreaming. We called it post-symbolic communication, because it would be like just directly
making the thing you experienced instead of indirectly
making symbols to refer to things. It was a beautiful vision,
and it’s one I still believe in, and yet, haunting that beautiful vision was the dark side
of how it could also turn out. And I suppose I could mention from one of the very earliest
computer scientists, whose name was Norbert Wiener, and he wrote a book back in the ’50s,
from before I was even born, called “The Human Use of Human Beings.” And in the book,
he described the potential to create a computer system
that would be gathering data from people and providing feedback
to those people in real time in order to put them kind of partially,
statistically, in a Skinner box, in a behaviorist system, and he has this amazing line
where he says, one could imagine,
as a thought experiment — and I’m paraphrasing,
this isn’t a quote — one could imagine a global computer system where everybody has devices
on them all the time, and the devices are giving them
feedback based on what they did, and the whole population is subject to a degree
of behavior modification. And such a society would be insane, could not survive,
could not face its problems. And then he says, but this is
only a thought experiment, and such a future
is technologically infeasible. (Laughter) And yet, of course,
it’s what we have created, and it’s what we must undo
if we are to survive. So — (Applause) I believe that we made
a very particular mistake, and it happened early on, and by understanding the mistake we made, we can undo it. It happened in the ’90s, and going into the turn of the century, and here’s what happened. Early digital culture, and indeed, digital culture to this day, had a sense of, I would say,
lefty, socialist mission about it, that unlike other things
that have been done, like the invention of books, everything on the internet
must be purely public, must be available for free, because if even one person
cannot afford it, then that would create
this terrible inequity. Now of course, there’s other ways
to deal with that. If books cost money,
you can have public libraries. And so forth. But we were thinking, no, no, no,
this is an exception. This must be pure public commons,
that’s what we want. And so that spirit lives on. You can experience it in designs
like the Wikipedia, for instance, many others. But at the same time, we also believed, with equal fervor, in this other thing
that was completely incompatible, which is we loved our tech entrepreneurs. We loved Steve Jobs;
we loved this Nietzschean myth of the techie who could dent the universe. Right? And that mythical power
still has a hold on us, as well. So you have these two different passions, for making everything free and for the almost supernatural
power of the tech entrepreneur. How do you celebrate entrepreneurship
when everything’s free? Well, there was only
one solution back then, which was the advertising model. And so therefore, Google
was born free, with ads, Facebook was born free, with ads. Now in the beginning, it was cute, like with the very earliest Google. (Laughter) The ads really were kind of ads. They would be, like,
your local dentist or something. But there’s thing called Moore’s law that makes the computers
more and more efficient and cheaper. Their algorithms get better. We actually have universities
where people study them, and they get better and better. And the customers and other entities
who use these systems just got more and more experienced
and got cleverer and cleverer. And what started out as advertising really can’t be called
advertising anymore. It turned into behavior modification, just as Norbert Wiener
had worried it might. And so I can’t call these things
social networks anymore. I call them behavior modification empires. (Applause) And I refuse to vilify the individuals. I have dear friends at these companies, sold a company to Google, even though
I think it’s one of these empires. I don’t think this is a matter
of bad people who’ve done a bad thing. I think this is a matter
of a globally tragic, astoundingly ridiculous mistake, rather than a wave of evil. Let me give you
just another layer of detail into how this particular
mistake functions. So with behaviorism, you give the creature,
whether it’s a rat or a dog or a person, little treats and sometimes
little punishments as feedback to what they do. So if you have an animal in a cage,
it might be candy and electric shocks. But if you have a smartphone, it’s not those things,
it’s symbolic punishment and reward. Pavlov, one of the early behaviorists, demonstrated the famous principle. You could train a dog to salivate
just with the bell, just with the symbol. So on social networks, social punishment and social reward
function as the punishment and reward. And we all know
the feeling of these things. You get this little thrill — “Somebody liked my stuff
and it’s being repeated.” Or the punishment:
“Oh my God, they don’t like me, maybe somebody else
is more popular, oh my God.” So you have those two
very common feelings, and they’re doled out in such a way
that you get caught in this loop. As has been publicly acknowledged
by many of the founders of the system, everybody knew this is what was going on. But here’s the thing: traditionally, in the academic study
of the methods of behaviorism, there have been comparisons
of positive and negative stimuli. In this setting, a commercial setting, there’s a new kind of difference that has kind of evaded
the academic world for a while, and that difference
is that whether positive stimuli are more effective than negative ones
in different circumstances, the negative ones are cheaper. They’re the bargain stimuli. So what I mean by that is it’s much easier to lose trust than to build trust. It takes a long time to build love. It takes a short time to ruin love. Now the customers of these
behavior modification empires are on a very fast loop. They’re almost like
high-frequency traders. They’re getting feedbacks
from their spends or whatever their activities are
if they’re not spending, and they see what’s working,
and then they do more of that. And so they’re getting the quick feedback, which means they’re responding
more to the negative emotions, because those are the ones
that rise faster, right? And so therefore,
even well-intentioned players who think all they’re doing
is advertising toothpaste end up advancing the cause
of the negative people, the negative emotions, the cranks, the paranoids, the cynics, the nihilists. Those are the ones who get
amplified by the system. And you can’t pay one of these companies
to make the world suddenly nice and improve democracy nearly as easily as you can pay
to ruin those things. And so this is the dilemma
we’ve gotten ourselves into. The alternative is to turn back the clock,
with great difficulty, and remake that decision. Remaking it would mean two things. It would mean first that many people,
those who could afford to, would actually pay for these things. You’d pay for search,
you’d pay for social networking. How would you pay?
Maybe with a subscription fee, maybe with micro-payments as you use them. There’s a lot of options. If some of you are recoiling,
and you’re thinking, “Oh my God, I would never pay
for these things. How could you ever get anyone to pay?” I want to remind you
of something that just happened. Around this same time that companies like Google and Facebook
were formulating their free idea, a lot of cyber culture
also believed that in the future, televisions and movies
would be created in the same way, kind of like the Wikipedia. But then, companies
like Netflix, Amazon, HBO, said, “Actually, you know, subscribe.
We’ll give you give you great TV.” And it worked! We now are in this period
called “peak TV,” right? So sometimes when you pay for stuff,
things get better. We can imagine a hypothetical — (Applause) We can imagine a hypothetical world
of “peak social media.” What would that be like? It would mean when you get on,
you can get really useful, authoritative medical advice
instead of cranks. It could mean when you want
to get factual information, there’s not a bunch of weird,
paranoid conspiracy theories. We can imagine this wonderful
other possibility. Ah. I dream of it. I believe it’s possible. I’m certain it’s possible. And I’m certain that the companies,
the Googles and the Facebooks, would actually do better in this world. I don’t believe we need
to punish Silicon Valley. We just need to remake the decision. Of the big tech companies, it’s really only two that depend
on behavior modification and spying as their business plan. It’s Google and Facebook. (Laughter) And I love you guys. Really, I do. Like, the people
are fantastic. I want to point out, if I may, if you look at Google, they can propagate cost centers
endlessly with all of these companies, but they cannot propagate profit centers. They cannot diversify,
because they’re hooked. They’re hooked on this model,
just like their own users. They’re in the same trap as their users, and you can’t run
a big corporation that way. So this is ultimately totally
in the benefit of the shareholders and other stakeholders of these companies. It’s a win-win solution. It’ll just take some time
to figure it out. A lot of details to work out, totally doable. (Laughter) I don’t believe our species
can survive unless we fix this. We cannot have a society in which, if two people
wish to communicate, the only way that can happen
is if it’s financed by a third person who wishes to manipulate them. (Applause) (Applause ends) In the meantime,
if the companies won’t change, delete your accounts, OK? (Laughter) (Applause) That’s enough for now. Thank you so much. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How we need to remake the internet | Jaron Lanier

  1. No need to scroll anymore, here's a synopsis of the comments: "This guy is really smart. Nobody gets him but me. Our society is only based on looks and not a genius. This guy is a genius. I can understand what he's saying sorta so I'm a genius too, but will only state it in a way that makes me seem woke and eccentric, but totally not boasting though. I'm just really unique and smart like this guy. Society is stupid. The internet is stupid even though I'm like, on it, now. Social platforms for communication are stupid, even though I'm like, commenting on one of the main engines to outreach to other people, socially even, but I don't know enough about how the ACTUAL internet works to make a rational judgment rather than envisioning some dystopian fantasy future where cyber hippies will say things like 'Everybody is a sheep maaaaan', and also by commenting and boasting about who I believe I am in relation to this guy, am myself quite literally doing EXACTLY what this presentation is about, LITERALLY, on the EXACT google platform he's made several comments about, so I'm just gonna say whatever this guy said and ignore whatever applies to me".

  2. This video suggests falsely an idea that we are living in a scifi dystopia with handheld brain shackles. The issue is really the culture that promotes image and provokes bullies to target those individuals who can´t use an image, to take the image away as a punishment for braking the norms of the society. And the normals using the site to expand their image to get social acceptance. Facebook didn´t invent this. All schools have been like this forever. Facebook was founded on that culture and used new technology as a source of profit based on having a popular image, that is all. Taking down Facebook takes down the product, not the culture of image. Then there is the anonymous, profit-motivated companies, who push one-sided advertizement from the top down or produce whatever is most bought.

  3. My issue with payment is it could add to the “digital divide” many folks don’t have access to the internet because they can’t afford it. Many of the public libraries are closed in many urban areas. I’m somewhat concerned

  4. Been a fan of Jaron for over 20 years, and believe he is one of the most brilliant minds of our generation. And I believe wholeheartedly social media is having a profoundly negative impact on human discourse and relations.

  5. Makes no sense though, if you pay for it, who will be " it ". Google or Facebook, you will be paying for those 2 companies to give you what ever content they deem is worth to give to you. Maybe Amazon to ship you something, what about the million other web sites that are mom and pop stores that want to sell you something, you going to pay just to visit there web site? Who will decide which web site is the best, you going to browse 100 sites yourself to find something. No, i dont think so, Paying for "it " sounds good but it comes back to who "it is" and who decides what you should see, because the internet is WAY to big for you to see everything.

  6. I so much agree with him but too bad for me. 🙁 I work as a digital marketer, it's my bread and butter. How am I suppose to get away with the social medias? 🙁

  7. About behaviour modification, weeks ago I ran into a documentary made by Adam Curtis called "The century of the self". Check it out, it's eye-opening. Curious how the algorithms connected me from that to this, at least I've been manipulated in a positive (or what I think it is a positive) way! Anyway, dear Jaron Lanier, since you are a brilliant person with many things to say and to do in order to help change the course of our declining society, would you be so kind as to not die on us prematurely because of a heart disease connected to your overweight?? Could you take care of your health, please??

  8. Did behavior modification really just start with the internet?

    Is paying for things really going to change things, or is it just going to increase the cost for things that stay the same?

    Is it safe to say that I was manipulated to view this video by youtube?

  9. Ler o livro desse cara, 10 argumentos para vc deletar agora suas redes sociais foi essencial pra mim. Exclui meu Facebook e Instagram e agora percebi que nunca precisei deles realmente.
    Próximo passo, reduz o uso do YouTube tbm. Como ele mesmo cita nesse livro. Vou começar a usar youtube sem estar logada. Afim de evitar tantas recomendações que tbm me faz ficar horas presas aqui.
    Valeu cara, vc nem tem ideia do quanto me ajudou.

  10. Sometimes wonder why some music videos are watched 200 million times and this invaluable 15 min can hardly garner 150k views. We all seem conditioned in some or many ways.

  11. Was obsessed with VR since the early 90's and Jaron Lanier was the only person I found writing books on the subject, Thank you for all that you Do and for your love of HMD's:)

  12. Is that Steven Pinker in a blue suit, behine the two women, one in red the other in green-yellow, at the 3rd row of seats at 14:28, to the center-left of the screen, "near" Jaron Lanier?
    It's his doppleganger …

  13. Yes! This talk is much more powerful than the interviews I’ve seen, I think because of how the interviewers approach the topic. This was great!

  14. I say this guy needs to worry less about the internet and focus on his health. Does he expect anybody to take him seriously looking like that. I'm not just ignoring what he said because of his looks, but seriously, what's up with letting yourself go like that.

  15. Well, it's kinda silly to not take in account all the money and power these corporations hold and their ties to intelligence agencies, that are thriving on all the free and accessible personal data spontaniously given. The way things are done right now won't change. Ever.
    It's a cute little utopia tho. Much like univeversal basic income.

  16. This was actually very very informative and it’s very important that all human beings of the earth 🌍 know this vital information so moving forward let not be evil

  17. My 1st week on YT & FB.. I felt as a manipulated rat in a maze … I left FB soon after I signed up..But addicted to watching YT ..don’t like extremely weird irrelevant & disturbing posts they put on my feed .. social punishments& rewards by googleyoutube are arbitrary censorship & guideline violations manipulations

  18. DescriptionJaron Zepel Lanier is an American computer philosophy writer, computer scientist, visual artist, and composer of classical music. Considered a founding father of the field of virtual reality, Lanier and Thomas G. Zimmerman left Atari in 1985 to found VPL Research, Inc., the first company to sell VR goggles and gloves

  19. If we all agree to quit social media the companies will have no choice but to change their business model. Of course, this won't be accomplished all at once but if we slowly convert people into a new way of thinking it is a definite possibility that we can affect the change that is so needed right now.

  20. Delete my google? Easier said than done. I will be glad to pay for a better digital life. But what about the developing world who is not used to paying anything digital..

  21. Would it be possible for Facebook and Youtube to allow users to set their own prediction algorithm for a small fee? I don't want to see more of the same when I go to these platforms.

  22. 🤦🏻‍♂️ This guy fundamentally does not understand how Google actually works. The quality of search is driven by a massive number of clicks. If it becomes a subscription, the number of users massively drops and the quality of search will go down. It will become curated recommendations like apple news.

  23. This is Superb! so many nails hit on the head. The rule is don't trust any free media. Its all a huge con. pay for your content knowing your not being watched, scammed and manipulated. Its that simple, do yourself a favour and delete your Facebook, Twitter and Google accounts etc… and start a better journey now!

  24. Hope this guys gets his act together health-wise, so he doesn't die of a heart attack soon because we need people like him to be around for a long time.

  25. Thats is realy clever. We want ethrything to be free and we want to make many. And not notice that one thing contradicts another.

  26. Life is behavior modification way before tech was invented. TED wouldn't fit into society with or without tech. Social introvert staying inside not wanting to socialize.

  27. How can you say they're great people if they're literally working for this giant phage? Wouldn't great people would refuse to cooperate with it and do whatever they can to coherently fight against it? On the one hand, Google (and to a much less extent and worse result IMO Facebook) are enabling new forms of humanity. On the other hand, they've currently got us by our balls.

  28. I've been saying the Internet needs some order! It is such a great tool but it's being used in so many wrong ways. It's like how school teaches us things we never actually use rather then teaching us lessons about taxes etc.. It's just another system that you have to learn how to use for your own benefit rather then what is fed to you. There's so much spam and misinformation so the idea of paying for the net makes sense in some ways but then we have the issue of those who cannot afford I it, the same amount as others.. Thus it creates a class system within the system already. So the solution? Talks like this! Awareness, individual discipline and self control. Apps from legit sources of information so you can filter out all the garbage and/or trustworthy websites. This is why I have my own website to promote my work rather then sm so I can avoid the spam, the fake likes, the comments, the distractions. If people really want to contact me/generally interested in my work check my website where it is exactly what it is. No judgement on the amount of likes and follows, no way of knowing third party validation. Sm is another world and we can't change the world until we change ourselves

  29. It is a dream to hear you speak. You truly give hope that yes the same things that tearing us apart can be used to heal all if us in making real connections. Thank you for sharing your perspectives with such brilliant clarity.

  30. I find it harder to take Mr. Lanier seriously after learning about his association with the despicable Jeffery Epstein. Naturally he sought to distance himself from it but it’s apparent these Silicon Valley tech gurus keep some fast company.

  31. We need to end jewish occupation of internet with search engines controlled by hebrew monopolies instead we need a multipolar pro-human non–jewish world

  32. The gasps in the audience when he says google and facebook models are to manipulate and spy on their users. It's like the first time that kind of tech audience was told to their faces by one of their own. Love him. ❤

  33. The internet is the internet. Social media did not create the internet. Social media is the devils man made creation. Our 3rd World war.

  34. I have one payment?, I have to ask my wife how to spell a word, so if FBook still had spell check I would not have to ask, I suggested to my wife, I would pay 1 cent everytime I used it, then I found out grammar sugestions would be something I would payfor without thinking.

  35. If you think we only went off the rail in the 90's due to a couple of particular surface level choices…. you are naive and not going deep enough down the rabbit hole. I'm sure he is a tech genius but there are far deeper philosophical thoughts and ideas that go back centuries which shape society.

  36. think the dude is right : but stll …, all it needs is a hand full of ppl who are bad ..and you get total control and bad behavior promoted ,, like we c ,,

  37. Yeah, we need to peel off the layers of idiot boxes daily, get outside and away from all boxes. Them boxes manifest in myriad ways. Most spend too long in boxes within boxes…. Getting off the confuser, out of the box house/apartment, out of the car, out of the garage, off the 2 dimensional box of the grid, if possible, off the streets into a park, maybe, to a beach…

  38. But Zuckerberg and the rest of them ARE evil. They're not unaware and they don't think it was an innocent mistake in mankind's direction.

  39. This Guy is smart.
    However, there are smarter ones in our midst…waiting to pounce.
    They will always take from 'these Guys', and use it to do bad!
    They hover…then dive!

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