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Who Owns the Future? summary - available in audiobook and text formats 13m 13s

Who Owns the Future?

Jaron Lanier

The “brilliant” and “daringly original” (The New York Times) critique of digital networks from the “David Foster Wallace of tech” (London Evening Standard)—asserting that to fix our economy, we must fix our information economy.


The Bottom Line

It’s time to reckon with a scary reality: The digital platforms we all use and love collect vast amounts of personal information that they can sell or exploit. Too much wealth and power is becoming concentrated among big tech companies — posing a serious threat to our private lives and capitalist economy.

I. Introduction

If you’ve got a social media account—and nearly 80 percent of Americans do—or if you use free online tools such as any of Google’s offerings, those digital platforms are collecting data on you—a lot of it. Maybe you know this and don’t care, thinking that you’ve got nothing to hide. But in Who Owns The Future?, computer scientist Jaron Lanier speculates on what could happen if we keep feeding these tech giants our personal information for free.

The process, he suggests, could prompt a recession when people are laid off by technology that could replace them. It could also create monopolies that control our behaviors. To avoid this fate, the public needs to rethink how it consumes information.

Currently, people allow centralized servers to gather data that can exploit their privacy or intellectual property. One way to counteract the danger, though, is to reward independent site owners by paying for information. Another is to demand that the digital giants compensate people for providing their information. If we don’t, artificial intelligence-driven tech companies will grow stronger, accumulating a nearly insurmountable amount of power and money along the way, putting many middle-class people out of work.

“People are gradually making themselves poorer than they need to be,” writes Lanier. “We’re setting up a situation where better technology in the long term just means more unemployment, or an eventual socialist backlash.”

II. The Impact on Our Economy

III. “Winner Take All” Makes Most of Us Losers

IV. Beware of Siren Servers

V. The True Cost of Free Services

VI. A More Humanistic Approach

VII. Actionable Steps to Take Now

The Takeaway


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