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Published: June 28, 2013

 
 

Share the Digital Wealth

It’s hard to say how much of the present-day economy is based on taste instead of need, since, as Abraham Maslow pointed out, the line shifts. At the very least, not only entertainment, but titanic industries like cosmetics, sports and recreation, tourism, design, fashion, hospitality, dining, hobbies, grooming, cosmetic surgery, and the majority of the activities of geekdom ought to count as “tastes” that have turned into needs as far as commerce is concerned.

All of these industries, whether they are construed as answering wants or needs, would remain monetizable in the terms of humanistic computation no matter how advanced technology gets. When home robots make other home robots that sew dresses from designs found online, then either the fashion business will be demonetized or not, depending on whether the accounting is complete. In a humanistic information economy, accounting will be complete, and people will continue to make their livings as fashion designers, fashion photographers, and fashion models, and will achieve dignity.

In a humanistic digital economy, the economy will be more ambient, and designers will still make a living, even when a dress is sewn in a home by a robot. Someone who wears the dress well might also make a little money inadvertently by popularizing it.

There will also presumably be new wants/needs appearing on the horizon into the future without end. Who can say what they will be? In addition to recipes to be mixed by artificial glands, there might be genetic modifications to make space travel more enjoyable, or neural patterns to excite special capabilities in your brain, such as an increased aptitude for math.

Whatever may come, if the control of it can be transmitted on a network as information, then there will be a choice about whether to monetize that information. Even if the idea of money becomes obsolete, the choice will remain of whether the distribution of clout and influence will be centralized or proximate to the people who are the origin of value. That choice will remain the same no matter which science fiction technologies come about.

If the answering of wants or needs is to be instead demonetized except for the central, all-seeing Siren Server, then both capitalism and democracy will gradually grind to a halt with the advancement of digital technology.
 

Excerpted with permission of Simon & Schuster, a division of Simon & Schuster Inc. Copyright © 2013 by Jaron Lanier.  

 
 
 
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The Reviewer

  1. George Dyson is a science historian and author. His books include Darwin among the Machines: The Evolution of Global Intelligence (Addison-Wesley, 1997) and Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe (Pantheon, 2012), which was reviewed by strategy+business in Autumn 2012. He is a frequent contributor to the Edge Foundation.

This Book

  1. Who Owns the Future? (Simon & Schuster, 2013), by Jaron Lanier
  2. Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, and visual artist. In the 1980s, he founded VPL Research, the first company to sell virtual reality products, and he is currently a partner architect at Microsoft Research. Lanier is also the author of You Are Not a Gadget (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). Time magazine named him one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2010. 
 
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