The godfather of virtual reality has worked beside the web’s visionaries and power-brokers – but likes nothing more than to show the flaws of technology. He discusses how we can make AI work for us, how the internet takes away choice – and why he would ban TikTok
Jaron Lanier, the godfather of virtual reality and the sage of all things web, is nicknamed the Dismal Optimist. And there has never been a time we’ve needed his dismal optimism more. It’s hard to read an article or listen to a podcast these days without doomsayers telling us we’ve pushed our luck with artificial intelligence, our hubris is coming back to haunt us and robots are taking over the world. There are stories of chatbots becoming best friends, declaring their love, trying to disrupt stable marriages, and threatening chaos on a global scale.
Is AI really capable of outsmarting us and taking over the world? “OK! Well, your question makes no sense,” Lanier says in his gentle sing-song voice. “You’ve just used the set of terms that to me are fictions. I’m sorry to respond that way, but it’s ridiculous … it’s unreal.” This is the stuff of sci-fi movies such as The Matrix and Terminator, he says.