In "Dawn of the New Everything," computer scientist / musician Jaron Lanier reveals through this biographical account of his innovative startup VPL Research his deep philosophical approach to the digital revolution. Lanier goes beyond his "Who Owns The Future", (2014) and its insightful understanding of the shortcomings of Silicon Valley's social media business models. He skewers the contradictions inherent in Facebook (FB), Google (GOOGL), Twitter (TWTR) and similar business models based on advertising and selling their users' personal information. Lanier proposes that every single bit and pixel uploaded by users be paid for, which is feasible with existing software.
In "Dawn of the New Everything" he amplifies these critiques of digital age companies in similar terms to the 2017 Congressional hearings. Angry legislators demanded to know how and why Russian's KGB- trained hackers were able to weaponize the platforms of Facebook, Twitter and Google to influence the US 2016 election to favor Donald Trump and malign Hillary Clinton, Putin's arch enemy.
Author Lanier foresaw all the backlash against the former Silicon Valley darlings and points out that such social media with their billions of users cannot be a genuine neutral "public square" trusted for information-sharing while funded by advertising and selling their users' personal data. Lanier discusses alternatives now debated publicly to protect users and their privacy. Meanwhile he questions how digitalization destroys millions of jobs in music, media, retail, manufacturing and professional services from translating to legal and medical providers. Lanier's alternatives include universal basic incomes (UBI) as jobs can no longer provide purchasing power and aggregated demand to today's mature consumer economies. He foresees regulating these social media giants as the news organizations they are in reality, or turning them into public utilities.
Lanier offers in this page-turning account of his personal journey as a pioneer of the digital age economy, including as Chief Scientist at Microsoft (MSFT). He brings his deeper philosophy to illuminate our public choices on how to utilize computers, social media, virtual reality, artificial intelligence and robots to create better quality of life for humanity. He is also clear about the pitfalls and misuse of these addictive information technologies and their power to dominate human minds, sway our beliefs, confuse our decision-making and become totalitarian nightmares.
A spate of critics are now examining these dystopias, including "Weapons of Math Destruction" (2017), "Irresistible" (2017) and "The Darkening Web" (2017). Lanier emerges as the preeminent public intellectual of Silicon Valley.
In the "The Hacking of the American Mind", Dr. Robert Lustig, Professor of pediatrics at the University of California and former US Public Health official goes even deeper than Lanier. Lustig describes in anatomical detail how addictive technologies from phones, tablets and TV to marketing, branding and advertising affect the human brain. Lustig describes the brain's neural pathways and their responses via hormonal changes in dopamine, serotonin, cortisol, testosterone and oxytocin. He describes how addictive substances including those in foods, can cause dependency and how humans can change and distort our behavior in response.
Dr. Lustig's first foray into these critiques of mass industrial marketing is his best seller, "Fat Chance" (2013) which examines sugar, salt and fats as addictive substances and indicates sugar as the worst for human health. In "The Hacking of the American Mind, Lusting extends this challenge to the entire industrial food sector and how it has depleted the nutritional value of most packaged, canned and processed foods.
These two books are engrossing, enlightening and call for a re-design of these large sections of the US economy. Both books examine the heavy costs hidden in these sectors of our economy and also assesses these costs in loss of autonomy, critical reasoning faculties as well as public costs of food-induced illnesses from diabetes and obesity to dementia. Uncomfortable but vital reading for asset managers in SRI, ESG and Impact Investing, as well as many others more interested in their own health and wellbeing.
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