Encounter with Jaron Lanier

I had to deal with a difficult dilemma a couple of weeks ago: either being present to my friend Samad’s burial (he has been stabbed to death for his smartphone!) or meeting Jaron Lanier,  one of the fathers of Virtual Reality (he actually coined the term “Virtual Reality”).  Samad was all about giving the opportunity to young people to have access to new technologies. I am sure he would have approved my choice of going to Jaron Lanier’s inspirational talk. Although my heart was with Samad.
The talk was organised by Mel Salter, another VR pioneer, at UCL. My colleagues from the VR field at Goldsmiths were all there as well as many other scientists using VR in their research. The main incentive to organise the talk was to promote Jaron Lanier’s new book “Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality”.
Jaron went on with the talk following his book structure to present his thoughts about the potential of VR with a thesis, an antithesis and a synthesis. As Marco Gillies has written a thorough post on this, I will only give you a brief description.
Related image
Jaron Lanier with the VPL
From his childhood to an idealist young man, Jaron had always thought that natural language felt like a “beta version of communication”. What he saw in VR was an infinite game setup for a “post-Symbolic Communication”. He founded one of the first VR company called VPL in 1980s and made one of the first VR system consisting of a head-mounted display and datagloves.
Growing up, Jaron discovered behaviourism, a branch of psychology studying the potential to modify people behaviour by using devices.  Norbert Wiener, the inventor of cybernetics, was imagining a dystopian future where people’s behavior were programmed by using an interconnected device. Jaron Lanier saw how VR was also the ultimate behaviorist machine. (What Facebook has become today!)
One the one hand, VR is the most natural medium ever created, (all the arts can be done in VR) on the other hand, it has the means of controlling our behaviours.
He suggests that the way to approach this problem is to trust how the young generation adapts to new technologies and will not fall for it. (allusion to the virtual pit experiment)
Random comments:
  • The idea of considering AI more from a human-centered point of view
  • On the difference between education and mind control.
    – education needs practical awareness of what we learn
    – education is an infinite game so that you can adapt what you learn to your own goal, not someone else’s.
  • Human tails: ownership and control of extended humanoid avatars

    Human tails: ownership and control of extended humanoid avatars
  • VR and AR will actually make us more aware of reality, looking at it from a new perspective.
  • Rapid adaptation to non-human body in VR is realy cool. check the human tail experiment
 What an inspiring talk by such an influencer of the Metaverse!