jaron-lanierJaron Lanier is a pioneer of the first commercially-available virtual reality systems with his VPL Research Inc startup that was founded in 1984. He has written a memoir called Dawn of the New Everything about his life leading up to and during his transition from a country hippie hacker to a over-stressed Silicon Valley CEO.


Lanier was inspired by painters like Hieronymus Bosch, musical instruments like the Theramin, mathematics, electronics, Ivan Sutherland’s pioneering work with the first virtual world head mounted displays, and more. He also wanted to transcend his social insecurities and anxieties to connect creating shared social VR spaces. VPL Research pioneered the commercial ‘Eyephone’ virtual reality head mounted display with tracking, haptic gloves, motion capture suits, 3D audio, and a cutting-edge virtual programming language. He was inspired by jazz to create technology that could enable mutual improvisation of communication and expression in what would feel like a shared dream in a waking state.

I had a chance to catch up with Lanier in Seattle, Washington on his book tour for Dawn of the New Everything, where we talked about highlights of his journey into VR, musical instruments as haptic devices, the tongue as an input device, and the body’s ability to embody a variety of different animal avatars.

He also shared some of his thoughts on why he thinks artificial intelligence is a fake construct as long as the focus is on AI as a super intelligent parasitic entity rather than merely a tool for humans. He shared some cautionary reflections on the dangers of the advertising-driven business models of Facebook, Google, and Twitter that are creating “massive behavior modification empires.” Lanier is a super humble guy, and his memoir is an interesting mix of impressionistic memories and reflections mixed in with technical deep dives and fifty-two definitions of virtual reality that explores the range of applications, metaphors, and unique affordances of this new medium.

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Dawn of the New Everything is a fascinating story that captures a key turning point in the history of VR, and is packed with some deep insights and visions for what’s possible from someone who is still madly in love and inspired by this new medium.

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  • nekrololi

    “He also shared some of his thoughts on why he thinks artificial
    intelligence is a fake construct as long as the focus is on AI as a
    super intelligent parasitic entity rather than merely a tool for humans” *damage control pr message to soothe the masses*

    • kool

      Isnt that exactly what ai is? Its being used as a tool to solve all kinds of problems. Its being used to find new planets and map the universe. Its being used to identify the 1000 compounds we can use to cure everything. Its being used to create a super efficient tokamak for fusion energy. Its a tool and thats where we should leave it. But the titan v will be put into everything including drones and killbots which is where John Connor will step in and save us right!

    • impurekind

      No, he just realizes that painting AI as this God-like self-sufficient super intelligent entity that’s ultimately going to destroy us all because of how superior to us it perceives itself is kinda a load of bull, and definitely with where it’s at right now and for the foreseeable future–technically there really is no true “AI” right now (it’s all just us tell computers what to do still and then the computer taking some big data and giving us and answer or result, but still with no real will of its own at all)–and that AI really is just a potentially great tool to help enrich out lives in many ways. And that’s all he’s saying.

      • RFC_VR

        The more frightening reality is not self aware AI that turns on humanity, but a group of bad actors using current AI or near future AI to attack specific targets, apply political change through social media or influence financial currencies.

        • impurekind

          Exactly: The people behind the AI–not the ones who create it but those who use it for their own nefarious ends (probably corporations, governments, banks, media moguls, rich elites and the like)–are far more of a present and future danger than any AI in and of itself.

  • impurekind

    Great stuff. Jaron too is one of the greats.