Who Owns The Future?

Who Owns the future?


The Internet’s major players tend to share a similar business plan (when they do have a business plan), or at least have much in common. They offer some service for free. Eg : Google,facebook, tumblr, reddit, twitter etc. Majority of the content created on these platforms is user generated. Along with the content the platforms also track people who are visiting their website and use the data they collect to sell to forward.


Most obvious revenue stream from this data comes from advertisers who are using it to better target their audience but more interesting situation can also arise for eg banks and insurance companies use big data correlations to determine who and under what conditions to offer credit and insurance to consumers. Its these sorts of correlations that give an unfair advantage to organizations that have access to this data. Lanier refers to companies that operate this way as Siren Servers: “Siren Servers gather data from the network, often without having to pay for it. The data is analyzed using the most powerful available computers, run by the very best available technical people.


The problem with having Siren servers is that it centralises the majority of power and wealth. For example At the height of their  power, kodak was 140,000 people. Snapchat employs ~30.


As it is now, most of the Internet is set up for only one-way linking. Lanier calls his two-way linking system a Nelsonian network in homage to the man who first came up with the idea: Ted Nelson. In a network with two-way links, each node knows what other nodes are linked to it – you’d know all the websites that point to yours… you’d know all the videos that used your music. Two-way linking would preserve context and also create a structure necessary for compensation and accreditation.


With a two-way linking system, each person can remain the proprietary holder of any data that originates with them , and sell this data directly to other people and companies. Fede from the year before us made a go of this.


The alternative is to pay people directly for their contributions to the information economy, and preserve capitalism. Lanier argues we must find a way to the latter option.


Laniers Solution :


Monetize information and create a micro/nanopayment system to directly credit the user and creator of the data.  If data is used by a market prediction algorithm then a payment proportional to the degree of contribution and the value generated will be due to the person. This alters the current paradigm by arguing that user created data entitles them to remuneration for it. Encouraging people to contribute more to the information economy.


Lanier seems to be trying to reach a pragmatic middle ground between the current hierarchy of the information economy and those that are calling for a more horizontal structure like that of the open source movement .


His solution consists of:

  • Two-way linking: A method to keep track of where information is coming from and to whom it is going.  Each person can remain the proprietary holder of any data that originates with them, and sell this data directly to other people and companies.


  • The role of companies and corporations shifting focus more on endeavors that need mass coordination and mass capital.


  • Centralised Governance : “the only way to create a distribution of clout on a digital network that isn’t overly centralized, so that middle classes and a maximally competitive marketplace can exist, is to be honest about the existence of top-down dynamics from the start / We should… be thinking at least partially in a top-down way about making sure that the information that should be monetized is monetized. This might rub a lot of people the wrong way; bottom-up, self-organizing dynamics are so trendy. But while accounting can happen locally between individuals, finance relies on some rather boring agreements about conventions on a global, top-down basis. If you repudiate that way of thinking, you make it a lot harder to build up the replacements for the failing levees of the middle class”

Overall, if things keep going the way the are now the middle class will all but disappear and the majority of wealth will be in the control of a few. He adds that his solution  is just a hypothesis and a lot of glitches will need to be ironed out as implemented. However, this could ultimately be the most practical solution.

Interesting points


  • Jaron’s main argument is that without the levees / tolls / taxes / hard-faught victories serving as buttresses for the middle class in America, there will be no middle class.

  • Current trajectory spells semi-near-term hyper-unemployment.

  • Tech is destroying more jobs than it creates – example : at height of power, kodak was 140,000 people. Snapchat is like 20.

  • Current tech paradigm doesn’t treat humans beings as special or sacrosanct.

  • More forward free information and financial insecurity for everyone, or paid information with a stronger middle class

  • “Ordinary people ‘share’, while elite network presences generate unprecedented fortunes”

  • We won’t survive if we gut the country of paying positions in transportation, manufacturing, energy, office work, education, and health care” – all of which are reasonable targets for tech disruption.

  • “Digital Information is Really Just People in Disguise”

  • The improvements that happen in AI are improvements built from data that we contribute – and aught to be rewarded for

  • The internet needn’t be purely a facilitator for copying, the idea that “information wants to be / is free” is at its core extractionary. Contributing ideas or information or content and not being compensated for it is destroying jobs.

  • Links didn’t have to go one way. while two way connections are more difficult, they would facilitate systems that encourage recognition of sources and reasonable recompense.

  • Zero-liability is a real thing in HFT

  • PG 89 “I wish children could experience earning money online today, but that is harder to do than starting lemonade stands”

  • Teachers and academics celebrating the disruptions of other industries should watch their backs, as prices for tuition rise and “free” or cheap online alternatives continue to spring up and spread.

  • “Siren servers are narcissists ; blind to where value comes from”

  • A big problem with using algorithms to sort



  • The book seems really US Heavy, and doesn’t begin to address how these things might play out in the rest of the world. The book still assumes some degree of agency – access to computers or whatever. Leaves a lot of people behind.

  • One example where this isn’t true is the “on the world stage… no one expects twitter to help reate jobs in cairo”

    • Jaron doesn’t seem to believe in autonomous social network ecology in the context of social movement. I understand his fatigue from back-patting about social networking, but am not sure since I could observe some changes from that. (Even though it didn’t change anything in the big picture, these changes gave some experiences about making change to people)


  • Book is lite on data and strong on anecdote. We get it –  Jaron was present and participating in some glorious and formative times, but the graphs and charts are hand-drawn. I don’t disagree with his points re: local maxima and and optimal settings in complex scenarios or networks, but take this book in comparison to all the charts and graphs in Kurzweil’s singularity book, and Lanier’s hand-drawn charts and graphs feel a bit light.


  • He owns the fact that it takes a leap to imagine the places between where we are now and where he imagines us being. His proposed future of micropayments – the updated seagull on the beach scenario – lacks a certain plausibility. Did we/you feel this when reading his original beach scenarios (no access to water but able to “share”, etc..)


  • All that said, the premise is sound. The problem is legit and micropayments are an interesting vehicle towards reclaiming the wealth presently being siphoned off by “siren servers”. We’re collectively interested in exploring the gradient / the awkward and imperfect middle?

Project Proposal.


Build dogeCoin Micropayments into my thesis : comicdrop.com will attempt to address Jaron’s wish – “I wish children could experience earning money online today, but that is harder to do than starting lemonade stands”


ComicDrop is A Browser-Based Space for People, and Kids, to Collaborate on Comics.


Users can contribute stickers, which are then free for everyone to use and collage into their panels and stories.


I’m interested in exploring methods of compensating people for their content in altCoins, specifically dogeCoin.


Real Problems


Carbon footprint is problem. altCurrencies spring up to potentially address this. what happens to/with peerCoin?

Two way linking – difficult to do and potentially a tricky database problem(?). Need to talk with people who know more than I do about relational databases and how to make a thing like this really work.


Drug and illicit trade stuff is a (perceptual?) problem. The Silk Road is dead, but can  altCoins escape links to negative press) The Jamacian Bobsled Team is school-safe, buttttt anonymous currencies are kinda shady, no joke.

(some) taxes are good ( i.e. we need roads for lemonade stands). How does this stuff get taxed.


Deflationary currencies are (probably) bad (because people horde shit, for sure)


Bitcoin just reproduces “traditional” currency – and it’s problems – From Rushkoff’s book – the market cap creating artificial scarcity.


Something that is “not capitalist money?”  rushkoff said this – bitcoin being capitalist money, and I think we deserve to examine it more closely.


How do you make a currency that by design is encouraged to be spent and not hoarded(Inflationary vs. deflationary. Corn vs Gold). Is there any value in that? dogeCoin has no fixed Cap. Does this go far enough?


Does the altCoin marketplace generate a degree of validity – aka… I can transfer bitCoins into dogeCoins and vice-versa… one acts as a more permanent store of value (bitcoin = gold) and one acts as a more flexible everyday unit of exchange (dogeCoin = Corn)

4 thoughts on “Who Owns The Future?”

  1. So his main point is to take the un-monetized stuff (or the de-monetized stuff) and find a way to monetize it again. Kind of misses the whole other side of the equation, which would be making everything free.

    I guess he never considers that part – except where he makes sure we know he’s not a communist, right? I mean, he was there when it was all shareware. Although I guess he was the guy over at VPL doing VR as proprietary systems.

    As for the project idea, sure – I would want to see if there’s some buy-in, though. We need to create a second section in the main list of posts for project/experiment ideas.

    The ‘problems’ section is back to Lanier, or building on the project?

  2. Ted Nelson spoke at PS1 during the summer about his work and hopes for the internet:

    I also went to see Jaron speak at NYPL in Dec here are some highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C4kmCrfbOvw

    What I found particularly of note in his presentation was:
    -Consideration, consciousness, diversity (are necessary)
    -Criticize the same use by all people, not the individual use
    -Information is real/ physical, there are just many interpretations
    -Everyone wants to be closest to the biggest computer, because the biggest computer equals the most power
    -Info obsession is created by inconsistent feedback, like a lab animal
    -Big data created by the people who contributed to it, paying people to access their info will help rebuild the middle class
    -Libraries are the last places to learn unobserved (***this is only true as compared to say your online searches being tracked)
    -Social media tapping into need of social standing offers same animalistic feedback, however this changes the space of interaction drastically whereby those who have very specific and unique interests don’t have a place (specialty forums have progressively decreased as places like FaceBook have increased in popularity)
    -Understand it for what the space is, not just accepting it for it’s category
    -Skill set acquisition is necessary
    -Micro payments necessary
    -Music and physical interaction as a whole is more vast than the digital world can currently offer
    -Consumers of digital media just as obsessed with those who have “big data” that think they have true and essential info which in reality has a brief lifespan
    -World dominated by geeks?
    -Online learning will law curve education, and by brand the Harvard’s and Standford’s will still be on top, however the culture that is created by attending places such as these could never be created online

    I agree that right now the trouble is in being able to have the power to monazite in the way that we wish, not the way it’s being dictated to us.

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