The Gory Antigora by Jaron Lanier
The Gory Antigora by Jaron Lanier
_Contrast software with biological information, such as the information encoded in DNA, which can frequently be changed slightly with results that are also only modified slightly. A small change in a genotype will infrequently make a phenotype absolutely unviable; it will usually effect either no change or only a tiny change. All people have different genes, but few people have serious birth defects. That smoothness in the relationship of change in information to change in physicality is what allows the process of evolution to have a meaningful signal with which to drive incremental adaptation, despite the inevitably noisy nature of reality. Small changes in computer software, by contrast, too frequently result in crashes or glitches that teach observers nothing and cannot support smooth adaptation. The way I put this succinctly is that “Software Sucks.”
…Human cognition has been finely tuned in the deep time of evolution for continuous interaction with the world. Demoting the importance of timing is therefore a way of demoting all of human cognition and physicality except for the most abstract and least ambiguous aspects of language, the one thing we can do which is partially tolerant of timing uncertainty. It is only barely possible, but endlessly glitchy and compromising, to build Virtual Reality or other intimate conceptions of digital instrumentation (meaning those connected with the human sensory motor loop rather than abstractions mediated by language) using architectures like UNIX or Linux. But the horrible, limiting ideas of command line systems are now locked-in. We may never know what might have been. Software is like the movie “Groundhog Day,” in which each day is the same. The passage of time is trivialized.
…The degree to which human, or “natural” language is unlike computer code cannot be overemphasized. Language can only be understood by the means of interpretation, so ambiguity is central to its character, and is properly understood as a strength rather than a weakness. Perfect precision would rob language of its robustness and potential for adaptation. Human language is not a phenomenon which is well understood by either science or philosophy, and it has not been reproduced by technologies. Computer code, by contrast, is perfectly precise and therefore immune to influence from context; and therefore it lacks any deep sense of meaning. Code is nothing but a conveyance of instructions that are either followed perfectly or not at all.
…A completely open system is also easy to design. The original Napster was an example. Completely open systems have their own problems. The usual criticism is that content creators are disincentivized, but the deeper problem is that their work is decontextualized. Completely open music distribution systems excel at either distributing music that was contextualized beforehand, such as classic rock, or new music that has little sense of authorship or identity, like the endless Internet feeds of bland techno mixes. (Yes, I’m making a value judgment here. One must.) _
…The most attractive designs, from the point of view of either democratic ideals or the profit motive, would have intermediate qualities; they would leak, but only a little. A little leakage greatly reduces the economic motivation for piracy as well as the cost of promotion. A little leakage gives context to and therefore enhances the value of everything. Alas, it is hard to get desirable intermediate effects with digital systems…
Like most geniuses, his ideas outpace his ability to communicate them, but they still stretch the mind and challenge very broadly accepted assumptions.