Amazon.com: You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto eBook: Lanier, Jaron: Kindle  StoreJaron Lanier (Author of Ten Arguments For Deleting Your Social Media  Accounts Right Now)

 

At the beginning of “You Are Not a Gadget”, Jaron Lanier starts by making a very clear statement regarding technology and people. Every media and technology affects each of us differently, as Lanier says a person is not a pat formula, but a quest, a mystery, a leap of faith. If we knew the answer to what seems to be an easy and straightforward question, “What is a person?” we would be able to program an artificial person on a computer, but we can’t. As this book goes on, Lanier explains the negative impacts that technology is having on our lives.

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While the improvement of modern technology has been revolutionary, not everything has been positive, there have been a few not so happy surprises. We, as humans, thought that if we empowered individuals, more good than harm would come. However, the central faith of the web’s early design has been put an end by the thought and idea that the internet is coming alive and turning into a superhuman creature. Lanier says that commercial success has been achieved by these technologies. Entrepreneurs started following a particular path and some started thinking that computers do everything while people do nothing. Some very big investments were made and young people started entering the online world for the first time and made themselves present on sites like Facebook. Commercial interests were promoted through blogs for example. Some of these entrepreneurs weren’t treated as the sources of their creativity, since these commercial sites were presented anonymously, and as Lanier puts it Commercial aggregation and abstraction sites presented anonymized fragments of creativity as products that might have fallen from the sky or been dug up from the ground, obscuring the true sources.

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Lanier goes on to talk about the web 2.0 and deemphasizing humans. The web 2.0 was the second stage of internet development. During this stage, web pages changed from static to dynamic or user-generated content. The web 2.0 is also characterized by the growth of social media. There are some issues regarding the web 2.0. For example, when we emphasize a crowd we are deemphasizing individuals, almost asking them not to be people and by doing so, they would start behaving disorderly. This also leads to an unfriendly online world where everyone behaves like a troll. Another issue with the web 2.0 is that there have been proposals to turn the world of science into a similar design, this would mean that scientists would understand less of what they do. Pop culture is now almost the same everywhere. People follow the same trends, listen to the same music, and watch the same movies. Before the web 2.0, we couldn’t share everything we do on social media so the world was more culturally diverse in these aspects. I personally believe that it is a pity how we have lost some of these cultural traditions.

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There is a rather crazy apocalyptic idea called “The Singularity”. This idea suggests that in some decades, computers and robots will be able to construct copies of themselves. These new copies will get better than the originals and previous copies because of intelligent software. This process will go on for some generations until one day these robots are in control. Some ideas might be true, at a very large scale of reality. Lanier says that it might be true that on some vast cosmic basis, higher and higher forms of consciousness inevitably arise, until the whole universe becomes a brain. If this were to happen, it would take thousands or even millions of years, this would mean humanity would evolve into a more wonderful state than we can imagine. If however, the Singularity was to take place, people would die in the flesh and uploaded into a computer were there would remain conscious or they would simply be annihilated an instant before a new super consciousness takes over the earth. Either of these events could never be verified by the living. This idea of computers taking over our lives is quite scary and seems more like science-fiction. However, if a person wasn’t there to experience this, would the computer even exist? If no one is there to interpret it, it wouldn’t mean anything.

At the dawn of political upheaval called the singularity - Omn...

The Turing Test was the first trope demonstrating that bits can come alive, almost an early artificial intelligence. During this test, a man and woman were sitting in separate rooms, they were asked to send letters to each other and then a judge had to decide who was who. After a while, the woman was replaced by a computer and the judge had to discover which was the computer. This test is still carried out today to see when a machine will finally be able to fool a person. Another example of this AI would be Deep Blue, a ‘computer chess player’. In 1997 Deep Blue defeated Gary Kasparov, a world chess champion. In some ways it is harder to play against a computer as it shows no emotion, you can see no bluff or hidden emotion. Playing poker against a computer would be particularly hard due to the above. This is a big issue concerning people and machines, as in some cases these computers have fooled or beaten people and if these machines were to get smarter, there would be some serious negative impacts on us.

Turing test - WikipediaKasparov Vs. Deep Blue

An anonymous and abusive person in an online environment would be called a ‘Troll’. Although we might believe that there is a very small ‘troll population’ within us, Lanier suggests that we have all been exposed to our inner troll some time or other. We are sometimes more of a passive troll. If we see that someone else’s post is being ridiculed, we might feel relieved because that means we are safe for the moment. Lanier also says that he has sometimes been a ‘troll’, he has gotten into some matches but has never found any benefit in them. He says that if you win anonymously, no one knows, and if you lose, you just change your pseudonym and start over, without having modified your point of view a bit. The troll is always anonymous and the target knows. Sometimes trolling has gotten out of hand and ended terribly.

We don’t just use pseudonyms for trolling, these are mainly used for writing comments. While on videos on YouTube comments of those with pseudonyms tend to be mean, on other platforms such as Amazon, people are a bit more civil and express their disappointment on products. But not everyone who comments using a pseudonym does so with bad intentions in mind, sometimes people are just trying to respect their privacy and anonymity on the web.

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Lanier expresses his concern about young generations, those growing up in a world filled with technology, digital natives as some might call them. These kids are growing up in a world where cybersecurity is a huge issue. Digital Citizenship is not so great anymore, as more and more people are not being responsible when using technology and sometimes an individual’s ethical and legal approach concerning the use of IT systems is not particularly responsible or acceptable. People and machines is also a growing issue as while IT systems might bring huge advantages, they can also be potentially hazardous when not used responsibly. Some people fear that future systems will be programmed to make decisions that would be better taken by humans, a point that Lanier clearly refers to. There are also social impacts regarding this technology such as Internet addiction, a growing concern. People are addicted to their devices and this has led to some serious issues.

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Sabine Hossenfelder analyses Lanier’s book and expresses her views on the topics Lanier refers to. One of the concerns she refers to is the present organization of the internet and the spread of easy-to-use templates as well as making money through advertisement. Hossenfelder agrees with the fact that this availability of templates has decreased expressions of individual designs. If everyone is using the same templates, everyone’s website will look the same. However, this availability of templates has helped a lot of people set up a website in the first place, which is a rather complicated task.

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Hossenfelder also refers to using knowledge in large groups, like in Wikipedia. Hossenfelder claims that this statement Lanier makes is not very insightful. While I have to agree with Hossenfelder, I also think that Lanier gets his point across well. We don’t know where our information is coming from, or who wrote it. Wikipedia tends to be an example of this group knowledge, anyone can edit it and some information might be biased or incorrect. Lanier says that this is not only the case with Wikipedia but also holy books, such as the Bible, it was written by many authors and we can’t be sure who wrote what. However, we tend to believe what is written on here more than something that might be written on Wikipedia because of our faith, but that is a different topic.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds also writes a review, “Caught in the Web” where he expresses his thoughts and views. He makes a good point when he explains Lanier’s statement about how pop culture has turned into mashups of the culture that existed before. Reynolds explains how if individuals aren’t rewarded for log-term hard work, which is what’s needed to achieve true excellence, not all of them will put in the effort as you will get the same results by simply remixing what’s already there.

I also agree with Reynolds when he implies that social media is not all bad as it has brought ‘non-geeks’ into the computer world. Lanier is missing this point as he talks more about the negative impacts it’s having on us and how everyone is following the same trends, liking the same things, and following the same people.

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Reynolds also argues against Lanier when he talks about new templates for web pages. While a lot of new web pages might look similar, this has allowed a lot of people to express their views and opinions. This book was written in 2010, so some aspects of the internet have changed and improved quite a lot over the past decade. Reynolds refers to Myspace, which is an unknown social media platform for most teens. It is impressive to see that in just ten years it has been forgotten and replaced by other platforms.

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Reynolds concludes by challenging Lanier’s main point, he says that indeed we aren’t gadgets, but looks at it from a different perspective, by saying that the internet and what’s published on it, has all been done through human activity. The internet is easily accessible to a lot of people and makes up a huge part of our lives. While Reynolds doesn’t touch upon this, there are a few issues regarding equality of access and digital divide here. While the internet is accessible to a lot of people, it doesn’t reach everybody due to cost, availability, geographical location, etc. This raises the issue of equality of access and a digital divide being created due to a lot of people not being able to access technology and the internet due to the reasons mentioned before.

Digitalisation: Infographics on the digital divide

While I agree with a few of the points that Lanier makes, I also believe that technology has had a positive impact on our lives, we have access to more information, it’s easy to work and we can communicate quickly with a lot of people around the world. During COVID, having access to the internet and technology was a huge, and very important, advantage. We could work remotely from home, call our teachers and colleagues whenever we needed to, and had access to a lot of important information. However, it was good when we were finally out as human contact is needed for good relationships, and being on our own for three months, we really needed to get out there and leave technology for a while.

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Here’s the original review by Sabine Hossenfelder

http://backreaction.blogspot.com/2010/08/book-review-you-are-not-gadget-by-jaron.html

Here’s the original review by Glenn Harlan Reynolds

https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052748703652104574652341134015738

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