Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, author, and composer.
As a writer:
Lanier is one of most celebrated technology writers in the world, and is known for charting a humanistic approach to technology appreciation and criticism.
He was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade in 2014. His book “Who Owns the Future?” won Harvard’s Goldsmith Book Prize in 2014.
His books are international best sellers. “Who Owns the Future?” was named the most important book of 2013 by Joe Nocera in The New York Times, and was also included in many other “best of” lists. “You Are Not a Gadget,” released in 2010, was named one of the 10 best books of the year by Michiko Kakutani, and was also named on many “best of year” lists.
He writes and speaks on numerous topics, including high-technology business, the social impact of technological practices, the philosophy of consciousness and information, Internet politics, and the future of humanism. In recent years he has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine, one of the 100 top public intellectuals by Foreign Policy Magazine, and one of the top 50 World Thinkers by Prospect Magazine.
His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Discover (where he has been a columnist), The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Harpers Magazine, Nature, The Sciences, Wired Magazine (where he was a founding contributing editor), and Scientific American. He has edited special “future” issues of SPIN and Civilization magazines.
As a technologist:
Lanier’s name is often associated with Virtual Reality research. He either coined or popularized the term ‘Virtual Reality’ and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products. In the late 1980s he led the team that developed the first implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted displays, as well as the first “avatars,” or representations of users within such systems. While at VPL, he and his colleagues developed the first implementations of virtual reality applications in surgical simulation, vehicle interior prototyping, virtual sets for television production, and assorted other areas. He led the team that developed the first widely used software platform architecture for immersive virtual reality applications.
Lanier has received honorary doctorates from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Franklin and Marshall College, was the recipient of CMU’s Watson award in 2001, was a finalist for the first Edge of Computation Award in 2005, and received a Lifetime Career Award from the IEEE in 2009 for contributions to Virtual Reality.
Lanier has been a founder or principal of four startups that were either directly or indirectly acquired by Oracle, Adobe, Google, and Pfizer. From 1997 to 2001, Lanier was the Chief Scientist of Advanced Network and Services, which contained the Engineering Office of Internet2, and served as the Lead Scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications for Internet2. The Initiative demonstrated the first prototypes of tele-immersion in 2000. From 2001 to 2004 he was Visiting Scientist at Silicon Graphics Inc., where he developed solutions to core problems in telepresence and tele-immersion. He was Scholar at Large for Microsoft from 2006 to 2009, and Interdisciplinary Scientist at Microsoft Research from 2009 forward.
In the sciences:
Jaron Lanier’s scientific interests include the use of Virtual Reality as a research tool in cognitive science, biomimetic information architectures, experimental user interfaces, heterogeneous scientific simulations, advanced information systems for medicine, and computational approaches to the fundamentals of physics. He collaborates with a wide range of scientists in fields related to these interests.
As a musician, Lanier has been active in the world of new “classical” music since the late seventies. He is a pianist and a specialist in unusual musical instruments, especially the wind and string instruments of Asia. He maintains one of the largest and most varied collections of actively played rare instruments in the world.
Lanier’s “Symphony for Amelia” premiered in October 2010 with the Bach Festival Orchestra of Winter Park, Florida. Other commissions include: “Earthquake!,” a ballet which premiered at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco in April, 2006; “Little Shimmers” for the TrioMetrik ensemble, which premiered at ODC in San Francisco in April, 2006; “Daredevil” for the ArrayMusic chamber ensemble, which was premiered in Toronto in 2006; a concert length sequence of works for orchestra and virtual worlds (including “Canons for Wroclaw,” “Khaenoncerto,” “The Egg,” and others) celebrating the 1000th birthday of the city of Wroclaw, Poland, premiered in 2000; a triple concerto, “The Navigator Tree,” commissioned by the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Composers Forum, premiered in 2000; and “Mirror/Storm,” a symphony commissioned by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and premiered in 1998. “Continental Harmony,” a PBS special that documented the development and premiere of “The Navigator Tree” won a CINE Golden Eagle Award. His CD “Instruments of Change” was released on Point/Polygram in 1994.
Lanier co-composed the soundtrack to “The Third Wave,” a documentary released in Sept. 2009 to critical acclaim after winning awards at film festivals around the world. Lanier’s work with acoustic “world” instruments can be heard on many other soundtracks as well, including a prominent role in “Three Seasons” (1999), which was the first film ever to win both the Audience and Grand Jury awards at the Sundance Film Festival.
Lanier has performed with artists as diverse as Yoko Ono, Philip Glass, Ornette Coleman, George Clinton, Sean Lennon, Vernon Reid, Ozomatli, Barbara Higbie, Terry Riley, Duncan Sheik, Pauline Oliveros, and Stanley Jordan.
Lanier’s paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe. In 2002 he co-created (with Philippe Parreno) an exhibit illustrating how aliens might perceive humans for the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. In 1994 he directed the film “Muzork” under a commission from ARTE Television. His 1983 “Moondust” (which he programmed in 6502 assembly) is generally regarded as the first art video game, and the first interactive music publication. He has presented installations in New York City, including the “Video Feedback Waterbed” and the “Time-accelerated Painting,” which was situated in the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage. His first one man show took place in 1997 at the Danish Museum for Modern Art in Roskilde. He helped make up the gadgets and scenarios for the 2002 science fiction movie Minority Report by Steven Spielberg.
The Encyclopedia Britannica (but certainly not the Wikipedia) includes him in its list of history’s 300 or so greatest inventors. The nation of Palau has issued a postage stamp in his honor. Various television documentaries have been produced about him. The 1992 movie Lawnmower Man was in part based on him and his early laboratory - he was played by Pierce Brosnan. He has appeared on national television many times, on shows such as “The Colbert Report,” “The News Hour,” “Nightline,” and “Charlie Rose,” and has been profiled multiple times on the front pages of The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.