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A Conversation with Jaron Lanier

50 minutes, 40 seconds


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Jaron Lanier is an extraordinary individual. He is the father of virtual reality, a forceful pundit for "software humanism," an accomplished musician, a philosopher, and a Microsoft Partner Architect working on cloud computing problems in the Extreme Computing group. For three years, Jaron was a Scholar at Large, providing valuable technical input to the Live Labs folks. And he was also a technical consultant for the wildly popular science fiction film, Minority Report(which, of course, contained a heavy dose of virtual reality). 

Jaron has strong opinions on a variety of topics related to software and its fundamental purpose of benefiting humanity (we often forget that software is for people, first and foremost). Also, he is probably one of the harshest critics of Web 2.0 and the current state of the Internet. One of the great things about Jaron is that he doesn't merely criticize and rant; rather, in his critiques he offers well-thought-out solutions to very complicated problems. This is a very admirable trait.

Jaron was in town a few days ago, and I had the privilege of chatting with him about a variety of interesting topics, including his interest in virtual reality, his ideas on "post symbolic communication," software development futures for large scale programming (Jaron's ideas on what he calls phenotropic programming are mind blowing), mathematics in the universe, lack of privacy on the Internet, the problem with Google and Facebook, music, his new book, You Are Not a Gadget, and more. This is a great conversation with a true iconoclast. We will have Jaron on C9 again. There is much more to talk about.



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  • Joshua RossJoshRoss Drinking Ovaltine since 2004

    There is something enjoyable about listening to polymaths talk around issues. There were many interesting ideas hit in this interview and I cannot help smiling when hearing Jaron laugh. I'm going to have to listen to this again and keep a notepad within reach to jot some of this down.


    I also liked the multiple camera shots and editing with this.



  • AuxonRichard.Hein Read it: ​http://bitc​oin.​org/bitcoin.​pdf

    Big Smile  Great discussion.  I imagine 3D printers printing programs, in geometrically appealling configurations which act as the hardware and the user interface.  The programs being purely functional, do not change, however, projecting an image of the execution unto and within a transparent 3D object, and allowing a user to touch, drag, interact with the "light cursor" inside the model, executing the functions where touch is applied, or sound interacts, like a musical instrument but not like we've seen before.  Being a purely functional language, execution may occur in any order.  The infinite within the finite.  3D models can be sold, traded, etc..., and joined with other 3D models.  To represent 4D concepts and for mathematics, this would be great, for example, model the unit circle to perform trig or calculus.  Some models may allow you to reconfigure the 3D shape to rewrite the program, but first it would be immutable, based on current technology.


  • This blows my mind dude.   Expressionless


    This guy must be teetotal because he seems to have all his braincells intact plus some extra ones to boot.

  • Pure awesome. Many thanks Charles et al for making this happen! Smiley

  • Ryan M Morganarrownuke me and my girl

    Wow - what a pleasure. It's so hard to find topics and interviews of this caliber - thanks a lot, everyone.

  • Great stuff!  Phenotropic programming and post symbolic communication deserve an episode each, and try to get Meijer and Beckman to join the discussion.

  • Bent Rasmussenexoteric stuck in a loop, for a while

    Needs to be watched twice. A great interview. Smiley

  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change

    Indeed. I sense an E2E in the future with Jaron. That would be quite spectacular.


  • now that was a great interview!!

  • Joshua RossJoshRoss Drinking Ovaltine since 2004

    From my understanding of post symbolic communication, it seems that it would only be applicable to a limited static domain. Where everything that can be expressed has been. Even in this domain, one cannot escape the very real and still symbolic results of Kolmogorov complexity. That is, in order to describe something completely without depending on external assumptions as to what constitutes what, you need to be very verbose, by symbolic communication era standards.


    Plus, you still need a machine to instantiate whatever it is that you are trying to express.

  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change

    Michael O'Neill is a master director/producer. We're lucky to have him working for Channel 9. When I walked into the studio before this was filmed, Michael said "let's shoot this differently", to which I replied "do your thing, man". He did and this is what resulted. Thank you, Michael.


    Also, kudos to Nic Fillingham for suggesting that I interview Jaron.


    Glad you are enjoying this. I'm really glad Jaron works for Microsoft (thanks to Sinofsky and Ozzie, plus, as Jaron said, our openness as a company - something we do not get enough credit for...).



  • Nice interview, I like the new suttle camera angles to, just don't overdo them if you decide to do more  Smiley

    btw Charles, can't someone please fix the silverlight player in Chrome, I just upgraded silverligt to 4 where it's supposed to be supported, but the seek still don't work well in Chrome, the new player used elsewhere on ms sites works great, but not on C9. Also, it would be great if you could redesign the media download and rating buttons, they are too hard to see and many people don't realise they are there.

  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change

    Hi Robert,


    Thanks for the feedback. I will see to it that the dev team look into the seek issues with our SL player on Chrome. In terms of your requested changes, you will be pleased with what we've come up with for the next release...



  • rhmrhm

    Finally got round to watching this one. Of course I've heard of Jaron Lanier in the context of VR - had no idea he was working for Microsoft now, and the reason behind it. That's pretty damn cool.


    And I'm happy to hear someone else who's so exasperated by people continuing to re-invent the wheel with Unix and other things. I can't blame people for building something that's useful to a well understood recipie, but if you've got the free time on your hands to build something from scratch as an open-source project, how about doing something that hasn't been done before?! If you're going to build an OS, how about a truely object oriented one for example? Lets get away from the simplistic ideas of flat files and heirarchies and processes. Anyway, that's my rant on the subject Smiley

  • Sohail Qayum MalikAeon Sohail Qayum Malik

    Nice conversation, really inspirational. I've included this talk in the list of few talks, I often hear.


    Thank you.

  • Thanks, I am really impressed by the openness of MS of which C9 plays a huge part. As Jaron says, that's the reason he joined, stay honest and keep it up.

  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change

    Thank you. And we will, Robert. We're Channel 9.  Open, honest, dare I say transparent, replaces amino acids in our genome,


  • bryaneddsbryanedds An ​individuali​st is he who is saving himself from all those who are saving the world.

    I've been thinking about how badly imperative programming tends to scale. But we can't forget about the added machine efficiency of going imperative. Perhaps once it becomes necessary to program to multiple cores in the general case, abstracting over the physical machine with lambda programming will become more viable in my domain (embedded development). Maybe then my partners won't yell at me for using functional programming and immutability idioms in our C++ code base.


    That will be the day.

  • Joshua RossJoshRoss Drinking Ovaltine since 2004

    As a side note, it looks like MSN picked Jaron as one of the smartest people.

  • CharlesCharles Welcome Change

    Very cool. Too bad Bing doesn't pick it up (well, this interview, anyway - from the Smartest People Bing advertisement....). Thanks for the link!


  • Couldn't bite much. But whatever did, had to be bitten still harder to really enjoy the byte.

    Jaron... I just dropped the hat.


    Please visit



    (And no prizes if you could guess it)

    And bite and chew and digest a few things. And help me bite some. Smiley
    Big Smile

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