Jaron Lanier – Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality


Bodley Head, ISBN-13: 978-1847923530, English, 368 pages, 2017, USA

In the early 1990s Jaron Lanier was one of the most interviewed “alternative” celebrities, and quickly appointed as “virtual reality guru” after his important company VPL was founded ten years before. VPL developed various products, including a functional head-mounted display (the ”EyePhone”), putting it into action after twenty years of scientific experiments, and the DataGlove, a technological glove to allow gestural human-computer interface, which led to Lanier contributing to the Power Glove, produced and commercialised as a game interface by Nintendo. A true media hype surrounded VR at that time, but it quickly disappeared with its commercial failure. Almost thirty years later there’s an acknowledged resurgence of VR, led by plenty of huge investments ranging from Apple to China’s government. So this sort of autobiography provides a useful historical background. Lanier, currently employed by Microsoft Research, issues over fifty (numbered) different “definitions” of VR throughout the book. Probably the most daring one is that VR is the “anti-AI”, because it is meant to develop human-centred content, while AI is meant to develop human-deprived ones. Lanier’s personal stories intertwine with the development of technology, and in his ending “manifesto” he remains loyal to his original mottoes: he calls for a humanist approach, for being a protagonist of the VR development instead of being passive, and to pay attention to the pivotal moment when the VR visual will become trickily realistic. After so long they’re still valid.