Picture credit: Jonathan Sprague
Individuals' personal data needs to be monetised if web service business models are to be sustained, otherwise we risk coming against an industry-wide "brick wall", computer scientist and Microsoft Research "scholar at large" Jaron Lanier has warned.
Speaking at The Economist's Technology Frontiers summit today, Lanier said that web companies such as Google are looking at "a very local and immediate kind of success at the expense of the long term," by failing to understand the future importance of making each and every person a paid-up, "fully first class citizen" of the digital age.
"If you make information free in a digital economy, eventually you'll cause unemployment, [economic ] contraction, and defeat yourself in the long term," said Lanier.
"We need to think about whether we're headed into a brick wall; we need to think a little differently and try to broaden our horizons," Lanier continued.
He explained that companies today that deal with vast global data sets are falsely "taking on the illusion of becoming a global optimiser" rather than looking realistically at monetary goals.
"You gain so much information about the world so rapidly, that you start to think in terms of globally changing the world, and this indeed is reflected in the slogans we make up for our companies," said Lanier. "Google's stated purpose is to organise the world's information, and Facebook's is to make the world more connected, or something like that."
As a result, said Lanier, "we're not growing the markets - we're not growing the economy. It creates a very local and immediate kind of success at the expense of long-term success."
Lanier described how current web companies, based on their fixation on being "market optimisers", are offering a "treat - search, social network etc. - in exchange for information". However, he said the chance of every company being able to optimise the market in such a way "a mathematical impossibility".
"The alternative," said Lanier, "is as plain as day. Make every participant on a network a full, first class citizen, who's paid for information that exists because they exist."
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