In "Digital Maosim", an original essay written for Edge, computer scientist
and digital visionary Jaron Lanier finds fault with what he terms the new
online collectivism. He cites as an example the Wikipedia, noting that
"reading a Wikipedia entry is like reading the bible closely. There are faint
traces of the voices of various anonymous authors and editors, though it is
impossible to be sure".
His problem is not with the unfolding experiment of the Wikipedia itself, but
"the way the Wikipedia has come to be regarded and used; how it's been
elevated to such importance so quickly. And that is part of the larger pattern
of the appeal of a new online collectivism that is nothing less than a
Edge; DIGITAL MAOISM: The Hazards of the New Online Co…
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resurgence of the idea that the collective is all-wise, that it is desirable to
have influence concentrated in a bottleneck that can channel the collective
with the most verity and force. This is different from representative
democracy, or meritocracy. This idea has had dreadful consequences when
thrust upon us from the extreme Right or the extreme Left in various
historical periods. The fact that it's now being re-introduced today by
prominent technologists and futurists, people who in many cases I know and
like, doesn't make it any less dangerous".
And he notes that "the Wikipedia is far from being the only online fetish site
for foolish collectivism. There's a frantic race taking place online to become
the most "Meta" site, to be the highest level aggregator, subsuming the
identity of all other sites".
Where is this leading? Lanier calls attention to the "so-called 'Artificial
Intelligence' and the race to erase personality and be most Meta. In each
case, there's a presumption that something like a distinct kin to individual
human intelligence is either about to appear any minute, or has already
appeared. The problem with that presumption is that people are all too
willing to lower standards in order to make the purported newcomer appear
smart. Just as people are willing to bend over backwards and make
themselves stupid in order to make an AI interface appear smart (as happens
when someone can interact with the notorious Microsoft paper clip,) so are
they willing to become uncritical and dim in order to make Meta-aggregator
sites appear to be coherent."
Read on as Jaron Lanier throwns a lit Molotov cocktail down towards Palo Alto
from up in the Berkeley Hills…
THE REALITY CLUB:Responses to Lanier's essay from Douglas Rushkoff,
Quentin Hardy, Yochai Benkler, Clay Shirky, Cory Doctorow, Kevin Kelly,
Esther Dyson, Larry Sanger, Fernanda Viegas & Martin Wattenberg, Jimmy
Wales, George Dyson, Dan Gillmor, Howard Rheingold
PRESS: Slashdot, Sueddeutsche Zeitung,, Die Welt,
Inside Higher Ed, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, Arte & Letters Daily,
BoingBoing, New York Times, Open Democracy, The Guardian [click
(JARON LANIER:) My Wikipedia entry identifies me (at least this week) as a
film director. It is true I made one experimental short film about a decade
and a half ago. The concept was awful: I tried to imagine what Maya Deren
would have done with morphing. It was shown once at a film festival and was
never distributed and I would be most comfortable if no one ever sees it

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