|Jaron Zepel Lanier
(born May 3, 1960 in New York City) is computer scientist,
composer, visual artist, and author. He was a pioneer in, and
popularized the term "Virtual Reality" (VR) in the early 1980s. At
that time, he founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR
products. His current appointments include Interdisciplinary
Scholar-in-Residence, CET, UC Berkeley.
Early life and education
Lanier was born in 1960 in New York City, but raised in Mesilla, New
Mexico. On May 18, 2006, Lanier received an honorary degree of
Doctor of Science from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Lanier has appeared in several documentaries, including the 1992
Danish television documentary Computerbilleder - udfordring til
virkeligheden, the 1995 documentary Synthetic Pleasures, and the
2004 television documentary Rage Against the Machines. Lanier was
credited as one of the miscellaneous crew for the 2002 film Minority
Report. Lanier stated that his role was to help make up the gadgets
In mid-1997, Lanier was a founding member of the National
Tele-Immersion Initiative, an effort devoted to utilizing computer
technology to give people who are separated by great distances the
illusion that they are physically together. Lanier is a member of the
Global Business Network.
In 1994, Lanier released the classical music album Instruments of
Change. Lanier is currently working on the book Technology and the
Future of the Human Soul,  and the music album Proof of
Consciousness, a collaboration with Mark Deutsch.
Lanier has served on numerous advisory boards, including the Board of
Councilors of the University of Southern California, Medical Media
Systems (a medical visualization spin-off company associated with
Dartmouth College), Microdisplay Corporation, and NY3D (developers of
auto stereo displays).
Lanier is a visiting scholar with the Department of Computer Science
at Columbia University, a visiting artist with New York University's
Interactive Communications Program, and a founding member of the
International Institute for Evolution and the Brain.
Lanier received an honorary doctorate from New Jersey Institute of
Technology in 2006, was the recipient of CMU's Watson award in 2001,
and was a finalist for the first Edge of Computation Award in 2005.
Lanier recently contributed the afterward to Sound Unbound: Sampling
Digital Music and Culture (The MIT Press, 2008) edited by Paul D.
Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky.
Lanier’s interests include biomimetic information architectures, 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.
In the late 1980s he lead the team that developed the first
implementations of multi-person virtual worlds using head mounted
displays, for both local and wide area networks, 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. Sun Microsystems acquired VPL's seminal portfolio of
patents related to Virtual Reality and networked 3D graphics in 1999.
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 after a three-year development
period. From 2001 to 2004 he was Visiting Scientist at Silicon
Graphics Inc., where he developed solutions to core problems in
telepresence and tele-immersion.
As a musician, Lanier has been active in the world of new "classical"
music since the late 1970s. 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
has performed with artists as diverse as Philip Glass, Ornette
Coleman, George Clinton, Vernon Reid, Terry Riley, Duncan Sheik,
Pauline Oliveros, and Stanley Jordan. Recording projects include his
"acoustic techno" duet with Sean Lennon and an album of duets with
flautist Robert Dick.
He also writes chamber and orchestral music. Current commissions
include an opera that will premier in Busan, South Korea. Recent
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 TroMetrik 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
Lanier's work with Asian instruments can be heard extensively on the
soundtrack to "Three Seasons" (1999), which was the first film ever to
win both the Audience and Grand Jury awards at the Sundance Film
Festival. He and Mario Grigorov are currently scoring a new film, The
Third Wave, premiering at Sundance in 2007. He is working with Terry
Riley on a collaborative opera to be titled "Bastard, the First."
Lanier has also pioneered the use of Virtual Reality in musical stage
performance with his band Chromatophoria, which has toured around the
world as a headline act in venues such as the Montreux Jazz Festival.
He plays virtual instruments and uses real instruments to guide events
in virtual worlds.
Philosophical and technological ideas
Some of Lanier's speculation involves what he dubbed "post-symbolic
communication." An example is found in the April 2006 issue of
Discover, in his column on cephalopods (i.e., the various species of
octopus, squid, and related molluscs). Many cephalopods are able
to morph their bodies, including changing the pigmentation and texture
of their skin, as well as forming complex shape imitations with their
limbs. Lanier sees this behavior, especially as exchanged between two
octopuses, as a direct behavioral expression of thought.
In Edge magazine in May 2006, Lanier criticized the sometimes-claimed
omniscience of collective wisdom (including expressions such as
Wikipedia with the article about him as an example), describing it as
"digital Maoism". He writes "If we start to believe that the
Internet itself is an entity that has something to say, we're
devaluing those people [creating the content] and making ourselves
into idiots." This critique is further explored in an interview
with him at the Philosopher's Zone where he is critical of the
denatured effect which "removes the scent of people".
In December 2006 Lanier followed up his critique of the collective
wisdom with an article in Edge titled "Beware the Online Collective."
 Lanier writes:
I wonder if some aspect of human nature evolved in the context of
competing packs. We might be genetically wired to be vulnerable to the
lure of the mob.
What's to stop an online mass of anonymous but connected people from
suddenly turning into a mean mob, just like masses of people have time
and time again in the history of every human culture? It's amazing
that details in the design of online software can bring out such
varied potentials in human behavior. It's time to think about that
power on a moral basis.
Instruments of Change (1994) 
Moondust -- C64
Alien Garden -- Atari 800
'Finding Humanity in the Interface: Capacity Atrophy or Augmentation?'
A debate between Jaron Lanier and Will Wright from the Accelerating
Change 2004 conference.
Video of Jaron Lanier speaking at a Film Festival
Video of Jaron Lanier's "McLuhan Ramp" Lecture
Interview with Jaron Lanier on Music
Coding from Scratch: A Conversation with Jaron Lanier, Part 1
The Future of Virtual Reality: A Conversation with Jaron Lanier, Part
Brown, David Jay; Novick, Rebecca McClen (1995). Voices from the edge:
Conversations with Jerry Garcia, Ram Dass, Annie Sprinkle, Matthew
Fox, Jaron Lanier, & others. Freedom, CA: Crossing Press. ISBN
Interview by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Counterpoint
program; Lanier strongly criticises both wikipedia and