Digital technology has brought society many benefits: faster, more efficient ways to share ideas, do business, communicate with government and much, more more. But along with those gains come the losses in jobs where less labor is needed now as more activities get automated.
Digital technology is shrinking our overall economy rather than expanding it, unlike past technological breakthroughs, says Lanier.
At the root of the problem, Lanier tells The Daily Ticker, is the idea that “information has to be free.” For example, he says companies don’t pay individuals for the data they collect in order to sell products to those individuals and others, and online translation systems don’t pay the translators whose individual translations actually contributed to the final product.
“We are not paying ourselves when we’re actually contributing the work that makes the machines work,” says Lanier, adding that more and more things will be done automatically. “If we don’t find a way to pay for people who are contributing the information that actually makes the whole thing work, then the jobs start going way and we’re already seeing that."
He suggests something “radically new” be done, namely paying people for the use of their data or labor via a “a universal royalty system.” Translators would get paid every time their works is used; so would people whose pictures are taken by street cameras as part of a government safety measures.
If no such payments are made, the middle class will be destroyed in the long run, says Lanier, and then businesses will suffer as well because they’ll have less customers using and buying their technologies and other products.
Lanier admits his idea is unusual, but says it’s possible.
“When the Internet was starting up it seemed crazy that it could ever work and then it worked," he says.
He likens his proposal to the settling of a new frontier, like the American West, more than a hundred years ago.
“At first the land was free…but then eventually a real estate system took hold and people could buy and sell land. Something like that’s going to have to happen with the information economy. It’s free at first…but you can’t sustain a civilization on that.”
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