Jaron Lanier

July 11, 2009

Jaron Lanier is a computer scientist, composer, visual artist, and author.

Currently, Lanier serves as the Lead Scientist of the National Tele-immersion Initiative, a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications for Internet 2. The Initiative demonstrated the first prototypes of tele-immersion in 2000 after a three year development period. His current tele-immersion-related research interests include real time, remote, terascale processing; autostereo methods; haptics; and software simulation component integration and reusability.

He tends to collect adjunct appointments, and is currently a visiting faculty member of one sort or another at the Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, the Wharton School of Business of the University of Pennsylvania, the Interactive Telecommunications Program of the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (where he is a visiting artist), and at the Columbia University Computer Science Department. He is also the Chief Scientist of Eyematic Interfaces, which researches computer vision. He serves 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 University), Microdisplay Corporation (makers of LCOS displays), and NY3D (developers of autostereo displays).

Lanier’s latest research, which he has dubbed "Phenotropics", concerns rejecting traditional protocol-based approaches in favor of statistical and pattern-recognition techniques to bind software components together in order to improve large scale reliability. This work was introduced in the chapter he contributed to the 2002 book The Next Fifty Years; Science in the Twenty First Century, edited by John Brockman.

Lanier is probably best known for his work in Virtual Reality. He coined the term "virtual reality" and in the early 1980s founded VPL Research, the first company to sell VR products. In the late 1980s he led 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 co-developed the first implementations of virtual reality applications in surgical simulation, vehicle interior prototyping, virtual sets for television production, and assorted other areas. He lead 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.

As a musician, Lanier has been active in the world of new "classical" music since the late seventies. 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 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. Current 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. Recent commissions include: 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; atriple 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, 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 in 1994.

Lanier’s work with Asian instruments can be heard extensively on the soundtrack to "Three Seasons," which was the first film ever to win both the Audience and Grand Jury awards at the Sundance Film Festival. He is at work 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.

Lanier’s paintings and drawings have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States and Europe. In 2002 he co-created (with Philippe Parreno) an exhibit illustrating how aliens might perceive humans for the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris. In 1994 he directed the film "Muzork" under a commission from ARTE Television. His 1983 "Moondust" is generally regarded as the first art video game, and the first interactive music publication. He has presented installations in New York City, including the "Video Feedback Waterbed" and the "Time-accelerated Painting," which was situated in the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage. His first one-man show took place in 1997 at the Danish Museum for Modern Art in Roskilde.

Lanier is also a well known author and speaker. He writes on numerous topics, including high-technology business, the social impact of technological practices, the philosophy of consciousness and information, Internet politics, and the future of humanism. His book, Technology and the Future of the Human Soul, will be finished someday, but is delayed by epic procrastination. His writing appears in The New York Times, Discover, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Harpers Magazine, The Sciences, Wired Magazine (where he is a founding contributing editor), and Scientific American. He has edited special "future" issues of SPIN and Civilization magazines. The nation of Palau has issued a postage stamp in his honor. He appears on national television regularly, on shows such as "The News Hour," "Nightline," and "Charlie Rose," and has been profiled on the front pages of the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. He has served in various research groups concerned with the future, and has been appointed a fellow at Cap Gemini/ Ernst & Young, the World Economic Forum, and the MacArthur Foundation Roundtables, and is one of the "remarkable people" of the Global Business Network.

Lanier has no academic degrees.

See essays by this author:
Excerpts from "One Half of a Manifesto"
Postscript Re: Ray Kurzweil
The Central Metaphor of Everything?
See selected books by this author:
Who Owns the Future?
You Are Not A Gadget: A Manifesto