Lanier hasn’t lost all of that faith, but he despairs of how the utopian vision of that early hacker culture was so quickly corporatised. He says he was always alive to those dangers.
“In 1995 I wrote this essay called Agents of Alienation, about the danger that one day computer networks would have these automated agents, what we call bots now, which could be used to manipulate advertising and politics, and everything would become unhinged.” Trump, he suggests, is a symptom of that prophesied reality. “Going back to the 80s and 90s… there were these vivid arguments about the nature of truth made by people I like and respect, like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. Their argument was that we already have the basic outline of understanding how thought works, and so we can create algorithmic systems that capture knowledge, that exercise wisdom. I thought that was a huge trap – that it would turn into this house of mirrors that could be manipulated by whoever was the biggest asshole.”