Preaching to the converted

Book review: Dawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual RealityJaron Lanier takes an optimistic look at virtual reality with this new book.


Published by Bodley Head, £20

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After being hugely hyped in the 1990s, the technology behind virtual reality (VR) is finally starting to catch up with its promise, reckons tech entrepreneur Jaron Lanier who is credited with inventing the term VR and founding the first company in the sector in the 1980s. In this timely new book, Lanier "goes over the technology's history in detail, outlining not only the obstacles to getting consistent hardware but some personalities and interpersonal conflicts that ultimately led to his company breaking up", says Cathy O'Neil in The New York Times.

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Lanier also "expands the limits of what VR might achieve, sometimes making it all sound truly surreal". That makes him "an engaging guide" as well as "an incurable romantic", says the Financial Times's Richard Waters. A "passionate advocate" of VR, his writing makes the "new technology throb with potential, untainted by the future in which it will be harnessed to the agendas of others". However, this optimistic view "doesn't seem to pay heed to the realities of human nature, for instance not to mention the commercial interests and value systems that inevitably become embodied in our dominant technologies".

Another flaw is that "Lanier's transcendent yearnings for this technology make him unclear about what it might be like", says Bryan Appleyard in The Sunday Times. But the book is still worth reading, not least for its scorching critique of Silicon Valley, which Lanier sees as "born in hippy idealism, invaded by cold libertarianism and now in thrall to the religion of the singularity, the super-smart machine that will supposedly take over in the next few decades".

Dr Matthew Partridge

Matthew graduated from the University of Durham in 2004; he then gained an MSc, followed by a PhD at the London School of Economics.

He has previously written for a wide range of publications, including the Guardian and the Economist, and also helped to run a newsletter on terrorism. He has spent time at Lehman Brothers, Citigroup and the consultancy Lombard Street Research.

Matthew is the author of Superinvestors: Lessons from the greatest investors in history, published by Harriman House, which has been translated into several languages. His second book, Investing Explained: The Accessible Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio, is published by Kogan Page.

As senior writer, he writes the shares and politics & economics pages, as well as weekly Blowing It and Great Frauds in History columns He also writes a fortnightly reviews page and trading tips, as well as regular cover stories and multi-page investment focus features.

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