Preaching to the converted

Cover of Dawn of the New EverythingDawn of the New Everything: A Journey Through Virtual Reality
By Jaron Lanier
Published by Bodley Head, £20
(Buy at Amazon)

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.

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”.