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Book peace prize for Lanier

June 5, 2014

Artist, author and computing expert Jaron Lanier has won the annual Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. The award went "to a true pioneer in the digital world," and one "who has always recognized the inherent risks."

Jaron Lanier Buchautor
Image: picture alliance/Karten Lemm

Jaron Lanier became the first author from the digital revolution to claim the peace prize awarded each year by Germany's book industry.

"In honoring Lanier, the association and its members have chosen to pay tribute to a true pioneer in the digital world - one who has always recognized the inherent risks contained in this new world with regard to each individual's right to shape his or her own life," the board of trustees said.

The decision was announced precisely a year after Edward Snowden's first revelations about NSA espionage and could perhaps be interpreted as a reaction to Germany's heavy interest in the issue of privacy and security in the digital world.

The 54-year-old Lanier, who began working with Atari Labs' research department in the 1980s, is also a classical music composer and lives in Berkeley, California.

The board described Lanier's most recent book, 'Who Owns the Future?', as "an appeal for vigilance in the face of oppression, abuse and surveillance - a call to equip the digital universe with structures that respect the rights of individual while simultaneously fostering democratic participation."

Often credited as the father of the term "virtual reality," Lanier has also grown critical of the digital age and become a foremost commentator on its drawbacks. His previous book from 2010, 'You Are Not a Gadget,' criticized the increasing herd mentality of the online community:

"Individual web pages as they first appeared in the early 1990s had the flavor of person-hood. MySpace preserved some of that flavor, though a process of regularized formatting had begun. Facebook went further, organizing people into multiple-choice identities while Wikipedia seeks to erase point of view entirely," Lanier wrote in the 2010 book. "If a church or government were doing these things, it would feel authoritarian, but when technologists are the culprits, we seem hip, fresh, and inventive."

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade was first awarded in 1950; winners currently receive a 25,000-euro ($34,000) purse. The award ceremony in Frankfurt, to be aired live on public television, will take place on Sunday, October 12.

msh/dr (dpa, KNA)