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  • 2018 Aleida und Jan Assmann

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  • 2014 Jaron Lanier

  • 2013 Swetlana Alexijewitsch

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Back To OverviewPrice Winner 2014

Jaron Lanier

The Board of Trustees of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has chosen the American commuter scientist, musician and writer Jaron Lanier to be the recipient of this year's Peace Prize. The award ceremony will take place during the Frankfurt Book Fair on Sunday, October 12, 2014, at 10.45 a.m. in the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The ceremony will also be broad-cast live on the German public TV channel ARD. The Peace Prize has been awarded since 1950 and is endowed with a sum of €25,000.

Jaron Lanier
© Lena Lanier

Statement of the Jury

The German Publishers and Booksellers Association is delighted to award its 2014 Peace Prize to the American computer scientist, musician and writer

Jaron Lanier.

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.  

Throughout his career, Lanier has consistently and effectively spotlighted the threats our open society faces when deprived of the power to control its own progress and development. While acknowledging the gains in diversity and freedom that accompany the growth of the digital world, Lanier has nevertheless always pointed to the dangers involved when human beings are reduced to digital categories.

His most recent work "Who Owns the Future?" is 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 individuals while simultaneously fostering democratic participation.

Lanier's concept of assigning a sustainable and economic value to the creative contributions made by each individual on the Internet reflects his commitment to the enshrinement of the human values that form the very basis of peaceful coexistence – in the real and digital worlds alike.


Biography of Jaron Lanier 

Jaron Lanier is a well-known Internet pioneer and one of the most important contributors to the emergence and growth of the digital universe. He is credited with coining the phrase "virtual reality" and spearheading work in that field over the course of the past several decades, both as an entrepreneur and leading researcher. Today he works as a Lead Scientist overseeing a coalition of research universities studying advanced applications for "Internet 2." He is also a scholar at large at Microsoft Research. Lanier's remarkable life story and numerous tech innovations and insights have earned him the reputation of a visionary, with some media observers even calling him a "net intellectual."


Shortly after his birth on May 3, 1960 in New York City, Lanier and his family moved to the vicinity of El Paso, Texas. His mother Lillian was a pianist, painter and dancer who had survived the Holocaust and emigrated from Vienna to New York at the age of 15. His father Ellery was the son of Ukrainian Jews who had fled the pogroms: once in the United States, he worked as an architect, painter, writer, elementary school teachers and radio host. Lanier's eventful childhood was marked by his mother's early death in a car accident, his own growing enthusiasm for music, many moves with his father and numerous jobs. At the age of 14, after having dropped out of high school, Lanier followed the advice of his neighbor, the scientist Clyde Tombaugh (who had discovered the planet Pluto in 1930), and began attending classes in mathematics and chemistry at New Mexico State University.

There, he gained his first significant insights into computer technology. At the age of seventeen, Lanier briefly attended Bard College in New York State. In 1983, after leaving Bard and returning to New Mexico, he moved to Santa Cruz. California, where he developed a video game called "Moondust." This gained him a job at Atari, where he also got to know Tom Zimmerman, the man responsible for constructing one of the first "wired" gloves for virtual interaction. In 1985, the two men joined with friends to found the company VPL Research with the goal of developing further technology for the virtual world. In the subsequent years, Lanier would go on to construct virtual cameras, 3D graphics for feature films and the first avatar – an artificial representative of a real person in the virtual world. In this era, he also pressed ahead with the development of Internet-based networks. In addition, the applications he developed for three-dimensional representations in Web2 programs enabled the use of virtual space for a wide variety of spheres, including the medical-surgical field. In 1999, he sold his company to Sun Microsystems. Since then, he has headed up and overseen work on a number of groundbreaking projects.

Today, in addition to lecturing in computer science at different universities in the US, Lanier is also an internationally respected musician, composer and visual artist. He received his first piano lesson as a child from his mother and later taught himself to play many other instruments. With the help of his collection of more than one thousand rare and old musical instruments, Lanier has composed the music for several concerts, ballet performances and the prize-winning films "Three Seasons" (1999) and "The Third Wave" (2009). He has also played together with Philip Glass, Yoko Ono, Sean Lennon, Ornette Coleman, George Clinton and many other musicians drawn from a wide variety of genres. His paintings, drawings and art installations have been shown in numerous museums and galleries in the USA and Europe. Lanier had his first solo exhibition in 1997 at the Museum of Modern Art in Roskilde, Denmark. He also collaborated on the production of the virtual backdrop for Steven Spielberg's science-fiction film "Minority Report" (2002).


Among the group of individuals known as the "inventors" of the Internet, Jaron Lanier has consistently spoken with a highly unique and clear voice. Indeed, he has always been a pioneer for whom idealistic beliefs – such as the democratization of education, transparent political processes and scientific innovations – were of equal importance as those digital advances and gadgets that have most fascinated human beings. In keeping with this commitment, Lanier has devoted ever-increasing attention since the turn of the century to the growing discrepancy between human beings and machines, between actuality and virtual reality, and between financial capitalization and the misuse of knowledge and data. This increasing outspokenness came as a direct reaction to the thesis put forth by leading neuroscientists, who posited that the human brain is nothing more than a highly complex computer. In contrast, Lanier argued that technology should not seek to replace human beings but rather to improve their lives and foster communication among them.

His two books "You Are Not a Gadget" (2010) and "Who Owns the Future?" (2013) – as well as numerous articles examining negative developments in the digital world – have made Lanier one of the most important critics of the digital world in our time. He has focused his criticism primarily on those developments that inhibit Internet users in terms of their freedom, individuality and self-determination. First among these developments is the "information wants to be free" trope of the Internet, which sees users providing knowledge and data free of charge without any compensation. As Lanier argues, only a few companies – those which own the large data-collecting servers – profit financially from this process. He warns that when work and production are taken over to an ever-increasing extent by computer-controlled technologies, and when the goods known as "information" traded in the digital world continue to bring no financial value to the people who provide it, then this so-called "digital revolution" has the potential to lead to a collapse of the middle class.

Lanier also thematizes the misuse of data by corporations, intelligence agencies and governments and points to the dangers we all face as individuals when we engage on an intellectual level that is, as a general rule, quite low. According to Lanier, the radical reduction of our personalities online can and will ultimately affect our inner selves.

What sets Lanier apart from other critics are the concrete solutions he provides alongside the critiques contained in his books and articles. With a call for a "digital humanism," he advocates the self-determination of individuals both in the real world and in virtual reality. In other words, in addition to protecting intellectual property and preventing the inhibition of our creative output as human beings, he also calls for a system in which each individual has control over his or her own online data.


Jaron Lanier lives with his wife and daughter in Berkeley, California, where he also works at UC Berkeley. He has received two honorary doctorates for his inventions and designs. In 2001, he was the recipient of the CMU’s Watson Award. In 2009, he received a Lifetime Career Award from the IEEE, the world's largest professional organization of electrical and electronics engineers. His latest book "Who Owns the Future?" was awarded Harvard's Goldsmith Book Prize in 2014.