While no one will ever be able to prove definitively that Jaron Lanier is the most interesting man in the world, this modern-day Renaissance man would be a top contender on almost any list. In fact, in 2010, Time Magazine named him one of the year's 100 most influential people thanks to his groundbreaking work in the field of virtual reality, as well as the questions he raised in his book "You Are Not a Gadget."
Before he became one of the world's most influential people, however, Lanier was just a precocious Jewish kid in New Mexico State's math department. He believed that mathematical language was simple and beautiful and that there had to be a less complicated way to express it. He set out to develop a visual computer programming language that could make math more accessible. There was just one problem: Computer screens weren't big enough to display the visualizations he pictured in his head. So in the 1980s, he and his friends developed a virtual-reality headpiece and glove that allowed Lanier to manipulate virtual objects in cyberspace.
Lanier thought his new programming language would interest people, but it was his cyber glove that ended up really exciting investors. He started marketing the glove as a "virtual reality" device, and, quite unintentionally, provided an entire emerging market with a media-ready catchphrase. Lanier, with his bright blue eyes and long, brown dreadlocks, became virtual reality's first cult hero.
Today, the 51-year-old Lanier remains as provocative as ever. In his 2010 book "You Are Not a Gadget" and in subsequent interviews with intellectual communities like Edge.org, Lanier raises interesting questions about the economics of the Internet. He claims that the vast quantity of duplicate and disorganized information on the Internet benefits corporations like Google while robbing content creators of the right to profit from their own intellectual property. Maybe "virtual robbery" will be Lanier's next sound byte!