A Love Letter to the Pretend Pirates of Europe from the Real Pirates of Silicon Valley (Guest Column)

Nick Otto for The Washington Post via Getty Images
Jaron Lanier photographed on Nov. 23, 2015.

Hello from Silicon Valley! As the vote on the Copyright Directive approaches, we wanted to thank Europeans, especially young members of the Pirate Parties, for defanging the left in order to make us rich.

We sometimes joke about all of these kids who want to keep the internet free and open, even though what they’re supporting always turns out to help our closed, monopolistic platforms. We love it!

We love getting richer and richer the more the Pirate Parties clamor for more of the same: Supposedly free and open stuff paid for by tons of sneaky persuasion and manipulation. And that’s only now. The big prize for us for will come later, when Artificial Intelligence and robots get better, and we’ll own them entirely. We won't owe anyone anything for the data that makes our AIs run, but I'll get to that in a minute.

It's SO perfect for us that the Pirate Parties think that paying creators is a form of censorship, or whatever their dogma is at the moment. Avoiding payments means money in OUR pockets, over here in California -- money that’s taken from the future of Europe. How wonderful for us! We get richer and richer, and somehow a ton of progressive Europeans think that's great!

We don’t like paying for anyone’s data, whether it comes from a creator or not. When we do pay a creator, we want to decide who to pay and how much. The last thing we could tolerate is giving creators the power to organize or letting the market tell us how much to pay. We adore having control!

We love that we can take your data for free. That lets us run personalized "engagement" and "persuasion" algorithms that get you addicted to our services. Then we get to make money from people who pay to extract changes in your behavior patterns. Your willingness to buy into our plan has built the biggest and fastest fortunes in human history. And the beautiful thing is that you don't even want to believe you're being manipulated -- so you, our victims, become our best allies. It's a work of art!

We love our unique, centralized power to filter almost all human communication. We are so glad you love it too! Our algorithms decide what to push and what to bury. We get to decide what you will probably experience online. After all, altering your online experience is the only way we make money. We have become worth trillions of dollars by having that power, we make money by renting out a small amount of it to customers.

But we will not tolerate being told what to filter. So, thank you, thank you, thank you for pretending that proposed legislation would force us to filter information for the first time. It’s a weird enough distortion that it might be accepted by enough people to kill the legislation! Aside from that, we don't really care so much about whether we pay creators. It’s not such a big deal when you're as rich as we are. What's more important is that, by not paying creators today, we are setting the stage for ripping off everyone in a much bigger way tomorrow.

You see, we giant tech platforms are in an epochal Artificial Intelligence race. That's the competition that's really motivating us. To get ahead in that race, we need tons of data, and how sweet it is to not have to pay for it! By supporting us to not pay creators and protesting against the EU copyright Directive, you also support us in not paying you!

Oh, we know, you've heard that your data isn't worth much anyway. Please: believe that! That belief, and nothing else, is our fortune. Your confusion is our oil field. Thank you for giving away your future for our benefit.

When the robots get good enough to do your job, we'll own them completely. We won't owe you anything for the data that makes the robots work. After all, you made sure of it!

The Pirate movement doesn’t accept any form of copyright with teeth, and it is fine with giant companies completely controlling the most valuable data in the world -- the data that will run the AIs of the future. Oh, you Pirates claim differently. You say you’re happy for creators to get paid -- just not by Big Tech. In some alternate reality, then. For now, you love the system in which creators get ripped off and we in Big Tech get the rewards -- and we love that. You also support a few token, doomed projects here and there that are supposed to reduce our power. That helps, too! After all, appearances matter.

At the end of the day, though, you support us, even though you don't admit it to yourselves.

The only alternative Europe will have left is to tax us, but that doesn’t bother us. Governments would become richer and more powerful, but we are still the channel by which elections are won. We can thrive in THAT world.

We love you, Pirates, and everyone who buys into your narrative! We’ll send you champagne, flowers, and chocolates -- just not money. Never money. Well, except for a little to support your movement on those rare occasions when the law could turn against us.

Even so, you're the best bargain in history.

Too bad about your future.

Signed,
Big Tech

P.S. Actually, not all of us are that bad, and if you could clear your heads, you'd find allies in the tech world who do want you to get paid in the future.

Jaron Lanier is a composer, musician and computer scientist who was influential in the development of virtual-reality technology. He is also the author of several books, including You Are Not a Gadget and Dawn of the New Everything: Encounters with Reality and Virtual Reality.