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It would be reasonable upon reading Marc Andreessen’s “techno-optimist manifesto”, to feel somewhat perplexed, and then to wonder: is the billionaire bitcoin-backing venture capitalist OK?
After all, the 5,000-odd-word essay, published on his VC fund a16z’s website on Monday, does contain such phrases as: “Love doesn’t scale . . . Let’s stick with money”; “We believe in the romance of technology . . . the eros of the train, the car, the electric light”; and, perhaps most startlingly: “We believe any deceleration of AI will cost lives. Deaths that were preventable by the AI that was prevented from existing is a form of murder.”
Yet many Silicon Valley types who have read Andreessen’s screed — the central argument of which is that “there is no material problem . . . that cannot be solved with more technology” — seem not only to see nothing even mildly unusual about it, but to believe that it is actually a work of genius.
“This is the path towards progress,” Brian Armstrong, founder of crypto exchange Coinbase, enthused on X. “Decel narratives are all around us in popular culture and in meetings among elites. Thank you @a16z for a breath of fresh air,” he added. The fact that a16z is an investor in his company presumably makes the air extra fresh.
Now, if you are wondering what Armstrong might be talking about when he says “decel narratives”, allow me to explain. “Decel” stands for “decelerationist” and is a somewhat dismissive slang term used by people who consider themselves part of the fledgling “e/acc community”.
“E/acc”, in turn, stands for “effective accelerationism”, an ideology embraced by Andreessen that is based around the idea that the development of technology — in particular of artificial intelligence — should not just be allowed to continue without constraint, but should be accelerated.
“We believe that we are, have been, and will always be the masters of technology, not mastered by technology,” Andreessen writes. “Victim mentality is a curse in every domain of life, including in our relationship with technology — both unnecessary and self-defeating. We are not victims, we are conquerors.”
He made a similarly wide-eyed argument during a recent episode of the Making Sense with Sam Harris podcast, in which he was explaining to Harris what he believes is so magnificent and foolproof about artificial general intelligence (AGI).
“The reason this thing works, the big breakthrough, is that we loaded us into it . . . it’s like the world’s biggest, finest-detailed mirror. That’s incredible,” he gushed. When Harris, considerably less optimistic, pointed out to Andreessen that if AGI is a reflection of humanity, then it would also reflect the bad in humans, Andreessen’s response was simply: “But what’s the moral of every story? The moral of every story is the good guys win.”
I don’t know if I would be considered a “decel” — for one thing, I’m not sure whether pausing the development of AI would be either useful or possible, particularly given that it is not just western countries that are working on it. But what I am certain of is that Andreessen’s blind faith in all technology is dangerous.
It is also, of course, deeply self-interested. To return to Armstrong’s tweet: you might wonder how a man who has made himself an estimated fortune of $3.3bn by creaming off a fee every time someone trades one of the 242 essentially useless crypto coins he offers on his platform can talk, with what appears to be a straight face, to a man reportedly worth $1.8bn about the “elites” in this way. But this is just the kind of techno-populist rhetoric that crypto bros have been pushing for years — while lining their pockets.
Given the direction crypto has been going in since a16z launched their $4.5bn crypto fund last year, it is perhaps unsurprising that Andreessen doesn’t once mention cryptocurrencies or “Web3” (remember that?) in his techno-utopian sermon. He does, however, roll out the classic line that while “decentralisation harnesses complexity for the benefit of everyone; centralisation will starve you to death.” It is hard to take such a line seriously from the head of a VC fund with $35bn in assets under management.
Faced with the morally bankrupt spectacle of crypto, it is also hard to swallow the idea that technology is all positive and should be left to accelerate ad infinitum. But there are many other areas, outside AI and crypto, in which technology does huge amounts of harm — smartphones and social media, for instance, have had devastating effects on the mental health of children and teenagers.
Simply having more is not the answer to our gravest problems. It’s only the things that cannot “scale” that really can help: compassion, kindness, empathy and, yes, love.