- Tech billionaire and venture capitalist Marc Andreessen claims “technology is the glory of human ambition and achievement, the spearhead of progress, and the realization of our potential,” and goes on to vilify anyone who dares to step in the way of “progress.”
- Critics have responded by calling him a “techno-shamanic futurist” and adopting the language of fascism to scare politicians away from regulating AI
- Money, proclaims Andreessen, is the only motivator capable of producing the giant technological leaps that advance humanity.
Tech billionaire Marc Andreessen’s latest dispatch, a “Techno-Optimist Manifesto,” advocates that we should all view technology as a force for pure good.
No-one is arguing about the concept of “techno-optimism,” the idea that technology is the key driver of human wealth and happiness. But the zeal with which the Netscape Navigator developer and cofounder of VC firm Andreessen Horowitz, demands we view tech without regulation has caused some concern.
Here’s a sample:
“We will explain to people captured by these zombie ideas that their fears are unwarranted and the future is bright.
We believe we must help them find their way out of their self-imposed labyrinth of pain.
We invite everyone to join us in Techno-Optimism.
The water is warm.
Become our allies in the pursuit of technology, abundance, and life.”
Steven Levy at Wired calls it an “over-the-top declaration of humanity’s destiny as a tech-empowered super species—Ayn Rand resurrected as a Substack author.”
And you can see why. Here’s Andreessen in full messianic flow:
“Technology must be a violent assault on the forces of the unknown, to force them to bow before man,” he writes. “We believe that we are, have been, and will always be the masters of technology, not mastered by technology.
“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.” (Italics are Andreessen’s.)
To which Levy jokes, “If this essay had a soundtrack it would be Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries.’”
(Andreessen cites Friedrich Nietzsche as one of his “Patron Saints of Techno-Optimism.”)
Levy continues his criticism, calling the essay an attempt “to justify not only an unquestioning pursuit of technology but the late-stage capitalism that provides out-of-whack rewards for the system’s winners — like Andreessen.”
Theo Priestley, blogging at Medium, dismisses the tech billionaire’s declaration, saying, “he got lucky with Netscape and then thought he was Internet Jesus.”
Priestley contrasts Andreessen’s world view with that of the fictional astronaut Mark Watney, in Andy Weir’s book The Martian (played by Matt Damon in Ridley Scott’s film).
“The differences between the two are stark; one wants humanity to become some sort of technology-infused super-species purged of emotional connection and happy to live among androids,” he says.
“The other strives to show humanity at its best, a species able to overcome impossible odds using the ingenuity, knowledge, adaptability and tools available to them at the time.”
This is the techno-optimism that Priestley believes will inspire generations to come.
The question is why has Andreessen written this manifesto, other than to sate his ego? It’s not hard to be discern. There is self-interest at heart.
“Everything contained in Marc’s manifesto could be underlined in red pen under certain words that form the investment thesis behind a16z,” warns Priestley.
“If you don’t believe in hypergrowth or particular tech trends that they want you push forward with, then you’re not in the gang. Marc and his disciples have become masters of manipulation in the venture community.”
Calling him a “a techno-shamanic futurist,” Priestley says that instead of changing people’s minds the manifesto is all entirely designed to make a16z successful.
“Mark Watney, on the other hand, demonstrates just what being a part of the human race really means: Problem solving, personal, national and international collaboration to come up with solutions that allow for the next step forward.
“Science and engineering — the skills many are advocating we shouldn’t bother with because the robots will do it for us. Resilience, making mistakes then solving the next problem, the human spirit of being so stubborn we will never give up.”
Priestley extends his critique of Andreessen to the whole class of tech VCs. Too many, he says, are “fixated on short-term gains they can spend in their lifetime rather than helping build a future they will never see. They want a 10x return in 10 years and so founders with longer term vision that could reshape humanity are sacrificed for another TikTok app or SaaS product knocked up by code interpreter from ChatGPT.”
Paris Marx, the tech critic and host of Tech Won’t Save Us, observed to The Engadget Podcast’s Devindra Hardawar that not just Andreessen but a number of Silicon Valley uber-rich are adopting the language of a “secular religion” to justify their outsized gains.
“These tech billionaires are aggrieved by the fact that people are criticizing tech more and more,” Marx says.
After the millions pumped into the metaverse, the evangelism around Web3, and the crypto-bubble and crash — including major fraud by FTX — tech innovation appeared to be crumbling… until AI rode to the rescue “as this magic thing to give the whole industry a boost.”
The aim, Marx continues, “is to keep investment flowing into not just Open AI and Microsoft and Google, but these new startups that are trying to enter this AI landscape.”
Just the kind of startup that a16z invests in. Andreessen needs Wall Street to be techno-optimist too. He also needs Washington to pull back on regulation.
As Andreessen states: “Our enemy is speech control and thought control — the increasing use, in plain sight, of George Orwell’s ‘1984’ as an instruction manual.”
You can see how a lack of regulation benefits someone like Andreessen. “He’s saying AI is a key part of this future,” Marx argues, “So don’t regulate AI, because we want these companies to continue growing. But he’s also saying, in general, don’t regulate the tech industry, don’t try to rein us in, because we are going to be essential to whatever better future is on offer.
“And I think that’s the scary part here [about this] faith in technology. I think that there are some really kind of scary and kind of fascist adjacent ideas that are increasingly being communicated in these types of manifestos and what the tech industry is doing.”
(Perhaps it is worth contrasting Andreessen with Elon Musk, who is the most high-profile tech billionaire on the planet and one of those leading calls for regulation.)
Indeed, Andreessen goes further and claims that tinkering with AI is tantamount to murder.
“Any deceleration of AI will cost lives. Deaths that were preventable by the AI that was prevented from existing is a form of murder,” he writes.
Money, proclaims Andreessen, is the only motivator capable of producing the giant technological leaps that advance humanity.
Then there are those defending Andreessen. Computer scientist Noah Smith says that overall “this sort of uncompromising blast of techno-accelerationism is exactly the kind of extropian enthusiasm we need to shake us out of the doldrums.”
He also sides with Andreessen by noting the “depressingly large number of people [who] seem to see technology and society as fundamentally in competition.
“This worldview sees technologists as fundamentally a type of pirate, sailing the high seas in search of plunder while the navy of social responsibility chases them around.”
To Smith, this way of seeing things is wrongheaded and highly counterproductive. “The reason is that technology, is a fundamentally humanistic enterprise — it increases the collective options available to human societies. This means that the fundamental purpose of creating new technologies is to empower society.”
You may not agree with Smith but this is at least a sober point of view.
Here is Andreessen on the same topic. You can make your own mind up.
“We have enemies.
Our enemies are not bad people — but rather bad ideas.
Our present society has been subjected to a mass demoralization campaign for six decades – against technology and against life – under varying names like ‘existential risk’, ‘sustainability’, ‘ESG,’ ‘Sustainable Development Goals,’ ‘social responsibility,’ ‘stakeholder capitalism,’ ‘trust and safety,’ ‘tech ethics,’ ‘risk management’ and ‘de-growth.’”
Andreessen also condemns the “know-it-all credentialed expert worldview, indulging in abstract theories, luxury beliefs, social engineering, disconnected from the real world, delusional, unelected, and unaccountable — playing God with everyone else’s lives, with total insulation from the consequences.”
Did he just describe himself?