Marc Andreessen, founder of the Silicon Valley venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z), has published a “manifesto” in which he lists “enemies” of technological progress and artificial intelligence specifically. Impeding the development of AI in any way, he argues, “is a form of murder.”
“Our enemies are not bad people—but rather bad ideas,” he wrote in a post published on a16z’s website. “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’, ‘Precautionary Principle’, ‘trust and safety’, ‘tech ethics’, ‘risk management”, ‘de-growth’, ‘the limits of growth’.”
Andreessen’s sweeping essay, titled “The Techno-Optimist Manifesto,” which cites everyone from Friedrich Nietzsche to anonymous Twitter shitposters, boils down to a mostly tame, libertarian argument that is often reinvigorated in this manner whenever a startup founder who read The Fountainhead in high school finds himself newly rich.
Andreessen basically argues that technology is very good to society, that free markets are the best way to organize a technological economy, and that any attempt to impede the marriage between the two, namely through regulation, is bad for humanity. Communism is the worst idea that ever existed, etc. Agree or disagree, there’s nothing new there, and it’s not a surprising perspective from a central figure in the Valley.
What’s interesting is that Andreessen is clearly publishing his opinion now because of the emerging battle lines over the issue of AI, and has chosen to plant his flag, via a post on the a16z official site, solidly within the extreme end of the spectrum among the effective accelerationists, who believe that leaning into the rapid development of technology and specifically AI is the only way to save humanity. It’s not just that he has the group’s “e/acc” acronym in his Twitter handle, he directly links to two of its anonymous leaders, and echoes their language which frames the issue as a high stakes battle between good accelerationists and evil decelerationists (“decels”) for the future of mankind.
“We are being lied to,” the first line of the manifesto reads. “We are told that technology takes our jobs, reduces our wages, increases inequality, threatens our health, ruins the environment, degrades our society, corrupts our children, impairs our humanity, threatens our future, and is ever on the verge of ruining everything.”
“We [a16z] believe Artificial Intelligence is our alchemy, our Philosopher’s Stone—we are literally making sand think,” he says. “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.”
This is not going to stop anyone from calling me a “decel” but I want to state the obvious: Andreessen is fighting a strawman. Like most reasonable human beings, I’m a big fan of “technology” as an abstract concept. I love hammers, my Nintendo Switch, and indoor plumbing, all of which fit under that very large umbrella term. I am also all for the idea that technology can empower people, and that it is possible for it to make the future better than the present and past. Technology can make us healthier, live longer, and have more free time to do things we want most. We can lift more people around the world out of poverty, and empower them to create and enrich all of us. It can do all those things, maybe, should we choose to build it toward that end.
But, as the effective accelerationists love to point out, technology is just a tool. We can build nuclear power plants or nuclear bombs. We can use Facebook to connect, or incite violence. Text-to-image AI tools can allow people to instantly create any image they can imagine, but they can also be used to create non-consensual pornography and racist propaganda with previously unimaginable speed. AI can help us make self-driving cars, but in reality the machine vision technology that powers it is mostly used for surveillance that is biased against minorities.
How we deploy any technology is the result of a bigger conversation between private business, the government, and users, and other stakeholders, a term Andreessen loathes. What he is arguing for is that this conversation can only take place in the “markets,” which favors venture capitalists like him over others.
The “techno-capital machine,” Andreessen writes, creates an “upward spiral [that] has been running for hundreds of years, despite continuous howling from Communists and Luddites.”
For all its eccentricity, Andreessen’s manifesto is nothing new, and he himself has previously written other infamous essays—Why Software Is Eating the World, It’s Time to Build—to support his investments.
“This ideology has existed for about 200 years,” Brian Merchant, author of Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech, a book about the Luddites, told 404 Media. “When the Luddites, the real Luddites, not the cartoon Luddites of Andreessen and his cohort, were protesting technology they weren't protesting technology itself, they were protesting the uses of technology that would effectively forced them to work in factories, to be subservient to somebody else, and to put them in a position where they would have to compete for lower and lower wages. They were protesting the technology being used as a form of control by essentially the first generation of industrial capitalists.”
What Andreessen isn’t saying, but that we should all infer given who he is and where this is being published, is the fact that he and other venture capitalists at the top of the technological food chain are those who stand to gain the most by limiting the conversation around AI.
“Those are the people that are now facing criticism. And it's not that most people want Google to disappear,” Merchant said. “It's that they want more say in how these technologies affect their lives. They want to stop the worst abuses of monopolization and labor exploitation and that kind of thing, same as 200 years ago.”