Oct 17, 2023 - Technology

Civilization depends on more AI, Marc Andreessen says

Illustration of the pyramids of Giza stylized as the tips of three cursors coming up from the desert.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Marc Andreessen — browser developer turned blogger turned billionaire venture capitalist — posted a "Techno-Optimist Manifesto" Monday that denounces efforts to regulate technology in bolder, brasher strokes than Silicon Valley has heard for years.

The big picture: After a decade in which his industry has been widely held responsible for rising inequality, reckless "disruption" and rampant misinformation, Andreessen praises tech as "the engine of perpetual material creation, growth, and abundance."

Why it matters: Andreessen, who often says out loud what other technologists and investors think, has the ear of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and is a star guest at Schumer's next AI expert forum on Oct. 24.

  • He writes that because AI might be used to save lives, any pause on AI development that limits preventable deaths "is a form of murder."

Zoom out: Debates about AI safety often cleave into two sides — those who want AI development paused or significantly restricted and optimists opposed to limits on innovation.

  • Both groups believe AI is vastly powerful and will determine civilization's fate.
  • A separate camp of AI critics, many in academia, dismissed both perspectives as "AI hype" and urged efforts to combat the tech's present, practical dangers — including bias, misinformation and economic dislocation.

Zoom in: Andreessen concocts a heady, sometimes over-the-top brew of fundamentalist free-market economics, Darwinism and Ayn Randism to make his case for "accelerationism — the conscious and deliberate propulsion of technological development."

  • AI is "our alchemy, our Philosopher's Stone," he writes. "We are literally making sand think," a reference to the silicon in computer chips.
  • By focusing on regulating or highlighting negative consequences of new technologies, he argues, we risk missing out on breakthroughs at the scale of fertilizers and pesticides, electricity and vaccines.
  • Among Andreessen's stated enemies: "Tech ethics," people who work on "stakeholder capitalism," and the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals.

The other side: Andreessen's arguments start off as techno-optimist but veer into techno-supremacy, ignoring or belittling evidence of social and economic harms linked to various technologies.

  • The manifesto builds on claims Andreessen made in a June essay titled "Why AI Will Save the World" — such as "Every child will have an AI tutor" that is "infinitely helpful" — without explaining why that should be a priority over getting clean water and food to the millions of children who lack it.
  • Andreessen's view of markets — that they "naturally" correct themselves and that "falling prices" is the key metric of abundance — overlooks nonfinancial harms and the effects of unchecked markets.
  • Economic inequalities and environmental degradation disproportionately hurt people who don't have a net worth of around $1.8 billion, as Andreessen does (per Forbes).

Of note: The words "unintended consequences" do not appear anywhere in Andreessen's manifesto. Neither do "global warming" or "climate change."

  • All human endeavors to better the world that do not take place in the arena of the "techno-capitalist machine" (Andreessen's term, intended positively) are dismissed as "statism...socialism... bureaucracy... corruption."

Be smart: Early investors in AI like Andreessen stand to be among those who gain most from the technologies he promotes.

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