Oct 17, 2023 - Economy

Marc Andreessen's AI manifesto hurts his own cause

Photo illustration of Marc Andreessen surrounded by tweet copy that discusses technology and the future.

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Marc Andreessen is an iconic and iconoclastic technologist, investor and thinker.

The big picture: What he says about the future matters, such as his seminal 2011 argument that software was eating the world. It also matters when Andreessen jumps the shark, as he did yesterday near the end of his 5,221-word "Techno-Optimist Manifesto."

Most of Andreessen's piece, which was widely shared on social media, was an elucidation of his abiding faith in the net positive power of technology and his libertarian-ish aversion to regulation (whether official or informal). For example:

"We believe Artificial Intelligence can save lives — if we let it. Medicine, among many other fields, is in the stone age compared to what we can achieve with joined human and machine intelligence working on new cures. There are scores of common causes of death that can be fixed with AI, from car crashes to pandemics to wartime friendly fire."

Had Andreessen stopped there, he would have made a powerful argument that the risks of slowing tech innovation are greater than the risks of the innovation itself.

Instead, he added a literal enemies list of "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', 'Precautionary Principle', 'trust and safety', 'tech ethics', 'risk management', 'de-growth', 'the limits of growth.'"

Right now, we're watching what happens when risk management and tech ethics are ignored for the sake of unlimited growth, as told via sworn testimony in the fraud trial of FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried.

  • Andreessen would bristle at the comparison — his VC firm famously didn't back FTX — but the philosophical slope nonetheless slips in that direction.
  • And do you know who agrees with me? Marc Andreessen, whose own tech-focused firm has a written Code of Ethics (check page 50 of this document). Also, the same Marc Andreessen who serves on the board of Meta, which has a pretty large workforce dedicated to "trust and safety" issues.

Andreessen isn't endorsing fraud or the inflicting of intentional harm on users. Optimist, not ogre. He intentionally puts his enemies in quotation marks, to seemingly signal that they're fine concepts that the private and public sectors have taken too far.

  • The trouble is that the line between reasonable and obstructive is in the eye of the beholder, and Andreessen's argument could provide cover for those with impaired vision.

The bottom line is that Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley venture firms, are taking sides on the speed and oversight of AI development. Andreessen may have just done his team a disservice.

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