Yesterday, Ethereum creator Vitalik Buterin published a long, long blogpost delineating a new philosophy of techno-optimism. It is called d/acc, with the d standing for decentralization, defensive and/or differential and the “/acc” a trendy shorthand on social media for “acceleration.”
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Buterin, always thoughtful, has found a middleway between techno optimism and pessimism, and argues that technology broadly speaking is good but some technologies are better than others and some technologies can be net negative.
As The Defiant’s Cami Russo already wonderfully summarized:
“Buterin's 'd/acc' philosophy advocates for a deliberate and balanced path in technological development, focusing on technologies that ensure defense, decentralization, and human flourishing.
“The concept emerges as a counterbalance to the unbridled techno-optimism espoused by figures like Marc Andreessen and challenges the e/acc (effective accelerationist) movement.”
Indeed, Buterin comes right out and says he is responding to Andreessen, the founder of highly influential VC firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) and builder of world’s first browser, Netscape, who published his “Techno-Optimist Manifesto” to much aplomb and interest last month.
Andreessen says many things about technology and markets, for which he is both in favor. Parts of his manifesto could be read aloud at a slam poetry open mic. It is extremely aphoristic, and only slightly repetitive (i.e. could not the section on “abundance,” also good, be inferred by previous statements about how more “energy” is better, through which humanity builds and enjoys things?).
But I’m not a billionaire, so who am I to judge? The important thing is that Andreessen-aligned techno-optimists believe that “technology is a lever on the world – the way to make more with less.” This means technologies like AI, nuclear and markets should be unfettered. Competition leads to progress, because it increases choice and is something of an evolutionary process.
Much of this Buterin seemingly believes, too. Though Buterin is smart enough not to mention controversial arch-accelerationist Nick Land, and potentially have his ideas dismissed immediately by association.
These dismissive people probably also believe in things like “deceleration” and “de-growth,” or slowing down technology and making the economy pocket-sized; these are some of Andreessen’s “enemies.”
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Though Andreessen has many enemies, including Malthus, the guy who incorrectly predicted that overpopulation would crush Britain, because he did not have the foresight to imagine the Industrial Revolution or advancements like chemical nitrates in agriculture, Andreesen does not consider that technology can sometimes be an enemy to humanity.
To my knowledge, Andreessen does not once mention that technologies sometimes pose risks. Not the small or the big, like microplastics or global warming. Which is unfortunate, because he spends much time thinking about the children, who are the future, but cannot be the future if they have thalidomide poisoning.Thankfully, this is where Buterin comes in.
Buterin, as mentioned, is keenly aware that digital technologies can be used to exert control, erode privacy and further authoritarianism. He considers how industrial factory farming is likely to cause a future pandemic, given that animal diseases often pass to humans like measles did. He spends a lot of time considering the hot topic of the day, the risks of non-aligned, or rogue, AI.
And this is for the better, because Buterin also spends a lot of time in the further reaches of reality, considering things like brain-computer interfaces, and self-administered open source vaccines and/or nebulizers and … DAOs. Everyone needs to be nebulized sometimes, but technology giveth and taketh, and we’d do well to consider the bad with the good.
Both Andreessen and Buterin know that technology has often led to human flourishing because signs that technology has led to human flourishing are everywhere, and that is good because humanity is good, and so technology should be pursued. The difference is that Buterin acknowledges this progress is not a straight line that moves like an arrow through time.
Buterin also calls for more collaboration and, as Russo puts it, “intentional steering” of tech, whereas Andreesen seems to imply that “great men make history” and that technology is a force that gushes out from the unknowable depths of human ingenuity. Both ideas have their virtues, and it sort of depends on your point of view (and testosterone level) whether you privilege social cohesion or total transformation.
Likewise, both philosophies owe a debt to professional brain Steven Pinker, who fell on a thousand swords a few years ago for deigning to say that the world has gotten better over time, largely due to technology and reason, in “Enlightenment Now.” Which is to say, there is likely still room for MORE manifestos.
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If two manifestos can be published that essentially say the same thing, both repeating a decade-old book that ripped its best ideas from Hegel, who lived in the 1800s, then surely more can be said about capital-P Progress. Just make a few slight alterations; perhaps you give it a globalized perspective or discuss memetics. I will await the treasures of your mind manifesto.
Although Buterin does a good job explaining how “d/acc” can fit well under many political systems, including libertarianism, effective altruism and the punks both solar and lunar, it is still a system with a point of view. In other words, like any theory, Buterin’s is incomplete and can be argued with.
For instance, Andreesen and Buterin both inherently think that this is not the best possible world — because technology can always improve upon the current moment. That is a statement! But what, young Voltaire, if you do think this is the best possible world?
Can the best possible world be improved by technology? Is humanity actually regressing? Am I indirectly trying to inspire the next Ted Kaczynski? It’s up to you to decide, because everyone needs a manifesto!