Silicon Valley venture capitalist Marc Andreessen will write a 5,000-word manifesto in 2023, pledging unrestricted technological progress to revitalize markets, expand energy production, improve education, and strengthen liberal democracies. appealed.

The billionaire, who made his fortune as a co-founder of Netscape, a 1990s company that developed a pioneering web browser, believes in a concept known as “technooptimism.” Andreessen summed it up by writing, “We believe that there is no important problem, whether created by nature or created by technology, that cannot be solved with more technology.” I am.

The term techno-optimism is not new. It began to appear after World War II. Nor is it in the state of decline that techno-optimists like Andreessen and Elon Musk would have us believe. Still, Andreessen's essay generated a lot of attention.

As scholars who study technology and society, we have observed that technological optimism is easily linked to national aspirations for a better future. Even more difficult are the questions of how that future will be constructed, what that future will look like, and who will benefit from that change.

Why technology optimism matters

Techno-optimism is a blunt weapon. This suggests that technological advances can solve every problem known to man, also known as technological solutionism.

Its supporters oppose common-sense guardrails and precautions, such as cities limiting the number of new Uber drivers to ease traffic congestion and protect taxi drivers' livelihoods. They dismiss such regulations and restrictions as concerns of Luddites (those who resist disruptive innovation).

In our view, some champions of techno-optimism, such as Bill Gates, rely on the cloak of philanthropy to promote the techno-optimist cause. Some argue that their philanthropy is essentially a public relations stunt to boost their reputation as they continue to control how technology is used to address the world's problems.

The risks of embracing techno-optimism are high, and not just in terms of the role technology plays in society. There are also political, environmental, and economic implications of holding these views. As an ideological position, it prioritizes the interests of certain people (often those who already wield enormous power and resources) over the interests of others. Those cheerleaders may be willfully blind to the fact that most of society's problems, including technology, are caused by humans.

Many scholars are acutely aware of the techno-optimism of social media that pervaded the 2010s. At the time, these technologies received breathtaking media coverage and were promoted by investors and inventors as opportunities to connect disconnected people and bring information to everyone who needed it.

But while social media offers superficial solutions to loneliness and other social problems, it fails to address its underlying structural causes. These may include the erosion of public space, the decline of journalism, and a persistent digital divide.

A young boy plays with a VR headset while looking at a giant computer monitor screen with his arms outstretched.
The future may look bright when you play with the Meta Quest 2 all-in-one VR headset. But that doesn't mean the world's problems are solved.
Nano Calvo/VW Pics/Universal Images Group (Getty Images)

Technology alone can't solve everything

We have both extensively researched economic development initiatives aimed at promoting high-tech entrepreneurship in low-income regions of Ghana and the United States. State-run programs and public-private partnerships have aimed to narrow the digital divide and increase access to economic opportunity.

Many of these programs embrace techno-optimism by investing in shiny tech-centric fixes without addressing the inequalities that led to the digital divide in the first place. In other words, techno-optimism has permeated governments and non-governmental organizations in the same way that it influenced the thinking of billionaires like Andreessen.

Solving intractable problems such as persistent poverty requires a combination of solutions, some of which may include technology. But they are complicated. To us, claiming that every problem in the world has a technological solution is not only optimistic, but also happens to be one of the wealthiest people on the planet, who profit from the technology industry. If you're in a position like this, it seems more convenient.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds The Conversation US and also funds The Conversation internationally.

Source link