Technological Optimism and Technological Pragmatism

Dave Karpf:

And of course, as I’ve noted elsewhere, today’s tech barons are also proud techno-optimists. Elon Musk, Sam Altman, Marc Andreessen, Peter Thiel… it turns out the one thing that all of Silicon Valley’s billionaire-class agrees on is that life is headed in a good direction.

In its most innocent form, this generic optimism has a saccharine quality. (It’s The Secret, but with pitch decks and vanity metrics.)

More often, what I think is happening is that comfortable tech elites deploy ideological optimism as a shield. There is an agenda-setting function at work here. The problem with techno-optimism is the pragmatic questions that it forecloses. The problem is all that is obscured when we behave as though the world will naturally improve (so long as we collectively wish hard enough.)

This is a very good essay which gestures toward the gap between noticing problems, and either ignoring them or doing something about them. There are those who reflexively insist that criticism is antithetical to progress — that pointing out the failures of something new is a good way to kill the new thing. I reject that assertion. If the new thing has enough good qualities, its proponents should welcome criticism that will improve it. We should welcome negative forces which require rethinking things and causing them to get better.