It’s truly autumnal here in Berlin. It’s grey and wet and cold-ish, and you know what? It’s fine! Wrap yourself up in a cozy coat and go meet some folks for that long-overdue coffee, or whatever feels good.
Speaking of re-connecting, if you’re on Bluesky, hit me up! Of all the potential Twitter replacements, this is the one that right now feels nice. And for what it’s worth, it appears that the German-speaking journalist & politics bubble is exploding there right now, which, y’know, also nice. It’s still early days, though, so who knows. (If you need an invite, ping me, just hit reply on this email.)
Last week I was in Brussels for the Tech & Society Funders meeting, a gathering of a bunch of… you guessed it… funders at the exact intersections that my work is also focused on. It was really good to reconnect with a bunch of folks and meet some new people as well. It’s a field that’s still finding itself under this large umbrella term “& Society,” so it’s good to have these occasions to chat and learn from one another.
I’m getting serious about planning for 2024. If you want to have a chat about potential collaborations, now’s the right time to flag that and we can schedule a chat. Q1 is filling up already, but beyond that there’s plenty of room as of yet, and it’s always nice to start slotting in all the projects early.
Oh, on a whim I cleaned up my website. The archives of like 20 years of blog posts I’ll definitively keep around but the “front-facing” stuff is now reduced by maybe two thirds. Feel free to take a look and let me know if this still makes sense :)
Now, on to the juicy hot topics of the day.
That manifesto you read about
Soooo… I’m not quite sure how to start with this. Over the last few days you might have heard about a new Silicon Valley manifesto. Specifically, the Techno-Optimist Manifesto by Marc Andreesen, co-founder of high-profile VC firm AndreesenHorowitz.
I don’t want to link to it, because I want to contribute the little I can to not give it power, attention, traffic. Let me just say this: I consider this a highly problematic, somewhat vile document full of populist anger. It’s also just… long and rambling and stupid? Like 500 AI-generated fortune cookie messages tacked together into a long text file. It’s garbage.
It’s highly influential garbage from a highly influential person with a rabid following of tech bros, much like Musk’s. And two things stood out to me that I wanted to flag:
One, this manifesto is incredibly reactionary. This elderly billionaire considers himself an underdog innovator. Yet he’s the most elite of the elite (I don’t mean that as a compliment), the most establishment person you can imagine. Nothing he does hints at innovation; he literally does what finance dudes and the financial system do best, which is to use capital to attract more capital. There’s nothing new or innovative about this. As a billionaire VC in tech, one can argue fairly easily that he won. He’s on top of the world. But it’s not enough, he also needs to get all the admiration and praise, apparently, and wants to crush his enemies along the way. Which brings us to…
Two, the enemy. Which he names. He actually names enemies! And guess who it is? It’ is the “mass demoralization campaign”…
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”.
He literally names “trust and safety” and “tech ethics” and “sustainable development goals” as enemies.
As someone who works every day towards backing the folks who work on these important issues, there’s no limit to the facepalming I want to do when I read this. And I’d shrug it off as the cringe-worthy ramblings of an old man, but this is a highly influential and well-resourced man with a strong action bias, and so I assume that it won’t be long before his rabid fanbase will start attacking trust and safety folks. Sigh.
So yeah, at least I rest well knowing that I fall into the “enemy” camp. There’s beauty in moral clarity, I guess?
Trust & Safety Tycoon is a super fun and fascinating simulation game in which you play a head of Trust & Safety in a social media platform: “Trust & Safety Tycoon is a game exploring the difficult choices and tradeoffs involved in managing a trust and safety team.” You can get play through all the hard trade-offs between content moderation, user preferences and advertiser wishes, but without receiving death threats!
A novel I quite enjoyed: What You Are Looking For Is in the Library (Goodreads) by Michiko Aoyama, out in the English translation as of this summer, is really quite lovely.
If you haven’t played around with ChatGPT, or not in a while, I recommend you check out the new version based on GPT-4. It’s what you get if you sign up for the premium plan. Personally, I find it super interesting to develop a bit of an intuitive feeling for these systems. And new app just rolls out photo inputs, i.e. you can take photos of things and interrogate these photos via ChatGPT. It feels like a big jump, but for what use cases I’m not sure yet. As a side note, for an experimental project we’ve been exploring ChatGPTs ability to support basic research tasks and it’s been interesting to see this come together. As always, the failure modes tend to me more fascinating than when it works, but that’s just the novelty aspect of it all.
Note: This is cross-posted from my newsletter in an attempt to both to make it easier to read this via RSS feed and to have this in my own independent archives. You can subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox.