AI won't save the world

Marc Andreessen wants you to put your faith in AI — so he'll make a return on his investment

AI won't save the world
Marc Andreessen in front of the image used to illustrate his essay

Web3 may no longer be on the cusp of transforming the world as you know it, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to despair. Marc Andreessen, whose venture firm Andreessen Horowitz (a16z) was one of the biggest boosters of crypto hype, is back with a new story to fill the void left by the collapse. The time of artificial intelligence (AI) has arrived, he assures us, and Silicon Valley’s new tech isn’t just going to upend the financial industry; it’s going to save the goddamn world!

Don’t listen to the naysayers, he warns. They want you to think AI is on the cusp of sentience and is a threat the future of humanity, or that it will simply exacerbate a whole range of social problems. But those narratives are pushed by “opportunists” who want to shape regulation to “insulate them[selves] from competitors,” or “thought police” who are “paid to be doomers.”

Virtually everyone else might be deceiving you, but there is one person you can trust: Marc Andreessen, who clearly has no ulterior motives in making you believe AI is going to be great for the world. Just forget how that will also pump up the values of AI companies in the short term regardless of whether they deliver on the promises they’re making. The tech industry might be in a tough spot with rising interest rates, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to abandon its successful strategy of using misleading futuristic visions to create hype and extract huge profits along the way.

Andreessen’s wonderful AI future

For Andreessen, AI isn’t a threat to our species, but a means to allow humanity to flourish in ways that were previously unimaginable. He asserts that AI can “generate knowledge in ways similar to how people do it,” and since “human intelligence makes a very broad range of life outcomes better,” AI will “profoundly augment” our innate intelligence, allowing our species to achieve “much, much better” outcomes on everything from medical advancements to space colonization. (It wouldn’t be a tech billionaire manifesto without a nod to longtermism!)

Putting aside the ridiculous conflation of human and artificial intelligence (which is not actually intelligent), what form will that augmentation take? The vision is quite underwhelming compared to the grand revolution on offer. Andreessen plans for a proliferation of AI assistants into virtually every aspect of life, with the expectation their development can only have positive outcomes. We’ll have AI teachers and doctors, as OpenAI CEO Sam Altman keeps saying, along with chatbot therapists and coaches. But they’ll also help us develop new medicines, usher in a “golden age” of creative arts, and even “improve warfare … by reducing wartime death rates dramatically.” There’s not even a hint of the potential downsides.

Ultimately, all the chatbots and AI tools being deployed into the economy will cause productivity growth to “accelerate dramatically,” vastly expanding “material prosperity across the planet.” We don’t need to be worried about the negative impacts, because “patient and sympathetic AI will make the world warmer and nicer,” becoming “quite possibly the most important — and best — thing our civilization has ever created.” He makes it sound as if sci-fi fantasies are within our grasp, if only we place our faith in Silicon Valley one more time.

If you feel your eyes may be on the cusp of rolling out of your head after reading all that, I can hardly blame you. Anyone with any critical thinking skills or historical knowledge of previous hype cycles — especially those involving AI — know that a lot of what Andreessen is saying is utter bullshit. That’s not to say he’s entirely wrong; the nuggets of truth are necessary to get people to buy into the bigger lie.