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Is Techno-Optimism a New Religion?

David Cowles

Mar 1, 2024

“This is the first time I’ve seen AI presented with all the trappings of a new Aquarian theology.”

I consider myself, on the whole, a techno-optimist. Of course I have concerns, but they are not the concerns of a techno-pessimist…or a techno-nihilist. Recently, however, I came across an intriguing but disturbing document from a16z (Marc Andreessen). The Techno-Optimist Manifesto reads for all the world like the foundational document for a new religion. Think Torah, the Gospel of Mark, the Book of Mormon… or even the Communist Manifesto!

Much has been written about AI, pro and con, some of it right here on Aletheia Today, but this is the first time I’ve seen AI presented with all the trappings of a new Aquarian theology. The human proclivity to idolize, fetishize, and demonize is seemingly boundless. Let’s help ourselves to a few ‘free samples’ from this ideological banquet:

“We are being lied to. We are told that technology takes our jobs, reduces our wages, increases inequality, threatens our health, ruins the environment, degrades our society, corrupts our children, impairs our humanity, threatens our future, and is ever on the verge of ruining everything. We are told to be angry, bitter, and resentful about technology. We are told to be pessimistic…We are told to be miserable about the future.”

This is a stinging, and for the most part accurate, indictment of contemporary techno-nihilism, wrapped as it often is in the language of humanism and social justice. But then begins the New Catechism:

 “We believe everything good is downstream of growth. And so the only perpetual source of growth is technology…We believe technology is a lever on the world – the way to make more with less…We believe free markets are the most effective way to organize a technological economy. 

“We believe the market economy is a discovery machine, a form of intelligence – an exploratory, evolutionary, adaptive system.”

So, the economy is a biological organism. It evolves, it adapts to its environment, and it adapts its environment to itself. It functions intelligently; it’s mind, it’s a kind of brain.

“We believe markets, to quote Nicholas Stern, are how we take care of people we don’t know…” Is this Techno-Optimism’s answer to the Great Commandment and the Parable of the Good Samaritan? 

“We believe Artificial Intelligence is our alchemy, our Philosopher’s Stone – we are literally making sand (silicon) think.” Are we? Did someone make ‘ash (carbon) think’? Neural networks think. Perhaps even individual cells within those networks. (BTW, if silicon is AI’s carbon correlate, what is the AI correlate of the biological cell?) But the individual C or Si atoms by themselves? That’s more of a stretch.  

“We believe technology is the solution to environmental degradation and crisis. A technologically advanced society improves the natural environment, a technologically stagnant society ruins it. If you want to see environmental devastation, visit a former Communist country. 

“We believe that technology ultimately drives…what Buckminster Fuller called ephemeralization: ‘Technology lets you do more and more with less and less until eventually you can do everything with nothing’.” Hmm, maybe that’s how God made the Universe! Something from nothing. Anyhow, this new religion is sounding better, isn’t it?

“We believe the measure of abundance is falling prices. Every time a price falls, the universe of people who buy it, get a raise in buying power, which is the same as a raise in income…We believe we should push to drop prices across the economy through the application of technology until as many prices are effectively zero as possible, driving income levels and quality of life into the stratosphere.”

I’m naïve, and proud of it, but even I can’t swallow this. Unfortunately, our ability to manufacture new ‘must-haves’ and to restrict the flow of capital and goods to preserve social hierarchy is boundless. I don’t care what I have as long as I have more than the Joneses. I must have someone to look down my nose at or what’s living for? (Ok, maybe we do need a new religion after all!)

“We believe that advancing technology is one of the most virtuous things that we can do…We believe in deliberately and systematically transforming ourselves into the kind of people who can advance technology. We believe in adventure. Undertaking the Hero’s Journey, rebelling against the status quo, mapping uncharted territory, conquering dragons, and bringing home the spoils for our community…”

What good is any new creed without ethics? The Manifesto goes on to provide a litany of moral qualities that the new faith extols. It reads like something out of Nietzsche. For brevity’s sake, I’ll just list them in the order in which they appear: ambition, aggression, persistence, relentlessness, strength; merit and achievement, bravery, courage, pride, confidence, earned self-respect. 

The Manifesto goes on to extol certain values: local knowledge, information, variance, interestingness, risk-taking, individualism, radical competence, competition, evolution, life, truth. This new religion is not shy; it is not afraid to take on the big issue: The Meaning of Life. But for my money, here it comes up short:

“Material abundance from markets and technology opens the space for religion, for politics, and for choices of how to live, socially and individually. We believe technology is liberatory. 

Liberatory of human potential. Liberatory of the human soul, the human spirit. Expanding what it can mean to be free, to be fulfilled, to be alive. We believe technology opens the space of what it can mean to be human.”

There’s nothing wrong with this vision per se, but is it alone ‘the meaning of life’? I don’t think so. Maybe we need to keep our traditional religions around a while longer after all.

As in Torah, no list of blessings is complete until it has been paired with a like list of curses:

“We have enemies…Our enemies are not bad people – but rather bad ideas. Our present society has been subjected to a mass demoralization campaign for six decades…under varying names like ‘existential risk, sustainability... (and) social responsibility’. This demoralization campaign is based on bad ideas of the past – zombie ideas…that have refused to die.”

To name just a few of those ‘bad ideas’: stagnation, authoritarianism, socialism, bureaucracy, corruption, monopolies, the ivory tower. The Manifesto closes, fittingly, with Friedrich Nietzsche’s ‘Last Man’:

I tell you: one must still have chaos in oneself to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you: you have still chaos in yourselves. Alas! There comes the time when man will no longer give birth to any star. Alas! There comes the time of the most despicable man, who can no longer despise himself…’What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?’ — so asks the Last Man, and blinks…’We have discovered happiness’, — say the Last Men, and they blink...

“Our enemy is… that.”

AI raises many important questions – but neither demonization nor beatification offer constructive answers. Still, the Manifesto, minus its theological pretensions, offers a powerful argument for AI Optimism. The new tech will undoubtedly generate gobs of new wealth, and, by itself, that’s a good thing.

Any critique of AI that does not immediately acknowledge the enormous potential for good created by this new wealth is off to a very bad start. Job One is to ‘stand back, get out of the way, let it happen’.  Job Two is much more challenging. It concerns the distribution of this new wealth. 

Should we allow this wealth to flow and accumulate as it will, or should we regulate its distribution (the process and/or the end result) in some way? If so, how and to what extent? How should we balance the social value of a more democratic distribution scheme against the dampening effect such a scheme might have on overall production?

Ok, thanks for stopping by, see ya soon…oh, wait, were you expecting us to answer these questions? Sorry about that!


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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