Doomers Versus Zoomers
I’m taking advantage of the Substack platform to target some specific audiences and issues. Most recently, I’ve gathered together my work on technology and “futurism” under the heading of The Free Market Futurist. It’s a perspective that is badly needed today.
Below I have reproduced the introductory post for that newsletter. Many of the articles being posted there were originally written for The Tracinski Letter, and I will largely be re-posting pieces from here to target an audience that is specifically interested in AI, progress studies, and emerging technology. But I hope some of you will subscribe to the new newsletter just to help support it. This is an area that has come under intense focus recently, so I want to take advantage of the opportunity to promote a pro-reason, pro-progress, pro-freedom approach to new technology.
Below, I reproduce the introductory post from The Free Market Futurist.
This is the first official post to The Free-Market Futurist, which I am using to collect all of my writings about the impact of emerging technology, particularly artificial intelligence and automation, looked at from the perspective of someone who is optimistic about the benefits of new technology and also optimistic about our ability to plan for and adapt to technological change—if we are left free to do so.
If you’re interested in these topics, subscribe now, and particularly note that a “founding” subscription will allow you to offer a little extra help to encourage the growth of this newsletter.
I have been writing on these issues off and on for many years, but in the past few months, it seems like everyone else is now jumping into the discussion, particularly after the release of the latest versions of OpenAI’s ChatGPT.
But you may have noticed two trends in the response. First is AI doomerism, the fear that more powerful artificial intelligence will lead us to the robot apocalypse envisioned for decades in science fiction. Second, and closely related, is the idea that the first thing emerging new technology requires is government regulation.
I noted this trend in one of my earliest forays into this kind of “futurism,” in which I responded to a pitch for the revival of the Office of Technology Assessment as a kind of central planner for new technology. I argued that individual planning in the marketplace is likely to be more effective than central planning—as it always has been. “The best and most effective plans for dealing with radical new technology and its impact on our lives are going to be made by individuals. That should be the target audience for a new generation of futurists.”
See that piece here:
I’ll be posting new articles here and also aggregating interesting articles from other writers. Plus, I am gathering together my backlog of articles from the past 12 years or so, many of which have held up extremely well. Check out this one about why we can’t yet have the flying cars we envisioned in science fiction—not without some very radical new technology.
Part of my goal here is to offer a realistic assessment of emerging technology and sort out the realistic prospects from the irrational hopes and fears. I’ve done that recently with some very philosophical examination of the fundamental limits of artificial intelligence.
See also my review of the basic economics of artificial intelligence, and the fundamental reason why robots won’t take our jobs.
But the title of this newsletter is The Free Market Futurist, so I will be focusing most on why we should be skeptical of claims to predict and centrally plan future innovation and its adoption.
And I will be arguing against some of the most common big-government “solutions” proposed for adapting to new technology.
Again, please subscribe, which will help to grow this newsletter and also give you access to participation in the comments section.
The Moratorium on Digital Brains
AI and automation will certainly cause some disruption to the economy. Some jobs will change and some may begin to fade away. But if you want to make is easier for people to adjust, the best approach is not to get in the way of new innovation, but to encourage it to happen as quickly as possible. The faster a new technology is implemented, the greater the growth it produces—and, thanks to Say’s Law, the greater the demand it creates for other labor, making it easier for displaced workers to find new jobs and train themselves with the skills needed to perform them.
What is most striking about the reaction to recent progress on artificial intelligence is that the reaction is the opposite.
The media is dominated right now by the “AI doomers.” Techdirt provides an overview.
When a British tabloid headline screams, “Attack of the psycho chatbot,” it’s funny. When it’s followed by another front-page headline, “Psycho killer chatbots are befuddled by Wordle,” it’s even funnier. If this type of coverage stayed in the tabloids, which are known to be sensationalized, that was fine.
But recently, prestige news outlets have decided to promote the same level of populist scaremongering: The New York Times published “If we don’t master AI, it will master us” (by Harari, Harris & Raskin), and TIME magazine published “Be willing to destroy a rogue datacenter by airstrike” (by Yudkowsky).
In just a few days, we went from “governments should force a 6-month pause” (the petition from the Future of Life Institute) to “wait, it’s not enough, so data centers should be bombed.” Sadly, this is the narrative that gets media attention and shapes our already hyperbolic AI discourse.
Yes, they really are planning a moratorium on digital brains, with some proposing a 6-month pause in AI research and some taking it to its logical conclusion—does anyone think a mere six months would satisfy the doomers?—and proposing a longer one. I am sure China will agree to abide by this limitation on its research.
Doomers Versus Zoomers
This is a long-standing trend in media reporting on emerging technology. The pattern for every new article is: “Here’s this innovative and fast-growing new technology—but nobody’s regulating it!” The authors rarely pause to consider that perhaps the reason the technology is innovative and fast-growing is because nobody is regulating it or imposing a moratorium on new research. But much of the media coverage seems to be trying to wish such a regulatory moratorium into existence.
It strikes me that we need a more consistent effort in defense of technological progress in general and AI innovation in particular. To counter the AI doomers we need more AI zoomers—people advocating for advancing this new technology as fast as possible.
We need to recapture a mindset where we view innovation and a high-tech future as exciting and desirable, rather than as an object onto which to project a personal sense of existential dread.
We need more zoomers instead of doomers—more people who want technological progress to be celebrated and liberated. That is exactly what I will be encouraging here.
Please consider subscribing to support this effort.