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E/Acc - What is it?
The e/acc movement has gained notoriety amongst some of Silicon Valley's elite recently. But what is it and where did it come from?
I first read about the e/acc movement on X last Sunday. It stands for “effective accelerationism” and counts some of tech’s most prominent figures including Garry Tan, CEO of Y Combinator, and venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen, amongst its supporters.
It’s seen by its proponents as a more positive view of technological growth. They believe that, rather than leading us into a dystopian world run by robots, AI will create a utopia where scarcity becomes a thing of the past.
The Origins of Effective Accelerationism
Perhaps ominously, the name is derived from the social movement known as “effective altruism” - infamously followed by Sam Bankman-Fried, the disgraced CEO of FTX.
Although it’s only become widely known recently, the ideas for the accelerationism movement appear to come from a 1967 novel by Roger Zelazny named Lord of Light.
One plot in the novel revolves around a group of revolutionaries who want to take their society to a higher level by transforming attitudes toward technology. Zelazny called them the Accelerationists.
In more recent years a British philosopher named Nick Land has built upon the idea. A lecturer at Warwick University in the 90s, Land has become popular for writing about the inevitable end of humanity (thanks to AI) and “human biodiveristy” - a term for what he seems to believe is a form of eugenics.
Other accelerationists now distance themselves from Land but his mark on the movement has been made. He argued that capitalism had never been properly unleashed, but instead had always been held back by politics - he believes that accelerationism is the movement that will finally unleash it.
Effective Accelerationism Explained
The basic premise of the movement is that we should harness the full potential of innovation and capitalism to bring about transformative social change; even if it requires a complete overhaul of the current social structure.
Beff Jezos, a pseudonym for one of the most vocal accelerationists and an influential figure in the tech space, wrote an outline of the movement’s beliefs on his Substack. His (fairly lengthy and complex) rationale is the following:
Matter rearranges itself to harness energy from its surroundings, contributing to the maintenance and reproduction of its own state of matter.
Life emerged out of dissipative adaption - a process that describes how systems can self-organize and evolve by exchanging energy and matter with their environment, leading to increased complexity and order while dissipating energy.
The universe favors creating matter that has adapted itself to capture more free energy and convert it into entropy.
Life seeks to replicate because the universe wants more entities that consume energy and convert it into entropy. This leads to evolution - a process that favors the replication of entities that convert entropy into energy.
Intelligence emerges as a result of this - it allows life to identify patterns in the environment which aim to find resources to procreate and/or maintain intelligent life. This also gives rise to consciousness which accelerationists believe arises naturally as intelligence passes a certain threshold.
Beyond single agents come groups of agents. These can include organized groups working together which form an emergent whole - states, corporations, networks, etc.
These organizations compete for resources in a capitalist system.
Information propagation is part of the intelligence of civilization as a whole.
Capitalism is therefore a form of intelligence that changes the environment, captures energy, and uses it to grow and maintain our civilization.
The main goal of the e/acc movement is to help accelerate this force rather than attempt to slow it down as many have suggested doing recently with the AI boom.
Why Has It Become So Popular?
As with anything, there are likely many reasons why accelerationism has grown but here are a few which I think are key.
Reaction to Technological Advances: As technology becomes a bigger part of our lives, accelerationist ideas become more appealing to some, particularly those in the tech industry.
Dissatisfaction: As we’ve seen with the rise of populism, many people are dissatisfied with the current political and economic systems. Accelerationism seeks to hasten the collapse of existing systems to pave the way for something new.
Global Crises: Global crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic, economic recessions, and climate change have highlighted the limitations of existing systems. Accelerationism offers a radical approach to addressing these issues by advocating for rapid change.
A large portion of the movement’s supporters seem to see it as a kind of tongue-in-cheek idea to get involved with. How many of them genuinely want, or believe, it can go mainstream isn’t clear.
Nor does it explain why “capturing free energy” is a goal we should strive for or why it might result in a good outcome for the majority of humanity.
I’m all for accelerating technological progress but I don’t think it should be a goal in and of itself.
We’ve already seen how bad things can go when technology advances unchecked. The rise of mental health disorders strongly correlates with the rise of social media and developments in non-IT based forms of technology, such as transportation or manufacturing, have unquestionably been bad for the environment.
How much worse could advanced AI make everything if it’s allowed to be developed with no guardrails?
As with most things tech-related, it seems the supporters of e/acc mean well. However, considering some people are genuinely worried about AI destroying humanity, supporting a movement to advance it as quickly as possible seems like a questionable idea…
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