Could Techno-Optimism Sway the Election?

The movement is growing rapidly... and it could get Trump elected.

The “Dangerous” Politics of Techno-Optimism

The Story: The techno-optimists and their philosophy of innovation at all costs is gaining political traction in America.

This group of tech influencers is mostly made up of affluent, white, middle-aged men, whose names and faces are swiftly gaining influence. Among the most recognizable are Marc Andreessen, David Sacks, and Elon Musk.

Utilizing social media, podcasts, journalism projects, and political contributions, they've transformed a major social media platform (X), boosted a prominent third-party candidate in the presidential election (RFK Jr.), and established a robust podcast network. Several of them have even appeared on the Joe Rogan Podcast, collectively garnering tens of millions of views.

Although the techno-optimists lack a formal political party structure, they share a philosophy that emphasizes free speech, support for artificial intelligence, and skepticism of mainstream media, DEI, and political correctness.

This group of men are not just outspoken about their political views—they have started to put their money where their mouth is. Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman and a16z’s Ben Horowitz are now financially supporting political candidates who align with their tech-focused vision.

Ackman pledged $1 million to back Minnesota’s Rep. Dean Phillips, while Horowitz announced in a December blog post that partners from his firm now plan to fund political candidates who align with their views on supporting technology advancement.

While the impact of the techno-optimist movement on election votes is uncertain, its growing following warrants attention.

Expert Take: Allison Byers is founder & CEO of Scroobious, a video pitch platform for diverse founders to be discovered by and connected to angels, VCs, and corporate investors. She considers herself a “techno-optimist,” but does not align with the “extreme” ends of the philosophy.

“When we talk about techno-optimist, we are looking at a spectrum,” says Byers. “There are plenty of people who are optimistic about technology and also act to understand the potential risks and ethical concerns as an equal part of that optimism.” Byers says she falls under that camp, and believes that “a lot of people would” fall under it too.

Byers is concerned with the direction the techno-optimist philosophy is going. “Where techno-optimism can become dangerous is when it takes on a political or religious-like tone. For instance, if you read Marc Andreessen’s ‘Techno-Optimist Manifesto,’ it really feeds into an emotional reaction and fear-mongering.” Byers mentions Andreessen’s statements that say, “We are being lied to.” She wonders who Andreessen is referring to: “Who is lying to who?”

Although the techno-optimists have not yet formed a formal political party, Byers thinks the tech elites have the influence to sway an American election with their tens of millions of listeners and followers on podcasts and social media.

But she doesn’t trust their motives, believing their ostentation of good intentions are betrayed by their track records of investments. Byers says, “If you read or listen to techno-optimists that are on this more extreme end, or the very high net worth individuals, politically powerful, the large fund managers, they emphasize the power of innovation and technological progress to address global issues—poverty, disease, climate. But, if you look at their investing patterns, they haven’t changed. They are still putting 98% of their dollars, if they are venture capitalists, to men. And 99.5% of dollars to white founders. This is in 2023.”

Bari Weiss, founder of The Free Press, recently wrote an anti-DEI manifesto that aligns with the techno-optimist philosophy. “It is time to end DEI for good,” she writes. “No more standing by as people are encouraged to segregate themselves. No more forced declarations that you will prioritize identity over excellence. No more compelled speech. No more going along with little lies for the sake of being polite.”

Byers doesn’t buy it. She believes that DEI initiatives do not stand in the way of technological progress, but actually promote it. “This core belief from techno-optimists that technology will save our society, and we must pursue it at all costs if we want to grow… well research has repeatedly shown that a diverse team is more productive than a homogeneous team.

Byers continues, “And so when you listen to that type of rhetoric and you see these campaigns against DEI or diversity, it’s a paradox. Fighting for technological advancement while simultaneously fighting to stifle diversity in tech are mutually exclusive.

Elon Musk standing with a Neuralink surgical robot - Steve Jurveston, CC by 2.0

The Story: On Monday, Neuralink, Elon Musk’s brain implant device company, successfully implanted its first chip into a human. Musk updated the public on the news via X yesterday, posting, “The first human received an implant from Neuralink yesterday and is recovering well. Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.”

The neurotech company calls the product Telepathy and claims that it, when implanted, can enable control of a patient’s phone or computer through just his thoughts.

Months after Neuralink initiated the recruitment of potential human test subjects for its clinical trial, the announcement follows the FDA's approval of the trial in May of last year.

Neuralink asked volunteers with quadriplegia (the loss of use of all four limbs) to apply for the trial if they are over the age of 22 and have “limited or no ability to use both hands due to cervical spinal cord injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).”

Expert Take: Paul Le Floch, co-founder & CEO of Axoft, a neurotechnology company developing the next generation of brain implants, anticipates that it will be 5-to-10 years before we see Telepathy become a consumer device widely available to the public.

He says, “Before it becomes a consumer device, which I think is one of the intents of the company, it needs to become a safe and effective medical device because it’s an implant, and implants are regulated in the US.”

Although many fear the negative consequences brain implants could ordain for the human race, Le Floch is in the optimistic camp. “I’m mostly excited [about brain implant technology] because I think it is a novel way to treat patients and answer medical needs that we couldn’t deal with before. Patients with limited ability to communicate, to speak, or to move could actually recover a lot of their abilities.”

Venture Capitalists are Sitting on $300 Billion Dollars of Dry Powder

The Story: Venture capitalists are sitting on a pile of cash $311 billion dollars high. They accumulated most of it during the flourishing venture markets between 2020 and 2022, when investors and limited partners were happily providing billions in capital to VCs.

The pandemic-era boom saw record highs of investment into firms across the venture landscape. Nearly $450 billion was raised in those two years. Then in early 2022, markets began to contract and have stayed on a steep decline since.

The downturn saw firms deploy significantly less money into Silicon Valley startups, opting to shy away from the riskier bets as the pursestrings have tightened. The once free-flowing venture cash spigot has been effectively shut off in recent times.

“Since the middle of 2022, VCs have gotten a lot more cautious.” According to Amy Wu, partner at Menlo Ventures, during the two years of bull markets before 2022, caution was “thrown to the wind.” But, “The reality is that every year, there’s only a handful of generational companies being born, and so when you have, all of a sudden, 5-to-10x more capital into this category, you’ll have super high valuations and a lower performing category.”

But the hundreds of billions of dollars stockpiled by VCs two years ago is still just waiting to be deployed. Firms are sitting on over $300 billion of dry powder, and LPs are beginning to grow impatient as their money sits idle.

A Silicon Valley investor told the Financial Times, “LPs don’t usually like to put pressure on VCs to spend money, but if you’re entering your third year of not doing anything, they’re starting to ask what are my fees for.”

So will 2024 be the year that venture capital opts to return to its risk-taking ways and deploys billions into the startup market?

Expert Take: Amy Wu thinks it’s possible.

In 2024, Wu expects to see a “bigger diversity of AI companies being funded.” She says, “It’s been a banger of a year for AI funding. It’s where most of the funding is going right now in this industry since last year. I think that will continue.”

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