Marc Andreessen and Al3x Payne
My friend Chris Wiggins just sent me this recent letter by Alex “Al3x” Payne in response to this recent post by Marc Andreessen. Andreessen’s original post is entitled This is Probably a Good Time to Say That I Don’t Believe Robots Will Eat All the Jobs… and the rebuttal is entitled simply Dear Marc Andreessen.
To get a flavor of the exchange, we’ll start with this from Andreessen:
What never gets discussed in all of this robot fear-mongering is that the current technology revolution has put the means of production within everyone’s grasp. It comes in the form of the smartphone (and tablet and PC) with a mobile broadband connection to the Internet. Practically everyone on the planet will be equipped with that minimum spec by 2020.
versus this from Payne:
If we’re gonna throw around Marxist terminology, though, can we at least keep Karl’s ideas intact? Workers prosper when they own the means of production. The factory owner gets rich. The line worker, not so much.
Owning a smartphone is not the equivalent of owning a factory. I paid for my iPhone in full, but Apple owns the software that runs on it, the patents on the hardware inside it, and the exclusive right to the marketplace of applications for it.
You spent a lot of paragraphs on back-of-the-napkin economics describing the coming Awesome Robot Future, addressing the hypotheticals. What you left out was the essential question: who owns the robots?
Please read both the original post and the rebuttal in their entireties. At it’s heart, their conversation strikes me as a somewhat more contentious version of the argument I’ve had with myself about the utopia envisioned in Star Trek.
Namely, at some point we’ll have all these robots doing stuff for us, but how are we going to spread that wealth around? Who owns the robots and when are they going to learn to share? In this vision of the distant future, that critical “singularity of moral enlightenment” (SME) is never explained. I wish I could ask Captain Picard how it all went down.
It’s one thing to lack an explanation for the SME, and to consider it an aspirational quasi-religious utopian goal, but it’s another thing entirely to fail to acknowledge it.
That someone as powerful and famous as Mark Andreessen, who is personally involved in the development and nurturing of so many technology platforms, has trouble seeing the logical inconsistency of his own rhetoric can only be explained by the fact that, as the controller of such platforms, it is he who reaps their benefits. It’s yet another case of someone thinking “this system works for me therefore it is super awesome for everyone and everything, amen.”
I’m hoping Al3x’s fine response will get Marc to consider how SME is gonna happen, and when.