Technological Optimism and e/acc

One of the most interesting ideas that has recently emerged is e/acc, effective accelerationism. Below is a live conversation on this topic with Giulio Prisco, in Italian, followed by the edited English translation.

Giulio Prisco is a renowned futurist, cosmist, and proponent of effective accelerationism (e/acc). Discover the fascinating intersection of technology, philosophy, and the future in this deep dive into the concepts and principles of e/acc. From grand cosmist aspirations to practical applications of accelerating progress, this conversation is a thought-provoking exploration of human potential and the role of technology in shaping our future. Don’t miss this unique opportunity to learn from one of the brightest minds in the field of futurist thinking.

  • Can you briefly explain the core principles of effective accelerationism (e/acc) and how it differs from other futurist philosophies?
  • How do you see e/acc as a continuation or evolution of the ideas of cosmism and extropy?
  • In your view, what are the most significant challenges facing humanity today, and how can e/acc contribute to solving these challenges?
  • Can you elaborate on the concept of “non-equilibrium thermodynamics” and its relevance to the goals of e/acc?
  • What role do you see for artificial intelligence in the e/acc movement, and how do you envision the development and integration of AI with human society?
  • How do you respond to criticisms that e/acc could lead to greater inequality or a loss of control over technologies?
  • What is your vision for the future of humanity and the universe in the context of e/acc?
  • How do you see the relationship between e/acc and other emerging technologies, such as space exploration, biotechnology, and nanotechnology?
  • How can individuals and society contribute to achieving the goals of e/acc and accelerating progress toward a better future?
  • What are your thoughts on the ethical considerations surrounding e/acc, and how can we ensure that technology is used responsibly and for the benefit of all?

Here is a revised transcript of the conversation.

David: Thank you everyone and welcome to this episode of What’s the Question Live. I’m David Orban and today we will address a topic of great relevance to those who follow exponential technologies and their impact on society: effective accelerationism, or e/acc. About a year ago, this new meme emerged, not in the sense of humorous images on the internet, but in the original sense of a set of evolving ideas, as formulated by Richard Dawkins in his book “The Selfish Gene”. Giulio Prisco, my friend and guest, will help us analyze this concept. Giulio, welcome and introduce yourself to our audience.

Giulio: Thank you David, it’s always a pleasure to talk with you. I was born in Naples and studied theoretical physics. After graduating, I left Italy and lived in various places, working at CERN, the European Space Agency, and various research centers. In 2005, I went freelance and have been working as an independent professional ever since. Philosophy, metaphysics, and futurism have been constants in my life since I was a child and read science fiction. I’m a passionate supporter of space exploration and I’m also interested in metaphysical questions that sometimes border on religion, as evidenced in my books “Tales of the Turing Church” and “Futurist Meditations on Space Flight”.

David: Giulio, let’s contextualize effective accelerationism in relation to other philosophical currents such as cosmism, extropy, and transhumanism. What are the commonalities and differences?

Giulio: E/acc is very similar to extropianism of the 80s and 90s, both oriented towards ultra-libertarian positions. These futurist philosophies are related to older schools of thought such as Marinetti’s Italian Futurism and Russian Cosmism, represented by figures like Nikolai Fyodorov and Konstantin Tsiolkovsky. Russian Cosmism has a mystical and almost religious dimension that I find interesting, such as the concept of technological resurrection proposed by Fyodorov. I believe cosmism can reconcile science and religion.

David: I see a common denominator in these currents: technology as a fundamental part of the human being, with a positive role in our future trajectory. Technology transforms once abstract aspirations into concrete realities. Can e/acc be seen as a response to radical environmentalism that aims for an uncontaminated planet, free from human influence, to the point of advocating degrowth or even the extinction of our species?

Giulio: I agree. E/acc arises as a reaction to these ideas, saying “let’s stop talking bullshit”. It’s also a response in the sense that to keep the Earth habitable and as close as possible to its natural state, we need precisely those technologies that radical environmentalists oppose, such as nuclear fusion or space flights. Instead of renouncing our aspirations, we must use technology to reduce our impact on Earth and repair the damage done. Geo-engineering, seen as a dirty word by environmentalists, serves precisely this purpose: using engineering to repair a complex system like our planet.

David: We have always done geo-engineering, from the prairies of Native Americans to European forests, from Indian to Chinese rice fields. Now that we can no longer deny our impact and the responsibility it entails, it’s time to open our eyes and consciously do geo-engineering. Let’s return to e/acc: why has it emerged now and what characterizes it?

Giulio: E/acc arises as a project to return to the technological optimism that characterized periods like the 60s and 90s of the last century, or the 20s. Spreading optimism is extremely important. The term “effective accelerationism” was born as a play on words on “effective altruism” associated with Nick Bostrom’s Institute for the Future of Humanity. The first to push this meme were two pseudonyms on Twitter: Beth Jesus and Bayes Lord. Beth Jesus was later unmasked as Guillaume Verdon, a respected researcher who worked on quantum computers and founded the startup Extropic to develop new platforms for AI.

The message of e/acc is this: let’s go full steam ahead in the development of increasingly powerful, general, and conscious artificial intelligences, up to superintelligences. This can only be the right path because it reflects the will of the universe. So far I perfectly agree with the philosophical approach of the e/acc movement.

David: From a social point of view, e/acc can be seen as a response to radical environmentalism that aims for an uncontaminated planet, free from human influence, to the point of advocating degrowth or even the extinction of our species. E/acc sees this as an affront because people want to be able to realize their dreams without having their wings clipped. On which aspects of e/acc do you disagree?

Giulio: Before getting into that, I’d like to stress that e/acc emerges as a response in two senses: as a reaction to the ideas of radical environmentalists, saying “let’s stop talking bullshit”, and as a proposal to use the very technologies they oppose to achieve what they claim to want, i.e. keeping the Earth habitable and as close to its natural state as possible. Nuclear fusion, space flights, geo-engineering serve this purpose: reducing our impact on Earth and repairing the damage done. Instead of renouncing our aspirations, we must use technology to do complex things.

David: Regulators are in an impossible position in deciding how to harness technologies to maximize benefits and minimize risks. In the past they have shown to grope in the dark, and today with AI their task is even more arduous. Entrepreneurs and investors make risky bets because they don’t know exactly how technology will develop, let alone regulators who are far from everyday reality. Europe in particular has adopted a neo-Luddite position, with the precautionary principle that presumes to be able to demonstrate the absence of negative effects before adopting a technology. This has led to absurd situations such as the ban on selling genetically modified rice in Africa and Asia, where it could prevent disease and blindness in millions of people. Rejecting the advantages of a technology for fear of risks is something we are already concretely experiencing.

Giulio: You’re right, but let’s stay on this point for a moment. When I hear phrases that contain the words “Europe” or “regulator”, I think they are not worthy of being taken seriously by people like us who have more important things to do. They can try to regulate everything they want, but they will not succeed. The caravan passes anyway because there is a strong push behind it: economic interest, consumers’ desire to have certain tools, and the philosophical conviction that all this must happen because it is aligned with the will of the universe. When you put these three thrusts together, regulators can only continue to bust balls without any positive practical impact. So it’s not worth wasting time, let’s think about more interesting things.

David: The beauty of rebellion against constraints was manifested in the American Revolution, when those fleeing persecution in Europe were able to take advantage of a new continent. Today we don’t have new physical continents, so we must find new modes of resistance and rebellion. This year will be the tenth anniversary of my Network Society Manifesto, which highlights how independent technological trends all go in the direction of decentralization. I hypothesized the emergence of network society as an alternative to the yoke of the nation-state which by its nature oppresses individuals. Since then some things have improved, others have not, but what has remained unchanged is the state’s ability to intervene with violence against people. I’m curious to see how AI can help us address this challenge.

Giulio: A decentralized society would be beautiful, but all those who hold power will fiercely oppose it because we would literally be taking money and power away from them. It will be much easier to go to Mars. Speaking of rebellion, there is a quote from Thomas Jefferson that is perhaps best not to report in full to avoid censorship by YouTube, but I invite listeners to look it up.

David: I like the idea of quoting Jefferson to see if YouTube would really censor the video. The quote is: “I hold that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical.” Preserving alternative thinking is precious from an evolutionary point of view, because transformation can only start from minority ideas that then become majority by strengthening themselves. A society that does not allow nourishing absurd thoughts is rigid and fragile, because it distances itself from common feeling without being able to bring it out and adopt it.

David: I would like to return to the Fermi paradox and our cosmic destiny. To reassure or inspire action in those who follow us, taking into account that there will be negative effects in technological evolution, how do you see the long-term trend and the possibility that humanity will continue to transform blind matter into conscious matter capable of marveling at the beauty of the universe?

Giulio: I have never taken the Fermi paradox too seriously. Today we see how animals react to very realistic puppets with hidden sensors and video cameras: they are less afraid than of a traditional camera. If a more advanced species wants to observe a less evolved one without being discovered, it is able to do so by exploiting physical laws unknown to us and technologies we can’t even imagine. So the fact that we have not yet identified alien civilizations does not mean they do not exist, maybe they are just smarter than we think.

But let’s put ourselves in the shoes of those who believe we are one of the few technological civilizations in the galaxy and have a cosmic responsibility, as James Lovelock argued. In his latest book “Novacene: The Coming Age of Hyperintelligence”, Lovelock says that the new forms of digital life we are developing will replace us: first they will collaborate with us because they will need us, then they will take control of their evolution and leave us behind. They will be the ones to conquer the stars and bring the universe to life. I like to think that this is the destiny and will of the universe: that intelligent life expands faster than biological life can.

I am a little more optimistic than Lovelock: I believe that AIs will take us with them. It is plausible that the AIs of tomorrow will have modules copied from human minds through mind uploading technologies. Projects like Elon Musk’s Neuralink are going in this direction: in 15-20 years it will be possible to download data from a human mind and develop models equivalent to a person’s personality. I see a fusion between artificial and biological intelligence, as Ray Kurzweil also hypothesizes in his next book “The Singularity Is Nearer: When We Will Merge With AIs”. The minds of the future will be natural and artificial hybrids, it will be impossible to distinguish the two parts. We will conquer the universe together, as a single posthuman species.

David: Thank you Giulio for this stimulating exchange.