Techno-Optimism and Its Ties to the U.S. Patent System

by Dennis Crouch

The idea of “techno-optimism” has been gaining traction lately, thanks to wealthy venture capitalist Marc Andreessen. In his recent essay “The Techno-Optimism Manifesto,” Andreessen lays out his vision of how constant technological development leads to to abundance, progress, and human flourishing.

At its core, techno-optimism is the belief that technological innovation is an inherent good that we should actively encourage as a society.  Many go further and view technological advance as the only way for humanity to survive and thrive.

We believe that there is no material problem – whether created by nature or by technology – that cannot be solved with more technology. . . . Give us a real world problem, and we can invent technology that will solve it.

Andreessen’s sees a potential future of unlimited clean energy, material abundance, and exponential progress driven by AI.

Andreessen’s techno-optimism is enmeshed with his libertarian notions of laissez faire no-regulation, no worries for sustainability beyond the market, and no social responsibility or civic duty.  Truthfully, Andreessen’s manifesto appears fairly unhinged once you delve into the particular theocracy, but may be reflective of the mindset of the investment elite.  Still, if I can pick and choose, then I can find substantial merit with the general idea of optimism that technology can help the human condition.

Andreessen’s manifesto does not mention patents or intellectual property directly. I see a good amount of alignment, as well as some tension with his particular views.

The general ethos of embracing technology for the betterment of humankind aligns closely with the rationale behind the U.S. patent system. Since its origins, the patent system has been premised on the idea that providing inventors with exclusive rights over their creations for a limited time will incentivize technological innovation — and thus “promote the progress.”  By granting patents, society encourages inventors to push boundaries and also disclose their breakthroughs in ways that foster further innovation.

Like techno-optimist theory, the U.S. patent system is built on the belief that technological progress is good for society. While patents do create the potential of temporary monopolies, the intended outcome is faster innovation and diffusion of knowledge over the long-term.  Andreessen’s pro-capital pro-property stance suggests general support for the system despite the temporary limits on competition. But, the major complaint about the patent system is that  it can begin to appear like a form of regulation that is picking winners without actually promoting innovation.

Another coupling here is that techno-optimists believe that a small innovators can change the world and should be rewarded for their successful endeavors.  In this vein, patent rights are a key tool to facilitate competition against against large established players. Patents help level the playing field.

33 thoughts on “Techno-Optimism and Its Ties to the U.S. Patent System

  1. 10

    Andreessen’s argument goes like this: Combat sports play a primal role in human civilization. An M.M.A.-like sport, pankration, was part of the ancient Greek games beginning in 648 B.C. and was used to train Greek soldiers. (“If the hair on the back of your neck isn’t going up as you read this …” Andreessen writes, after quoting a few paragraphs from Wikipedia.) Modern American society, at least in the big cities, is turning on law enforcement and tolerating crime, so you need combat skills to protect your loved ones. We are also fat and depressed, and learning to fight might help on both counts. In conclusion, “if it was good enough for Heracles and Theseus, it’s good enough for us.”

    Just another Silly Con Valley ultra-d0rk with too much time on his hands. Why can’t these anti-social t o o ls just retire somewhere quiet and leave the rest of us alone?

  2. 9

    The idea of “techno-optimism” has been gaining traction lately,…

    I would take exception to this statement as a general matter of principal in that by putting the buzzword in quotes, one is attempting to take a GIVEN at the time of our nation’s very start and the foundational importance of HAVING a patent system in the first place as somehow “different,” just because the current Kondratiev wave of innovation is different.

    The foundation remains the same.

      1. 9.1.1

        The nay-sayers have been awfully quiet of late.

        Guess they have no cognitive replies to the last points provided.

  3. 8

    Life, the universe, and everything turn on infinitesimal asymmetries and computationally impossible complexity.

    If “technology” means manipulation of the cosmos by chemical or mechanical means (which is what I think it means) rather than the abstract universe of human thought, than how can technology’s value/effects not mirror the spectrum of value/effects of any other human endeavor?

    Some technology will be good, and helpful, and other technology will be bad, and hurtful.

    Dreaming of technology to be is not technology, but a necessary component of technology, and dreams may come- in any shape.

    Andreeson is a classic blowhard and he always has been.

    1. 8.2

      chemical or mechanical means

      Is there a reason why you are self-limiting with these two modes?

      (the patent system is not so limited)


          I will meet your question with a question back:

          Do you consider software to be mechanical? How about electric flow and changes thereto?


              Per se?

              Easy: no.

              Your turn to give an answer.

              Don’t let the Printed Matter Doctrine — and its critical exceptions — trip you up.

  4. 6

    Re: “no material problem – whether created by nature or by technology – that cannot be solved with more technology.”
    If, as it appears, especially lately, that the largest material problem is human irrationality and ignorance, and its impact on democracy, how much solution by technology are we seeing for that problem?

    1. 6.1

      The problem with schmucks like Andreesen is they are immune from the consequences of their self-absorbed idiocy.

      1. 6.1.1


        … self-absorbed….

        Pot, meet kettle.

        No, wait, pot meet galactic black hole.

        As for “consequences,” what — exactly — did you have in mind for consequences of someone sharing their views?

        (careful on that one, given your own ‘kettle/black hole’ status)

      2. 6.1.2

        What? Malcolm (the prophet) has no answers and has run away (yet again)….

        I am shocked. Shocked, I tell you.

    2. 6.2


      If… the largest material problem is human irrationality and ignorance, … how much solution by technology are we seeing for that problem?

      ^^^ abridged to the larger issue

      Anyone who has studied innovation and is aware of the capture of Academia (writ large) by the socio/Politico/quasi-religious Sprint Left recognize that actual implementation of technology (and its attendant structure of objectivity-merit based ideologies) dictate the denigration of technology (e.g., ‘math is Racy ist’).

      Just google “two plus two does not equal four” and “other knowledge” to see the drivers.

      I tend to doubt that this is what you had in mind….

      1. 6.2.1

        I’ve studied the lumps on anon’s head and consulted with the world’s leading phrenologists (taking advantage of artificial intelligence at every step). He really is as nuts as he sounds.


          There you go again – projecting as usual.

          Must be so distressing for you, how I always have the better position.

  5. 4

    But, the major complaint about the patent system is that it can begin to appear like a form of regulation that is picking winners without actually promoting innovation.

    Not if it were let to be as it was.

  6. 3

    He say: give us a real world problem and we can come up with the technology to solve it. The biggest real world problem of all is that there are too many people on Planet Earth. And I am 100% sure that the technology is already available, to solve that particular problem.

    Correction. In writing my first paragraph I now realise that the biggest problem of all is that humankind can’t agree on what to do about any “real world problem” large or small, even one that is going to close out life as we know it, here on Planet Earth. The only ones amongst us who can afford to be optimistic are indeed exclusively what you call “the investment elite”, or at least those of them who have reserved their living area in Siberia or New Zealand’s south island.

    1. 3.1

      COVID was intentional (as well as the “vaccine”)…..?

      How deep should we take your path into the rabbit hole?

      1. 3.1.1

        Kudos, anon. It’s all well and good asserting that tech can solve any problem in the “real world” but are not the biggest problems facing humanity in the abstract world of human thought, because of the real world actions those thoughts trigger. What do we do about those problems in the world of thought?

        Invent technology to control human thought? Who shall write the Rules governing the application of the technology of thought control? Big Brother? What does Marc Andreessen tell us about that?

        Pity George Orwell is no longer around, to pick his brain on the matter.


          Why do you assume the premise that “thoughts” are the problem and need to be controlled?

          Is that not the very lesson that Orwell preached against?

  7. 1

    Andreessen’s manifesto appears fairly unhinged once you delve into the particular theocracy…

    “Theocracy”? Did you mean “theory” here?

    1. 1.1

      “Theocracy”? Did you mean “theory” here?
      Is there a difference? Asking for a friend.

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