this year, I noticed something in China that really surprised me.
I realized I felt more comfortable discussing controversial
ideas in Beijing than in San Francisco. I didn’t feel
completely comfortable—this was China, after all—just more
comfortable than at home.
showed me just how bad things have become, and how much things
have changed since I first got started here in 2005.
seems easier to accidentally speak heresies in San Francisco every
year. Debating a controversial idea, even if you 95% agree
with the consensus side, seems ill-advised.
will be very bad for startups in the Bay Area.
can have freedom to think and innovate or you can have political
correctness, but you can’t have both, he warns:
get the really good ideas, we need to tolerate really bad and
wacky ideas too. In addition to the work Newton is best
known for, he also studied alchemy (the British authorities banned
work on this because they feared the devaluation of gold) and
considered himself to be someone specially chosen by the almighty
for the task of decoding Biblical scripture.
can’t tell which seemingly wacky ideas are going to turn out to be
right, and nearly all ideas that turn out to be great
breakthroughs start out sounding like terrible ideas. So if
you want a culture that innovates, you can’t have a culture where
you allow the concept of heresy—if you allow the concept at all,
it tends to spread. When we move from strenuous debate about
ideas to casting the people behind the ideas as heretics, we
gradually stop debate on all controversial ideas.
today’s climate, some of the most innovative ideas in tech
— such as Satoshi Nakamoto’s Bitcoin or Elon Musk’s SpaceX — would
have probably have been killed at birth:
don’t know who Satoshi is, but I’m skeptical that he, she, or they
would have been able to come up with the idea for bitcoin immersed
in the current culture of San Francisco — it would have seemed too
crazy and too dangerous, with too many ways to go wrong. If
SpaceX started in San Francisco in 2017, I assume they would have
been attacked for focusing on problems of the 1%, or for doing
something the government had already decided was too hard. I
can picture Galileo looking up at the sky and whispering “E pur si
muove” here today.
pur si muove” — “And yet it moves!” — were purportedly the
words of Galileo, after being tortured by the Church into recanting
his heretical belief that the Earth moves around the Sun.]
the bravest part of the Altman’s article is the moment where he
attempts to introduce Silicon Valley snowflakes to an important
concept dating back to at least 1644 when the poet John Milton
famously explored it in his polemical pamphlet Areopagitica:
the notion that in order to understand what good ideas are, we must
first put ourselves into a position where we are able to discuss —
and reject — bad ideas.
is uncomfortable, but it’s possible we have to allow people to say
disparaging things about gay people if we want them to be able to
say novel things about physics.  Of course we can and should
say that ideas are mistaken, but we can’t just call the person a
heretic. We need to debate the actual idea.
you’ll see from some of the Twitter responses below, this prompted a
mass hurling of toys out of prams which can only be described as
if the tech industry ignores his warning, it will be its loss. As
Altman warns, the exodus from the rampantly PC Bay Area has already
recently, I’ve seen credible people working on ideas like
pharmaceuticals for intelligence augmentation, genetic
engineering, and radical life extension leave San Francisco
because they found the reaction to their work to be so
toxic. “If people live a lot longer it will be disastrous
for the environment, so people working on this must be really
unethical” was a memorable quote I heard this year.
response to the piece by tech industry SJWs goes a very long way to
proving Sam Altman’s point.
inevitably, on comes the SJW to point out that what Sam Altman has
done makes him quite literally Hitler: