On a Monday night last month, a few hours after OpenAI held an event for developers in downtown San Francisco, hundreds of artificial intelligence aficionados packed into a three-story nightclub several blocks away to celebrate a looser, less corporate vision of the A.I. future.
Under colorful lights and screens showing anime images, the mostly young, mostly male crowd danced to a D.J. set by the musician Grimes, who is better known in tech circles as Elon Musk’s ex. A big banner on the wall read “Accelerate or Die.” Another sign showed a diagram of an A.I. neural network emblazoned with the motto “Come and Take It.” An A.I. start-up handed out promotional fliers that read “THE MESSENGER TO THE GODS IS AVAILABLE TO YOU.”
The party was called “Keep A.I. Open,” and it was a coming-out bash of sorts for Effective Accelerationism, one of the weirder and more interesting splinter groups that have emerged from the A.I. boom of the past year.
Effective Accelerationism (often shortened to “e/acc,” pronounced “e-ack”) is a loosely organized movement devoted to the no-holds-barred pursuit of technological progress. The group believes that artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies should be allowed to move as fast as possible, with no guardrails or gatekeepers standing in the way of innovation.
The group formed on social media last year, and bonded in Twitter Spaces and group chats over memes, late-night conversations and shared scorn for the people they call “decels” and “doomers” — the people who worry about the safety of A.I., or the regulators who want to slow it down. It has moved offline, too, with parties and hackathons in the Bay Area and beyond.
Effective Accelerationism began as a cheeky response to an older, more established movement — Effective Altruism — that has become a major force in the A.I. world. E.A., as the older group is known, got its start promoting a data-driven approach to philanthropic giving, but in recent years has been worrying about A.I. safety, and promoting the idea that powerful A.I. could destroy humanity if left unrestrained.
The battle between the e/accs and the Effective Altruists is one of many quasi-religious schisms breaking out in San Francisco’s A.I. scene these days, as insiders argue about how quickly the technology is progressing, and what should be done about it.
E/acc prefers the all-gas, no-brakes approach. Its adherents favor open-sourcing A.I. software rather than having it be controlled by big corporations, and unlike Effective Altruists, they don’t see powerful A.I. as something to be feared or guarded against. They believe that A.I.’s benefits far outweigh its harms, and that the right thing to do with such important technology is to get out of the way and let it rip.
Some of the ideas e/acc has adopted, like its opposition to regulation, are standard techno-libertarian gospel. Others resemble tenets of older Silicon Valley subcultures, like the Transhumanists and the Extropians, who also valued progress and resisted attempts to contain technology. The movement also borrows from the works of the British philosopher Nick Land, who wrote years ago that the accelerating forces of capitalism and A.I. would ultimately collide in a “techno-capital singularity,” a point at which technology would outstrip our ability to contain it. (More recently, Mr. Land has fallen out of favor after endorsing far-right ideas about race and authoritarianism.)
In a manifesto posted online last year, e/acc’s founders — all of whom used inside-joke pseudonyms like “Bayeslord” and “Based Beff Jezos” — described their goals in lofty, bombastic terms, writing that their goal was to “usher in the next evolution of consciousness, creating unthinkable next-generation lifeforms.”
Most people, of course, want to keep the life-forms we already have, and critics of e/acc chafe at the idea that we should roll over and let the robots overtake us. Peter S. Park, an A.I. researcher at M.I.T. and the director of Stakeout.AI, an A.I. safety advocacy group, told me he considers e/acc “a dangerous unaccountable ideology inspired by replacing humanity with A.I.”
I first heard about e/acc about a year ago. At the time, the movement seemed to consist mainly of bored tech workers who gathered late at night to have heady conversations about politics and philosophy, discuss the news and complain about the emerging narrative that A.I. was a looming threat to humanity.
“A lot of my personal friends work on powerful technologies, and they kind of get depressed because the whole system tells them that they are bad,” Guillaume Verdon, a 31-year old French-Canadian physicist who once worked in an experimental lab at Google, said in a Twitter Space earlier this year, which was transcribed by someone who attended. “For us, I was thinking, let’s make an ideology where the engineers and builders are heroes.”
Initially, I wrote the movement off as a fringe novelty — a bunch of Twitter-addicted techies with persecution complexes turning warmed-over Ayn Rand into edgy memes.
But a few months later, tech luminaries like Marc Andreessen, the co-founder of the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, started showing up in e/acc’s Twitter Spaces, and proclaiming that he, too, believed in effective accelerationism. (Mr. Andreessen’s profile on X, the social network formerly known as Twitter, now includes “e/acc,” and he listed Based Beff Jezos and Bayeslord as two of his “patron saints” in the techno-optimist manifesto he published in October.)
Garry Tan, the president of the influential start-up incubator Y Combinator, signaled his support for e/acc. Sam Altman, the chief executive of OpenAI, replied to a Based Beff Jezos tweet and joked “you cannot outaccelerate me.” And the movement gradually broadened beyond A.I., with some leaders pushing for cryptocurrencies or nuclear fusion.
Soon, the movement was gaining steam in Silicon Valley, and officials in Washington were warning about its growing influence. It was a sure sign, to the e/acc crowd, that they had trolled the right people.
Last week, Forbes revealed that Based Beff Jezos was actually Mr. Verdon, who now runs an A.I. hardware start-up called Extropic. (Mr. Verdon, who has had enough media exposure for one week, declined to be interviewed for this column.) His unmasking took some of the mystique out of e/acc, but it didn’t seem to dampen followers’ enthusiasm.
I interviewed several e/acc supporters recently, ranging from early joiners to more recent converts. All of them praised the movement as a refreshing antidote to the pessimism of the A.I. safety crowd.
Amjad Masad, the chief executive of the A.I. coding start-up Replit (and an investor in Mr. Verdon’s start-up), told me that he liked e/acc “as a meme counterweight to all the A.I. doom and gloom.”
Julie Fredrickson, a start-up investor, said that e/acc is “a fun shorthand for a future that prioritizes progress and solutions.”
Rochelle Shen, a start-up founder and biohacker, said she was welcomed by the e/acc crowd after being turned off by the stuffiness and insularity of Effective Altruism.
“E.A. is so 2019,” she said. “You go to their parties, the guys don’t know how to dress, and the conversations are totally controlled by these one or two thought leaders.”
E/acc, she added, is “fun to be around.”
These are, of course, verdicts on e/acc’s vibes, not its ideas, some of which are still too extreme for many people to swallow. Critics have pointed to the fact that some of e/acc’s leaders, including Mr. Verdon, seem to actually agree with the Effective Altruists that a rogue A.I. could wipe out humanity, but aren’t bothered by the idea, since superhuman A.I. could represent a logical next step in evolution. And some have noticed that the movement has gotten more partisan and serious as it has grown.
“I liked it when it was an ironic countermovement instead of what seems to be transforming into an earnest libertarian movement,” said Aidan Gomez, the chief executive of the A.I. company Cohere.
Even Grimes, who played the e/acc party last month, has distanced herself from the movement, saying in a post on X that she was “dj-ing in enemy territory because I think healthy discourse is constructive!”
Like any good sect, e/acc has also spawned sub-sects. There is “bio/acc,” for people who want to use technology to augment human biology. Grimes proposed “a/acc,” for “aligned acceleration,” a more human-friendly version of the original in which the robots would act in accordance with our values. Vitalik Buterin, the founder of the cryptocurrency Ethereum, favors “d/acc,” another split-the-difference compromise that tries to stay optimistic about technology while taking its risks seriously.
Will any of these movements amount to more than people arguing on the internet? Hard to say. What feels more certain is that we have entered a new era of A.I. tribalism, where grand pronouncements about unknowable futures are honed into homilies and passed down by techno-priests to their followers, who just want to know what lies ahead.