TLF at 15: Let the Great Adventure Continue

by on August 14, 2019 · 0 comments

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the launch of the Technology Liberation Front. This blog has evolved through the years and served as a home for more than 50 writers who have shared their thoughts about the intersection of technological innovation and public policy.

Many TLF contributors have moved on to start other blogs or write for other publications. Others have gone into other professions where they simply can’t blog anymore. Still others now just publish their daily musings on Twitter, which has had a massive substitution effect on long-form blogging more generally. In any event, I’m pleased that so many of them had a home here at some point over the past 15 years.

What has unified everyone who has written for the TLF is (1) a strong belief in technological innovation as a method of improving the human condition and (2) a corresponding concern about impediments to technological change. Our contributors might best be labeled “rational optimists,” to borrow Matt Ridley’s phrase, or “dynamists,” to use Virginia Postrel’s term. In a recent essay, I sketched out the core tenets of a dynamist, rational optimist worldview, arguing that we:

  • believe there is a symbiotic relationship between innovation, economic growth, pluralism, and human betterment, but also acknowledge the various challenges sometimes associated with technological change;
  • look forward to a better future and reject overly nostalgic accounts of some supposed “good ‘ol days” or bygone better eras;
  • base our optimism on facts and historical analysis, not on blind faith in any particular viewpoint, ideology, or gut feeling;
  • support practical, bottom-up solutions to hard problems through ongoing trial-and-error experimentation, but are not wedded to any one process to get the job done;
  • appreciate entrepreneurs for their willingness to take risks and try new things, but do not engage in hero worship of any particular individual, organization, or particular technology.

Applying that vision, the contributors here through the years have unabashedly defended a pro-growth, pro-progress, pro-freedom vision, but they have also rejected techno-utopianism or gadget-worship of any sort. Rational optimists are anti-utopians, in fact, because they understand that hard problems can only be solved through ongoing trial and error, not wishful thinking or top-down central planning.

Wisdom and progress are directly correlated with society’s willingness to experiment with new ideas, tolerate change, and learn from failures. Writing in 1960, Nobel Prize-winning economist F.A. Hayek wisely observed that many intellectuals, “ignore the importance of the freedom of doing things” and that “[f]reedom of action, even in humble things, is as important as freedom of thought.”  The two are inextricably linked, in fact. Technology is simply a means to an end and that end is material progress and human flourishing. The goal is to expand the range of life-enriching innovations available to people while also empowering them pursue lives of their own choosing. But experimentation and freedom of action are absolutely crucial if we hope to achieve that end.

When thinking about public policy, “freedom of doing things” can be reconceptualized as “permissionless innovation.” Generally speaking, innovation and innovators should be treated as innocent until proven guilty. When forces—governmental or otherwise—conspire to constrain the general freedom to innovate, they are, in reality, constraining human creativity and learning, thus limiting our efforts to improve the world around us.

There can be no greater revolution than the revolution to liberate the human mind. It is peaceful, collaborative revolution aimed at breaking the chains that bind our ingenuity and which curtail our ability to pursue happiness however each of us define it. Accordingly, removing barriers to people building more and better tools to improve their lot in life has been a priority of much of the writing here on the TLF.

When searching for a quote to end my next book, I settled on one from Samuel C. Florman, an engineer who throughout his life rose to the challenge of defending technological innovation with remarkable gusto. Commenting on the swelling ranks of “antitechnologists” he saw around him a generation ago, Florman perfectly identified the profound danger of giving up on finding new and better ways of doing things. “By turning our backs on technological change, we would be expressing our satisfaction with current world levels of hunger, disease, and privation,” he argued. “Further, we must press ahead in the name of the human adventure. Without experimentation and change our existence would be a dull business.”

Defending that “human adventure” has been the goal of all those contributing to the Tech Liberation Front over the past 15 years because experimentation and change are the key to our very survival as a species.  I’m looking forward to seeing what the next 15 years of this adventure brings and hope to work with others here and elsewhere to make sure that all citizens of the world get to enjoy the fruits of human ingenuity and technological creativity.  

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