Tech as a system of values, and not just an industry, is heavily driven by its subcultures and their ideologies. Where do these ideologies come from, and how do they influence what’s accomplished?
One of the most visible ideologies in tech is effective altruism (or EA), a philanthropic school of thought that advocates for “us[ing] high-quality evidence and careful reasoning to work out how to help others as much as possible.”. If you don’t buy into its philosophy, it’s easy to write off effective altruism as yet another eccentric subculture. But effective altruism is both less and more interesting than it seems.
Although I’m not an EA, I think effective altruism is a useful blueprint for understanding a growing number of influential subcultures in tech right now, from progress studies to It’s Time to Build to crypto public goods funding. EA is the strongest example of what I think of as an Idea Machine: a network of operators, thinkers, and funders, centered around an ideology, that’s designed to turn ideas into outcomes.
Effective altruism’s strength lies in its infrastructure, which we can use to better understand how other idea machines work, what their impact will be, and what’s needed to make them more effective.