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Noah Smith

Don't Count on Tech to Set You Free

Silicon Valley libertarians see greater human liberty as a consequence of innovation. But our new machines could easily become tools of state control.
We know who you are.

We know who you are.

Photographer: Ian Waldie/Getty Images

A number of my friends, especially in Silicon Valley where I now live, might be described as techno-libertarians. Loosely speaking, this is the idea that technological progress will lead to greater individual freedom and reduced state control. Some techno-libertarians are simply optimists, hoping that inventions like the internet will put more power in the hands of ordinary folks. Others are seeking to build technologies that make regulation difficult or impossible to enforce -- for example, the way Uber makes it hard for cities to justify maintaining taxi companies’ monopoly on hired-car service. As entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan pithily tweeted: “Don't argue about regulation. Build Uber. Don't argue about monetary policy. Build Bitcoin.”

Techno-libertarians have been criticized by progressives for paying insufficient attention to human welfare and the needs of society at large. But in recent days, I’m starting to wonder whether the ideology has a bigger problem -- it’s vision of history, and of the interaction between technology and the state, might be badly flawed.