The War of Incredulous Stares
What EAgate revealed about a wild emerging techno-religious landscape at war with itself.
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you’ve probably heard something about the short but dramatic saga that unfolded at OpenAI over the last week. It briefly even bumped war, interest rates, turkey recipes, and 2024 elections from the headlines. It probably deserved more time in the global spotlight than it enjoyed, given that the rapid development of AI is likely far more important in the long run than almost everything else that currently dominates the headlines. If the news didn’t penetrate your news bubble, you need a change of bubble. If you haven’t caught up yet, I recommend you do so.
The saga doesn’t yet have a name, but I am calling it EAgate, after Effective Altruism or EA, one of the main religions involved in what was essentially an early skirmish in a brewing six-way religious war that looks set to last at least a decade. The True Name™ of the saga will presumably emerge in the next few weeks as the dust settles, and it may or may not be EAgate.
A delightful phrase in a comment by one Bill Gardner on one of the many pieces of commentary captures the essence of the discourse around EAgate: “argument by incredulous stare.” It’s a whole bunch of crisscrossing lines of sight of incredulous staring. We are not just unwilling to talk to perceived ideological adversaries, we are unable to do so; their terms of reference for talking about things feel so not-even-wrong, we are reduced to incredulous stares.
If this is indeed humanity’s FAFO decade, this is the beginning of our collective WTF reaction of growing mutual incomprehension, not just of the technology landing in our midst, but of each other’s reactions to it.
I won’t attempt a round-up since people better at that sort of thing are already busy at work, and of course, ChatGPT is there to provide lobotomized summary takes on the events unfolding in its backyard. I’ll relegate my own inadequate precis to a minimum-viable footnote1 and focus on an aspect that I haven’t yet seen properly treated: the significance of EAgate as a harbinger of an era of religious warfare in tech. Not just for the AI sector, but for all of tech.