Smart people are leaving the San Francisco Bay Area because of its hostility to free and open speech. That’s the view of Sam Altman, a prominent figure in the tech world, who published a controversial essay on Wednesday decrying the region’s allegedly oppressive social climate.
Altman, who is the head of elite Y Combinator startup accelerator program, is already facing a backlash from others in the tech industry over the essay and its claim that the Bay Area has become too “toxic” for those in fields like genetic engineering. Other incendiary passages include:
Much of the essay is more measured, calling for more vigorous public debate, and noting that geniuses like Isaac Newton often held crackpot ideas like alchemy even as they developed brilliant ones. It concludes by saying “political correctness often comes from a good place…but too often it ends up being used as a club,” and by suggesting San Francisco would have stifled the anonymous founder of bitcoin. (While Altman claims he knows innovators who left the city over its culture, he doesn’t provide names).
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Altman’s essay quickly attracted a fierce response on social media. Twitter users assailed him as insensitive and embodying a negative stereotype of tech industry absorption:
Some, however, agreed that San Francisco’s embrace of political correctness has gone too far and become an impediment to the free exchange of ideas. Others suggested the backlash to Altman’s essay was proving his point:
More broadly, the uproar over Altman’s essay coincides with a civil war of sorts among Silicon Valley’s tech community. One side claims the industry hasn’t done enough to address its reputation for sexism and social insensitivity, while the other argues the reformers have become censorious zealots.