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TESCREAL—pronounced “tess-cree-all.” It’s a strange word that you may have seen pop up over the past few months. The renowned computer scientist Dr. Timnit Gebru frequently mentions the “TESCREAL” ideologies on social media, and for a while the Twitter profile of billionaire venture capitalist Marc Andreessen read: “cyberpunk activist; embracer of variance; TESCREAList.” The Financial Times, Business Insider and VentureBeat have all used or investigated the word. And The Washington Spectator published an article by Dave Troy titled, “Understanding TESCREAL—The Weird Ideologies Behind Silicon Valley’s Rightward Turn.”

My guess is that the acronym will gain more attention as the topic of artificial intelligence becomes more widely discussed, along with questions about the strange beliefs of its most powerful Silicon Valley proponents and critics. But what the heck does “TESCREAL” mean and why does it matter?

I have thought a lot about these questions, as I coined the term in an as-yet unpublished academic paper, co-written with Gebru, tracing the influence of a small constellation of interrelated and overlapping ideologies within the contemporary field of AI. Those ideologies, we believe, are...