Recent Discussion

An excerpt:

Our civilization was built on technology.

Our civilization is built on technology.

Technology is the glory of human ambition and achievement, the spearhead of progress, and the realization of our potential.

For hundreds of years, we properly glorified this – until recently.

I am here to bring the good news.

We can advance to a far superior way of living, and of being.

We have the tools, the systems, the ideas.

We have the will.

It is time, once again, to raise the technology flag.

It is time to be Techno-Optimists.

The Techno-Optimist Manifesto 

Good question, I don't know. People have been talking about “progress studies” or the “progress movement” or “progress community”, and others have talked about the “abundance agenda”, but none of those lend themselves to personal labels/identities…

Over the last few years, effective altruism has gone through a rise-and-fall story arc worthy of any dramatic tragedy.

The pandemic made them look prescient for warning about global catastrophic risks, including biosafety. A masterful book launch put them on the cover of TIME. But then the arc reversed. The trouble started with FTX, whose founder Sam Bankman-Fried claimed to be acting on EA principles and had begun to fund major EA efforts; its collapse tarnished the community by association with fraud. It was bad for EA if SBF was false in his beliefs; it was worse if he was sincere. Now we’ve just watched a major governance battle over OpenAI that seems to have been driven by concerns about AI safety of exactly the kind long promoted by...

A potential area of overlap between effective altruism and Roots of Progress is the non-profit New Harvest, which funds research into making meat, eggs, and milk without animals.  

1jasoncrawford1dThanks, good point about the flow here.
1jasoncrawford1dThanks Robert. I think progress studies needs a more well-defined value system. I have gestured at “humanism” [] as the basis for this, but it needs much more. I agree that Rand's ideas are important here, particularly her view of creative/productive work as a noble activity and of scientists, inventors and business leaders as heroic figures.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you happened upon a magic lamp and rubbed it. As the stories go, a genie popped out and offered you three wishes-

-warning you sternly that no shenanigans will enable you to gain infinite wishes-

and asks you for your first wish.

Being a virtuous sort, you wish for homelessness to be solved (with all the required caveats so the solution goes well for everyone).

The genie waves their arms around and - poof! - homelessness is solved. Nobody is homeless anymore.

(Maybe new houses magically appeared, in the names of homeless people, and they were all transported to their new houses, and all the issues that rendered them homeless to begin with were magically fixed. It doesn’t really matter what the solution is, only that...

Great point. I wish we had more ideas about how to improve this. So many places we might try to fix this: philanthropists might redirect funding. We might try to provide career paths for these institutions' employees that spanned the space of current problems and not just the one problem they work on.

My definition of “capitalism” is:

An economy with capital markets (in addition to markets in goods and services).

Most of my friends and acquaintances generally don’t have a precise definition of “capitalism”, but use the word to mean something like:

The economic status quo.

Before I realized this, these different definitions of “capitalism” led to conversations that were a lot less productive than they could have been. I argued from the pro-capitalist position, relying on an abstract view of economic systems, they argued from an anti-capitalist position, motivated by concerns about concrete problems like economic inequality, and we ended up talking past each other.

Not all socialists are socialist

This semantic underdetermination (or, in simpler terms, vagueness) isn’t just relevant to laypeople. For example, the leftist economist Thomas Piketty advocates a series of...

My husband and I were spending a month in the Swiss Alps. We had just spent the day hiking up to the legendary Hotel Weisshorn and were enjoying a slice of blueberry pie with fellow backpackers as we took in the sunset. 

“We had to wait until we retired to do what you’re doing now,” a Swiss couple next to us said. “We spent our careers in the office, used all of our vacation days to visit family, and didn’t have time to hike in our own backyard until now!”

We knew how good we had it. Though we’d taken some time off to hike famous Haute Route, we spent much of the trip working remotely, knocking out our tasks in the morning, then spending the day hiking before...

The most influential models of economic growth are all about people. These models predict that with a shrinking population, economic growth and technological progress stop and humanity stagnates into extinction. Metascience proposals focus mostly on improving the design of scientific institutions. This is surely important, but in the face of rapidly declining population growth rates it is like making a dam more efficient when the river is running dry.

Why Are People So Important?

Physical capital is subject to diminishing returns and depreciation which inevitably bring its impact on economic growth to zero. People, on the other hand, have increasing returns. As groups of people get larger, they can cooperate and specialize making the group more productive than the sum of its parts. But most importantly: People can share...

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A quantifiably better—but not perfect—San Francisco.

The backlash to self-driving cars is shifting into fifth gear. Last month, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended Cruise’s autonomous taxis’ license to operate after a series of incidents and credible allegations the company withheld important evidence on at least one accident from state investigators. 

In a statement celebrating the suspension, Safe Street Rebel, a San Francisco anti-car activist group that drew national attention for purposely disabling robotaxis across the city over the last few months, say they are far from done. Waymo, Cruise’s chief competitor in the city, is next. Their mission is not about the errant practices of one dishonest company or a plea for higher, attainable safety standards, but a campaign for permanent prohibition, full stop. And in San...

In theory, if they could be made to work, self-driving cars would be one of the best technologies ever. In practice, the technology seems stuck in a rut. Although exact statistics are hard to come by, the number of human interventions seems to remain high.

There is a very high burden of proof for self-driving car companies like Cruise and Waymo; they need to convincingly demonstrate, using robust statistical evidence, that their vehicles are indeed significantly safer than human drivers in the same locales. Cruise, Waymo, et al. have certainly had plenty of... (read more)

I swear I will get back to doing these weekly so they’re not so damn long. As always, feel free to skim and skip around!

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