Nadia Asparouhova wrote an essay about Idea Machines last year, and Jason Crawford had a post on the forum about it. Step 3 of the Idea Machine process is 

  • Eventually, they form an agenda, which articulates how the ideology will be brought into the world. (Communities need agendas to become idea machines; otherwise, they’re just a group of likeminded people, without a directed purpose.)

This is my small attempt to give concrete ideas that can build an agenda for Progress Studies. 

Things I am confident about

  • Making the idea more legible: specifying out cause areas (nuclear technology, longevity, nanotech etc.) and means of working on it (scientist, founding companies, working on metascience, regulatory reform)
    • It would good to have a career guide written by people familiar with this. Not only would it be a concrete step towards encouraging more people in the field, but it could open our eyes to things we had not thought of as well
  • Again making the idea more legible: having a directory of progress related institutions and ideas. There are some like this, but I would suggest a few changes to any future project
    • More sector specific lists. Specifically about
      •  writers (links to explainers on nuclear technology, explainers on longevity, explainers on the history of technology)
      • Science institutions ("what's going on in X field" post where you list out all the cool research going on with names of labs and researchers. Also add new science experiments like the Arc Institute and New Science)
      • Startups that work in those fields (eg lists of nuclear energy startups, longevity startups etc.) I don't endorse any of these lists specifically, but I think having lists makes it clear to people who want to enter the field where they might want to go
      • Think tanks that focus on progress related issues. (Institute for Progress is a great one, Environmental Progress for nuclear energy issues, I can't find any for science funding but both IFP and New Science do work on this)
  • Many more explainers
    • The overwhelmingly positive response to Jason's blog,  Matt Clancy's newsletter and Brian Potter's one shows that there is an underserved market in converting things insiders know (like historians of science, economists studying meta science, or structural engineers) to popular understanding. A lot of knowledge that is common inside an industry is not outside. This is especially true for progress related fields! So, one concrete step is to write more blogs about it or to encourage more blogs to come out of it 

What I am less sure about

  • Community sourced cause prioritisation: I think it is valuable to weakly triage sectors based on how easy it would be to make progress in them. The entire framework isn't useful given talent isn't fungible, and it's hard to get direct $ numbers for impact. But even then it is useful to have public discussion on this
  • Politics focused blogs. Many people do this eg. Eli Dourado or Alex Tabarrok. These ideas are still not part of mainstream public discourse though! One or two people writing about this is not enough to push ideas forward. It would be much better if there was a whole community of politics focused bloggers, which could drive the discourse. And it is easier to build direct impact (eg. talking with congressional staff or others in positions of power), if you have blogs and think tanks pushing across the idea space. 


6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:29 AM
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I think these are good ideas and I too would like to see more of the kinds of things you list above.

I'd love for this Forum to serve as the first draft of a lot of this stuff. For instance, if people want to write up specific cause areas, or lists of cause areas, so we can all start discussing them, that would be great. We could create a new tag “Cause Areas” so that they are organized in one place and easy to find.

I think to get to the "agenda" stage of the idea machine, a key is making sure that we're acting in the real world. We can wish upon every star that zoning laws were reformed to make it easier to build housing, or that ALARA was repealed and more sensible nuclear regulation put in its place, but those items might not be the best fits for the agenda if we're not able to realistically achieve them. They're hard political problems to solve that will require a lot of resources, political savvy, and likely a large coalition! And others (such as YIMBY, for housing) are likely better equipped to lead the change on them. 

I think our asset, or our "brand", is that we're a group of people that really like technological & economic progress, and we're interested in why it happened, how it can be replicated, and what we could do to accelerate it. That's the kind of people that this group is going to attract. So what can we do to help these people push for a progress agenda? 

I really like the idea of a career guide. That's something actionable that we can achieve. I guess I'm biased because I'm hosting the Philly meetup tomorrow, but I also think doing those kinds of networking events are valuable ways to grow the "Progress Studies" offering and see who is invested enough in it to get it into the real world. Who shows up to these sorts of things, what they're interested in doing, etc. informs what might be possible agenda wise - in addition to everybody present making connections that could help for scientific, entrepreneurial, or career opportunities. 

I also like this forum as a way for generating ideas, exploring possibilities, and learning new things. I agree with you and Jason there as well. One of these days I'm going to do a post on Precisionism, but I haven't made it to the Demuth museum out in Lancaster yet and want to visit before I do. 

I think another value we could offer would be if we wanted to organize a bookshare of some kind. I find that the local library doesn't have a great selection of economic history or technical books, so if that's something that we could organize, I think people might find it valuable. I often see a book mentioned by Jason or another columnist/blogger and will buy it to read it, but then I'd be happy to loan that book out to people once I finish it. On the borrowing side, I recently had to do an interlibrary loan from Tennessee to borrow a copy of a planning standards guide I needed for a project. There's probably other directions we could take this concept for having a library or directory of resources as well. I know some groups do things with tool shares, and it might be nice to have a "who's who in progress studies directory" for connecting people with each other as well?

Do you think defining 'progress' is an important part of the agenda? Or is it more of a distraction?

Far as I can tell, there are 3 different potential definitions for progress:

  1. Essentially just technological/scientific progress
  2. Some consequentialist-ish idea like "people are happier/wealthier"
  3. Any change in society or technology which is not a reversion to something that has been done before

Options #1 and especially #2 leave fairly little room for discussion on whether or not any specific instance of progress is a good thing, while option #3 is much more morally neutral, but perhaps not what people have in mind when they think of 'progress'.

yeah absolutely, but I think there has already been a consensus on this part. Generally people consider it to be 1 

Interesting; since as far as I can tell, Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison use definition #2 in the now-famous Atlantic article: "In an era where funding for good projects can be hard to come by, or is even endangered, we must affirmatively make the case for the study of how to improve human well-being."

Maybe PS adopted definition #1 instead to avoid seeming redundant compared to EA?

yes but that was done with the assumption that the best way is to increase productivity growth