All of Heike Larson's Comments + Replies

It’s Time for Greater San Francisco

Wow, Evan - what an amazing essay this is! As a former SF resident I had not mental picture of 101 municipalities but of course am very aware of the challenges. The New York analogy is great and super helpful.

The solution makes total sense - and yet it’s also clear that inertia and self-interest of bureaucrats and local politicians will work against it. What do you think will it take to get an advocate (or a group of advocates) like Green in NYC to get this going? (I guess getting your essay as much readership as possible with SF people is a good first step!)

2ejz10moI think awareness this is an option is an important part. It's also a multi-step process where I think you can have multiple parts. Maybe consolidate the police department and the many transit agencies. Perhaps some of the smaller towns into some of the bigger cities. The most important part is just that the conditions need to already exist. There's already a cultural connection and integrated economy. The legal conditions are already there. Now we just need to build political will over a decade+ with an organized, if quiet, movement with small steps over time.
Four Horsemen of Technological Change: Farmers, Elevator Operators, Coal Miners, Bank Tellers

What a great article! I think it's so important to have specific historical examples of how technology impacted jobs, vs. speculating in a vacuum. Your emphasis on culture and dynamism is especially on point:

"For coal miners, for example, this would mean job training programs[23] that widen the aperture of cultural pride from providing coal to providing energy, even in the energy forms that will win the future. It also means reusing physical infrastructure when possible, such as the recent Berkshire Hathaway effort to convert a West Virginia coal plan... (read more)

So true, Tony! Finding ways to creatively bring the study of human progress into schools is important, for so many reasons. It will be fun to work through the specifics on how we can make this happen--and to think specifically about how this teaching can inspire kids.

AMA: Ben Reinhardt, Speculative Technologies

When you succeed tremendously with Speculative Technologies what are the most exciting changes a normal person just living their lives will see?

How will we experience the world differently in 2051? What will our homes look like? Our daily experience of work and going places? Our leisure activities? ... or anything else that will be enabled by the new materials and technologies that are beyond the cutting edge now. 

Or, put differently, why should people far outside the progress and tech communities be excited about this work? 

Tell Good Stories

I'm also very curious on what we, as a progress community, can contribute to the telling of more good, inspiring stories. If you have thoughts, please comment or get in touch: heike@therootsofprogress.org. 

Tell Good Stories

When I read this I felt a need to shout "YES!!" to all of this. In the past couple of weeks, as I've talked to people in the broader progress studies community I heard a lot of personal stories, and many of them included either influential stories (often Science Fiction books, but sometimes also historical tales of human ingenuity and invention or movies) or experiences in spaces that made possibilities real (like Disney Epcot or even museums with inspirational themes). 

I'd love to hear from people in this community how these types of experiences played into their journey of being interested in scientific, industrial, technological, and human progress.

1ErikSchmidt1yThe inventor of the cell phone was inspired by the TOS communicator. There's a lot of examples of this in engineering, I think. I think you hit the mark with a lot of us having an underlying belief in progress independent of progress studies, and that a lot of that excitement/belief was inspired by media or culture. When I worked in sales, one of the team mottos we had was that people make decisions with emotions first, and then rationalize them later. Regardless of whether that's how people "should" make decisions, I think it's reasonably accurate. Creating art and media that celebrates progress, and having audiences have an emotional reaction to that media, is a great first step in getting more people invested in creating real-world progress. Disney and the other World's Fair promoters certainly understood this, and on some level, I think everybody who pines for a Mid-Century World's Fair does too. Adam Ozimek had a twitter thread about a year ago where people pitched ideas for "progress studies" television shows - I wonder if anything happened to that. I stand by my pitch for a campy, positive, and fun 1632 [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1632_(novel)]mini-series.
AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

I hadn't thought about the regional aspects, but it makes total sense, and it reminds me of this post by Paul Graham that talks about cities and ambitions: http://www.paulgraham.com/cities.html 

AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

Excited that you'll do some work on this, Matt--looking forward to reading it.

AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

Thanks, Matt, for the thoughtful response. My key take-aways are that (1) in person events are helpful to get new relationships going because of trust & discovery, and (2) we should keep these meeting small (or create smaller sessions in larger meetings) and (3) purposefully get people together who otherwise might not talk, and ideally have them not just be passive but work on something together in those sessions. Some good initial thoughts in any case; thank you!

AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

Anton Howes has been writing about an innovation mentality as critical in brining about the Industrial Revolution. Joel Mokyr discussed the importance of culture - the beliefs, values and preferences that influence behavior - as critical. 

How do you think about our culture in the US today as it relates to innovation? Where are we strong, and where are there opportunities for improvement? I'm especially interested in how this may be changing: can we see differences in cultural attitudes across US generations? E.g., are younger people more innovation or... (read more)

4mattclancy1yWhere are we strong? Across the sweep of history, the contemporary USA has got to be in the top 5% for it's cultural support for innovation. But I think that's mostly because the default state through human history has been so bad, rather than that we are so good![1] [#fnmnn3ok91dw]But it could be a lot worse! Elon Musk was person of the year in 2021! It's true that a lot of people are down on innovation, but I think to some degree that has to be an inevitable part of the kind of free society you want where lots of different perspectives (itself important for innovation!) are welcome and collide. A world with universal acclaim for innovation and progress would itself be kind of stifling. But that's not to say we have the balance right already. Where are there opportunities for improvement? In my experience, different regions of the USA differ a lot in terms of what you ambitious people think they should do with their energies, and indeed how ambitious they should be. In some places, the ambitious thing to do might be to go to an Ivy League school, and then to be funneled into finance or medicine or something. In others, it's to found a startup. In my own home state, neither of these was particularly emphasized. I think it would be great if people had a bit more exposure to what ambition means in different places, to broaden their own views about what a good life means. Not everyone would opt to be an innovator, but I think at present a lot of people who should probably are not because they simply don't consider it much. 1. ^ [#fnrefmnn3ok91dw]Joe Henrich's book The Secret of our Success has some really interesting examples of traditional societies where if you tried to be innovative and more efficient than your peers, you would end up subtly killing yourself. In a world where humanity's causal knowledge about how the world works is weak, innovation probably is dangerous to the individual, and so society's rationally encouraged doing things
AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

What learnings can we draw from your work on innovation on bringing together thinkers in progress studies? When do you think we should think about in-person gatherings and events, and when is it fine to work at a distance/via Zoom/here in the forum? As we think about events and bringing people together to learn and exchange ideas, any insights from your research on how to best structure those types of events? 

In this context, Eric Gilliam had an interest post on his substack on conferences and Feynman's take on their declining usefulness. Curious to h... (read more)

3mattclancy1yMy basic view is that modern communication technology makes it pretty easy to communicate and exchange ideas with people, as long as you already have a relationship with those people. It's less well suited for forming relationships because it's not so good at helping you discover people outside what you think you're interested in (because we tend to go to websites catering to our interests), and because it's a bit harder to build deep trust without face to face meetings. In-person events based around groups that have common interests but don't already know each other can be really useful for forging deeper relationships, and the internet means those relationships can remain productive at a distance. They can also be useful for meeting new people, if these meetings are packed with people you don't already know and the meetings force you to interact with new people (for example, by making you queue for a buffet, find a table with an opening, sit next to someone on a bus to a second location, circulate around and look at posters, etc.). Maybe big conferences aren't that good for this kind of thing, as Feynman and Eric speculate? At a big conference, you're more likely to know more people and so you might end up just hanging out with them and not meeting new people. And perhaps, knowing you unlikely to run into any given person a second time, it just doesn't feel as important to introduce yourself and get to know them? Or maybe it just takes two or three minor encounters to really build a relationship for many people. For more on academic conferences, I wrote something here [https://www.newthingsunderthesun.com/pub/q7ie98zq/release/7?readingCollection=9f57d356] .
Eli Dourado AMA

Thanks, Eli! This is a super helpful framing to me as I think about our role here at The Roots of Progress. 

Follow-on question: when you say "researchy" do you mean academia--or do you mean groups in the more public intellectual policy space (think tanks) that take on more of an explainer rather than activist bend? 

2elidourado1yThe latter, although sometimes they overlap with academia. For example, CGO and Mercatus publish a lot of academics and are situated within universities.
Eli Dourado AMA

Thanks for that link, Eli. This is exactly the type of context I was looking for. It woulds like there is a  regulatory hurdle here with significant potential liability if the program were to get challenged as not meeting those requirements both on the actual program design and on the documentation. 

Eli Dourado AMA

Thanks for the quick response, Eli. My follow-up is similar to Jasons: I'm wondering not so much why insurance companies don't pay for these devices right now, but more why there isn't a push to use them to financially reward or incentivize healthy behavior or outcomes. 

For example, if it costs an insurance company $10K more to care for someone with diabetes than someone without, what if the insurer offered the patient a deal: if via non-medication means you reverse your diabetes (as measured by insulin and hemoglobin A1C or HbA1c test), we'll pay you... (read more)

1elidourado1yIt looks like certain wellness programs that are allowed, but there are limits on what you can do if you make it outcome-contingent. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/ebsa/about-ebsa/our-activities/resource-center/publications/caghipaaandaca.pdf
Eli Dourado AMA

In your post from 2019 on moving the needle of progress, you mention health (or better, wellness) as one of four key levers toward progress, and you highlight patient empowerment and using data from wearable devices as potentially big opportunity.

Do you have any thoughts on what is stopping this from happening? It seems that using data to empower people to live healthier is a win all around: better quality of life/more energy/less pain for the individual, lower medical cost for the insurance and employer, and higher worker productivity. Why aren’t we, for ... (read more)

4elidourado1yI think the biggest obstacle is FDA clearance for these devices. The FDA seems to be concerned about people using consumer-grade products to make medical decisions. Let's say Apple or Google release a smart watch with non-invasive blood glucose capability. Maybe it's not perfectly accurate, but still useful information for non-diabetics to see how their blood glucose spikes after eating and to monitor the speed at which the body clears out the glucose. If a diabetic customer starts giving themselves insulin shots based on the watch instead of a measurement from a medical device, that could be bad. Therefore, FDA is very restrictive about devices that report medically-relevant facts, even if there are disclaimers that they should not be used for medical purposes. So it's a slog to get the new non-invasive tech to be as accurate as medical-grade tech, to prove that they are equally accurate, and/or to get FDA to sign off on disclaimers that say the data shouldn't be used to administer medication, etc. I still think we'll get there. There's some info online about the Apple/Rockley Photonics partnership. You can expect a future Apple Watch to have not only its current sensor suite but also measurements for blood pressure, blood alcohol, lactate, and glucose. Blood pressure in the next 2 years, the rest maybe a couple of years later. Why aren't insurance companies paying for it yet? I think the current device sensor suite isn't high enough on cost-benefit for them yet. As prices come down and the new capabilities are added, it seems like a no-brainer. Like in 2035 a device with all the capabilities I described above might be $100. Probably worth it then.