Added a little bit in the revised version to try to clarify this. Thanks again for the feedback
Not sure if this is quite what you are looking for, but I've been keeping a list of progress-related museums that I have visited or want to visit, large or small, including:
Thanks! Yes, this is definitely part of Allen's argument (maybe I should make that more clear).
I've been meaning to read that Devereaux post/series for a while, thanks for reminding me of it.
However, I don't you think can argue from “the Industrial Revolution got started in this very specific way” to “that is the only way any kind of an IR could ever have gotten started.” If it hadn't been flooded coal mines in Britain, there would have been some other need for energy in some other application.
I see it more as: you develop mechanization and energy technolo... (read more)
Was supposed to be “before products are launched”. Fixed, thanks
Related: The Long Now Foundation's Manual for Civilization
... (read more)
“What books would you want to restart civilization from scratch?”
The Long Now Foundation has been involved in and inspired by projects centered on that question since launching in 01996. (See, for example, The Rosetta Project, Westinghouse Time Capsules, The Human Document Project, The Survivor Library, The Toaster Project, The Crypt of Civilization, and the Voyager Record.) For years, Executive Director Alexander Rose has been in discussions on how to create a record of humanity and technology for
I bet GPT-4 could already do a lot of this work, perhaps with some fine-tuning and/or careful prompt engineering.
The problem with automating compliance documents is not just the time/effort to prepare them. It's also the time spent waiting to get a response, and in some cases, “user fees” paid to the government to review them. If everyone started using GPT to do compliance, I suspect that the various agencies would just start to build up an ever-growing backlog of un-reviewed applications, until they're all like immigration and they have decade-long wait times.
Why do you think we don't have more people starting ambitious genetic engineering projects?
What are the best near-term/foreseeable applications of genetic engineering? What is the low-hanging fruit here that we can see and define and should go after first?
Rather than asking how fast or slow we should move, I think it's more useful to ask what preventative measures we can take, and then estimate which ones are worth the cost/delay. Merely pausing doesn't help if we aren't doing anything with that time. On the other hand, it could be worth a long pause and/or a high cost if there is some preventive measure we can take that would add significant safety.
I don't know offhand what would raise my p(doom), except for obvious things like smaller-scale misbehavior (financial fraud, a cyberattack) or dramatic technological acceleration from AI (genetic engineering, nanotech).
Are we winning the war on cancer? Is it reasonably fast/steady progress, or has something gone wrong?
What has gone wrong in the fight against Alzheimer's? Did a “cabal” prevent funding for anything other than the amyloid plaque hypothesis?
What do you think is the cause of Eroom's Law? Why has it (fortunately) stalled in the last decade? Do we have any hope of reversing it?
It looks like the next major technological wave will be AI. How might this change Foresight's plans or focus areas? Would you focus more on AI? Or, can AI help us with nanotech, longevity, etc. (and how exactly)?
What areas of research or technology are most underrated by the broader research world, and why?
Thanks for this, Lev. Some things I'd like to understand deeper if you were to write about this more:
Sounds interesting, thanks for announcing this here!
I hope we get more attempts to bridge economics research and the broader public, like this and New Things Under the Sun.
Thanks Thomas! There is a community section of this forum where you can create local groups and meetups / other events. Please post there and let me know, I'll help spread the word.
Your work seems like a spiritual successor to Simon's Ultimate Resource, sounding some of the same themes for a new generation. What are the biggest or most interesting updates since Ultimate Resource was published? And/or what did you find in your research for the book that surprised you?
I have heard it claimed that Julian Simon got a bit lucky in his bet with Paul Ehrlich, and that if a different basket of metals or other commodities had been chosen, he might have lost. Is that true? What do we make of that?
Thanks, I appreciate the pushback. Let me push back in turn:
I suppose there might be a very small number of resources we could consider almost fully natural. Air perhaps. Gravity? But we generally don't think of these things as “resources” at all.
What is the roadmap, as far as we can see it, to the kind of nanotech envisioned in J. Storrs Hall's books (Where Is My Flying Car? and earlier Nanofuture)? What are the big unsolved problems? What are the most promising approaches or near-term goals?
Interesting. Have you heard of the Catawba Digital Economic Zone? It's basically this specifically for crypto projects.
Are you familiar with the charter cities movement?
What do you think about the question of “ideas getting harder to find”? What do you think of the discussion of this topic in the progress community—is there something people are misunderstanding or getting wrong about the issue?
In the economics of innovation, what are the big questions where there now is a relatively settled consensus? And what are the big open questions that the field is currently debating?
Thanks Kent, can you say something about this book?
Thanks for the detailed thoughts!
Yes, we did start fighting infectious disease long before the germ theory. Most notably, the first immunization techniques, against smallpox, long predated the theory. Also there were sanitation reforms that helped significantly. But these methods were limited: e.g., no vaccines for any disease other than smallpox were created, and water sanitation did not include chlorination. Indeed, sometimes sanitation efforts backfired, as when Edwin Chadwick tried to clean up the stench of London by building sewers to drain all cesspo... (read more)
Thanks Sam! Your comment about biologists thinking the cure for cancer doesn't exist spurred these thoughts: Can we “cure” cancer?
Welcome, Heike! Very excited to be working with you.
I meant more on the question of financial incentives for metrics. Basically, charging healthy people less / charging more for risk factors. Are you allowed to do this? I think some amount of this is allowed in some jurisdictions, but are there crucial limitations on it?
Are there any restrictions on what insurance companies are allowed to do with this kind of info? Health insurance is highly regulated too.
Policy barriers aside, speaking strictly from considerations of technology and economics, what is the ideal near-term future for energy? Nuclear, geothermal, solar? Maybe even solar-powered fuel synthesis like Terraform Industries is doing? Or what combination of the above?
So many of the regulatory/policy barriers to progress seem so daunting. Using the “Important, Tractable, Neglected” heuristic, what are the top opportunities to unblock progress? Put another way perhaps, if you were writing a priority list for an organization like the Institute for Progress or Balsa Research, what would you go after?
There are two magic buttons, as follows, but you can only press one. Which would be better for progress and why?
If you were to draft a set of cause areas for the progress studies movement, what would be high on the list?
I agree that “one technology plowing ahead much further than the rest” is unlikely, but I don't think that's the issue.
To return to your seat belt example: seat belts were invented and widely deployed only after cars had been around for decades. Car technology got way ahead of car safety technology. That's the sort of pattern I think we should reduce in the future.
I like the Deutsch quote and agree.
I think “slow” vs. “fast” is just the wrong way to conceptualize the decision/tradeoff. We should be thinking about how to steer progress and how to sequence it. “Pedal to the metal” or “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” is not safe, but merely slowing down doesn't really help. We should, for example:
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.
Interesting exercise: what would Our World in Data look like as a column in that chart?
Don't know anything about Seaborg in particular. Floating nuclear is an interesting idea. I don't know enough about the technical issues to know whether it's practical; I've been told that the motion of the waves creates engineering problems. I also think the legal issues may be problematic. If you're offshore, you might avoid the US NRC, but now you're probably under the jurisdiction of the UN or something, which is probably worse. There's really no way to escape regulation if you're doing nuclear—you just have to find reasonable regulators.
In academia, you've said that “The incentive is to build a brick … not to build a building.” If the balance is off here, how could we reform academic incentives to get more buildings?
Are you more of a hedgehog or a fox? (In Isaiah Berlin / Archilochus terminology: “A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog knows one big thing.”)
Are you more of a bird or a frog? (In Freeman Dyson terminology: “Birds fly high in the air and survey broad vistas … out to the far horizon. They delight in concepts that unify our thinking and bring together diverse problems from different parts of the landscape. Frogs live in the mud below and see only the flowers that grow nearby. They delight in the details of particular objects, and they solve problems one a... (read more)
Some ~12 years after the book, what are your thoughts on the Great Stagnation? (Asking more about the phenomenon of stagnation and less for thoughts on the book itself.) How has this played out? Have your predictions held up? What will stagnation look like going forward?
Very interesting topic. How widespread is the “pull” idea? When I first read about it in an essay from you a while ago, I thought it was kind of a niche view, but I've been reading Robert Allen's The British Industrial Revolution in Global Perspective and he seems to have the same view, so maybe not so niche?
Interesting thread, but I draw a somewhat different conclusion: in the long run, we need a heat-management system for the Earth (and eventually, other planets). Managing CO2 is good but insufficient.
There are also some replies contesting the original claims, e.g.: https://twitter.com/EnergyJvd/status/1608898973313699840
A lot of (most?) progress studies work is being done outside academia, or on the border of academia, not in proper journals and peer-reviewed publications. My own work is for a general audience. Anton Howes left academia to write for a general audience. Eli Dourado is at a think tank that is affiliated with a university, but he writes for a general audience. Brian Potter came from industry and writes for a general audience. Etc.
See this answer in my AMA about how people can contribute: https://progressforum.org/posts/ew6LJbcoLm8PjJLbX/ama-jason-crawford-th... (read more)
Yes, any major improvement in a fundamental area—not only in communication, or more broadly in information technology, but also in energy, manufacturing, materials, or transportation—will have ripple effects throughout the entire economy.
Efficiency is a dimension of progress, but it is only one dimension. Sometimes we make progress by improving the power, speed, or throughput of our machines or processes. Not all improvements are efficiency improvements. But over time, higher efficiency is one of the big trends of industrial progress.
I agree that anything that leads us off a cliff, that is, leads us to some disaster for humanity, is not progress.
But the problem with the concept of “sustainability” is: what are you trying to sustain? Our goal should be sustained progress, sustained economic... (read more)
I think what Allen probably added was a more quantitative investigation of this idea. He gathered the price data for fuel, labor, capital, etc. and did the analysis of rates of profit and return on investment.