All of jasoncrawford's Comments + Replies

What if they gave an Industrial Revolution and nobody came?

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.

What if they gave an Industrial Revolution and nobody came?

Added a little bit in the revised version to try to clarify this. Thanks again for the feedback

Progress Travel Guide

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:

... (read more)
What if they gave an Industrial Revolution and nobody came?

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)

1jasoncrawford14dAdded a little bit in the revised version to try to clarify this. Thanks again for the feedback
Machines: Global Village Construction Set

Related: The Long Now Foundation's Manual for Civilization

“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

... (read more)
When will AutoGPT like software be able to write Enviromental Impact Assessments?

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.

1ErikSchmidt1moAlso, if GPT-4 raises the "productivity" of environmental impact statement, my guess is that they could only increase productivity so long as there is not broad awareness and acceptance of the technology in writing the statements. If GPT-4 becomes the standard in writing statements, then expectations for the length and breadth of the statements have the potential to rise as well.
AMA: Bryan Bishop, Biohacker & Founder of Custodia Bank

Why do you think we don't have more people starting ambitious genetic engineering projects?

3kanzure2moThere is definitely a bizarre social taboo surrounding the pursuit of some of these projects. Another constraint is that even if someone is doing the work, they can't exactly be public especially in germline because the privacy of the child is of utmost importance. Researchers in academia are mostly focused on grants for curing various diseases because that's what appeals to the appetite of federal funding agencies and the philanthropic organizations. The academic biologists tend to be extremely sensitive to public opinion because the public controls much of the federal funding. As a result, they have felt the burn from the anti-GMO people and the attempts at stopping embryonic stem cell research. They absolutely do not want further prohibitions on research and they worry about people outside of academia doing things that cause a backlash on federal funding of researchers. Thankfully, you don't need to do this work inside of academia. Focusing on diseases will never lead to extremely cheap interventions; there's simply not enough sick people with the same problem. Nobody really focuses on enhancements. As a result, costs are going to remain high because the market for a specific disease can be incredibly small. Meanwhile the market for general broad spectrum mass market enhancement has a potential population of almost 8 billion people. I also think that biologists don't paint that interesting of a future. They usually talk about curing diseases but don't have any vision beyond that point. What are we going to do after we cure all diseases? The silicon people have visions of computronium painting the universe. The biologists don't really promote visions of a flourishing biosphere across the entire cosmos or some other moral vision for progress. There's some good news though. Since not everyone is working on the ambitious projects, there's lots of low-hanging fruit available. I think there's enough people working on curing all diseases or ending aging/anti-aging/
AMA: Bryan Bishop, Biohacker & Founder of Custodia Bank

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?

2kanzure2moI have a few other genetic interventions and modifications in the comments, but see also [] for a list.
Wizards and prophets of AI [draft for comment]


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).

1niplav2moTrue, I was insufficiently careful with my phrasing.
AMA: Mark Khurana, author of The Trajectory of Discovery, creator of Untold Health

Are we winning the war on cancer? Is it reasonably fast/steady progress, or has something gone wrong?

1M Khurana2moGood question! I think we seem to be going at a steady pace, but that depends on who you ask. Ultimately, it probably depends on what your expectations are of progress; my hunch is that people have higher expectations for cancer than for other diseases, particularly since it’s received so much attention historically, and that sets us up for inevitable failure when these expectations fail to materialize – much like the ‘war on cancer’ in the latter part of the 1900’s. Broadly speaking, one can approach this from a treatment perspective and a prevention perspective. From a treatment perspective, there is definitely progress: “Since 1971, the cancer death rate is down more than 25 percent. Between 1975 and 2016, the five-year survival rate increased 36 percent. The arsenal of anticancer therapies has expanded more than tenfold.” We’re also in a position now where immunotherapies are becoming commonplace, and the drugs are becoming highly sophisticated. I think the next big treatment frontier is figuring out how best to use the arsenal of drugs we have, i.e., can we combine therapies in such a way that our treatments become more effective. We obviously hope to keep developing breakthrough drugs, but there’s a lot of untapped potential in lower-cost solutions and re-combining cancer drugs in new ways. This would also certainly save money, but pharmaceutical companies are obviously not as interested in doing this. To sum up, I think the treatment frontier involves greater experimentation with the implementation of drugs we currently have. I’m not as convinced that our cancer prevention progress has been as impressive, however. Obviously, we’ve gotten a lot better at identifying environmental contaminants that might increase the likelihood of developing cancer, but a lot of the lifestyle diseases (e.g., obesity) that increase the risk of cancer haven’t been solved by any means. Ultimately, preventing cancer in the first place is a lot more efficient than having to treat
AMA: Mark Khurana, author of The Trajectory of Discovery, creator of Untold Health

What has gone wrong in the fight against Alzheimer's? Did a “cabal” prevent funding for anything other than the amyloid plaque hypothesis?

AMA: Mark Khurana, author of The Trajectory of Discovery, creator of Untold Health

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?

AMA: Allison Duettmann, Foresight Institute

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)?

5AllisonDuettmann2moIn a few previous comments here, I point out how we integrate ML as a major driver of progress in our areas, e.g. such as molecular machines simulation tools, and how it affects our focus with respect to whole brain emulations. I give a longer review of how computing and AI progress affects each of our technical domains in this Breakthroughs in Computing Series by Protocol Labs: [] With respect to Foresight’s role in safe AI progress, I think Foresight’s comparative advantage lies in bringing computer security inspired lens to AI development: This is largely due to Foresight Senior Fellow Mark Miller, who, in 1996, gave this talk on Computer Security as the Future of Law (, and together with Eric Drexler, published the foundational Agoric Open Systems Papers (, laying out a general model of cooperation enabled by voluntary rules, that applies not only to today’s human economy, but may be transferable to a future ecology, populated by human and AI intelligences. Mark built on the Agoric papers by following the computer security thread as a necessary condition for building systems in which both humans and AIs could voluntarily cooperate. Recently this thinking culminated in Mark, Christine Peterson (Foresight’s co-founder) and me co-authoring the book Gaming the Future, focusing on specific cryptography and security tools that may help secure human AI cooperation on the path to paretotopian futures: I think Miller’s and Drexler’s work on reframing the traditionally singleton-focused AI safety in terms of secure coordination across human and AI entities that relies on the respect of boundaries is now more relevant than ever, given A infosecurity risks, that have become a larger focus within AI alignment. I have a longer Lesswrong post on this coming next
AMA: Allison Duettmann, Foresight Institute

What areas of research or technology are most underrated by the broader research world, and why?

4AllisonDuettmann2moHere are a few across different Foresight focus areas: Biotech: * Xenobots: small self-healing biological machines created from frog cells that can move around, push a payload, retain memory, self-heal, and exhibit collective behavior in the presence of a swarm of other Xenobots. I would also love to see more work on the general potential of bioelectricity for human longevity. See Michael Levin’s Foresight seminar: [] * Cryonics & nanomedicine: If we don’t reach Longevity Escape Velocity in our lifetime, some may choose cryonics as plan B. Currently, in principle a cryonics patient can be maintained in biostasis but cannot be revived. Conceptual research may explain how nanotechnology can collect information from preserved structures, compute how to fix damages and aid with repair. Rob Freitas book on this topic: [] Molecular Machines: * A computing room: Imagine tables become computing surfaces, and notepads, captured by overhead cameras, can become the user interface for manipulating small proteins. See Shawn Douglas and Bret Victor’s Foresight presentation: [] * A chemputer: Imagine software translating chemists’ natural language into recipes for molecules that a robot “chemputer” can understand and produce. See Lee Cronin’s Foresight presentation: [
The Progress of Brain Computer Interfaces

Thanks for this, Lev. Some things I'd like to understand deeper if you were to write about this more:

  • What are the remaining challenges of BCI? (vs. what has been solved already?)
  • What are the most promising approaches? How do they differ and what are their pros/cons?
  • Do we need scientific discoveries to make this work, or is this science known and it's mostly engineering?
  • You talk here mostly about motor output; what about sensory input?
  • What is the legal framework around this? Does existing regulation even handle this? Will that be a problem?
New database for economics research

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.

NYC Meetup March 2023

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.

1Probable values3moI'm added to the NYC area, hoping more join soon!
AMA: Gale Pooley & Marian Tupy, Authors of "Superabundance"

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?

1gpooley3moI think what surprised me the most was how expensive things used to be. Bicycles have become 22 times more abundant today compared to 1910. In 1955 Bill Haley and the Comets’ ‘Rock Around the Clock,’ sold 3 million singles at 65 cents each. Unskilled workers at the time were earning [] around 97 cents an hour. This would put the time price of a song at 40 minutes. Today a student can get access to 90 million songs for $5.99 a month. Unskilled workers are earning around $14.53 an hour, so the time price is around 25 minutes. In 1955 it was 40 minutes for one song versus 25 minutes for 10,800 today (assuming 4 minutes per song and continuous streaming). This abundance has occurred at the same time population is increasing. Once you start thinking is time instead of money, you will be astonished at the abundance we enjoy today relative to our parents and grandparents.
AMA: Gale Pooley & Marian Tupy, Authors of "Superabundance"

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?

0gpooley3moJulian Simon was lucky because human population has been lucky for the last 150 years. And taking a long perspective is what is necessary if you really want to discover the underlying trend versus short-run market fluctuations. (You can always find a 10-year period to show prices going up or down.) To understand what's happening, we looked that the time prices of the Simon-Ehrlich five metal basket bet (copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten) from 1900 to 2018. For blue-collar workers the average time price fell by 89.2 percent. This means that for the time required to earn the money to buy one unit in 1900, you would get 9.28 units in 2018. These non-renewable metals have become 828 percent abundant. (Page 190) During this same period, U.S. population increased by 330.3 percent. Every one percent increase in population corresponded to a 3.22 percent increase in personal resource abundance. Measured at the population level, these five metals became 3,884 percent more abundant. (Page 229) Take a look at any basic commodity and there is a good chance that over the last 40-50 years it has become much more abundant. The only exceptions seem to be those products that are influenced by government regulations and subsidies like health care and education. We are grateful that Julian Simon had the courage to enter into this bet. He could have lost big time. But he had done his research and had a theory to explain the evidence. More people make life much more abundant. Simon won $576.07, but humanity has enjoyed trillions in new value over the last 150 years created by people that have the freedom to innovate.
There are some natural resources

Thanks, I appreciate the pushback. Let me push back in turn:

  • Water in streams can't be counted on to be clean, which is why we have water filtration plants. Also it often isn't found where we want it, and so we have to transport it to our homes, farms, etc.
  • Berries have to be collected, and wild sources quickly run out. We also have to identify which berries are safe to eat. And in general all plants have evolved through human selection to be more productive, tastier, etc.
  • Air… is pretty usable as is, true.

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.

1Probable values3moAppreciate the discussion very much, and I hate to be academic and persnickety because reading your writing in this space is invaluable. Agree on gravity, seems like some out of the box thinking. Air, temperature, and atmospheric pressure might be the only other fully natural resources. Anything which appears in our environment without needing to be altered. While there are a few natural resources I think we rightly focus on the unnatural ones because spending our attention in those areas is far more fruitful.
AMA: Ben Reinhardt, Speculative Technologies

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?

3Benjamin Reinhardt3moI think the problem is that we don't have a clear roadmap -- if we did it would be much easier to execute on it. In the limit, what Hall (and Drexler before him) describes is physically possible but transients matter and nobody has done a great job describing the intermediate technologies. Throat clearing aside, here are some of my personal hunches (I don't think there are any clear consensuses): * Use a combination of our existing tools for manipulating matter with nanoscale precision to start building multi-component and approach nanoscale systems that we can interface with from the macroscale: lithography, DNA origami, proteins, molecular machines. [Dropping a placeholder to include a link to Drexlers paper from the 90s combining proteins and AFM tips, and Tuberfelds work on DNA origami 3D printers] * Use these systems to at first start modifying macroscale objects: maybe making extremely precise edges to turbine blades, or something that can't be done any other way * Eventually expand to making things full cloth with them, with increasing scope and precision. There are so many big unsolved problems! Frankly I think the biggest ones are some combination of experiments taking a long time to do and then measure what happened and then trust those measurements, the difficulty of simulating what will happen in lieu of experiments, both of which lead to extreme difficulty building any sort of intuition for the affordances of nanoscale systems, which makes it hard for people to build systems. That's a rather abstract answer, but beyond "creating covalent bonds exactly where we want them" I'm not even sure we know what the right concrete unsolved problems are. Two approaches I'm personally excited about: 1. Using something like DNA origami to template nanoscale building blocks (that could be proteins or other things) -- you can get atomic precision on very small "pieces" and then if you can put those pieces together in a deter
First Nations Special Economic Zones

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?

2Richard Bruns4moYes to both questions. This is what I see as the most politically feasible way to make a charter city with actual regulatory independence happen in the USA. Based mostly on reading Matt Levine, I suspect that in practice, if the SEC wanted to go after a business registered in the CDEZ, they would.
AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

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?

3mattclancy4moI think three different things might be true: 1. Scientific and technological progress is getting harder 2. But the pace of progress is steady because we try harder 3. Nostalgia bias, the esoteric nature of modern advances, and general human crankiness makes people falsely believe the rate of progress is slowing more than it actually is I'm pretty confident about #1 and #3, less sure about #2. We certainly are trying harder, but maybe not enough to keep the overall rate of progress steady. I go back and forth on this, but at least think the case for a slowing rate of progress is not nearly as strong as the case for #1. Why is #1 true? I think it's a combination of things. To a large degree, this just seems to be an inevitable feature of advancing knowledge; the burden of knowledge gets heavy, and maybe we also pluck some of the low hanging fruit. But a non-negligible part of the slowdown is probably due to the way we organize and conduct R&D. Improving that would have really high benefits, even if we're probably not going to go back to the era when a handful of gentleman scientists could make giant advances.
AMA: Matt Clancy, Open Philanthropy

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?

2mattclancy4moWe have some big picture stuff pretty nailed down. To start, long-run improvements in material living standards have long been understood to arise primarily from improvements to technology, which emerge from R&D. It's also pretty settled that much of the value of R&D spills over to people who are not the performer of R&D, and this means that in a laissez-faire system, R&D will be supplied at less than desirable levels. This problem is especially acute for fundamental science, which is primarily aimed at understanding how the world works. Most economists think the government is going to have to play a role in supporting, for example, fundamental scientific research. Given that a laissez-faire system is going to undersupply R&D, what's the best set of policy interventions? Here, there's a lot more debate and uncertainty. For example, in this 2019 paper by Bloom, Van Reenen, and Williams [], they try to describe some of the main policy tools available to influence innovation. In a table at the end of the paper, they evaluate the quality and conclusiveness of the evidence for different policies. Settled issues, with high quality evidence: * Skilled migration is good * R&D tax credits work Stuff we're less sure about, either because evidence conflicts a bit, or we lack very good evidence: * Direct R&D grants * Patent boxes * Impact of universities on STEM supply Stuff that we're very unsure about: * Impact of providing incentives to universities * Effects of intellectual property rights * Mission oriented policies (like DARPA)
Can we “cure” cancer?

Thanks Kent, can you say something about this book?

2Kent Burnett4moThe book The Cancer Code contains three stories about the cause of cancer. The first cause is a story about toxins; examples are lung cancer caused by smoking and asbestos. The second cause is cancer is a genetic disease. And the book documents two or three cancers that are genetic in origin. The third cause is poor metabolic health. The book notes that obese and diabetic people have higher cancer rates for certain types of cancer than metabolically healthy people. The vital part for people following scientific progress is the people that believe in genetics did not come from the toxin believers, and the metabolic health advocates did not come from the genetic cause believers. The author Dr. Jason Fung MD tries to explain where the different groups of believers came from, but I need to understand institutions better to explain it.
A Cure for My Cancer

Amazing story, and fantastic post, thanks!

Can we “cure” cancer?

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)

A Catalog of Big Visions for Biology

Thanks Sam! Your comment about biologists thinking the cure for cancer doesn't exist spurred these thoughts: Can we “cure” cancer?

Starting the Journey as CEO of the Roots of Progress

Welcome, Heike! Very excited to be working with you.

Eli Dourado AMA

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?

1elidourado4moThe ability to charge people more and less based on observed (but not demographic) characteristics got pretty limited by the Affordable Care Act. I'm not sure of the details, however.
Eli Dourado AMA

Are there any restrictions on what insurance companies are allowed to do with this kind of info? Health insurance is highly regulated too.

1elidourado4moI'm not sure what the privacy implications are, but they can definitely give you the devices for free if it's cost-effective for them to do that.
Eli Dourado AMA

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?

4elidourado4moA very important question is how long solar prices can continue to drop. Assuming it continues a while, I have questions about whether it makes sense to transmit electricity long distances in such a world. A lot of smart people think transmission is very important to the clean energy buildout, but I don't know. Transmission adds a fair bit of cost, and if solar gets cheap then it might make sense to pay the rooftop premium rather than the transmission premium. So if solar keeps dropping in price, it may make sense to have rooftop solar everywhere + off-grid solar to power industrial applications. Gigawatt-scale nuclear I think we could do for LCOE of 2¢/kWh if the industry and regulations were not so dysfunctional. Modular reactors will always be more expensive than that (maybe 4¢ best-case scenario), but the advantage of modular is that you reach some level of scale in manufacturing and deployment, which is where gigawatt-scale has really sucked (every gigawatt plant is bespoke). Modular is also better because you don't have to do as much transmission as in a GW-scale plant. If we get good at drilling holes in the ground, I think 3¢/kWh almost anywhere on the planet would be a good target for advanced geothermal. Also comes with the advantage of not having to worry about spent fuels and nuclear proliferation. Geothermal is also fantastic for low-grade heat needed for certain industrial processes like paper mills. Wind is already pretty cheap, but it relies heavily on long-distance transmission, which as I've noted is a headache. For mobile applications, high-density batteries are definitely possible. Batteries that have near the energy density of liquid hydrocarbon fuels have already been made in the lab, the challenge is switching over the manufacturing system and reaching scale. Synthesizing liquid hydrocarbons is a great solution, especially until really high-density batteries arrive. I believe I bought the first quantity of zero-carbon jet fuel in the wo
Eli Dourado AMA

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?

6elidourado4moI kind of did this analysis in 2019 on "how to move the needle on progress []" and landed on health, housing, energy, and transportation as important sectors to fix. If you think about it in productivity terms, in general equilibrium, low-productivity-growth sectors will tend to get bloated as a percent of GDP, while high-productivity-growth sectors will tend to shrink. I still think the 2019 analysis is basically right, although I would emphasize one particular aspect of tractability, which is having a specific solution in mind. Tom Kalil talks about this as a test of policy maturity: suppose you have a 15-minute meeting with the President of the United States, and after the meeting the President is willing to call somebody and tell them what to do. Who do you have him call and what do you have him tell them to do? Until you have an answer to that question, your policy solution isn't mature. I think there's a division of labor in the policy world between the more researchy and more activist groups. The researchy people should be working to discover mature policy ideas (in the Tom Kalil sense) and then the more activist groups should be working to get them implemented. So for the research side, who are starting out without mature policy ideas and trying to generate them, tractability isn't really a concern, it's more about importance. The goal is to generate something tractable. The more activist people need to think more about taking the mature policy idea and running with it, and for them, tractability (political viability, etc.) is more important starting out. Progress is so hard to come by in the policy world that I don't think we should disqualify anything for not being neglected. Even housing/YIMBY stuff, I'm happy for more people to go into it if it gets us over the line. So policy researchers should work on big industrial sectors like health, housing, energy, and transportation (and major cross-cu
Eli Dourado AMA

There are two magic buttons, as follows, but you can only press one. Which would be better for progress and why?

  1. We instantly get the ideal legal/regulatory/policy environment for progress, across the board (this button does not affect science or R&D)
  2. We instantly get huge scientific/R&D breakthroughs: cure for cancer and aging, nanotech that works, fusion that works, benevolent AI (this button does not affect anything social, so all these things would face today's regulatory environment)
4elidourado4moGiven the trade you've laid out, I'd take the scientific breakthroughs. I think there is no agency to regulate nanotech, so it would be a "born free" industry, and we'd see a lot of rapid progress. Benevolent AI too. On the cancer and aging cures, yes, FDA is broken, but they'd get through approval in several years, and then we'd have them. I do think, however, that the policy environment is worth many years of R&D breakthroughs, perhaps 10 or more. We'd get a revitalized transportation and energy industry, dirt cheap housing, better consumer health tech, and a faster rate of R&D development going forward. It wouldn't take much unbalancing of the scales to make me flip the answer.
2Jim Muller4moSuch a great question, excited to see Eli's answer.
Eli Dourado AMA

If you were to draft a set of cause areas for the progress studies movement, what would be high on the list?

3elidourado4mo1. Deregulate land use (YIMBY stuff) 2. Make transportation insanely great: eVTOL, supersonics, small airports with minimal screening, autonomous dynamic bus service 3. Lower the cost of clinical trials and expand freedom to go around the FDA through informed consent 4. Reform permitting/abolish NEPA/end vetocracy 5. Energy abundance/fix the NRC/fix the nuclear industry/expand geothermal/deploy solar 6. Make government that works and is run by grown-ups (I am a big fan of ranked choice voting for this) 7. Big increases in immigration, with concessions to the xenophobes that immigrants probably need to speak English and get deported if they commit serious crimes 8. End make-work policies that are embedded in almost every sector 9. Make sure safety rules are at least actually adding safety instead of safety theater
2Ruth Grace Wong4moI'm also curious to know if you think that centralization, the way that other movements (I'm thinking of effective altruism) have specific cause area prioritizations that proponents tend to follow, is a good or a bad thing. In your opinion, what qualities make an effective modern movement that can actually get things done?
Why slow progress is more dangerous than fast progress

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.

1Mathias Sundin4moYup, I agree. And the best way for that would have been faster progress of safety technology, IMO.
Why slow progress is more dangerous than fast progress

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:

  • take whatever time is necessary (but no more than that) to do appropriate, useful safety testing on new technologies
  • invest in inventing safety measures, ideally in the first version of new technologies
  • think about what types of technologies are more likely
... (read more)
1Mathias Sundin4moThanks for the reply! This text is short, so more nuances could be added. But I touch on the things you mention: I think the general angst over one technology plowing ahead much further than the rest is exaggerated: "Of course, giving Caligula a nuclear bomb wouldn't be great. But the risk of one technology progressing much faster than the general level of knowledge is low. Innovation depends on earlier innovation. There is a reason the Romans didn't have a Manhattan Project. If we increase the rate of innovation in one area, it will spill over and increase innovation in other areas as well." David Deutsch also touches on this in a quote: "The first flight of an airliner should not be carrying passengers. One should not trust the first predator 🐺 that seems friendly. But there is also danger from intangible enemies within, like taboos and pessimism. So one shouldn’t forgo the option to experiment with making use of the wolf. Unbeknownst to the people who first tried that, it would go on to create a new species 🦮 that could be of immense use – including guiding blind humans during the millennia before blindness is cured." What I try to get across is that fast progress is often described, wrongly, like you do now, "pedal to the metal." 😀 That is often taken as an excuse to argue for slowing down or stopping progress -- and that is more dangerous than trying to speed things up.
Revving up the Progress Studies Idea Machine

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.

What is Constructive Journalism?

Interesting exercise: what would Our World in Data look like as a column in that chart?

Who wants a gift subscription to Jim Pethokoukis's Substack?

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.

Tyler Cowen AMA

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?

2Tyler Cowen4moCan't really do it! You have to hope for some crazy people with tenure bucking the system. There are always a few of those, but they will not dominate. But add to their ranks crazy untenured people who write on the internet, and then you have something real in terms of influence.
Tyler Cowen AMA

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)

2Tyler Cowen4moThe one big thing I know is that I know many things. And I am a bird.
Tyler Cowen AMA

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?

2Tyler Cowen4moSee this column for my take: [] My prediction in 2011 was that the Great Stagnation would end within twenty years, so far to me that is looking correct.
Age of Invention: The Pull of Cities

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?

charlesxjyang's Shortform

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.: 

"Progress" alternative to GiveWell?

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: (read more)

Think wider about the root causes of progress

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.

1SebastianG5moI think that's a little too reductionist. CACE: CHANGE ANYTHING CHANGE EVERYTHING. It is certainly true, but trivially true. The question is more like how much does a change in literacy result in a change in technology, rather than are the two related. Basically everything is related within the topics of science, innovation, and the intellectual life. I take Gary's point to be relative. Were communication advancements necessary, while obviously not sufficient, prerequisites for the energy revolutions which followed? Can we make a causal diagram which flows from advances in communication in the 17th century and 18th century to advances in technology? Personally I'd be extremely surprised if it were the case even a diminished form, but it's a very interesting hypothesis to try and disprove.
Alexander's Shortform

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)

2Alexander5moThank you Jason. That's a very thoughtful response. I will check out those recommendations.
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