All of SebastianG's Comments + Replies

Neither EA nor e/acc is what we need to build the future

Style suggestion. You could put the penultimate paragraph before the preceding one and delete the final paragraph. That will decrease the preachiness factor at the end and the repetition of ideas in the last and third to last paragraph. Plus going straight from we need serious people to the paragraph about those people is what your structure is asking for.

1jasoncrawford8moThanks, good point about the flow here.
Solved and Unsolved Externality problems?

My list now includes:

Sulfur Dioxide

Clean Air Act

Montreal Protocol

Lead Paint

Lead in Gasoline

Public Radio

Mandatory 8th grade education

Secondhand Smoke

Public Transit Subsidy

Automobile Emissions Standards

Fishing Quota System Australia

Bees and Orchards

Cattle Ranchers and Crop Farmers

Climate Change

Space Debris

Traffic Congestion

Violent Crime

Assuming the Data is Correct: legal Marijuana


Why consumerism is good actually

Consumers, in the "consumerism" worldview exist only to receive goods. It's a primarily self-centered orientation to the world, and that's why people sneer the word with such a moralizing tone.

Imagine the opposite of consumerism is producerism. Producing time-saving conveniences, building stuff, retaining walls and, heck, even trivial trinkets. Producing is a "nice thing to do." An active life working and valuing the things you wished you valued while helping others in the small, tedious ways that the economy rewards a person for.

But a "consumerist" is a d... (read more)

AMA: Ben Reinhardt, Speculative Technologies

How much pressure is currently being applied to Congress to break some of the bottlenecks on energy abundance? How much more is needed?

2Benjamin Reinhardt1yNot an expert, but as far as I can tell, nowhere near enough! There's some rumbling about making it easier to build nuclear and folks like Jamie Beard and Eli Dourado are doing admirable work to make it easier to drill geothermal, but for the most part people don't even think seriously about the counterfactual that we could have orders of magnitude more energy and what that would unlock.
AMA: Ben Reinhardt, Speculative Technologies

What's your theory of management going in to Speculative Technologies?

AMA: Ben Reinhardt, Speculative Technologies

What advances in material science would have to occur for it to be as exciting to investors and average people as software? i.e. is the world of bits going to remain the dominant arena of novel creations for the next century?

1Benjamin Reinhardt1yIf by "investors" you mean venture capitalists, I'm not sure that material science will ever be as exciting as software -- the margins on software are too high and the timescales are so short. Maybe if someone cracked truly automated generative materials. But there are other kinds of investors -- I could imagine a number of valuable companies eventually being built around some general-purpose materials platforms: if someone figured out how to make steel with truly tunable properties, hierarchical materials, extremely efficient thermoelectrics, arbitrarily long carbon nanotubes, etc. If you forced me begrudgingly to make generalizations about average people, I'd point to the fact that people get excited when advances touch their lives: you could imagine everything from drastically cheaper electricity from room temperature superconductors, self-cleaning surfaces, items made from wood with drastically different properties ...
A 21st Century Progress Myth

I resonate with this. The issue is that culture is particular, but the type of progress the progress studies is generally committed to is civilizational (tech and institutions) not cultural (art and meaning). A community dedicated to progress would instantly become significantly more narrow if it committed to some particular vision of what is valuable and meaningful. While I am fairly committed to a particular vision of how to integrate civilization and culture to create a meaningful life, I wouldn't want the Progress Forum to commit to a particular view o... (read more)

2elliehain1yActually, you can't really separate cultural progress from civilizational progress. The modern world didn't just come about because of the industrial revolution, but also because the set of new ideas about what it means to be an individual and live in society that liberalism promoted. In fact, it was this set ideas what catalyzed the industrial revolution, rather than material or technological factors like geography or access to capital. [] And, our project is super focused on technological, scientific and institutional progress. We are very pro-tech and markets. But we think that the way to unlock this type of progress is through redesigning tech and institutions around meaning: In regards about culture and meaning being particular, that is also not quite the case. Liberalism itself is proof that you can have a dominant cultural system that is not affiliated to any particular way of life (and yes, it's now failing, but it's failing for another set of reasons). In fact, most of the people engaging in our project have very different views of what it means to live a good life! In our core team of five, we have a very conservative orthodox jew living in Jerusalem, and a poly, queer, social justice political philosopher from the Bay Area — the rest of us are all somewhere in between. And the people who are resonating with our message are also as equally varied! We have religious leaders and anarchists, rave organizers and hedge fund managers, radical environmentalists and tech accelerationists, midwives and alignment researchers. To be honest, even I have been surprised at the diversity of the people who have been writing us!
Who wants a gift subscription to Matt Yglesias's Substack, Slow Boring?

Hi Jason, Matt is certainly one the substackers I sometimes most regret not having a sub to!

Eli Dourado AMA

What is the relationship between public policy and the imagination?

2elidourado1yThat's a broad question, but as it relates to progressy things, I think imagination about what the future could hold is certainly a factor in the kind of social ambitions that we aspire to. It's a common belief among some economic historians, for example, that we have already picked the low-hanging fruit. There are no new inventions in their mind that could match the inventions of the 19th and 20th centuries in terms of providing explosive growth. Maybe they're right, but I can certainly imagine new inventions that could change everything. As I argued previously on Progress Forum [], futurism is important for producing a concrete vision that can inform our goals.
Eli Dourado AMA

What formative things between the ages of 14 and 24 made you who you are today?

2elidourado1yGetting online in the mid-90s was huge. The web was tiny back then, but it was still such a window to the world. I tinkered with everything, taught myself HTML, played with hacker tools, read The Anarchist Cookbook, made myself a Geocities page, etc. The other formative thing was in college, discovering economics, which was a way of thinking that comes completely naturally to me. Finally, people are making some sense, I thought. In my early 20s, the Econ blogging scene was crucial. These are my people, I thought, and I ended up putting myself at the center of that group by going to GMU for a PhD.
Why pessimism sounds smart

One reason I hear for pessimism is not merely Clive Thompson's point that dystopian scenarios are easy to imagine, but that we've already created dystopias. It's NOT merely imagination. We've already dropped atomic weapons, created murderous totalitarian governments, and starved millions of people to death through blithe mismanagement. As proof of concept such things have already happened, they could be scaled, and if they happen again, they will be bigger and badder. It's hard for most people to imagine unknown future good things that outweigh "knowable" ... (read more)

Tyler Cowen AMA

Are current US rates of growth and disruption enough to keep protectionist interest groups from outpacing innovation (#MancurOlson)? Comparing your 2003 work and present work, it seems, at least to me, that your sense of how culture works has changed, namely the extent to which culture and individuals are elastic. What's your current view here?

2Tyler Cowen1yOur market is large enough, and there are enough foreign sources of competition and innovation, that yes I think this will work out OK. It is just that we could do so, so much better.

This is great. I'm all for it. To reveal my enthusiasm I am going to throw out some timelines, ideas, and numbers here to keep your creative juices flowing. Feel free to disagree and quibble.

  1. Creating a core team of 3-6 people. Putting in place a methodology and data collection plan. 500 hours.
  2. Visiting all 10 locations with team plus tech crew and equipment. 1 week of work at each location. Cost: $80,000 - 120,000
  3. Editing and post-production: 500 hours.
  4. additional costs: various salaries contracts. Total: $100,000???
  5. Do it twice.

I think I'd definitely ... (read more)

1[comment deleted]2y

Interesting thought about the market here. It seems though that the Atlantic and Vox have a pretty good bead on that. Between Derek Thompson etc. and Kelsey Piper etc. I think one thing we can do is augment their efforts and contribute to those already established and successful platforms, as well as Works in Progress.

I am not aware of the financial situation of any of these outlets, but I don't see a market hole for another one. This might be good advice though for other current operations like Warp News.

3[comment deleted]2y
Think wider about the root causes of progress

I 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 ... (read more)

Introductions thread (please introduce yourself)

Sebastian I am. An entrepreneur, pedagogue, and two-time poetaster. I started a hybrid school which meets in person three days per week. My original training was in liberal arts, specifically classical languages and philosophy, which give me a rich repository of historical examples and uses of the subjunctive should the need arise. I moved into education after college, going to Finland to study and compare educational systems. I discovered game theory and economics and the history of math and science in 2016. I became Cowen-pilled in 2018.

I have written ... (read more)

The Foundational Tech Manifesto: What it will take to break through to America 2.0

I appreciate this. Let me provide a thought on how to respond to a certain type of critique: the small market of young people who can get engaged in this. I think some people, especially young people, who are not naturally tech people have an aversion to thinking they can or should do anything tech related. Part of the issue is that what motivates them is not the underlying tech but aesthetically great consumer products. Art, music, shows, video games, sports, outdoors, religion, and most importantly friends and people. So how do we motivate these natural ... (read more)

0Gary Sheng2yHi Sebastian. Yes - this is a great challenge. And I'd love to see your website when it's up!
Think wider about the root causes of progress

One possible story is wider-spread literacy, (cheap paper, cheap printing) followed by obsessive note-taking, letter writing, and proto-bureaucratic thinking. I'm reading the history of the Jesuits right now, and it is clear that the entire endeavor is printing press + cheap paper = new social movement. Could we think of "science" and "practical tinkering" as two of these new social movements which yielded a lot of return?

1Gary Sheng2yI like this. To speak more generally about what I think you're pointing at, step function improvements in communication + coordination tech seems to be essential to breakthroughs in other kinds of tech. A lot of people point at the existence of Four Industrial Revolutions so far: 1. First Industrial Revolution: Coal in 1765 2. Second Industrial Revolution: Gas in 1870 3. Third Industrial Revolution: Electronics and Nuclear in 1969 4. Fourth Industrial Revolution: Internet and Renewable Energy in 2000 I'm wondering if any of these would have taken off at a global scale without the invention of the... 1. Postal system in the 1700s 2. Electric telegraph + industrial printing presses 3. Radio, TV, and telephone 4. E-mail and all the different chat and collective intelligence tools that have emerged To reference Anton Howe's piece from earlier this year, innovation doesn't seem to be human nature. Perhaps the proliferation of tech that sufficiently spreads inspiring ideas—like "XYZ is possible!"—is what leads people to decide to innovate anyway, against their conservative nature.
Talent sorting in Germany is flawed

I think there is a couple of ways perhaps to get at studying the size of medical school problem, supposing it exists.

We could measure the opportunity cost of careers with similar matriculating student profiles to med school students.

We could also study the careers of accepted students who don't wind up going.

Using Germany vs US as comparison groups maybe a little bit tricky given the differences in education systems. But I'm sure there's already some decent solutions to that problem worked out in other papers.

I work on secondary school startups, college an... (read more)

Talent sorting in Germany is flawed

I have been thinking about this claim as of late: does medical school steal lock up too much top talent in the US? Your evidence for the case in Germany is interesting. One thing about the medical profession is that it is always clear what the next step to take is. While becoming a founder or even an electrical engineer the number of options remains open for a very long time. So it is possible that the medical field is also dulling our wits. I think your test score data is good. I wish you also had data about what fields A* students matriculate into. Is ... (read more)

2Simon Grimm2yDefinitely agree with this; it seems very hard to leave when the next steps are so obvious. Yeah, I'd love to have that data as well. What's your background? Happy to chat more, though I will likely shift more of my focus on biosecurity things over the coming weeks.
"Progress" alternative to GiveWell?

I'd say the donation legibility is a concern here. The best progress-related institutions aren't set up in a way where low dollar denominated donations make obvious helpful marginally valuable improvements. When I donate five hundred dollars to vaccines acquisition and distribution in Angola, that's believably a marginal difference that matters.

Under what models of progress does a marginal $500 provide a lot of value? I think in the context of microgrants to young people and young ideas, it is great! But I'm having trouble for something like New Science.

Ma... (read more)

Why was progress so slow in the past?

Great essay! And clearly you put your elbow grease in to make it flow and feel right rhetorically. Mwah. That catalogue of hurdles was very well thought out.

I have one comment on the following:

"If it were, say, a millwright, he would have to learn enough about machines to go beyond the kinds that he had been taught to make through apprenticeship, and invent something entirely new. Where would this knowledge have come from?"

I was just listening to Esther Duflo talk about mathematics ability and difference between street kids who sell produce and students in... (read more)

Draft for comment: Towards a philosophy of safety

Hi Jason,

A few comments. I like the basic idea, but he article seems too fawning and just does not provide enough of a Scylla and Charybdis of where "safety" goes right and where it can go wrong. The hidden context, I believe, is the high-profile catalyzing exposure of x-risk and longtermist ideas to the broader public.

Here are less than a few thoughts on some of your statements.

"Safety is properly a goal of progress."

Certainly safety is not properly a goal of progress, any more than seatbelt is a goal of fast transportation. Safety is one method of achie... (read more)

Progress and Disabilities

Thanks for sharing your story. Although there are a lot of disability advocacy groups, progress studies is in a unique position in that it can detail technologies that enable people to live rich lives who otherwise would not be able to.

I would love a follow up article on the technologies that are most essential for your wife's life and how they work both in the technical and socio-cultural sense. 

2Taylor Barkley2yThanks very much! Yes, I'd be glad to write a follow up piece like that. Appreciate the suggestion!
What would you all change the h-index to? I'm very curious!

I would like to understand what the biggest advantages of the h-index are. It seems to me the advantages are that it balances quantity and quality. Let's try the opposite for a decade or two. A measurement strategy that gives high weight to quantity or quality.

Here are some ideas, likely bizarre for reasons others will eagerly point out.

S-index = |N-log(C)|^log(C)

N = number of topics written on as measured by Milojević 2015 or more simply the unique keywords used by the journals to describe the article. C = total citations.

That formula is a response to Ma... (read more)

Increasing Demand for Progress Beyond Desire

This is largely a response to footnote 2.

In The Moral Consequences of Economic Growth Benjamin Friedman deploys a lot of case studies of social progress and economic growth going hand in hand. Similarly, in Stubborn Attachments, Tyler makes a compelling case the GDP is greatly linked with human-wellbeing, but he also allows that there is more to well-being than the basket of goods that can be currently be purchased. He calls the total basket of goods Wealth Plus. So far so good.

I appreciate that what you do here is look for a way for economic growth t... (read more)

We Are Not Gods: The Geographic Critique of Impartial Progress

"Things like shared culture/values are important because that can be what empowers people to take a leap together, and it's especially magical when that culture (say of science) is shared among people who, in other aspects of their lives, do not share culture."

I've been thinking a lot about this recently. See for example the recent discussion on creating demand for innovation.

One dichotomy that might be useful is the distinction between invention and innovation.

Invention... (read more)

To Increase Progress, Increase Desire

I think it worthwhile to take a moment to theorize about demand. I think we are all supply-siders in some way.

Aren't you trying to manufacture demand to consider the supply side? What's the theory of demand that increases the supply-side?

To Increase Progress, Increase Desire

Having thought it about this some more, I think my point actually buttresses your thesis.

Lets imagine that humans are adaptable to the living standards of current circumstances and have finite competition points. Along the dimension of current circumstances there is zero-sum competition for status and relative power. Demand for status, relative power, and group belonging can swamp demand for a brighter, more efficient future.

So under this theory climate change action is an example where demand moved from the scientific community who identified a negative e... (read more)

2Max Olson2yThanks Sebastian. I think this is a good way to think about it. "Nudging" demand away from the more zero-sum endeavors and toward productive ones. Awareness and action on climate change is an especially good case study. Of course as other things, climate-related tech is both demand and supply driven, but there's no doubt that overall climate awareness has pushed sales of things like solar, EVs, plant-based meats, etc. "goods where when demand increases there are long term positive effects" is a good way to put it. Your steps 2 and 3 are obviously less clear how implement in practice. Especially finding ways to measure these effects. I mean, it's pretty hard to measure how much good sci-fi has affected tech progress but long-term I think it's clear it has.
2mattaurilio2yRegarding the 'demand cycle', I thinkTechnological Revolutions and Financial Capital by Carlota Perez is relevant here. Basically technological progress goes through two broad phases of installation and deployment, each with two parts. Installation seems to relate to your 1 and 2 above, while deployment is #3, and it seems to me where progress has stalled. When the progress we have made and the demand we've created for that progress is deployed in a way that seems arbitrary or lackluster, the problem goes from stagnation (agent-less) to strangulation (agent-driven). Perez frames the deployment period as a golden age of synergy that leads to maturity, where the cycle starts over. If that golden age is poorly distributed, then maturity looks less like well-earned growth and more like ossification. Related is the literature on the psychological effects of unfulfilled desire, including being unable to complete things, the inability to acquire, realize gains, pull things in and compose with them. To take two examples from above, Apple and climate change have both successfully injected demand across the cycle, rather than just frontloading it and letting the chips fall. Apple's deployment as a firm is much more 'orderly' than climate change (a broad movement), whose deployment ranges from dematerialization to anti-natalism to summits with world leaders. Satisfying our desire for Apple products is pretty straightforward, while satisfying our desire to prevent the worst of climate change is much more complicated.
State capacity eats interest rates for lunch

I agree that the article is kind of hard to follow because the concept of state capacity doesn't feel natural in the article, (this is more a stylistic issue than a conceptual one) when what is meant is something more like regulatory cost-multipliers.

If your audience is a little more left-coded, then 'state capacity' is a term more likely to generate agreement than talking about regulatory costs to efficiency, which sounds more libertarian.

I think I would have started the article with an arresting breakdown of how much of a project's cost were caused by fi... (read more)

To Increase Progress, Increase Desire

The selfishness motive for increasing demand is actually weaker than you might think. In the three examples you chose, climate change, Tesla, and Apple, I'd make the case that all three, even Apple(?) pulled demand because they are socially desirable at the same time as personally beneficial.

1SebastianG2yHaving thought it about this some more, I think my point actually buttresses your thesis. Lets imagine that humans are adaptable to the living standards of current circumstances and have finite competition points. Along the dimension of current circumstances there is zero-sum competition for status and relative power. Demand for status, relative power, and group belonging can swamp demand for a brighter, more efficient future. So under this theory climate change action is an example where demand moved from the scientific community who identified a negative externality from carbon emissions to a marker of group solidarity and desirability. In this case, the competition to do something about it is probably net-good (although the anti-natal doomerism is a pretty high cost already, if that birth-rate effect is real), since many climate actions are productive. So a model for boosting demand would be something like: 1. Identify goods where when demand increases there are long term positive effects. Thinkers and prophets. 2. Produce media content and communities around those effects. Enthusiasts and fandoms. 3. Create institutions that actually facilitate those effects. Innovators and political possiblity. Each of these points requires a population that is not stuck trying to find ways to conform to their dis-innovative peers full time. "Freedom for alternative demand," you might call it. (This reminds me of Tyler's comment on dentists. The marginal dentist doesn't create much in the way of public goods. But the marginal innovative firm changes the equilibrium of society.)
Humanity Lacks Imagination to Solve Aging

Read the Silmarillion and study the elves. In Tolkien's world the immortality of elves makes them discount local pains immensely, they don't care about making happy people, and their mistakes are very hard to correct and consequently they are especially risk adverse compared to mankind.

But the elves are musical, rarefied, intelligent, and take the arts seriously, including the art of crafting. They make things which a from a human perspective are magical.

I wrote a 4k word BBC Future article on Progress Studies, and I'd love your thoughts

I thought the feature was pretty solid on research. And certainly was deep and explanatory! I wish, however, you were able to pull off a bit more gesturing at the breadth of voices in this space.

Matt Clancy, Brian Potter, who both run top quality substacks in addition to working for the Institute for Progress. Alexey Guzey at New Science. These are good examplars of the kind of gritty in the weeds work we are interested in. Such work reveals why it's hard to extrapolate out a crisp 'ideology.'

Towards the end I felt like Jason was given "philosopher of the movement" status, but I'd say it's more that Tyler Cowen is Darwin and Jason is the Thomas Huxley. :)

A Visit to the Idea Machine Fair

The internet doesn't quite hit that visceral sense of the happeningness of it all that a fair does.

1etiennefd2yIndeed, the internet is great at many things but doesn't really replace events and salons and conferences and so on.
A Visit to the Idea Machine Fair

What the post left me with, in some ways despite itself, was a sense of hope in the possible. Like, I want to go to the idea machine fair... Even more than the new world's fair.

1SebastianG2yThe internet doesn't quite hit that visceral sense of the happeningness of it all that a fair does.
PASTA and Progress: The great irony

I don't think it is fair to act like Jason is doubting something so knockdown clear. Yes, to you and I AGI seems obviously possible and within this century seems even seems likely, but Jason said he doesn't know much about the AI stuff. And his default view is agnosticism, not deference to the LW community. Don't forget that not everyone has spent the past decade reading about AGI! ;)

3jasoncrawford2yI have read enough (e.g., Holden Karnofsky's essays) to understand the case for it. It is a compelling case. What I'm arguing against is a line of thinking like: “AGI will be here soon and it will either kill us or solve all our problems, so there's no point in working on curing cancer, longevity, nanotech, fusion, or progress studies.” There are just too many unknown unknowns. On top of which I would add that machine intelligence, however it evolves, is something very different from human intelligence, just as a washing machine is different from a housekeeper and a submarine is different from a whale. Machines “think” in the way that a submarine “swims.” So there are limits on how much we can extrapolate from human intelligence.
Hendrick Bode?

It's remarkable that someone used the word 'synergy' to describe his relationship with Claude Shannon. Clearly the word choice indicates someone obsessed with his work. The main contributor to that page is a "Dr. K." I have only figured out that he is a retired professor living on or near Corfu. I sent him a message. 

Content and Method of Classical Tutoring

Confidence level: 30%

Strongly agree this info is mostly about what tutoring was, but I have been struck recently by how far-reaching this idea of 'rhetoric' is. I have found it very easy throughout my life to think about this classic notion of rhetoric as mere speaking well and persuading. But the way it is talked about and the way the curricula of Cicero, Quintilian and Renaissance thinkers seem to think of it, as you say, as the master skill of the elite. Is it not true anymore?

It depends on how we define this master skill. What exactly was this skill, i... (read more)