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Hi all,

I'm thrilled to be here, and excited about the possibilities of this new forum! 

By way of a quick introduction, I'm an academic and practicing psychologist who's been writing a Substack called "Building the Builders" - - on which I would generally welcome any and all feedback from this community. 

I would also specifically love to get feedback on the draft linked above, which challenges common intuitions around the relative "risks" of action and innovation versus inaction and stagnation.

Thank you for the excellent feedback, Rebecca!! 

Would love your or others' thoughts on the revised draft linked above, and also copied below: 

Death is the default

Subtitle: Why building is our safest way forward

In the early stages of starting a company, founders stare in the face of one of the stark realities of human existence: the fact that death is the default. Their product or service did not exist in the world before they started building it, and it will quickly fizzle back out of existence if they step away from it. It’s like those horrible,... (read more)

I often see Solarpunk represented as a vision of an optimistic future. I believe this vision is contradictory with a true optimistic future, so I created Terrapunk - a Solarpunk alternative. 

“Terrapunk is the rebellion against stagnation. Terrapunk is movement towards the future. Terrapunk is the rallying cry of the builders, the individuals, the founders, the leaders—the creators.”

Cross-posting from my substack here to preserve the formatting! 

Jason put together some more excerpts here! :

Would love to hear your feedback as well!


Extremely interesting book called Owning the Earth: The Transforming History of Land Ownership by Andro Linklater. Intriguingly, it is a book about progress that doesn't exactly know it's about progress. What was interesting is how the book argues, convincingly, that property ownership is an under-appreciated driver of progress.

This book attempts to answer two interesting questions: (1) what is the history of land ownership, and why is it a big enough deal that we need to consider its history at all; and (2) what is the effect of land ownership, especially by looking at comparative differences between societies that have had different ownership rules?

The most intriguing implication of the book is that land ownership is the reason that the Industrial Revolution started in the UK and not elsewhere,...

Good review and good rec - just bought the book and am enjoying it so far. Thanks!

Check out the posters in this Graphic Design auction and think about how they nonverbally convey ideas of progress.

Last Wednesday, Ross Douthat devoted his NYT column to applying the stasis/dynamism model I developed in The Future and Its Enemies to understanding Elon Musk:

A term like “conservative” doesn’t fit the Tesla tycoon; even “libertarian,” while closer to the mark, associates Musk with a lot of ideas that I don’t think he particularly cares about. A better label comes from Virginia Postrel, in her 1998 book “The Future and Its Enemies”: Musk is what she calls a “dynamist,” meaning someone whose primary commitments are to exploration and discovery, someone who believes that the best society is one that’s always inventing, transforming, doing something new.

I might quibble with some of his presentation—dynamism includes an important role for criticism and competition, since not every new idea is a good...

Technological unemployment, aka “the robots are taking our jobs,” is a perennial anxiety. Inspired by a recent Substack post from Jim Pethokoukis (theme: Progress is hard) I’m resurrecting this February 2018 column, in which I looked at the history of cotton harvesting.

But before I get to my own work, here’s an excerpt from a 1928 article from the Saturday Evening Post, written by my great-grandfather Frank Inman, who was an Atlanta-based cotton broker. My father dug the magazines out of family archives when I was starting work on The Fabric of Civilization.

Men have made many fantastic efforts to evolve a cheaper, if not a better, way of performing the most arduous work required in the production of cotton. Nowadays, though, my buyers often ship me bales of

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I enjoyed “The Terrapunk Manifesto”  by Jack Nasjaq:

Terrapunk is the rebellion against stagnation. Terrapunk is movement towards the future. Terrapunk is the rallying cry of the builders, the individuals, the founders, the leaders—the creators.


We need a new word, one that is clearly for human, space, resource, tech, markets, and population maximization. One that encompasses all energy technologies and other technologies, one that implies expansion beyond Earth, one that believes in the power of the individual to create. One that recognizes that humans are not only subservient to Earth's climate, but rather, that if we could harm the climate, we are also powerful enough to enhance the climate.

Against solarpunk:

Have you ever seen any rocket launches depicted in solarpunk? One might say "but we are happy on earth, we


I recently wrote a blog post Deep Neural Nets: 33 years ago and 33 years from now that was partly a case study on the nature of progress in deep learning, which people here may find interesting. (I would encourage people to read it briefly and return for a few more progress studies - specific comments below).

What strikes me the most is that progress in deep learning has for decades been upper bounded by the computing infrastructure and the software ecosystem. For example, our ability to automate sight famously made a leap in 2012 AlexNet. The neural network architecture and the training algorithm would have been extremely recognizable to LeCun 1989. So who deserves the credit for this leap? I'm inclined to say that it is the...

Re: other examples - true interchangeable parts, which was a major manufacturing advance, required a lot of advances in precision manufacturing. It had been attempted as early as the early 1700s, and was made much more feasible/cost effective by the invention of high-speed tool steel in the late 1800s, which made it possible to machine heat-treated parts. Interchangeable parts was, among other things, one of the technologies that made Ford's assembly line possible (iirc, Ford was the very first car manufacturer to use interchangeable parts.) But as late as the 1940s, it was still expensive to get true interchangeability, and wasn't always used.

4jasoncrawford1dI think you're right about “dark matter,” and precision machining is exactly the first example of it that leapt to mind. E.g., Watt was having a hard time getting his improved steam engine to work reliably, because without a very good fit between the piston and cylinder, steam pressure would be lost. The problem was solved by Wilkinson, who had developed a special technique for boring canons that could be applied to cylinders for engines. This story is told toward the beginning of Simon Winchester's book The Perfectionists [] (sold in the UK under the title Exactly, I think). I gave a related example about the non-obvious importance of precision manufacturing in my essay “Why did we wait so long for the threshing machine? []” Another one that comes to mind is chemical synthesis. Think about how much in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries relies on our ability to synthesize chemicals. And yet, this is rarely discussed even in books on the history of technology. Every once in a while I marvel that we can just synthesize molecules. How do we do that? And how did we learn to do that?! Or, consider the semiconductor industry. To even invent, say, the transistor, we needed the ability to make n-type and p-type silicon. I haven't dug into it yet, but it must have required sophisticated materials processes to perform the appropriate doping of boron and phosphorus, which are present in the silicon in minute quantities. One more: When I looked into the history of smallpox vaccines [], I found that there was a lot of iteration after the initial vaccine to improve safety, storability, and transportability: Think about all of the underlying technologies that are required to invent and scale up something like freeze drying. Progress is highly interconne

What do we mean by “Progress Studies” and how can this field of study be advanced? I’ve been thinking about that question a lot since Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen published their 2019 manifesto in The Atlantic on why “We Need a New Science of Progress.” At present, there is no overarching “unified field theory” of what Progress Studies entails or what underpins it, and that may be holding up progress on Progress Studies. I recently attended an important conference on the “Moral Foundations of Progress Studies,” co-hosted by The Roots of Progress and the Salem Center at UT Austin, where I discovered that many others were grappling with these same issues. 

While a broad range of people are interested in Progress Studies, their moral priors differ, sometimes...

1jasoncrawford1dWhat's a good example of slowing a technology that is likely to be harmful?

Nuclear non-proliferation has slowed the distribution of nukes; I acknowledge that this is slowing distribution rather than development.

There are conventions against the use of or development of biological weapons. These don't appear to have been completely successful, but they've had some effect.

There has been a successful effort to prevent genetic enhancement - this may be net-positive or net-negative - but it shows the possibility of preventing development of a tech, even in China which was assumed to be the wild West.

But going further, progress studies... (read more)