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Riffing off of Jason's recent post on progress safety . . .

I was trying to classify unintended negative consequences of new technologies, with the idea that this would help predict what they might be for current and future innovations. With a better understanding of potential downsides we might have better chance at solving or addressing them in advance. 

Kevin Kelly wrote a good post putting the effects into 2 classes: "Class 1 problems are due to it not working perfectly. Class 2 problems are due to it working perfectly."

What are the categories one level down? Here are the ones I could come up with but I'd love to hear other thoughts:

  • Large scaling effects -- no issue at small scale usage but at large scale bad
  • Harmful waste product
  • Over reliance on use (makes users fragile) -- probably true of most tech
  • Unsustainable inputs
  • Maladaptive health -- adds or removes something our bodies aren’t used to and can’t adapt to over 1 generation
  • Increases mimetic rivalry
  • Destroys existing stable social systems

That's a good point.

I wouldn't say that "inequality" alone would be a risk category, but more specifically inequality that leads to future brittleness or fragility, as in your example. 

Basically in this case it's path dependant and certain starting conditions could lead to a worse outcome. This obviously could be the case for AI as well.

I found it very hard to find data on these questions:

  1. how many education system employees per citizen per year?
    • how many teachers per citizen
    • how many admin employees per citizen
  2. how many schools per citizen?

I found two related charts on Our Word in data. The Public education expenditure as share of GDP only goes from 1870 to 1993. Also found this chart about "learning outcomes" per GDP (I question the value of this learning outcome measure though)

(Your link to Public education as share of GDP seems to be recursive to this post.)

Really good questions. I also wish there was better historical data, including for the many centuries of history where the one-room-schoolhouse/tutorial method dominated. Very hard to say how many people attended school in Ancient Greece, the proportion of those people relative to various demographics, or even just how big schools were.

Quick and very incomplete tidbits off the top of my head, from a combination of pitch decks and my history of education class:

  • something like
... (read more)

I spoke at a meetup hosted by the Foresight Institute and Allison Duettmann in San Francisco recently, here’s the video recording. My topic was why we need a new philosophy of progress; this was the event description:

Why We Need a New Philosophy of Progress

The paradox of our age is that we enjoy the highest living standards that have ever existed, thanks to modern technology and industrial civilization—and yet each new technology and industrial advance is met with skepticism, distrust, and fear. In the 1960s, people looked forward to a “Jetsons” future of flying cars, robots, and nuclear power; today they at best hope to stave off disasters such as pandemics and climate change. What happened to the idea of progress? How do we regain our sense of agency? And how do we move forward, in the 21st century and beyond?

Join for an open discussion with Jason Crawford. Jason will share a few introductory thoughts, followed by a brief interview with Allison Duettmann, and audience Q&A. Then we break for discussion groups according to shared interest areas.

Big Think magazine has a special issue on progress out today, featuring writers including Tyler Cowen, Charles Kenny, Brad Delong, Kevin Kelly, Jim Pethokoukis, Eli Dourado, Hannah Ritchie, Alec Stapp, Saloni Dattani, and yours truly.

My piece is a revised and expanded version of “We need a new philosophy of progress,” including material from “Why do we need a NEW philosophy of progress?” and from recent talks I’ve given. Here’s an excerpt from the opening:

The title of the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair was “A Century of Progress”; the 1939 fair in New York featured “The World of Tomorrow,” and people came back from it proudly sporting buttons that said “I Have Seen the Future.” In the same era, DuPont unironically used the slogan “better things for better living…

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This is a draft essay to be published on The Roots of Progress; I wanted to share it here first for feedback. Please comment! [UPDATE: this is now revised and published]


We live in a dangerous world. Many hazards come from nature: fire, flood, storm, famine, disease. Technological and industrial progress have made us safer from these dangers. But technology also creates its own hazards: industrial accidents, car crashes, toxic chemicals, radiation. And future technologies, such as genetic engineering or AI, may present existential threats to the human race. These risks are the best argument against a naive or heedless approach to progress.

So, to fully understand progress, we have to understand risk and safety. I’ve only begun my research here, but what follows are some things I’m coming...

This is now revised and published, thanks all for your comments! Some key revisions:

  • Calling safety a *dimension* of progress instead of a “part”
  • Discussion of tradeoffs between the dimensions
  • Discussion of sequencing in general and DTD in particular

We live in a dangerous world. Many hazards come from nature: fire, flood, storm, famine, disease. Technological and industrial progress has made us safer from these dangers. But technology also creates its own hazards: industrial accidents, car crashes, toxic chemicals, radiation. And future technologies, such as genetic engineering or AI, may present existential threats to the human race. These risks are the best argument against a naive or heedless approach to progress.

So, to fully understand progress, we have to understand risk and safety. I’ve only begun my research here, but what follows are some things I’m coming to believe about safety. Consider this a preliminary sketch for a philosophy of safety.

Safety is one dimension of progress

Safety is a value. All else being equal, safer lives are better...