Recent Discussion

We will be meeting with Jason Crawford who will update us on his latest work at https://rootsofprogress.org/, followed by a "fireside chat" and Q&A. We will be meeting in the Tang Center center on the MIT campus (building E51) in Room 335.

Looking forward to meeting some Boston folks!

The Future Forum is a new conference happening in San Francisco, August 4–7:

The Future Forum is an experimental 4-day conference in San Francisco, USA. 250 bright individuals will gather in a welcoming South San Francisco mansion, mingle with many of the voices thinking and working on improving the future of humanity, and we will co-create one-on-one conversations, fireside chats, workshops, and more….

Future Forum will serve as a bridge to inspire and connect attendees from a mix of communities, including Emergent Ventures, Progress Studies, Effective Altruism, Silicon Valley tech, Crypto, and Longevity, among others.

I’ll be speaking there, along with Patrick Collison, Sam Altman, Ed Boyden, Holden Karnofsky (Open Philanthropy), Allison Duettmann (Foresight Institute), Tamara Winter (Stripe Press), Anders Sandberg (Future of Humanity Institute), Grant Sanderson (3blue1brown), and others.

They’re...

Muslim Lady Reclining, by Francesco Renaldi (1789). The Muslim lady is wearing a rich dress of muslin (with an n, not an m), a light cotton fabric that used to be made in Dhaka on a quasi-industrial basis before the techniques were forgotten forever.

History is gigantic along multiple dimensions, so it’s hardly surprising that there are countless combinations of time and place that you or I have never considered. Occasionally, though, I come across a blindspot that is perplexing: an event that seems significant, but that almost no one seems to be thinking about.

The proto-industrialized period of Bengal is one such blindspot. I’m guessing that, unless you come from South Asia or are a really big history nerd, you probably have no idea what I even mean...

I am writing in response to Max Olson's important and insightful post To Increase Progress, Increase Desire. I believe a lack of desire and the good enough problem is an underrated impediment to both progress, and adaption of the progress studies mindset.

Candidly, when I preach the importance of progress to those around me, most simply do not care. To many, the prospect of marginally greater progress is not particularly attractive as they do not feel it will benefit them.

I think there is something akin to utility monsters afflicting rich societies due to the good enough problem. That is, when a product, industry or general state of society is good enough, most gains from progress are spent on near insatiable goods (ie healthcare), or zero sum status competitions...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

This fascinating thread on the EA forum provides some really interesting data on the relationship between GDP growth and happiness.

I think certain types of innovation clearly cause an immediate increase in human welfare (ie medical advances, longevity increases, ways to decrease various forms of risk that lead to more safety), but other than these particular categories of goods, I think we reached a point of saturation where better material goods are of negligible marginal welfare value. Despite this, changes to social dy... (read more)

Hey everyone! I was thinking about writing an upcoming piece on the h-index and share some of the communities ideas on what we could change it to. For as much as so many researchers understand that it’s not a great summary of an individual’s contributions, it’s often difficult to judge the merit of someone who publishes in a sub-area dissimilar to yourself and, particularly in cases like that, a neutral-seeming metric like an h-index is often referenced (whether we like it or not).

I’d love to know what you personally would change the h-index to if you had unilateral power for a day and could do such things! I’d love to (with your permission and giving you credit) share some of the more interesting/telling contributions in the article...

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)

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By any measure, some minimal level of healthcare is important for sustainable economic development. About 50 million Indians live every year at risk of being pushed into poverty by healthcare expenses. We know a lot about the Indian healthcare system in a top-down sense and we have some vignettes of what it's like at the bottom. Most experts suggest that many of its problems are because of low government spending. 

But if everyone agrees that higher government spending in health and education is the answer, why hasn't the government done it? The NDA government seems very committed - at least rhetorically - to high economic growth, and a broader middle class with more education and less mortality seems to be generally a good step in that direction. What's...

For a rent-seeking organization that excluded competitors, fleeced customers, and underpaid suppliers, the European guilds have been staunchly defended by economists and economic historians—so much so that a pro-guild “orthodoxy” had emerged by the mid-2000s. The debate over whether these institutions were actually efficient solutions to market failures is a fun one, but alas, the evidence remains mostly anti-guild.


In researching for my recent post on “The Mechanics of the Industrial Revolution,” I noticed that a key explanation for the purportedly higher levels of artisanal skills in Britain relative to the Continent was the weakness of the former’s guilds. “[T]he relative limited [sic] power of guilds meant that rapidly growing sectors could swiftly attract extra apprentices,” who in turn served as the skilled labor force manning British textile...

As regular readers might have noticed, it’s been a long time since my last newsletter — far, far longer than usual. Although I haven’t been posting, however, I have been hard at work researching. I had to translate a lot of primary sources from sixteenth-century French, Italian, Dutch, German, and even Latin, so that was already going to cause a delay. But then, the more I delved into the topic, the more I had to delay writing it up. Things I thought I knew, and on which I agreed with a lot of other historians, turned out to be ever more questionable. Perhaps even wrong. And so I had to delve ever deeper to get to the truth, and to reformulate what I knew.

So I apologise for...

Step back a bit?! But I like it down here in the weeds! 

That's a very useful way to separate out two issues here, and helps me to clarify what I'm up to.

My main focus is on whether atmospheric pressure exploitation is older than the standard historiography suggests. Hence the choice of title, about whether the steam engine could have been invented earlier. 

Part I is really about setting up 1) the pretty uncontroversial claim that it is atmospheric pressure and not steam itself that is the key issue of debate here, because of how human energy expl... (read more)