Founder, The Roots of Progress (rootsofprogress.org). Part-time tech consultant, Our World in Data. Former software engineering manager and tech startup founder.

Wiki Contributions


The bonds of family and community: Poverty and cruelty among Russian peasants in the late 19th century

That's possible, although she had ways of getting information. For instance, she would stand outside at an easel, painting, and eavesdrop on conversations.

They don't make 'em like they used to

True, but it's not that hard to imagine that a cast-iron stove could still be working a century later. It's pretty simple as far as I understand it… pretty much just a metal box with doors and a stovepipe.

They don't make 'em like they used to

I think the point is not that interdependence is inherently safer, but rather that, all things considered, industrial civilization is both safer and more interdependent than the pre-industrial world. The electric grid, for instance, makes us much more interdependent than tallow candles or kerosene lamps, but it's also much safer than using flames for lighting inside the home. The added risk from interdependence is more than compensated for by other factors.

They don't make 'em like they used to

How does the conspiracy survive when each individual member has a motivation to defect? (Not saying it can't, I just don't understand the dynamics.)

They don't make 'em like they used to

I haven't researched planned obsolescence; are there any good examples of this?

If extra durability/lifespan (beyond the ~15 years that things already last) were possible with a small increase in cost, why wouldn't manufacturers compete on this axis? I imagine that individual homebuyers don't care that much, but, say, a landlord of a large apartment complex who was making a major purchase of stoves would probably want to optimize for 15 vs. 20 or 25-year lifespans. They would have someone doing the calculation.

In the shadow of the Great War

Problems do have to be solved case-by-case, but your basic premises and values—philosophy—guides what kind of solutions you will seek, how you evaluate them, and what you will accept.

For instance, to address climate change, how do you feel about seeking abundant, cheap, clean energy via nuclear/solar/geothermal? Carbon capture? Geoengineering? Degrowth? Those are very different approaches.

In the shadow of the Great War

I think the relationship between the philosophy of progress and actual progress is reciprocal. When people believe in progress, they do more of it; and when they see it working, they believe in it.

Note that the idea of progress arguably began around the time of Bacon, which was more than a century before the Industrial Revolution.

Didn't the philosophy of progress fade when technological innovation started producing dangers and destructions that were more obvious and dramatic and story-friendly, and hit people where they live on a daily basis?

Yes, but. Historical events like this pose a challenge to existing ideas—they don't determine how people will interpret them or what new ideas will come along to answer the challenge. Every challenge is a crossroads. I think we took the wrong fork in the mid-20th century, and I want us to get back on track.

Can we really ignite a new philosophy of progress without a concomitant explosion in dramatic, everyday technical innovations that impact ordinary people's daily lives with the same force that the positive innovations of the 19th century produced?

Again, I think this will be reciprocal. If the coming decades see Mars settlements and affordable supersonic passenger travel and CRISPR gene therapies and an mRNA cure for cancer and fusion energy and effective longevity treatments… that will help people believe in progress again. But also, helping spread the idea that progress is real and we can make it happen could help inspire people to build the future.

Rather than increasing the rate at which we create innovations on par with AlphaFold, might a new philosophy of progress just cause more people to be excited about AlphaFold?

Excitement about things translates into money and talent going into them, which causes more of them to happen.

How factories were made safe

To be clear, you're quoting a sentence from a paragraph that I described as “one possible narrative”, in a section where I described two opposing narratives and then explored which aspects of each seemed to be supported by this story.

I do think that safety measures could have begun earlier. See my reply to jpsmith: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/DQKgYhEYP86PLW7tZ/how-factories-were-made-safe?commentId=wAPgdiJNHsYewmrzi

How factories were made safe

I think of “externality” as roughly equivalent to “you hurt someone and you didn't have to pay for it.” If a workplace is neglectful of safety, and the worker gets hurt, and the employer doesn't have to pay, that seems like an externality?

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