Discover more from Noahpinion
Interview: Jason Crawford, nonprofit founder
The founder of The Roots of Progress explains his philosophy of technology and society
The amazing advances in vaccines and renewable energy have spurred hope that the 2020s will be a decade of accelerating technological progress. A lot of people are talking about what to expect from the new technological age, which technologies will be key, how to accelerate and sustain the progress, and what the dangers and challenges will be. Jason Crawford is one of those people. He left a lucrative career in the software industry in order to pursue his intellectual interests, recently founding a nonprofit called The Roots of Progress. Its goal, inspired partly by a manifesto by Patrick Collison and Tyler Cowen, is to create optimism around the idea of progress, and hold up “a positive vision of the future”.
In the interview that follows, Jason lays out his basic worldview, including his philosophy of technology and progress, his assessment of why progress has slowed down, ideas for speeding it up again, predictions for where we might be headed, and various thoughts about public attitudes toward progress. Although we find much to agree on, I find myself disagreeing fairly substantially with Jason when it comes to the role of government in pushing forward the development of science and engineering. In any case, I like Jason’s positive message that technology is generally a force for empowerment and enrichment of the human condition, and I hope he’s successful in spreading that idea.
N.S.: So, you have a new nonprofit called The Roots of Progress. Tell me a little bit about what that does. And also tell me what personally motivated you to start it! It's an unusual move for a tech guy who could be making oodles of money in the for-profit sector, so it must be a labor of love!
J.C.: Definitely a labor of love. The Roots of Progress started in 2017 as a blog about the history of technology and the philosophy of progress. At first it was just a hobby, but I gradually became obsessed with the topic.
In 2019, I had my first viral blog post, “Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?” Two weeks later, Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison published their call for “progress studies”, which galvanized the progress community. Soon I realized there was nothing I wanted to do more than to keep writing about this stuff, and I went full-time as an independent researcher.
By now in 2021, there's enough support for my work that I'm able to take it to the next level: hiring help, sponsoring programs, etc.. For instance, I just hired a “chief of staff”. The new nonprofit org is the vehicle for all that.
The mission of the organization is to establish a new philosophy of progress for the twenty-first century. The org will support my work on a book about progress, tentatively titled The Story of Industrial Civilization. And we're going to be organizing a series of events to help build the progress community.
N.S.: So, there has been some argument over the word "progress", and what constitutes "progress". There could be technological progress, social progress, etc. What kind of progress are you studying? And why is it the important kind?
J.C.: In the broadest sense, “progress” is everything that helps people live better lives—lives that are longer, happier, healthier, and more comfortable; with more intellectual and spiritual richness; with more choice, freedom, and opportunity. That kind of progress, in human well-being, is what is fundamentally important. To that end, I see three main categories of progress: material progress (technology, industry, and the economy), intellectual progress (science, knowledge, and education), and moral progress (including society and government). The three are distinct but inseparable: they depend on each other, reinforce each other, and are ultimately intertwined.
So far, I've been focusing on material progress and specifically the history of technology. You might be able to start anywhere, but I'm starting there in part because it's the realm where progress is most obvious, tangible, and measurable. Per-capita GDP has increased 20–30x in industrialized nations; global poverty is declining by almost any metric you choose (and no, it’s not just China); famine is a thing of the past in most of the world; global life expectancy at birth has doubled; you can now get anywhere in the world in 24 hours; and most people on Earth can now communicate with each other, and access almost all of the world's knowledge, philosophy, art, and culture, instantly. Technological progress is also near to my heart, and is where I have a comparative advantage, because of my training as an engineer and my previous career in the tech industry.
Long-term, I'd love to cover the history of science and the history of government. But if I'm not careful about scope, I'll never finish the first book!
N.S.: Gotcha. But isn't moral progress, for example, a lot more arguable than technological progress? For example, if our morality shifts from emphasis on family obligations to emphasis on individual autonomy (as I would argue it has), won't people disagree on whether that's a good or a bad thing? And since technology contributes to those shifts, doesn't this impact our view of which new technologies represent true progress?
Also, does technological progress just mean "humanity can do more things", or does it involve some sort of assumptions about which types of new capabilities represent progress? For example, suppose we invent a way to use synthetic biology and genomics to create individually tailored viruses for assassination? Does the creation of that technology represent progress?
I'm not asking because I think technology is a bad thing, obviously; I'm a huge techno-optimist. I just want to isolate what we should think of as "progress".
J.C.: Sure, one of the core questions of progress studies is whether material progress represents true progress—whether it is good for humanity, or more precisely, under what conditions and in what way it is good.
On the whole, I think material progress has very clearly been good for humanity, for all the reasons I just cited. However, like a powerful drug, technology can have unwanted side effects and unforeseen risks, from pollution to car crashes. I think we should evaluate technology the same way we would evaluate a drug: are the benefits worth the side effects, and can the side effects be mitigated?
David Deutsch says that progress always creates new problems, but that this is not an indictment of progress—any more than it's an indictment of science to say that every new theory creates more open questions. The solution to the problems of progress is almost always more progress.
Ultimately, technology by itself is amoral. Technology is power, and power can be used for good or evil, wisely or foolishly. When technology meets bad social systems, disaster can result: the cotton gin is said to have entrenched slavery in the American South; atomic physics enabled nuclear war; information technology may be enabling the creation of a surveillance state in places like China today. Technology only leads to good outcomes in societies that value human life and protect individual rights.
N.S.: I tend to agree. Anyway, let's talk about where technological progress is headed! I'm one of a number of writers who have predicted a burst of technological progress in the 2020s, due to rapid recent advances in a few key areas -- solar and batteries, mRNA, genetic engineering and synthetic biology, cheaper space launch, and machine learning. Would you agree with that optimistic assessment? And am I being optimistic about the right technologies?
It's hard to say exactly how optimistic to be. If you were really good at that, you could make a lot of money investing. But I believe in prescriptive optimism—work hard and make it happen!—whether or not descriptive optimism is warranted.
There's an implicit question here, though: is the Great Stagnation over? If we got cheap electricity, supersonic planes, self-driving cars, and a biotech revolution all within the next couple of decades, that would be broad and deep enough for me to say that stagnation was at least temporarily over. But we haven't solved any of the problems that I think led to slower growth in the first place: We still have a burdensome regulatory environment that indulges in a lot of safety theater. We still have a highly centralized and bureaucratized research funding mechanism. And we still have a culture that is skeptical and distrustful of the idea of progress. Without improvement in those root causes, I'm not optimistic that high growth rates will return for good.
N.S.: Let's talk about those impediments to progress. First let's do regulation. What do you think are the most burdensome regulations holding back innovation in our society?
And if regulation is a big issue, why haven't we seen a global "race to the bottom", where some countries slash anti-innovation regulations in order to get ahead of their global rivals? Why isn't China simply doing all the innovation we've stopped ourselves from doing? Or are they?
J.C.: The most salient example today is the FDA. Alex Tabarrok sums it up: “The FDA prevented private firms from offering SARS-Cov2 tests in the crucial early weeks of the pandemic, delayed the approval of vaccines, took weeks to arrange meetings to approve vaccines even as thousands died daily, failed to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine, failed to quickly approve rapid antigen tests, and failed to perform inspections necessary to keep pharmaceutical supply lines open.”
Or, take construction. Building housing, transit, or really anything in the US today is slow and expensive, and a major factor here is NEPA, which allows citizens to hold up projects they dislike, and requires increasingly burdensome environmental impact statements.
Nuclear power was stunted in the 1970s in large part by a highly turbulent and rapidly escalating regulatory environment. Before that, it was on track to provide the vast majority of today's electricity needs with cheap, clean, reliable power; instead it only provides about 10%.
And supersonic air travel was banned outright over land, which surely contributed to the demise of that market.
These are just a few examples. Why aren't countries slashing regulation in order to get ahead? Well, regulatory agencies everywhere face the same asymmetric payoff function: they get little credit if they allow innovations that work; they get blamed if anything goes wrong; and since progress that doesn't happen is invisible, they aren't punished for preventing it. If the FDA can't even approve testing kits during a once-in-a-century pandemic, how do you expect any regulatory agency to do better in a non-emergency?
And under the same lopsided incentives, there is pressure for any regulatory agency to meet the minimum standards that are perceived to apply in other countries. This is part of why nuclear construction costs rose in all Western countries around the same time. But the international effect is not 100%, and we do see other countries outperforming the US along some dimensions: France and Korea controlled nuclear costs better and built much more.
N.S.: I agree about housing regulation, which seems to be especially bad in the U.S. But let's talk about nuclear for a second. The U.S. gets far less of its electricity from nuclear power than France, but more than Canada, Germany, the UK, Japan, or China. The latter is especially telling, since China is certainly not known for being overly concerned about toxic waste or industrial safety. Could it be that the real reason the U.S. didn't build much nuclear is that coal, and later gas, were simply cheaper here? Nuclear also has a notoriously difficult cost structure -- large indivisible upfront investments that pretty much always require government assistance in order to finance. How much can we really blame regulation here?
Also, do you worry that blaming regulation for slow technological progress will cause the field of Progress Studies to acquire the reputation of being a front for businesses that simply want the excuse to pollute more, gobble up more of the natural environment, or offer unsafe products? What's the best way to address those concerns?
J.C.: Fossil fuels didn't kill nuclear. The US stopped building nuclear in the 1970s—no new plants were ordered for decades after 1974 (well before Three Mile Island, by the way)—even though coal and oil prices reached historic highs later in that decade. Besides, the reason nuclear power is expensive isn't the fuel—nuclear is extremely fuel-efficient. It's the up-front capital costs: the construction and financing.
In the '50s and '60s, nuclear construction costs were falling according to a standard learning curve, and a fairly steep one: about 25% for every doubling of capacity. Some of the most efficient construction was done for under $1/W. Then around 1970, the curve flipped: costs started going up; the industry experienced negative learning (aka “forgetting by doing”). Today, building nuclear costs $7–12/W. Every Western country experienced some amount of this around the same time. Asia was less affected: India and Korea have built nuclear plants in recent decades for around $2/W.
What happened? Some of this was due to AEC (later NRC) and EPA regulation. In particular, the AEC adopted a standard that became known as ALARA, “as low as reasonably achievable”, under which nuclear plants are required to drive down radiation exposure well beyond the level at which any impact on human health can credibly be demonstrated (and well below the level of background radiation that we all receive from natural sources). Other cost increases and delays came from political obstructionism from the anti-war and environmentalist movements: the Shoreham plant on Long Island was delayed for years in construction permit hearings, and then for further years when the local community refused to participate in emergency planning exercises before the plant opening; it was eventually abandoned after over twenty years when the costs had ballooned from $75 million to over $5 billion.
The electrical utilities themselves are regulated monopolies, which gives them little incentive to fight cost increases (in fact, under rate-basing, their profit margin is guaranteed by law, which perversely means they can even benefit from higher costs). And many of the private companies in the industry essentially pivoted into regulatory capture (it's very profitable to retrofit old plants with the latest safety equipment, or to “clean up” nuclear sites to meet the NRC's standards).
Re the cost structure, there's no fundamental reason why every nuclear plant should be a bespoke megaproject that costs $12 billion. It's technologically possible to build cheaper, faster, and smaller. But the choking off of the industry in the '70s means that there has been little standardization, learning cycles have been measured in decades, and there's been no fundamental advance in reactor design since the original light-water reactor paradigm established at the birth of the industry.
There are new designs on the drawing board that are smaller, more modular and standardized, and that use new types of reactors to be cheaper and safer. Oklo, for instance, is starting with micro-reactors (~1.5MW) that can go 20 years without refueling. But the first hurdle in bringing any of them to market is NRC design approval. When NuScale finally got their design certification late last year, it was only after 41 months of review, 2 million pages of documentation, and over 250,000 review hours, with final costs exceeding $500 million. (Applicants pay the NRC by the hour for review; another perverse incentive.)
So, it's not as simple as one law that caused all the problems. It is an entire political, cultural, and regulatory regime, across multiple agencies, that has a complex network of second- and third-order effects—which, after a generation or two, have metastasized to the entire industry.
Re your last question: the best way to address concerns about pollution, safety, etc. is to take them seriously and to offer solutions. Government has an indispensable role to play in protecting people from harm done by the actions or negligence of others. But the choice isn't: today's bloated regulatory regime, or total anarchy. There are better ways to govern. In his book on nuclear, Jack Devanney offers many suggestions for reform, which I summarized in my review. For supersonic, Eli Dourado and Samuel Hammond have proposed a noise limit, instead of a speed limit. Re the FDA, Alex Tabarrok has proposed international reciprocity rules, and Scott Alexander has suggested going to a five-star system rather than binary yes/no approval. I'm still developing my own ideas on this question, but there are many constructive approaches out there.
N.S.: Staying on the nuclear theme for a second, my impression is that some of the people who think a lot about technological progress -- including some of my fellow techno-optimists -- tend to focus a lot on nuclear power, ignoring or even pooh-pooh-ing the unbelievably rapid progress in solar power and storage. Now, nuclear is going to play a role in decarbonization -- it's one of several sources of "clean firm" power generation -- but given the fact that nuclear costs have gone up while solar and storage have absolutely plunged, the size of that role seems to be shrinking by the day. I understand that nuclear is cool, and splitting the atom and building ultra-high-tech power plants seems more badass in a way than slapping a bunch of polysilicon sheets down in the desert. But at some point shouldn't our excitement about different technologies shift as the technological facts themselves shift?
I guess that's as good a segue as any for my next question: What makes you think we're celebrating progress and innovation less, as a culture? And what do you think is the cause of that change?
J.C.: I think, relative to popular opinion, nuclear is underrated and solar is overrated. Nuclear has been vilified and solar has been romanticized and glorified. So maybe techno-optimists are reacting to that. But I'm not a nuclear maximalist, and you shouldn't get too emotionally attached to any particular technology—you certainly shouldn't let a technology become your identity. Whatever combination of technologies delivers the best result at the lowest price is what deserves to win.
“Shouldn't our excitement about different technologies shift as the technological facts themselves shift?” Solar getting cheaper is a technological fact, and we should get increasingly excited about it. Nuclear getting more expensive is a political fact, and IMO we should get increasingly angry about it.
Re celebrations: One of my more popular essays was a long list of celebrations of progress throughout history. There were huge public celebrations for the opening of the Brooklyn Bridge and the transcontinental railroad. There were ticker-tape parades for early aviators, and for the Apollo astronauts. And anecdotally there just doesn't seem to be much of that in the last ~50 years.
Vaccines provide a good contrast. When the polio vaccine was announced in 1955, according to one historian: “People observed moments of silence, rang bells, honked horns, blew factory whistles, fired salutes, kept their traffic lights red in brief periods of tribute, took the rest of the day off, closed their schools or convoked fervid assemblies therein, drank toasts, hugged children, attended church, smiled at strangers, forgave enemies. … The ardent people named schools, streets, hospitals, and newborn infants after [Jonas Salk].” This is just a short excerpt, there are several paragraphs detailing all of the awards, honors, prizes, a White House reception, giant posters saying “WE LOVE YOU DR. SALK” signed by the entire student body of a school, etc.
What happened when the covid vaccines were announced? Did anyone ring bells or fire salutes? Did Trump or Biden call to congratulate the creators? Has anyone named a school, street, or infant after them? How many people even know their names?
To be fair, there were some honors and awards bestowed. Şahin and Türeci received Germany’s highest honor, the Order of Merit. Karikó and Weissman won a Breakthrough Prize. Sarah Gilbert got a spontaneous standing ovation at Wimbledon. There were several profiles of scientists in the media. But it just feels tepid compared to the stories from the '50s.
When the first SpaceX astronauts return from Mars, do you think they'll go on a world tour like Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins?
Now, this is all anecdotal—I haven't done any kind of systematic quantitative study—so maybe I'm just falling prey to some sort of selection bias. It's also possible that people just celebrate in different ways now. Ticker-tape parades were a big thing in NYC from the '20s through the '60s, but they don't do them so much any more, not even for politicians. Maybe the modern equivalent is something getting a million likes on Facebook? Elon Musk has 60 million Twitter followers, maybe that's the best counterpoint.
But another hypothesis is that people are just more ambivalent about progress today. Vaccines are announced and people are more interested in fearmongering and partisan bickering. New rockets are launched and the media responds with headlines carping about billionaires taking joyrides. AI makes rapid strides, and the big debate is whether we should be worried because the AI will take all our jobs and entrench racial biases, or whether we should be super-worried because the AI might take over the world. In that milieu, who could muster the energy for a celebration?
N.S.: Isn't another possibility that those celebrations of science back in the day were really celebrations of patriotism? As in, proof that America could do great things? Patriotic pride was certainly on my mind when the vaccines came out. And I remember from when I was a kid, how the Mars Pathfinder rover had everyone glued to their screens and throwing house parties -- maybe that happened because the 90s were an era of resurgent pride in America. In contrast, we're now in an era of deep national division, where lots of people feel like they can't celebrate the achievements of a nation that contains a large rival faction. I think you can see that in the mass resistance to vaccines among many Trump supporters (even though, ironically, the vaccines were developed under Trump!). What do you think of that theory?
J.C.: Yeah, I think you're on to something with that. I think America had a sort of national self-esteem crisis around the late '60s / early '70s, with Vietnam, Watergate, and the oil shocks all hitting around the same time. The Apollo missions were kind of the last hurrah of our national self-esteem, and it was downhill from there. I don't think we've ever fully recovered.
And I think this is related to technological stagnation, because these things tend to exist in self-reinforcing cycles: when people feel bad about their country, they are less optimistic and ambitious; when a country stops achieving great things, people lose national pride.
N.S.: Along these same lines, might it be that lots of new technologies are being deployed by private businesses, and so regular folks don't feel as if it's "their" triumph too? When NASA went to the moon, every American knew they paid their taxes and contributed to the economy that supported NASA. That gave them a credible claim that this was their triumph, not just someone else's. In contrast, when SpaceX puts people in space, I think a lot of people feel like it's someone else's success. To a lot of people, SpaceX might as well be Russia or China (despite the U.S. tax dollars that helped SpaceX along). And did Americans ever cheer for Russian or Chinese space missions? So how do we get people that sense of ownership, now that lots of new tech is privatized?
Actually that gives me a good segue into another question I've been wanting to ask you. What do you see as the proper roles of government and private business in the process of technological progress? Gruber and Johnson see tech as kind of a pipeline, where government funds research the private sector won't fund, and the private sector innovates and develops products based on that research. Other people see the government and private sector more as competitors in the innovation space. I tend to agree with Gruber and Johnson on this, but maybe that's just my optimism talking. What's your view on this?
J.C.: Re private vs. public triumphs: that's an interesting hypothesis, but I don't think it holds water. Thomas Edison was a folk hero in his era, even though he patented all his inventions, started private businesses with them, and made a private profit. Lindbergh's transatlantic solo flight was not a government project either, and he was another popular hero of the time. I think if people are going to derive some sort of vicarious pride, they're more likely to get it from “that guy is one of us!”, or just “what an achievement!”, or selfishly “this is going to make my life better!”—rather than from “my tax dollars at work!”
The proper role of government is a huge and hotly debated topic, so I have to draw a line here between my personal biases and what I think I am ready to back up empirically. My personal views are strongly laissez-faire, which means among other things that government should be a referee but not a player on the field. If I were made king of the world tomorrow, science would be privately funded. But part of why I started The Roots of Progress was to re-examine the empirical foundations of my political ideas, and I think a great thing that the progress movement can do is to get people of different political leanings to come together around a shared vision, so that we can hash out our differences on the basis of what actually achieves that vision.
So empirically, what do we find? I think there have been some government research successes, particularly in military research (OSRD, DARPA) and in agricultural research (USDA). I am less impressed with the postwar track record of the NIH/NSF—e.g., the “War on Cancer” is still at stalemate, and obesity has actually gotten worse.
There have also been major successes of privately funded research, including corporate labs (DuPont, Kodak, Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, etc.) and nonprofit foundations: the polio vaccine was developed by the National Foundation for Infanitle Paralysis (which became the March of Dimes); Norman Borlaug's Green Revolution was funded by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations. It's less clear to me what the big successes in recent decades have been—this is especially difficult since private and public money are often mixed. E.g., the Gates Foundation is a major funder of the WHO, and similarly CEPI was launched with both public and private support.
I also think that the government has a better track record as a customer of R&D rather than as a manager of it. For instance, when people credit the military and NASA for helping to develop the early market for integrated circuits, that's government as customer. A more recent example is the NASA COTS program that led to their SpaceX partnership. So I'm more optimistic about the outcomes from programs like advance market commitments, rather than the kind of winner-picking that is inherent in grant programs.
N.S.: Wait a sec. Did you just say the NIH has a bad track record, right after the world-changing development of mRNA vaccines, which depended on many years of government-funded research? What about the human genome project, also an NIH project? Or Crispr, discovered through NIH-funded research? How many biotech or life sciences breakthroughs can you name that weren't funded by the NIH? And as for the War on Cancer, which you cite as reason to think the NIH has a poor track record, can you point me to a private company or a nonprofit foundation that has managed to defeat cancer?
J.C.: Fair—mRNA, human genome, and CRISPR are big accomplishments. I didn't say their track record was bad, just that it seems less impressive, dollar for dollar, than some other agencies. NIH is the best-funded federal research agency, at $43B for FY2021, which is over 12x DARPA's budget. (And DARPA gets some of the credit for mRNA vaccines: they helped fund Moderna back in 2013.)
My impressions here are anecdotal, so I don't have a strong opinion, and I won't push hard on this point. But for the sake of an interesting discussion, consider:
Over the last few decades, the NIH has received a rapidly growing number of grant applications for a slowly growing number of grants, the result being that grant success rates have dropped from 30–40% in the 1970s to ~20% today (data, source). This means PIs are spending less time on research and more time on grant-writing—anecdotally, researchers say they spend 30–50% of their time on grants, which strikes me as a poor use of our scientific human capital.
The average age of a PI has been steadily increasing: starting in 2003, there were more PIs 66 and older getting R01 grants than those 36 and younger. And it's not just later retirement: the age of receiving the first R01 grant was 35.7 in 1980 and 43 in 2016. This doesn't seem like a way to bring fresh ideas into the field.
The grant process is slow. Their guidance on grant timelines says: “Your overall process from planning to award may take as long as two years—even longer if you need to resubmit. If your application succeeds on the first try, it typically takes between 8 and 20 months after the due date to get an award.” (As I recall, resubmitting once or twice is common.) During the pandemic, they retained a large amount of this bureaucratic overhead—which motivated a private effort by the Collisons and Emergent Ventures, Fast Grants, to get funding to researchers faster. (Oh, and the process might be delayed further if you use the wrong font size on your application.)
The committee-based peer-review system for grant funding is exactly the sort of thing one might expect to lead to groupthink and consensus-seeking—when arguably what science needs are maverick ideas that challenge the status quo (Donald Braben wrote a book on this point). It has been alleged that this kind of dynamic has set back Alzheimer's research by over a decade.
None of these criticisms are original to me; I'm just echoing some commonly heard themes. When you add all this up, it starts to paint a picture of an institution suffering from a lot of bureaucratic sclerosis. That's worrying when they control something around half of the funding for basic research in the life sciences.
N.S.: Well, OK, let's broaden the topic a bit. Suppose you were in charge of U.S. innovation policy. What would be your most important changes?
J.C.: As indicated, my top priority would be regulatory reform. I've already mentioned some of the major problem areas there. Another example would be making sure the SEC doesn't choke off innovation in cryptocurrencies (although of course they should still prosecute fraud).
Related: immigration reform, to make it easier for talent to come to this country. It's infuriating to me the roadblocks we put in the way of people who want to make a life and career here. I am sympathetic to Bryan Caplan's case for open borders.
While not directly innovation-related, there's a good argument that housing policy is also hurting innovation in the long run, by making it harder to create talent hubs. Eli Dourado has some good suggestions there.
Regarding the science funding establishment, my first question would be, how could we make our funding sources more diversified, less of a single chokepoint? E.g., Patrick Collison once suggested: “Break up NIH and NSF into 10+ bodies with fully independent approaches.” I would probably try to divert some funding to some Donald Braben–style “venture research” programs, and some focused research organizations.
N.S.: That's interesting. I think many of the people now thinking about driving a new renaissance in science and technology are thinking about more government involvement, especially with the looming competition with China. But you're thinking along deregulatory lines! It will be fascinating to see how those two perspectives play out in discussions about technology policy in the coming years.
So, along those lines, last question. What's next for The Roots of Progress? What are your plans for the next year or two? And what should we in the pundit community be keeping an eye on?
J.C.: My main project right now is a book, tentatively titled The Story of Industrial Civilization: Towards a New Philosophy of Progress for the 21st Century. It will be about three-quarters history, covering the major discoveries and inventions that gave us our modern standard of living, and about one-quarter philosophy, asking: is progress good? can it continue? and what should we do about it?
As I do the research for the book, I'm giving a monthly series of talks on it through Interintellect; we're going through the outline one chapter at a time. Once I start actually completing the first draft (hopefully next year), I plan to set up a Substack or the equivalent and publish it in serial to paid subscribers.
The other priority of the new organization will be building and strengthening the progress community, mainly through a series of events (some public, some private). There will be a few public events in Austin around the first weekend of November, to be announced soon—subscribe by email or join the Slack to be one of the first to hear about it.
Finally, we are fundraising right now (first-year goal of $500k, already more than halfway there!) and depending on how that goes we may create a fellowship or grant program. If there's anyone out there who has a great idea for a progress-related project and could use support to make it happen, get in touch!