😤 Progress is hard. And a new study suggests it might be even harder than we think.
Also: AI expert Avi Goldfarb on machine learning as a general purpose technology
In This Issue
The Essay: Progress is hard. And a new study suggests it might be even harder than we think.
5QQ: 5 Quick Questions for … AI expert Avi Goldfarb on machine learning as a general-purpose technology
Micro Reads: crypto as currency, the Vatican and AI, nuclear waste, and more …
Quote of the Issue
“Every generation has perceived the limits to growth that finite resources and undesirable side effects would pose if no new recipes or ideas were discovered. And every generation has underestimated the potential for finding new recipes and ideas. We consistently fail to grasp how many ideas remain to be discovered. The difficulty is the same one we have with compounding: possibilities do not merely add up; they multiply.” - Paul Romer, “The Deep Structure of Economic Growth”
I have written several essays about Elon Musk, which might be useful for interpreting this news:
😤 Progress is hard. And a new study suggests it might be even harder than we think
Progress isn’t natural. And for most of human history, there wasn’t much of it. No wonder people didn’t believe progress was possible. Existence was thought to be composed of cycles — seasons came and went, empires rose and fell — but life for most people didn’t change. And once it became clear that progress was possible, that life could gradually keep improving, some opposed it because of the disruption progress caused.
“Progress, as was realized early on, inevitably entails risks and costs. But the alternative, then as now, is always worse,” writes Northwestern University economic historian Joel Mokyr in a wonderful 2016 essay.
Progress isn’t easy, either. And you don’t need to delve too far into times past for evidence. The past half-century of American economic history has been described as the Great Stagnation or Long Stagnation due to a downshift in productivity growth and demographic change. The mission of Faster, Please! is to analyze that downshift and suggest policy actions to bring about an upshift. But doing so might be harder than I assumed — and I hadn’t assumed it would be easy. [Read on to find out why …]