The Roots of Progress

Why study progress?

The progress of the last few centuries—in science, technology, industry, and the economy—is one of the greatest achievements of humanity. But progress is not automatic or inevitable. We must understand its causes, so that we can keep it going, and even accelerate it. Read more »

We need a new philosophy of progress

In order to make progress, we must believe that it is possible and desirable. The 19th century believed in the power of technology and industry to better humanity, but in the 20th century, this belief gave way to skepticism and distrust. We need a new way forward. Read the essay »


Get essays and announcements by email:

Or via Twitter (@rootsofprogress), Reddit (r/rootsofprogress), or RSS.

The Roots of Progress Institute

Roots of Progress Institute

The Roots of Progress Institute (RPI) is a nonprofit dedicated to building a culture of progress for the 21st century. RPI grew out of this blog and now supports this work. The organization also runs a fellowship for progress writers and hosts an annual progress conference.

Iron: From mythical to mundane

Until a few thousand years ago, iron was virtually unknown. Now, high-quality steel is everywhere around us

Instant stone (just add water!)

If cement weren't 10,000 years old, it would seem like a futuristic technology: liquid rock!

Turning air into bread

What is the Haber-Bosch process? It's what keeps billions of people in the modern world from starving to death

Why AC won the Electricity Wars

DC was doomed from the start—not for lack of backers, since it was favored by the world-renowned Thomas Edison, but by physics and economics

Navigating the high seas

The hazards of the sea are many. But of all the challenges facing the sailor, the biggest was simply knowing where you are

The history of smallpox & the origins of vaccines

Smallpox was one of the worst diseases in history. This is the story of how we killed it

Why did we wait so long for the bicycle?

The bicycle, as we know it today, was not invented until the late 1800s. Here are some theories about why

All essays »

Progress studies as a moral imperative

Progress is real and important, but it is not automatic or inevitable. We must understand its causes, so that we can protect them and reinforce them

Progress studies as a civic duty

We have a responsibility to learn the underpinnings of the standard of living we all enjoy. To understand and appreciate how we got here, and what it took. And ultimately, to keep it going

Why I'm a proud solutionist (MIT Tech Review)

A third way that avoids both complacency and defeatism

We need a new philosophy of progress

The 19th century believed in progress; the 20th century grew skeptical. We need a new way forward

Progress, humanism, agency

An intellectual core for the progress movement

Industrial literacy

When you know these facts of history, you understand what “industrial civilization” is and why it is the benefactor of everyone who is lucky enough to live in it

All essays »

Talks & interviews


Vox logo

How Does Progress Happen?

The discipline of ‘progress studies’ wants to figure out what drives discoveries and inventions so we can supercharge human flourishing

The progress studies movement is very small — mostly a handful of bloggers and researchers — but it’s one of the more intriguing intellectual movements out there. One of its leading figures is Jason Crawford, the author of a blog called The Roots of Progress that explores the history of important inventions and discoveries…. I sat down with Crawford to talk about what progress is, what the progress studies movement brings to the table, and what he thinks is missing from our national conversation about inventions, discoveries, and the societies that succeed at encouraging them.

Read the interview »


BBC Future logo

Do We Need a Better Understanding of ‘Progress’?

A growing and influential intellectual movement aims to understand why human progress happens—and how to speed it up

Ultimately, the progress community wants its followers to believe that they can do better. Multiple sources paraphrased the slogan “a better world is possible” in our discussions. For Crawford, the vision of that world animates him: “I want humanity to regain its self-esteem and its ambition, to figuratively and literally reach for the stars. I want us to dream of flying cars, fusion energy, nanotech manufacturing, terraforming planets, exploring the galaxy. So it’s not just about policy, but about people’s fundamental attitudes towards humanity and our place in nature.”

Read the article »

The Energy of Tomorrow: The Promise, Failure, and Possible Rebirth of Nuclear Power

In the 1950s, nuclear power was seen as the energy of the future. Today, it is stagnating on the sidelines, providing only 10% of world electricity, with no fundamental advance in reactor design for several decades. Why did this technology seem so incredibly promising, how did it go so badly wrong, and is there hope for a nuclear renaissance?

Lessons from the Wright Brothers

How the Wright brothers invented the airplane, and lessons for inventors and founders today: passion, iteration, first-principles thinking, and choosing the right time to launch.

Foresight Institute

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?

Titans of Nuclear

“I think it’s this whole thicket of… the combination of the regulations, the utility companies and the way the entire utility market is structured, the nuclear companies themselves, and then the social substrate of this very anti-nuclear attitude in society. It’s all of those things working together to create this very complex problem.”

Ignite Long Now

Humanity has had a pretty good run so far. In the last two hundred years, world GDP per capita has increased by almost fourteen times. But “past performance may not be indicative of future results.” Can growth continue?

All talks & interviews »