The Roots of Progress

Interview: Outlier Academy with Daniel Scrivner

I was interviewed by Daniel Scrivner for the podcast Outlier Academy, a highlight:

I think a lot of what we’ve lost is a sense of our agency as individuals and as a civilization to make the future better and to improve our station and to tackle any problems that come up. So rather than be a complacent optimist and deny that any problems will come up or deny that any problems exist, I want to reassert our agency to solve those problems, both the problems that nature has imposed upon us and the problems that we create for ourselves. There are both types and progress needs to deal with both. So it’s that sense of our agency is fundamentally what I want to bring back.

On low-hanging fruit:

While it’s true that overall low-hanging fruit does get picked, the other thing that happens is that our ability to pick the fruit gets increased. So we have more researchers, more scientific labs, more venture capital for more startups. We have better information technology to share ideas and for anyone to learn. We just have more surplus wealth, overall. We have better transportation technology that opens up global markets. And so just pointing to the lowing-hanging fruit phenomenon doesn’t answer, “Well, why isn’t the remaining fruit getting higher and higher? Why isn’t that balanced by our ability to pick it getting better and better?” Those things arguably they could balance out and we get constant consistent progress, or either one could overtake the other, but merely pointing to the low-hanging fruit doesn’t point out which one of those it ought to be.

On regulator incentives:

Think about the incentives of a regulator or a grant-making body. If a regulator essentially allows something that then goes badly wrong, if the FDA allows a drug that ends up harming people, or if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission gives the okay to a power plant design and then it has a meltdown or something, they’re going to get hugely negatively judged for that. But if they allow something and it goes right, they don’t really get the credit. Conversely, if they don’t allow something and then progress doesn’t happen, it’s very much invisible. And so they don’t get blamed for that either.

The topics we covered:

Listen on the show page or read the transcript.

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