Low-hanging fruit alone doesn't explain stagnation, because our ability to pick the fruit has also been improving. To explain stagnation, you have to explain why the former is happening faster than the latter, and why this only started happening in the last ~50 years.
All (most?) invention is engineering, but a lot of engineering is not invention.
Boeing employs many airplane engineers, but they don't really invent new planes. Facebook employs many software engineers but isn't inventing much in software. Both are doing product development engineering—which is fine and something the world certainly needs a lot of, but it's not the same thing.
I think anyone who wanted to be an inventor would train as an engineer. So the education/training part of the inventor career path is there. But it falls apart after university.
Our bodies are equipped with damage repair systems that are pretty darn effective at low dose rates. If this were not the case, then life would never have evolved as it has. Life started about 3 billion years ago when average background radiation was about 10 mSv/y, about 4 times the current average. Life without repair mechanisms would be impossible. But these repair mechanisms can be overwhelmed by high dose rate damage.
The repair mechanisms take a bewildering number of forms, all of which seem to have names requiring a dictionary. And the strategies are remarkably clever. At doses below 3 mSv, a damaged cell attempts no repair but triggers its premature death. However, at higher doses, it triggers the repair process.23 This scheme avoids an unnecessary and possibly erroneous repair process when cell damage rate is so low that the cell can be sacrificed. But if the damage rate is high enough that the loss of the cell would cause its own problems, then the repair process is initiated. This magic is accomplished by activating/repressing a different set of genes for high and low doses.[page 15] LNT denies this is possible.
Even at the cell level, the repair process is fascinating. In terms of cancer, we are most interested in how the cell repairs breaks in its DNA. Single stand breaks are astonishingly frequent, tens of thousands per cell per day. Almost all these breaks are caused by ionized oxygen molecules from metabolism within the cell. MIT researchers observed that 100 mSv/y dose rates increased this number by about 12 per day. Breaks that snap only one side of the chain are repaired almost automatically by the clever chemistry of the double helix itself.
The interesting question is: what happens if both sides of the double helix are broken? Double strand breaks (DSB) also occur naturally. Endogenous, non-radiogenic causes generate a DSB about once every ten days per cell. Average natural background radiation creates a DSB about every 10,000 days per cell. However the break was caused, the DNA molecule is split in two.
Clever experiments at Berkeley show that the two halves migrate to “repair centers”, areas within the cell that are specialized in putting the DNA back together. Berkeley actually has pictures of this process, Figure 4.15 which is a largely complete in about 2 hours for acute doses below 100 mSv and 10 hours for doses around 1000 mSv. These experiments show that if a “repair center” is only faced with one DSB, the repair process rarely makes a mistake in reconstructing the DNA. But if there are multiple breaks per repair center, then the error rate goes up drastically. A few of these errors will survive and a few of those will result in a viable mutation that will eventually cause cancer. The key feature of this process is it is non- linear. And it is critically dose rate dependent. If the damage rate is less than the repair rate, we are in good shape. If the damage rate is greater than the repair rate, we have a problem.
The Berkeley work was part of the DOE funded Low Dose Radiation Research Program. Despite the progress at Berkeley and other labs and bipartisan congressional support, DOE shut the program down in 2015. When the DOE administrator of the program, Dr. Noelle Metting, attempted to defend her program, she was fired and denied access to her office. The program records were not properly archived as required by DOE procedures.
Footnote 23 says:
To be a bit more precise, some repairs can only take place in the G2 phase just before cell division. Radiation to the cell above 3 mSv, activates the ATM-gene, which arrests the cell in the G2 phase. This allows time for the repair process to take place.
Yes, I remember that too—can't remember where I read about it, maybe Yergin's The Prize. The analogy that occurred to me was web/app analytics, especially the social media apps that learned to measure their “viral coefficient” around the late '00s
I agree that the bar keeps getting raised, and therefore progress gets more difficult. I don't see why that implies any asymptote. (I wrote in a previous post why exponential growth should be our baseline, even as we pick off low-hanging fruit.)
Interesting, but I think you're underestimating the impact of other general-purpose technologies, such as in energy or manufacturing. New energy sources can be applied broadly across many areas, for instance.
Ah, you are from Eastern Europe? To clarify, the stagnation hypothesis is about the frontier of technological development in the wealthiest countries. I don't think there has necessarily been stagnation in global development.
This analysis, and the stagnation debate in general, is really about the technological frontier. Global development overall has not necessarily been stagnating—India and China have seen huge growth in the last 50 years.
There was far more progress in aviation from 1920–1970 than from 1970–2020. In 1920, planes were still mostly made of wood and fabric. By 1970 most planes had jet engines and flew at ~600mph. Today planes actually fly a bit slower than they did in 1970. Yes, there has been progress in safety and cost, but it doesn't compare to the previous 50-year period.
Similar pattern for automobiles and even highways.
I'm not convinced by the optimists, either, and ADS made some good points. This post was laying the foundation for my response. With this framework I think you can analyze things in at least a slightly more rigorous way.
OP here. I will recuse myself from the conversation about whether this deserves to be in any list or collection. However, on the topic of whether it belongs on LW at all, I'll just note that I was specifically invited by LW admins to cross-post my blog here.
I'm not a comp bio expert, but the core of @johnswentworth's argument seems to be that “protein shape tells us very little about [protein reactions] without extensive additional simulation”, and “the simulation is expensive in much the same way as the folding problem itself.”
Both true as far as I understand, but that doesn't mean those problems are intractable, any more than protein folding itself was intractable.
So I think you can argue “this doesn't immediately lead to massive practical applications, there are more hard problems to solve”, but not “this isn't a big deal and doesn't really matter” in the long run.
Good question, I don't know. Someone pointed me to this technical description of mRNA technology which I haven't read yet, might see if it answers your question though: https://www.nature.com/articles/nrd.2017.243
Yes. You will hear phrases like “X explains Y% of Z”, and that refers to a statistical association. Examples:
“Micro data show that an aging firm distribution fully explains i) the concentration of employment in large firms, ii) and trends in average firm size and exit rates, key determinants of the firm entry rate. An aging firm distribution also explains the decline in labor’s share of GDP.” https://www.nber.org/papers/w25382
Re invention, in the late 1800s it was mostly done by private, individual inventors, not corporations. Companies would buy patents from inventors once a the invention worked, and then commercialize it. Edison's lab was unusual, a first. The corporate R&D lab got going in the early to mid-1900s. Some more context:
Good points. I sympathize with the concern. A term like this could turn into an insult to shut down conversation, like “denier” is sometimes. I don't want that.
Also, you don't have to be exited about battery density. That's a personal choice. I made a point of saying “can be” exciting, not “must be”. The point was not to degrade people who don't get excited about a specific thing but to show how a seemingly technical thing can be exciting when you make the right conceptual connections.
I agree that “literacy” should mean a sort of basic education, and that is what I intended here.
I agree that there are related concepts—you suggested “industry positivity”, we could also think of “industrial appreciation” or “industrial pride”—that go beyond literacy.
And so, yes, I think a person can be industrially literate without being industry-positive. I would argue that they are wrong, but if they knew the facts and just interpreted them differently than I do, I wouldn't accuse them of industrial illiteracy.
“Almost entirely driven by decreases in infant mortality” is exaggerated. Infant mortality was ~20% and childhood mortality (under age 5) was ~50%. Yes, a lot of the increase came from childhood mortality, but life expectancy increased at every age.
(Also, I don't have time to dig into it now, but I am skeptical of the “15 hours” stat for hunter-gatherers.)
Re 2.2, a historical note: We had trains long before we had trucks, and people solved the last-mile problem with horses. Trains didn't decrease horse usage because they were actually complements, not substitutes. Dependence on horses only decreases with the motor vehicle.