Posts

We need a career path for invention 2021-04-29T18:11:23.058Z
Wanted: Research Assistant for The Roots of Progress 2021-04-19T19:03:14.432Z
Why has nuclear power been a flop? 2021-04-16T16:49:15.789Z
Highlights from The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie 2021-04-08T22:03:19.231Z
A dashboard for progress 2021-03-21T03:51:20.855Z
How to end stagnation? 2021-03-01T19:42:07.721Z
Exponential growth is the baseline 2021-02-22T02:08:16.704Z
Clarifications on tech stagnation 2021-01-31T00:59:42.219Z
Technological stagnation: Why I came around 2021-01-23T22:05:59.364Z
When life was literally full of crap 2020-12-21T21:16:04.831Z
What is “protein folding”? A brief explanation 2020-12-01T02:46:09.003Z
The 300-year journey to the covid vaccine 2020-11-09T23:06:45.790Z
A review of Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall 2020-11-06T20:01:55.074Z
“Prediction” and “explanation” are not causation 2020-10-24T18:55:55.767Z
Technology and its side effects 2020-10-13T20:07:59.685Z
Some elements of industrial literacy 2020-10-08T19:51:05.112Z
The Rise and Fall of American Growth: A summary 2020-10-05T21:41:08.447Z
Industrial literacy 2020-09-30T16:39:06.520Z
Progress: Fluke or trend? 2020-09-13T00:21:36.025Z
Indignation in response to the 1890 census 2020-09-08T20:14:30.619Z
Study Group for Progress – 50% off for LessWrongers 2020-09-03T00:17:10.030Z
19th-century progress studies 2020-08-27T02:28:29.765Z
Why haven't we celebrated any major achievements lately? 2020-08-17T20:34:20.084Z
Announcing the Study Group for Progress 2020-08-14T20:18:52.521Z
How to analyze progress, stagnation, and low-hanging fruit 2020-06-15T21:02:46.969Z
Pasteur's quadrant 2020-06-05T17:47:58.569Z
Shuttling between science and invention 2020-05-27T21:25:23.037Z
Announcing Progress Studies for Young Scholars, an online summer program in the history of technology 2020-05-20T00:52:53.706Z
How can nonprofits gain the advantages of the for-profit model? 2020-05-06T01:15:18.507Z
Why anything that can be for-profit, should be 2020-04-29T20:00:09.048Z
Over $1,000,000 in prizes for COVID-19 work from Emergent Ventures 2020-03-13T15:46:33.921Z
Epistemic standards for “Why did it take so long to invent X?” 2020-03-02T18:58:42.783Z
Draining the swamp 2020-01-28T21:37:03.542Z
More on polio and randomized clinical trials 2019-12-27T21:07:02.340Z
Polio and the controversy over randomized clinical trials 2019-12-20T19:49:44.991Z
Were vaccines relevant to 20th century US mortality improvements? 2019-12-10T00:13:46.593Z
A letter on optimism about human progress 2019-12-04T04:21:42.033Z
Instant stone (just add water!) 2019-11-13T22:33:39.903Z
Iron: From mythical to mundane 2019-10-24T22:43:45.898Z
Turning air into bread 2019-10-21T17:50:00.117Z

Comments

Comment by jasoncrawford on We need a career path for invention · 2021-05-04T20:44:16.187Z · LW · GW

Yup, I've read it, thanks!

Comment by jasoncrawford on We need a career path for invention · 2021-05-03T18:21:43.408Z · LW · GW

Fair enough, I might consider React/GraphQL inventions. (Jest doesn't seem that fundamentally new?)

But how much of Facebook's engineering effort went to inventing React/GraphQL? 1% Surely less than 10%.

Comment by jasoncrawford on We need a career path for invention · 2021-04-30T21:46:14.922Z · LW · GW

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.

See also my post here and this interview.

Comment by jasoncrawford on We need a career path for invention · 2021-04-30T21:37:32.196Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Why has nuclear power been a flop? · 2021-04-16T20:28:35.213Z · LW · GW

So here is the relevant excerpt, section 4.7.1:

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.[143][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.[114] 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.[50] 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.[105] 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.

Figure 4.15: UCB pictures of cell repair. The bright spots in the screenshots are clusters of damage sensing and repair proteins, dubbed Radiation Induced Foci (RIF). Berkeley found that the number of RIF's increases less than linearly with dose. At 0.1 Gy, they observed 73 RIF's/Gy. At 1.0 Gy, they saw 28 RIF's/Gy. If an RIF is faced with a single DSB, the repair is almost always correct. If an RIF is faced with more than one DSB, the error rate skyrockets. We expect 25 to 40 DSB's per gray. Do the math. 40 DSB's and 73 RIF's, no problem. 40 DSB's and 28 RIF's, trouble.

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Why has nuclear power been a flop? · 2021-04-16T20:23:26.452Z · LW · GW

Presumably you would still hold them accountable for safety though? The point is to have a balance that properly recognizes tradeoffs

Comment by jasoncrawford on Highlights from The Autobiography of Andrew Carnegie · 2021-04-09T18:57:32.404Z · LW · GW

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

Comment by jasoncrawford on A dashboard for progress · 2021-03-22T04:41:24.039Z · LW · GW

Maybe, but cars aren't the only things we make out of metal, either. I deliberately made the categories as broad as possible while staying objective. Still, I agree there's an issue here.

Comment by jasoncrawford on A dashboard for progress · 2021-03-22T00:06:18.563Z · LW · GW

But cars getting better and cheaper shows up as more total cars getting sold, which does show up as increased material usage, at least up to a point.

Comment by jasoncrawford on A dashboard for progress · 2021-03-21T19:29:48.416Z · LW · GW

Not obvious: in many cases, greater efficiency actually increases total resource usage! See Jevons Paradox.

It's possible we're at a turning point on one or more resources where we've kind of saturated the market… but I'm far from convinced.

That said, a productivity metric like you mention is also a good idea. I chose that for agriculture because I do think we have saturated that market.

Comment by jasoncrawford on How to end stagnation? · 2021-03-03T01:29:12.859Z · LW · GW

Here are some introductory posts that explain why progress matters:

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.)

Comment by jasoncrawford on How to end stagnation? · 2021-03-03T01:24:10.760Z · LW · GW

Great! Merkel made a good statement also. But the praise should be coming from world leaders everywhere.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-02-07T02:30:21.034Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-02-04T21:49:29.643Z · LW · GW

One clarification: This is about the technological frontier, not about global development. See my followup post.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-02-04T05:17:17.599Z · LW · GW

That's a great way of putting it

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-27T18:56:41.255Z · LW · GW

Some hypotheses for “why stagnation” in my review of Where Is My Flying Car?

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-25T19:42:31.147Z · LW · GW

Yes, I put logistics under transportation. Transportation of cargo has always been more important than passenger travel.

Containerization was huge, but it mostly happened 50+ years ago.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-25T19:41:45.942Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-25T19:40:47.300Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-25T07:32:05.139Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-25T04:35:24.241Z · LW · GW

Also the phonograph, telegraph, telephone, radio, and television! If “information” wasn't a category before the late 1800s, it was by then.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-24T22:42:17.136Z · LW · GW

Large orgs can get things done, that's true.

In this post I specifically referred to the centralization and bureaucratization of research funding, e.g., the consolidation of research funding under the NIH/NSF.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-24T21:58:00.322Z · LW · GW

Thanks! I had to start from the ground level to build up to this perspective…

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-24T21:24:04.260Z · LW · GW

Maybe, see Dustin's comment above for related discussion

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-24T02:35:27.809Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Technological stagnation: Why I came around · 2021-01-24T00:19:00.474Z · LW · GW

Yup, here is a roundup of recent “is stagnation over?” commentary: https://noahpinion.substack.com/p/techno-optimism-roundup

I would like to address / reply to this soon.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Instant stone (just add water!) · 2020-12-27T18:00:13.454Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on When life was literally full of crap · 2020-12-22T14:38:58.620Z · LW · GW

Re air pollution, there's already been significant improvement in wealthier countries, at least in the last ~century:

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/emissions-of-air-pollutants?time=1970..2016&country=~GBR

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/air-pollution-london-vs-delhi

More info: https://ourworldindata.org/outdoor-air-pollution#the-long-term-decline-of-air-pollution-in-rich-countries

Comment by jasoncrawford on Instant stone (just add water!) · 2020-12-06T00:51:19.369Z · LW · GW

Good point, I skipped wood here. This is an old post, I mention wood in my more recent treatments of this topic.

And good point about reinforcing being an old technique! Another thing I learned about after I wrote this post is wattle & daub.

Comment by jasoncrawford on What is “protein folding”? A brief explanation · 2020-12-01T18:10:24.280Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on The 300-year journey to the covid vaccine · 2020-11-18T20:27:35.036Z · LW · GW

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

Comment by jasoncrawford on The 300-year journey to the covid vaccine · 2020-11-10T18:22:11.266Z · LW · GW

Well here are some sources and further reading:

https://www.vaccines.gov/basics/types

https://www.sciencehistory.org/historical-profile/louis-pasteur

https://www.vbivaccines.com/wire/louis-pasteur-attenuated-vaccine/

RNA vaccine explainer from Moderna: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJlP91xjvsQ

A longer essay I wrote: https://rootsofprogress.org/smallpox-and-vaccines

Comment by jasoncrawford on A review of Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall · 2020-11-08T02:28:34.814Z · LW · GW

Some folks at NYU are doing an interesting project collecting data and case studies on this: Transit Costs Project

Comment by jasoncrawford on A review of Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall · 2020-11-08T00:38:11.624Z · LW · GW

Well, I think there are. See this article, especially South Korea: https://www.vox.com/2016/2/29/11132930/nuclear-power-costs-us-france-korea

Comment by jasoncrawford on A review of Where Is My Flying Car? by J. Storrs Hall · 2020-11-07T01:00:06.752Z · LW · GW

Hm. Very interesting.

EDIT: I just remembered that I think this is mentioned in The Rise and Fall of American Growth and that it was attributed to an increase in specialization

Comment by jasoncrawford on “Prediction” and “explanation” are not causation · 2020-10-25T16:06:06.146Z · LW · GW

Yes, @NeuroStats likes to call it “Granger prediction” for this reason

Comment by jasoncrawford on “Prediction” and “explanation” are not causation · 2020-10-24T22:00:34.790Z · LW · GW

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

“We found that twelve conditions most responsible for changing life expectancy explained 2.9 years of net improvement (85 percent of the total).” https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.00284

Now, maybe in one or both of these cases, there actually is an explanation. But you can't assume that just because the term “explain” is used.

Comment by jasoncrawford on The Rise and Fall of American Growth: A summary · 2020-10-16T20:57:47.205Z · LW · GW

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:

Comment by jasoncrawford on Some elements of industrial literacy · 2020-10-09T20:08:16.027Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-08T19:50:00.195Z · LW · GW

On a tangent, I'm curious: do you think “broad sociological modeling” is fundamentally misguided? Or is it “usually wrong” just because it's really hard, or subject to bias, or something like that?

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-08T01:23:12.884Z · LW · GW

“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.)

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-07T21:47:00.911Z · LW · GW

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.

Comment by jasoncrawford on The Rise and Fall of American Growth: A summary · 2020-10-06T19:30:18.264Z · LW · GW

Yes, I'm about a third of the way through Where Is My Flying Car? and it's amazing. Fascinating and spot-on IMO.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-05T22:17:19.717Z · LW · GW

Many people are saying things I consider dangerously close to "Let's toss industry and technology out of the window!"

Indeed, there is an active “degrowth” movement. cf. Giorgos Kallis: https://greattransition.org/publication/the-degrowth-alternative

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-05T18:12:56.334Z · LW · GW

The fact that we now see babies as precious is not an arbitrary feature of the modern world with no moral valence. It is an accomplishment.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-02T19:55:18.916Z · LW · GW

That's really not clear to you?

Don't you think it matters to the parents? And, for that matter, to the older siblings? To the child's friends—if they live long enough to make friends?

Do you actually think an infant or young child is just… replaceable?

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-01T17:35:48.759Z · LW · GW

The point I was making is just that child mortality (before age 5) used to be ~50%. Edward is admittedly being pedantic.

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-10-01T00:34:25.462Z · LW · GW

Interesting, thanks! Would love to see this going all the way back to ~1900…

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-09-30T22:31:57.072Z · LW · GW

If infant mortality was higher that'd be terrible, but I assume people would have more kids to compensate.

Are you saying it's morally acceptable for children to die, as long as people have more children to replace them?

Comment by jasoncrawford on Industrial literacy · 2020-09-30T19:04:04.470Z · LW · GW

I like that idea!