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Jan 17, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

I agree that the modern world of rapid economic growth has only been with us since about 1870 and I agree with J.Bradford DeLong that the things that changed to cause the rapid acceleration of growth were Globalization, the modern corporation, and the industrial laboratory. These were and are ways of organizing people to concentrate and develop thought and ideas to facilitate and distribute technology development.

While they rely on a base of both previous technical developments eg the printing press, shipping fleets, and a hundred others, they were primarily new ways to organize, and ways to think about the problems of advancing civilization. While they did this they also increased the GDP of all those involved in and supporting these activities. I maintain that GDP is a result or by-product of these activities and by basing all or measurement of advancement on GDP it biases the way we think about advancing civilization.

Not all economic and technical output is measured. The only thing that has been and is measured regularly is GDP. You have discussed the ways that GDP measurement falls short so I won't elaborate except to say I am still looking for a well being measurement that can be used consistently and has either been applied retroactively or generated a history of use. We can then use this to measure our true growth and advancement.

We currently have no way of measuring how much easier it is to get medical attention and how effective that is in comparison to the past or the rest of the world. We have no way of measuring the average stress levels of the population around food and shelter and clothing, we are instead using GDP and “infering” a result, regardless of its accuracy with regard to the general population.

I believe that our current “stagnation” in both technical and population growth is due to our lack of growth in “Civilization Ideas”. I think that this is best illustrated by Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

While the advanced economies are primarily past levels one and two (physiological and safety), a significant portion of the world is still struggling with these levels, as evidenced by the Ukraine War, and the various national struggles in Africa and South America. However the advanced economies are currently having significant struggles with levels three and four (belonging and love, and esteem) as evidenced by the recent debacles in both the United States and Brazil, as well as the ongoing struggles in America, and most of the emerging economies over civil rights, female rights, sexual rights, and freedom of expression. This signifies significant deficiencies attaining levels two three and four for the majority of humanity.

I firmly believe that our emphasis currently needs to be on developing the “Civilization Ideas” that allow us to address these current problems that are inhibiting our growth as a civilization. A significant resolution of these issues, would free up a significant portion of the worlds cognitive ability to address the technical stagnation, and the relief of pressure on the emotional status of population would address the fear and stress of having children.

I don't think that our technical progress will stop or slow to such a point as to slide back into the Malthusian Trap, but unless we figure out a way to increase our development of “Civilization Ideas” that allow us to address the ongoing disruption of our society, our technical development may only increase our ability to kill one another or actually destroy what civilization we have.

I believe that technical progress and civil progress are two separate but intertwined tracks, and that we have severely neglected the civil progress track over the last 50 to 100 years. I also believe (without proof) that both civil and technical progress need to be on approximately equal levels to develop a stable society, and our neglect of the civil side will cause increasing disruption until resolved or a mass destructive event occurs which forces us to reorder our civilization.

I also believe in the maxim that if you cannot measure a thing you cannot improve it. We need to develop a method for defining and measuring civil society and the satisfaction and well being of its citizens. This is the technology that should be our most important objective. If you are aware of any efforts in this area that are widely well regarded I would appreciate your sharing them.

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Technological progress slows, but it leaves us at a high enough level to devote a much larger percentage of resources to advance civilization. But in order to reallocate resources, we must recognize the stagnation at hand.

Our system is built on competition, but without innovation due to insufficient investment, it will increasingly result in cannibalism by the elderly. That is the system at hand; there can be no political solution until the problem is acknowledged. Lindsey doesn't have to solve the problem, as much as raise the problem for future minds to solve, because this is a long-term problem.

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Jan 18, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

I think the anti-aging or medical advances may not come. Bodily functioning at a cellular level is incredibly complex, still nowhere near fully understood, never mind how it all integrates at higher levels, e.g. the difference between the role of insulin at a cellular (glucose intake) level, and at higher levels including the liver and the brain. Medical science gets stuck in wrong paradigms on some of these issues for a long time see e.g. the obesity debate and the failure of many obesity drugs or the 'anti-cholesterol' story and the failure/withdrawal of many 'promising' therapies to do anything (never mind if they harmed people instead). So it could take a long time to make progress until those holding on to the current paradigms have left the field. Even then, everything we do in the body seems to trigger some other issue - whether unforeseen consequence (because we do not know nearly enough) or because we are just not built that way. I know you are talking about far future blue sky projections but I think there are hard limits to what can be done - like the speed of light in physics and the length of telomeres in biology that will be difficult or impossible to get around. For example, if we do manage life extension I think that logically it might also extend our fertile period because that's what well being is - one of the best life quality and extending drugs available right now is HRT for women (compared to the alternative) for example. On the other hand, the best way might be to suspend it somehow - now that might do it.

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Jan 17, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

I think the obvious deus ex machina event that obviates most of these concerns is the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI). Even before we reach AGI, I can imagine that AI/robotics will be advanced to the point that efficiency will not be a big concern, opening up relatively pain free research and development.

I had lunch with Stephen Wolfram and one of the attendees asked him what the role we humans play in a world of ubiquitous AIs. He said that he'd thought a lot about this and we will be the "goal setters".

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I really don't get the concern with population. Even on the lowest fertility scenarios imaginable, there will still be more than 5 billion people around in 2100. Isn't that plenty?

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I'm trying to steelman the case for indefinite tech progress by looking at what is IMHO the most plausible scenario -- other than some civilization-wrecking catastrophe -- for progress to grind to a halt. If innovative activity really is subject to diminishing returns -- Bloom et al. say it has to double every 13 years to keep productivity growth rates constant -- then eventually we'll hit a wall. If global population is flat or declining, we'll hit that wall sooner.

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Jan 18, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

Roughly speaking, innovators are going to need a PhD or equivalent to make a significant contribution. About 1 per cent of the world population currently have one. Seems a lot easier to double that proportion, with a smaller number of young people to educate, than to maintain it with twice as many young people. Shorter JQ: it's human capital that matters, not numbers

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My essay is based on taking Bloom et al. seriously. They estimate that research effort needs to double every 13 years to keep productivity growth on track. Right now there are roughly 10 million scientists and engineers in the world. That means we'd need 2.5 billion of them (!!!) a hundred years from now to keep productivity growth chugging along. Maybe the whole premise is wrong, but if it's correct it means tech progress is going to hit a brick wall in the coming decades. And if population is flat or declining, the wall moves closer. Shorter BL: the total quantity of human capital is a function of the total quantity of humans. But AI capital may bail us out!

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I do not see why slow or even declining population growth should be an obstacle to increasing per capita income. Yes it takes smidgen off of economies of scale but also of diseconomies of scale (space along the South Rim of the Grand Canyon). I agree that declining population may be a symptom or side effect of things that might actually reduce technological progress.

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According to the "Are Ideas Getting Harder to Find?" paper linked in the essay, innovative activity is subject to diminishing returns -- the next dollar of R&D will buy less innovation than the one before, and on and on. According to their estimates, research effort needs to double every 13 years to keep productivity growth stable. Right now there are roughly 10 million scientists and engineers in the world. That means that in a hundred years, we'll need 2.5 billion (!) scientists and engineers to keep productivity growth on track. No way we'll get there. And if global population growth is flat or declining, we'll hit the wall all the sooner.

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> In their words, “growth is determined not by what we are good at but rather by what is essential and yet hard to improve.” Under these conditions, we could still liberate innovation from the population constraint but the the singularity would remain confined to science fiction.

Suppose self replicating robots are possible. They can construct a copy of themselves in a week. The robots are duplicating that fast, and are able to provide almost all goods and services, except a decent haircut. Firstly, that AI will have a huge amount of resources to invest in hair cutting robots. But suppose all attempts fail. We get a strange economy where everything except haircuts are almost free, and peoples wealth largely determines the state of their hair. Rich people have the carefully trimmed hair. Poorer people have an unruly mess of hair, or use hair removal cream and a wig. But both are eating fancy food, have nice cloths, electronics etc.

Growth of the robots is limited by what is essential and hard to improve. If the robots need rubber washers, and it's hard to grow more rubber trees fast, then that limits growth. But the subtly here is in the word "essential". There are many possible designs of robot. Some that make do with silicone instead of rubber. Some that use neither. Some that are knitted out of quantum strings and don't use atomic matter as we know it. A smart AI will use whichever works best, and if there is a big problem sourcing rubber, it will try to design a system that doesn't use rubber.

In the real world, there is a complicated mixture of conjunctions and disjunctions. Conjunctions in the sense that it needs an engine and a gearbox and wheels to make a car. Whichever of those components is hardest to get limits car production. Disjunction in the sense that the gears could be made out of diamond or steel or ceramic or aluminium or ... and whichever is easiest to get will be used. (+ some terms for performance). Disjunction in the sense that you could use an electric car, or a petrol car or a horse. And which of those is easiest depends on the relative availability of the things needed to make it.

The slowest part limiting the rate argument would be very surprised at the modern economy. Surely in the 1700's, one of the rate limiting parts was whale oil, there were just not enough whales to sustain an economy this big. But we switched from whale oil to mineral oil.

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1) Thanks for admitting that the Earth may have a limited carrying capacity. A lot of techno-optimists deny this and argue for a population 32 trillion or 64 quadrillion or whatever. There are lots of big numbers.

2) Tell me that you are male without telling me that you are male. In this case it's talking up the possibilities of artificial womb. Pregnancy is just the start. The real challenge starts when the child is born. Raising infants and toddlers is demanding. You can't even sit and drink a cup of coffee, and that goes on for over ten years Read a mom blog if you don't believe me. Maybe if we could keep kids in an artificial womb until they can walk, talk and are toilet trained, it would might be worth the effort of developing.

3) I'm not sure I believe the arguments about research slowing down, not the way the material world has changed since my childhood. We are in the golden age of materials science. The floor of my house is made of a material that was first developed only a decade or two ago, and it's so much better than hardwood. My light bulbs are based on a technology from the 1990s. I have no idea of how my car works, but it gets 40 mpg and needs new spark plugs every 100K miles. Surely some research has been paying off somewhere.

That paper referenced seems to be tightly focused on highly particular metrics, for example, corn yields or chip density. That's like concentrating on how fast a horse can run. The big research yields were in the 18th centuries. In comparison. In contrast, horse speed research efforts were marginal in the 20th century. Meanwhile, everyone is driving around in cars at 60 mph and flying places at 600 mph, but if you look at horse speed research, the 20th century was a dud.

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I agree that the modern world of rapid economic growth has only been with us since about 1870 and I agree with J.Bradford DeLong that the things that changed to cause the rapid acceleration of growth were Globalization, the modern corporation, and the industrial laboratory. These were and are ways of organizing people to concentrate and develop thought and ideas to facilitate and distribute technology development.

While they rely on a base of both previous technical developments eg the printing press, shipping fleets, and a hundred others, they were primarily new ways to organize, and ways to think about the problems of advancing civilization. While they did this they also increased the GDP of all those involved in and supporting these activities. I maintain that GDP is a result or by-product of these activities and by basing all or measurement of advancement on GDP it biases the way we think about advancing civilization.

Not all economic and technical output is measured. The only thing that has been and is measured regularly is GDP. You have discussed the ways that GDP measurement falls short so I won't elaborate except to say I am still looking for a well being measurement that can be used consistently and has either been applied retroactively or generated a history of use. We can then use this to measure our true growth and advancement.

We currently have no way of measuring how much easier it is to get medical attention and how effective that is in comparison to the past or the rest of the world. We have no way of measuring the average stress levels of the population around food and shelter and clothing, we are instead using GDP and “infering” a result, regardless of its accuracy with regard to the general population.

I believe that our current “stagnation” in both technical and population growth is due to our lack of growth in “Civilization Ideas”. I think that this is best illustrated by Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

While the advanced economies are primarily past levels one and two (physiological and safety), a significant portion of the world is still struggling with these levels, as evidenced by the Ukraine War, and the various national struggles in Africa and South America. However the advanced economies are currently having significant struggles with levels three and four (belonging and love, and esteem) as evidenced by the recent debacles in both the United States and Brazil, as well as the ongoing struggles in America, and most of the emerging economies over civil rights, female rights, sexual rights, and freedom of expression. This signifies significant deficiencies attaining levels two three and four for the majority of humanity.

I firmly believe that our emphasis currently needs to be on developing the “Civilization Ideas” that allow us to address these current problems that are inhibiting our growth as a civilization. A significant resolution of these issues, would free up a significant portion of the worlds cognitive ability to address the technical stagnation, and the relief of pressure on the emotional status of population would address the fear and stress of having children.

I don't think that our technical progress will stop or slow to such a point as to slide back into the Malthusian Trap, but unless we figure out a way to increase our development of “Civilization Ideas” that allow us to address the ongoing disruption of our society, our technical development may only increase our ability to kill one another or actually destroy what civilization we have.

I believe that technical progress and civil progress are two separate but intertwined tracks, and that we have severely neglected the civil progress track over the last 50 to 100 years. I also believe (without proof) that both civil and technical progress need to be on approximately equal levels to develop a stable society, and our neglect of the civil side will cause increasing disruption until resolved or a mass destructive event occurs which forces us to reorder our civilization.

I also believe in the maxim that if you cannot measure a thing you cannot improve it. We need to develop a method for defining and measuring civil society and the satisfaction and well being of its citizens. This is the technology that should be our most important objective. If you are aware of any efforts in this area that are widely well regarded I would appreciate your sharing them.

Expand full comment
Jan 26, 2023Liked by Brink Lindsey

I agree with a lot of your points here. Especially the focus on both the technology side and the "civil side." Catch up growth in the developing world could be the most significant gains for humanity, and this doesn’t require much if any growth in science or technology. The limiting factors are primarily institutional and cultural (civil?). The last few decades have actually been extremely encouraging (for catch up growth) though, especially in Asia.

I guess if I was to place my bets on future tech growth, it would be on cheap/clean energy breakthroughs and using this energy to run artificial intelligence and robotics to serve humanity. I see huge potential gains here and no hard barriers (though it may accelerate the elimination of unskilled labor).

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