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 »
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A new CEO and a new progress institute
The Roots of Progress is launching a major expansion of our activities, and we have brought on on a Chief Executive Officer to lead the new organization in partnership with Jason Crawford (who remains Founder & President). We’re taking this step because we see an opportunity to do much more for the progress movement, going well beyond Jason’s essays and talks. Our initial focus will be on a “career accelerator” for public intellectuals in progress studies. Read the announcement »
Featured essays: The history of technology
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
Featured essays: The philosophy of progress
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
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
Talks & interviews
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.
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.”
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.
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?
The Progress Forum
The Progress Forum is the online home for the progress community. It’s also a place to find local clubs and meetups.
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