Lecture handout: Progress*
Activity: Transformative Breakthrough Worksheet

⭐ Required readings:

Recommended readings:

Key podcast:

For more on Operation Warp Speed see ‘A Shot to Save the World‘. For a fascinating (but very long) account of Vaccinate CA see The Story of VaccinateCA.

Here is Aubrey De Grey claiming that the first person to live to the age of 1,000 has already been born:

For a survey of potential breakthrough technologies see:

  • Weinersmith, K., and Weiner, Z., 2017, Soonish, Penguin

Or this Wikipedia article:


Or this collaborative slide deck:

In September 2019 Eli Dourado provided a detailed and illuminating look at the sectors most likely to contribute to higher future economic growth, with specific examples of technological possibilities.

In December 2020 Tyler Cowen provided a list of new technologies that may mark the end of the great stagnation. He included:

In February 2022 MIT Technology Review listed their 10 biggest technology breakthroughs in 2022. They are:

  1. Moving away from passwords
  2. Coronavirus variant tracking
  3. A long-lasting grid battery
  4. Artificial intelligence for protein folding
  5. GlaxoSmithKline’s malaria vaccine
  6. Proof of stake
  7. COVID-19 antiviral pills
  8. Practical fusion reactors
  9. Synthetic data for training AI
  10. The world’s largest carbon removal factory in Iceland

Here is an explanation of nuclear fusion:

Here is a podcast with Eli Dourado:

Some of my favourite “no brainer” growth drivers include:

I suspect that future growth requires a cultural shift toward the principle of progress, and this involves a shift to longer term thinking. This post by Max Roser nicely presents the importance of “Longtermism”.

Here is a powerful and fascinating account of why advances in artificial wombs are so important, and I encourage all students to read it and reflect carefully on whether we should:

  • Alter the 14 day rule on keeping embryos in labs.
  • Invest more in Femtech.

Here is a video showing how the pill accelerated female participation in the workforce:

And, if you are blessed with children, don’t beat yourself up about having to breastfeed. The evidence in favour is fairly weak:

For more on Permissionless Innovation:

A good, uplifting account of how creativity can result from not asking permission:

Here is a short quiz activity on the difference between the Precautionary principles and Permissionless innovation.

The importance of ideas:

“Comfort is the enemy of progress” P.T. Barnum:

Key organisations:

Key movements:

Here is a good Economist article surveying “the new tech worldview” exhibited by the likes of Peter Thiel and Patrick Collison.

Recommended podcast:

  • Ep. 76: Steve Horwitz — What Drives Progress?, The Curious Task, Jan 13th 2021 – this interview touches on several themes from my teaching, including rising living standards, permissionless innovation, and the great stagnation. I also find it poingnet to listen to – I knew Steve personally and he passed away just 6 months after this recording.
Learning Objectives: Link technological innovation to growth theory and a broader reflection on the importance of the humanities

Cutting edge theory: A survey of potentially transformative breakthrough technologies.

Focus on diversity: Virginia Postrel’s book, The Future and it’s Enemies, encapsulates the distinctions made at the end of the lecture.