Austin events with The Roots of Progress, November 4–6
Austin events November 4–6
I’ll be in Austin, TX in November for a few events:
Talk on nuclear power
“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? This talk will demystify nuclear power, explaining how it works and why it deserves development instead of neglect.
When: Thursday, November 4, 7:00pm
Where: UT Austin, Rowling Hall (RRH) 4.408
Co-hosted with Austin LessWrong. I’ll talk for a few minutes about progress studies, followed by discussion. Light snacks provided; cash bar.
When: Saturday, November 6, 1:30pm
Where: The Front Page Pub, 1023 Springdale Road
RSVP: Please let us know here if you plan to make it; not required but it will help us plan.
Session 7 of The Story of Industrial Civilization: Information
Tickets are now available for session 7 of my salon series with Interintellect, “The Story of Industrial Civilization”.
We live in an Information Age. Just 200 years ago, no one could send a message faster than a piece of paper could physically travel. Today we can communicate with anyone—or access virtually the entirety of human knowledge, philosophy, art and culture—anytime, anywhere, instantly. And unlike some of the other areas we’ve looked at in this series, the field is still changing rapidly; some of the biggest breakthroughs are very recent. In this salon we’ll look at three major challenges of information—recording it, communicating it, and calculating with it—and how new ways of representing information give us new ways of solving them. Join us for an exploration of information technology, from cuneiform to the Internet.
Interview: Machine Pix with Kane Hsieh
Kane Hsieh, who runs the popular @MachinePix Twitter account, interviewed me for his blog, Machine Pix Weekly. An excerpt:
At the highest level, economic growth throughout all of human history is like a super-exponential curve. In specific segments, it’s maybe exponential: certainly since about the beginning of the industrial revolution. But even in the segments before that there is some growth, some progress, so it wasn’t totally flat. If it was, the world of 1700 would have looked exactly like the world of 10,000 BC—which is obviously not the case.
So growth was extremely slow in the hunter-gatherer era, right? Major innovations that come along, maybe once a century or something, or less than that: maybe once a millennium. And then growth probably kicked up into a higher rate, but still extremely slow by modern standards when we got the agricultural revolution. I mean the first agricultural revolution back in 8000 BC or so when you got permanent agriculture and settled societies and so forth, and then growth was sort of slow for another 10,000 years or so—then kicked into high gear a few hundred years ago.
At the broadest level, some fundamental technology or societal shift happens, like agriculture or settled societies, or the printing press or the industrial revolution—and each of these things provide some fundamental infrastructure or capability, which not only helps the economy and human living, but also feeds back into the process of progress itself. That’s why exponential growth is even possible: these things work on self-reinforcing feedback loops.
And on the cathedral projects that used to take multiple generations:
On the one hand, you know, we can look back on those projects and marvel at the longevity of those projects; on the other end, construction productivity was super low if it takes you a hundred years to build. Rivaled only by the New York subway lines.