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Expert Roundtable: What should progress look like?

We asked 11 experts about the future of progress for humanity.

The goal of driving more progress across the world—scientifically, politically, economically, socially, etc—is one shared by many. And yet, debates about the best way to maximize progress continue. After all, how, exactly, does progress happen? What are the best ways to measure progress? What should we prioritize? How do we nurture it and how are we stifling it? 

Since Tyler Cowen and Patrick Collison published their essay in The Atlantic a few years ago calling for “a more focused, explicit study of progress”, there has been an increased interest and discussion about how we better understand the drivers of progress and apply those findings to improve our world.

But, of course, there continue to be robust debates on where exactly to focus our efforts and what to prioritize. To better understand those current debates, we spoke with a handful of experts from a variety of disciplines and asked them the same ten questions about the nature of progress and what they see as the priorities that deserve our collective attention.

01 / How do you define progress?

02 / What are the essential elements required for progress to happen? Do we even know? 

03 / What would a “progress agenda” look like? What changes are required in how we approach our most significant problems?

04 / What do you see as some of the most significant barriers to progress right now?

05 / What are the easiest opportunities for progress in your opinion? What are the areas in which a few critical interventions or changes could unlock a disproportionate amount of progress?

06 / And conversely, what do you see as the most important places we need to make progress (even if it’s going to be more difficult)?

07 / People seem to be more pessimistic about the potential for progress moving forward than they have been in the past. Do you think that’s true and if so, why?

08 / What is the best criticism you’ve encountered when discussing your perspective on progress? How do you respond?

09 / How can we work to ensure that progress benefits everyone?

10 / Are you optimistic about the future?


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We asked our experts where they see the biggest blockers right now for more progress. Essentially, from their various areas of focus, what did they see as the largest impediments to driving progress forward around the world and how they would prioritize the necessary interventions? The answers were appropriately varied from the philosophical to the political to the technological.