The Progress Paradox and the Emergence of Intelligence
"In the game of life there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines." - G. Dyson
Is progress always moving us forward?
Advantages seem to erode with time — every unit of progress also contains what makes it a nuisance. Matt Ridley called progress a “futile, Sisyphean struggle to stay in the same relative place by getting ever better at things.” We innovate for the purpose of making our lives easier and/or solving problems. Simultaneously, solutions tend to contain the next problem. Cars, for example, individually move faster than horse-drawn carriages; however, modern traffic and urban systems lead to congestions, which makes cars, and thereby travelling, slower than horse-drawn carriages on unpaved roads. Although cars are individually faster at getting from A to B, the invention of cars have returned us back to the same relative efficiency of travelling as the pre-Ford days.
This is the paradox of progress: we innovate as a means of improving and creating good change in order to return to a similar state of problems. We push forward just to remain in place.
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