The late Stanford professor and founder of artificial intelligence, John McCarthy describes a few things representative of progress:1
- Increased access to material goods.
- Safe water supply
- Increased life span.(3)
- Reduced childhood death.
- Increased opportunities for education.
- Societies that people choose to migrate to.
- More individual choice of occupation, lifestyle and avocations.
- More opportunity to enjoy both culture and nature.
- Cleaner environment.
- Increased consideration for the values in nature, e.g. for the preservation of biological diversity.
- Increased concern for less advanced people and their cultures.
- More and more new goods and services available to more and more people.
Each are noble pursuits, however a number of these ideas could conflict with each other. This is especially evident when you introduce a limited resource and a few self-interested individuals or groups. Commonly called the tragedy of the commons, this dilemma can ultimately deplete a shared resource. For example, Henry Ford ushered in one of the most significant cultural shifts in history with the advent of the assembly line. Ford provided jobs, income, and a better life out of poverty. However, after decades of this economic model of accumulation, the once heralded model of progress has contributed to significant impacts on the environment. Through technology, tools, and techniques we are able to do more things efficiently. However unintended consequences of technological advancements could be unemployment and labor shortage due to limited work skills.
Progress is not just about accumulation, extending oneself and society beyond its current limitations ...to achieve, to conquer. It is also about understanding the balance of an ecosystem where unchecked progress could potentially drive interior and exterior environments to tipping points. Whether its opening access to material goods to emerging economies or transitioning to clean energy, the forward momentum of change has implications that must be considered or the remedy of progress could eventually be worse than disease of status quo.
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1 McCarthy,John “Progress and Its Sustainability” retrieved from http://www-formal.stanford.edu/jmc/progress/index.html