Differ­en­tial progress

TagLast edit: 27 May 2021 15:27 UTC by EA Wiki assistant

Differential progress is the hastening of risk-reducing progress and the delaying of risk-increasing progress.

Differential progress can be regarded as a generalization of the proposal, first made by Nick Bostrom, to accelerate risk-reducing technological progress and retard risk-increasing technological progress (Bostrom 2002: sect. 9.4). This proposal, which Bostrom calls differential technological development, was originally offered as an alternative to the view that technological progress as a whole should be slowed down in response to concerns about existential risk. As Bostrom argued, since technology has the potential to both increase and decrease risk, the appropriate response is to handle technologies with different effects on risk differently, rather than having a general policy of technological retardation. In more recent publications, Bostrom understands “technology” in a very broad sense, to include “not only gadgets but also methods, techniques and institution design principles” (Bostrom 2009: 551) and “scientific ideas, institutional designs, organizational techniques, ideologies, concepts, and memes” (Bostrom 2019: 458). When the notion of differential technological development is combined with this expansive understanding of technology, it becomes roughly equivalent to differential progress, rather than a special case of it.

The term “differential intellectual progress” is sometimes used as a synonym for “differential progress”, though it may also be used more restrictively to exclude non-intellectual forms of progress (cf. Muehlhauser & Salamon 2012; Tomasik 2015).


Aird, Michael (2020) Collection of all prior work I found that explicitly uses the terms differential progress /​ intellectual progress /​ technological development, Effective Altruism Forum, February 24.
Many additional resources on this topic.

Beckstead, Nick (2015a) Differential technological development: some early thinking, The GiveWell Blog, September 30 (updated 26 July 2016).
An application of the concept of differential progress to artificial intelligence research.

Beckstead, Nick (2015b) Simple DTD model, GiveWell.
The model described in 2015a.

Bostrom, Nick (2002) Existential risks: Analyzing human extinction scenarios and related hazards, Journal of evolution and technology, vol. 9.
Section 9.4 includes a discussion of differential technological development.

Bostrom, Nick (2009) The future of humanity, in Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen, Stig Andur Pedersen & Vincent F. Hendricks (eds.) A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, pp. 551–557.

Bostrom, Nick (2019) The vulnerable world hypothesis, Global Policy, vol. 10, pp. 455–476.

Christiano, Paul (2014) On progress and prosperity, Effective Altruism Forum, October 15.
Argument that differential progress is extremely important from an altruistic perspective.

Muehlhauser, Luke & Anna Salamon (2012) Intelligence explosion: evidence and import, in Amnon Eden et al. (eds.) Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, Berlin: Springer, pp. 15–40.

Tomasik, Brian (2015) Differential intellectual progress as a positive-sum project, Center on Long-Term Risk, December 21.
A report on its implications.

Wikipedia (2006) Differential technological development, Wikipedia, (updated 1 April 2021).
A summary of its progress.

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accidental harm | anthropogenic existential risks | cultural lag | economic growth | scientific progress | speeding up development | vulnerable world hypothesis

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