Please see selected recent progress-related change below.
- According to New World Same Humans, the Overview Effect is a phenomenon reported by astronauts, who say looking down on Earth from space fuelled in them a new sense of the preciousness, fragility, and interconnectedness of human life. The reversals on global health, education and more caused by the pandemic should provide citizens of the Global North with the same kind of ethical epiphany. They force us to see the global picture afresh. From that vantagepoint, we feel compelled to accept that the changes in train before the pandemic did constitute a form of historical progress.
- The costs of Covid, absent a coordinated international response, could include decades’ worth of progress lost in developing countries in childhood mortality, gender equality and access to education and electricity, according to PATH, the global health organisation. Indeed, the spread of coronavirus has pushed global development back more than two decades, an annual report by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found. Tens of millions of people face greater inequality, disease and poverty, according to the study, with many of the UN's Sustainable Development Goals negatively impacted.
- Economist and historian Joel Mokyr argued in The Atlantic that ‘progress’ was invented sometime around the 18th century. He contends that the concept and value of progress is something which we should believe in, despite the costs: "Nowadays, unsubstantiated fears of monstrosities created by genetic engineering threaten to slow down research and development in crucial areas, including coping with climate change. Progress, as was realised early on, inevitably entails risks and costs. But the alternative, then as now, is always worse."
- A professor of philosophy and biographer of French mystic Simone Weil, was troubled by a Barack Obama speech in which the former US president said, “My fellow Americans, I am confident in this mission because we are on the right side of history.” Obama was also reputedly fond of Martin Luther King Jr.’s statement that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” A moving sentiment, but is it true to see history as the arbiter of justice? Clearly, this is linked to the idea of progress, but where did this idea come from? “Christianity,” said Weil in her Letter to a Priest, “was responsible for bringing [us] this notion of progress … and this notion has become the bane of the world.” Worse, as Weil put it in The Need for Roots, “History is a tissue of base and cruel acts in the midst of which a few drops of purity sparkle at long intervals.”
- The World Economic Forum acknowledges that a lot of work still needs to be done - accomplishing the fastest reduction of poverty is a tremendous achievement, but the fact that one out of 10 people lives in extreme poverty today is unacceptable. We also must not accept the restrictions of our liberty that remain and that are put in place. And it is also clear that humanity’s impact on the environment is at a level that is not sustainable and is endangering the biosphere and climate on which we depend. It is far from certain that we will make progress against these problems, concludes the WEF – there is no iron law that would ensure that the world continues this trend of improving living conditions. But what is clear from the long-term perspective is that the last 200 years brought us to a better position than ever before to solve these problems. Solving big problems is always a collaborative undertaking. And the group of people that is able to work together today is a much stronger group than there ever was on this planet.
- Vox noted that many of us aren’t aware of ways the world is getting better because the media- and humans in general - have a strong negativity bias. Bad economic news gets more coverage than good news. Negative experiences affect people more, and for longer, than positive ones. Survey evidence consistently indicates that few people in rich countries have any clue that the world has taken a happier turn in recent decades.
- Further reading:
- In 2017, over 120 million people gained access to electricity worldwide, bringing the total number of people without electricity below 1 billion for the first time ever. In Kenya, electricity reaches 73 percent of the population today, up from just 8 percent in 2000, noted GZEROMedia.
- We seem to make constant progress in understanding the world and yet the biggest questions from the nature of consciousness to the nature of matter remain unsolved. An IAI debate asked therefore: can we ever have a complete description of reality? Are we mistaken to assume that such questions can be answered? Might the solutions be beyond us or is the world itself beyond description? Or round the corner are the world's secrets to be found?
- Most would argue that social progress is driven by ideas and persuasion rather than force. Yet from the French and Russian revolutions to the Suffragettes and the anti-apartheid movement, violence and civil disobedience have been essential to victory. Is it not reason, but rather struggle and conflict that are the real forces of change in the world, asked a How the Light Gets In debate.
- In the very poorest countries - including Eritrea, Somalia, Guinea-Bissau, the Central African Republic, Niger, and Madagascar - fewer than 5% are online. And at the very bottom is North Korea, where the country’s oppressive regime restricts the access to the walled-off North Korean intranet Kwangmyong and access to the global internet is only granted to a very small elite.
- However, noted Our World in Data the overarching trend globally – and, as the chart shows, in all world regions – is clear: more and more people are online every year. The speed with which the world is changing is incredibly fast. On any day in the last 5 years there were on average 640,000 people online for the first time. This was 27,000 every hour.Most modern human beings, except Africans, noted The Economist, have Neanderthal genes lurking in their DNA, from two periods in which Homo sapiens and Homo neanderthalensis interbred. New research shows that the interloping Neanderthal DNA is most often found in genes whose products interact with viruses. It may have worked as a protection against disease. The fact that Homo sapiens retains this DNA suggests the protection still applies.
- At a personal level, The School of Life believes that, by understanding more clearly how basic and important the drive to emotional growth can be, we may come to better recognise the symptoms of its frustrations and the logic of our longings.
- Stephen Hawking’s final warnings to humanity emerged. In his last writings, reported Quartz, the late physicist predicted that a breed of genetically engineered “superhumans” would take over. AI, meanwhile, could develop “a will that is in conflict with ours.”
- Nearly 80 million households in India have installed toilets since Prime Minister Narendra Modi began his “Clean India” programme to bring universal sanitation by 2019. Before the program launched four years ago, nearly 600 million people in India regularly relieved themselves in the open, contributing to the spread of diseases and other public health problems.
- Quartz warned that dismay is mounting about the use of GDP as the benchmark measure for a nation’s economy, as it fails to take into account other things that could be more valuable indicators about how a country is doing, such as inequality, well-being, happiness, clean air, and climate-change mitigation.
- The long-standing UN human development index measures education and life expectancy as well as national income. More recently, the World Economic Forum recently started producing an inclusive development index, which considers poverty, public debt, median income, and wealth inequality, among many other metrics.
- A new approach is the GDP-B, an ambitious project being developed by economists at MIT. For Quartz, it’s a broader metric to measure the economy by looking at how our well-being is changing, thanks to digital goods and services. Their previous work found that Wikipedia, a service provided for free, would be worth tens of billions of dollars to the economy.
- Meanwhile, countries that lead in generating well-being for their citizens tended to post faster economic growth and recover more quickly from recession in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. These were among the findings of a report released by The Boston Consulting Group, Striking a Balance Between Well-Being and Growth: The 2018 Sustainable Economic Development Assessment.
- Students at the University of British Columbia have created a toilet made entirely out of mushrooms to help provide clean, safe sanitation for the 2.5B people living in areas that lack access to modern sanitation services. The project, known as the MYCOmmunity Toilet, was specifically designed for refugee camps, where water is scarce and portable toilets are expensive to maintain.
- The cost of sequencing an entire human genome has fallen from USD 2.5 billion (2003) to around USD 600 today.
- HumanProgress.org claims to bridge the gap between mistaken perceptions and reality.
- A leading futurist framed "eight grand challenges" for humanity. and suggested rewarding teams who could solve such future-oriented goals, as a move away from "backward-looking" and individualistic awards such as the Nobel Prizes.
- The Social Progress Index argued, that to truly advance social progress, we must learn to measure it comprehensively and rigorously. When everyone uses the same vocabulary to describe challenges, it's that much easier to overcome them.
- Imagining scientific concepts that could improve everyone's cognitive abilities. This is the challenge that some of the world's leading scientific thinkers tackled in answer to the 2011 Edge question.
- The responses were various and imaginative. One good example came from author Michael Shermer, who wished we would understandalmost everything important in nature and society.
- IBM claimed that icons of progress", such as those building an equal opportunity workforce, have, over the past 100 years, helped demonstrate our faith in science, our pursuit of knowledge and our belief that together we can make the world work better.
- During an Institute of Art and Ideas debate, speakers imagined a variety of answers to the following question: for centuries we've seen ourselves as on the upward curve of history. But the future looks uncertain, our values precarious. Do we need a new notion of progress?
- Chairman and CEO of Biotechonomy, Juan Enriquez claimed that humanity is on the verge of becoming a new and utterly unique species, which he dubs Homo Evolutis. What makes this species so unique is that it "takes direct and deliberate control over the evolution of the species." Calling it the "ultimate reboot," he points to the conflux of DNA manipulation and therapy, tissue generation, and robotics as making this great leap possible. We are already in the midst of minor improvements to the human body and mind; Enriquez gave examples of growing new tissues for successful transplant, programmable cells, and augmenting our abilities through robotics. As this trend accelerates, more and more aspects of the human experience, of the human life, will be capable of scientific manipulation.