David Rotman sets the stage with a review of the the technological changes we have observed since 2001and an investigation of the attempts of some economists to find measures of progress that better capture what matters to people. He draws a startling conclusion: if there is any reason to be optimistic about the next decade, it is less because of new technologies than because of more equitable ideas about how to measure progress that will guide us. better in using these advances.
For many, these changes may come too late. Susie Cagle reflects on how American capitalism’s promise of progress “ended with our [millennial] generation ”, why things still seem to be getting worse, and what it will mean for her newborn baby. Brian Alexander writes on the pockets of america that the progress of the last decades has simply ignored. Chelsea Sheasley watches how the digital to divide, coupled with the pandemic, could further widen the economic gap between white and non-white Americans in the years to come.
Elsewhere, Amy Nordrum asks people from various fields progress means for them, while James Temple asks other experts what would be the best way to help the world make progress on climate change. David Vintiner, with his sometimes disturbing photographs of biohackers and researchers in body augmentation, raises the question of whether cyborg humans are a form of progress or a deviation from it.
We’re also debunking some myths about how progress is made. Carl Benedikt Frey examines how tech giants which began its life when the vanguards of progress became obstacles. John Markoff argues that the rise of technological poles such as Silicon Valley owes a lot more to chance than its boosters like to admit. Adam Piore examines why brilliant ideas that should succeed sometimes get stuck, and how a crisis like covid-19 can help break the blockage. J. Benjamin Hurlbut debunks the view that He Jiankui, the creator of “CRISPR babies”, was a scientist turned rogue, arguing instead that his ambition represents a form of scientific progress that the establishment prefers to underestimate. And Leah Stokes questions the idea that we need more technology to fight climate change.
And finally we have the 10 revolutionary technologies themselves. As always, three things are true for our list. It’s eclectic; some of the innovations made there are clearly having an impact now, while others have not yet; and many of them have the potential to do harm as well as good. Whether or not they represent progress in 20 years depends on how they are used – and, of course, how we define progress by then.