§Type I and Type II Progress

Imagine human capability as a high dimensional blob.^1 There are some people who live on the surface of the blob (let’s call it the Knowledge frontier ) - they have access to the best of the knowledge and resources humanity has to offer. Pushing this frontier and expanding maximum possible capabilities is Type I Progress.
There are many people who don’t live on the surface of the capability blob - most people who live in ‘developing’ nations, for example. Actions that expand these people’s capabilities towards the frontier are Type II Progress

As William Gibson said “The future is here — it’s just not very evenly distributed” You could think of Type I progress as expanding what the future is, and Type II progress as distributing that future.
There are even some people who might live a little beyond the surface in some dimensions. These are the innovators, the creators of new knowledge.
This is a great example of Type I and II progress

Here’s a simplified version of the above chart. You can see how from 1960->2006 Northeast Asia and North America were pushing the capability frontier forward (on the total possible output per Hectare and total output per worker respectively.) China as a whole clearly made progress but stayed well within the capability frontier.

In Lever of Riches Mokyr writes: “At any moment there is a large gap between average and best practice technology; reducing this gap by disseminating the techniques used by producers at the cutting edge of knowledge is technological progress without invention.”

Type II progress is this progress without invention. This distinction may seem trivial but Type I and Type II progress are often talked about in the same context. Explicitly calling out the distinction between Type I and Type II progress and thinking about them separately will lead to more action

^1: According to a mathematician friend, the correct term for this is a “compact” but for the sake of evocative language I’m going to stick with “blob”


References:
The Illustrated Guide to a Phd
Productivity Growth in Agriculture
Images
Original farm progress chart
Capability Blob
Simplified Farm Output
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References:
The Illustrated Guide to a Phd
Productivity Growth in Agriculture
Images
Original farm progress chart
Capability Blob
Simplified Farm Output

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