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Differential Progress is an informal framework for selecting focus areas, specifically long-term focus areas.

The most common example of the differential progress framework is differential technological progress. In this framework, it is assumed that there is a range of technologies that can be developed in the future. Nick Bostrom argues that if these technologies have commercial potential, they are likely to be developed at some point, so it may be difficult to influence whether technologies are developed. However, we may be more able to affect the future by changing not the rate of overall technological progress, but the order in which technologies are developed. Bostrom argues that the best way to influence technological development is to slow harmful technologies, and hasten the development of technologies that will ameliorate the effects of the harmful technologies (Bostrom 2002).

Another type of differential progress is differential intellectual progress. This is a broader concept, which advocates improving humanity’s values and means of cooperation before making further rapid technological progress.

Further reading

Beckstead, Nick. 2016. Differential technological development: some early thinking.
An application of the concept of differential progress to artificial intelligence research.

Bostrom, Nick. 2002. Existential risks. Journal of evolution and technology 9(1).
_Section 9.4 includes a discussion of differential technological development.

Christiano, Paul. 2014. On progress and prosperity.
Argument that differential progress is extremely important from an altruistic perspective.

Tomasik, Brian. 2015. Differential intellectual progress as a positive-sum project.
A report on its implications.

Wikipedia. 2016. Differential technological development.
A summary of its progress.