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New Top EA Causes for 2020?

by John_Maxwell1 min read1st Apr 202021 comments

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Hi folks, this is our annual thread where we spend the day collecting ideas for Cause X. (Apologies to Australia for making this post so late in the day there.) Remember--serious suggestions only!!!

April 2 edit: Thanks for participating everyone! Read this if you haven't yet figured out what's going on.

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Get Joe Biden To Take Nootropics.

For a while, the 2020 American presidential contest was down to three men: The man with heart trouble, the man with brain trouble, and the man with ego trouble. But now that the man with heart trouble is ranking below Andrew Cuomo, who is not even running, in prediction markets for the Democratic nomination, it is looking increasingly likely that the American public will have to decide whether brain trouble or ego trouble is less disqualifying.

What they should be asking is which of brain trouble or ego trouble is more easily fixed.

It's possible you've heard some buzz in your social circle about brain-enhancing nootropic drugs. One thing you might not know is that in some cases, although the drug appears to be something of a dud for younger folks, it works in oldsters:

While it is known that the human brain endures diverse insults in the process of ageing, food-based nootropics are likely to go a long way in mitigating the impacts of these insults. Further research is needed before we reach a point where food-based nootropics are routinely prescribed.

From a lit review.

...According to a meta-analysis on human studies, piracetam improves general cognition when supplemented by people in a state of cognitive decline, such as the kind that comes with aging. Though piracetam may be a useful supplement for improving longevity, it offers limited benefits for healthy people.

Healthy people supplementing piracetam do experience little to no cognitive benefit. Though piracetam supplementation in healthy people is understudied, preliminary evidence suggests that piracetam is most effective for older people...

...

In persons with cognitive decline, supplementation of Piracetam was able to reduce aggression and agitation symptoms.

From Examine.com. (Remember from a few news cycles ago: Joe Biden tells factory worker ‘you’re full of shit’ during a tense argument over guns.)

Why might this be a Top EA Cause? In addition to the usual massive responsibilities of being POTUS, America is currently suffering from a pandemic. A 1% improvement in the intelligence of the actions taken by the chief executive could directly and immediately save thousands of lives.

Is it tractable? Yes, but it's not talent or money limited. It's memetics limited. We need to figure out if we have any connections to the Biden campaign who can start planning his meals to keep the bulb as bright as possible. Failing that, we could suggest that a nootropics company form a marketing initiative around this. Or Kelsey could write about it in Vox. Or something.

Don't forget the importance of regular Super Mario 64 play either.

Bayesian Reformation

Bayesian orthodoxy has often been compared to a cult. Here, we take the opposite perspective, comparing Bayesianism to a long-standing institution like the Catholic Church.

The protestant reformation created initial (and ongoing) unrest, including bloody violence. However, we take the view that the reformation improved social institutions generally, culminating in the industrial revolution. Hence, the reformation offers a model of high-leverage changes with dramatically positive consequences on the future.

The primary question, then, is effective instigation and agitation -- how does one create conditions ripe for Reformation? What are the preconditions to a modern Martin Luther, nailing a new 95 Theses to the door of Bayesianism and Effective Altruism?

Since the historical Martin Luther initially studied as a lawyer, but hated it, we recommend a critical study of the law as a starting point, including the naturalization of the social contract. This goes well with a general study of the failures of top-down optimization such as Bayesian/utilitarian public policy tends to favor.

The distribution of radical literature being an old standby of the instigation and agitation industry, we recommend the circulation of literature concerning radical probabilism, a doctrine which critiques the Bayesian update -- insisting that, while Bayes' Law correctly analyzes updating on a certainty, there is in fact no such thing as certain knowledge. Bayes' Law therefore never applies.

According to this doctrine, all we can say about the shifting nature of belief is that they should not be (unboundedly) Dutch Book -able. In particular, like financial markets, they should behave like a martingale -- at any time, the current betting value ('price') of any belief should also be a best estimate of its future value.

We also broadly recommend attention be paid to critiques of Bayesian orthodoxy, implying that we sit down and actually pay attention to various critiques of Bayesianism (Frequentist, and otherwise). For too long have we rested in complacency, accepting Bayesian dogma. The time has come to develop a better perspective.

I propose that the best thing we can do for the long term future is to create positive flow-through effects now. Specifically, if we increase people's overall sense of well-being and altruistic tendencies, this will lead to more altruistic policies and organizations, which will lead to a better future.

Therefore, I propose a new top EA cause for 2020: Distributing Puppies

  • Puppies decrease individual loneliness, allowing a more global worldview.
  • Puppies model unconditional love and altruism, creating a flowthrough to their owners.
  • Puppies with good owners on their own are just sources of positive utility, increasing global welfare.

Exploit selection effects on prediction records to influence policy.

During a crisis, people tend to implement the preferred policies of whoever seems to be accurately predicting each phase of the problem. When a crisis looms on the horizon, EAs coordinate to all make different predictions thus maximizing the chance that one of them will appear prescient and thus obtain outsize influence.

Turning the United Nations into a Decentralized Autonomous Organization

The UN is now running on ancient technology[source], is extremely centralized[source] and uses outdated voting methods and consensus rules[source]. This results in a slow, inefficient organization, vulnerable to regulatory capture and with messed up incentives.

Fortunately, we now have much better alternatives: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) are blockchain-based organizations which run on smart contracts. They offer many benefits compared to legacy technology:

1. Since the blockchain is always online and permanent, they are always available, fast, and 100% transparent by design.

2. They are decentralized and invulnerable to any attacks:

The blockchain-based DAO system works in a fully decentralized way and is immune to both outside and inside attacks. At the same time, operations of such system is only controlled by pre-defined rules; thus, the uncertainty and errors caused by human processes are greatly reduced.

[source]

3. The rules are enforced by code, so they are unbreakable.

When a government’s powers are encoded on a blockchain, its limitations will not be mere redress in a court of law, but will be the code itself. The inherent capabilities of blockchain technology can ex ante prevent a government from acting ultra vires; it can prevent government over-reach before the government act occurs.

[source]

4. They support new forms of governance and voting, such as futarchy or quadratic voting [source].

5. Since everything runs on ethereum, and cryptocurrencies always go up, a small investment in Ether now could provide enough funds to run the UN forever, freeing states from having to contribute funds [source].


Given the ample benefits, I'm sure a quick email to UN Secretary General António Guterres will convince everyone to switch to DAOs. Thus, we only need a small team of developers to write the code, which should take maybe a couple of months.

What is the expected impact? The UN recently prohibited nuclear weapons[source], contributing to reduce nuclear risk. An improvement in UN efficiency and capabilities is likely to lead to reduced existential risk, via better global coordination on issues like AI Safety.

Note that the savings from reduced operating costs will be much greater than the implementation cost, so this could even be a profitable intervention.

I'm a bit late to the party on this one, but I figured out recently that determining the correct discount rate could be the top EA cause.

putting things on the blockchain