These monthly posts originated as the "Updates" section of the EA Newsletter.
This month, Rob Wiblin had the chance to talk with James Forman Jr. about how the US ended up with more people incarcerated than any other country, and Jennifer Doleac about what can be done about it.
For the third 80,000 Hours podcast of the month, Howie Lempel talked with Shruti Rajagopalan about what India did to stop COVID-19 and how well it worked.
Arden Koehler also wrote three new substantial pieces:
- How to use your career to help reduce existential risk
- Ideas for high impact careers beyond our priority paths
- Global issues beyond 80,000 Hours’ current priorities
And finally, CEO Ben Todd released three blog posts of his own:
- Why I’ve come to think global priorities research is more important than I thought
- The emerging school of patient longtermism
- Misconceptions about effective altruism
Animal Advocacy Careers
Animal Advocacy Careers recently launched a free one-to-one advice call service. The aim of this service is to offer career planning advice, which could include helping you generate a list of roles with good personal fit, narrow down your options, or find further resources. To read more or to apply, head to the Animal Advocacy Careers website.
Animal Charity Evaluators
Animal Charity Evaluators (ACE) published a blog post about how their 2019 Top and Standout Charities are adapting to COVID-19. They also shared an update from their recommended charities, which highlights the progress they’ve made in the last six months.
Animal Ethics is presenting a two-month course for the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina (Brazil), addressing issues such as arguments for the moral consideration of sentient beings, the harm and magnitude of animal deaths, and wild animal suffering.
They have now released the entire second module of their wild animal suffering course. The course can be viewed as a playlist, and both the first and second modules of the course may be viewed with subtitles in English or Portuguese. The texts, videos, audios, and references for each section of the module are also available as convenient and comprehensive units.
Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative
After a round of applications, BERI has started trial collaborations with the following groups:
- The Autonomous Learning Laboratory at UMass Amherst, led by Phil Thomas
- Meir Friedenberg and Joe Halpern at Cornell University
- The InterACT Lab at UC Berkeley, led by Anca Dragan
- The Stanford Existential Risks Initiative
- Yale Effective Altruism, to support x-risk discussion groups
- Baobao Zhang and Sarah Kreps at Cornell University
These groups join the Center for Human-Compatible AI, the Future of Humanity Institute, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk as active BERI collaborators.
Center for Human-Compatible AI
CHAI PhD student Rachel Freedman will present two papers accepted to IJCAI-PRICAI 2020, the 29th International Joint Conference on Artificial Intelligence – 17th Pacific Rim International Conference on Artificial Intelligence. Freedman co-authored the first paper, “Choice Set Misspecification in Reward Inference,” with CHAI professor Anca Dragan and PhD student Rohin Shah. The paper analyzes the problem of a robot inferring reward functions from human feedback and making incorrect assumptions about the human’s choice set. The second paper, “Aligning with Heterogeneous Preferences for Kidney Exchange,” addresses the problem of preference aggregation by AI algorithms in a real-world public health context: kidney exchange.
Cornell professor Joseph Halpern and collaborator Xinming Liu presented “Bounded Rationality in Las Vegas: Probabilistic Finite Automata Play Multi-Armed Bandits” at the 2020 Conference on Uncertainty in Artificial Intelligence. In the paper, they leverage the multi-armed bandit problem to test the hypothesis that humans’ limited computational power helps explain their predictably irrational behavior.
In June, CHAI held its first virtual workshop! The two-day workshop brought together professors, students, and researchers sharing a common interest in reducing existential risks from advanced AI. There were 150 attendees, the most of any workshop since 30 participants attended the first in 2017.
Centre for Effective Altruism
CEA announced the hiring of Luke Freeman as the new head of Giving What We Can, published a mid-year update on its recent progress, and made major updates to its page on diversity, equity, and belonging in the EA community.
Center on Long-Term Risk
Daniel Kokotajlo joined CLTR as a full-time researcher, and Chi Nguyen as a part-time research analyst. The first four summer research fellows started working on projects related to their research agenda on cooperation and conflict among TAI (transformative artificial intelligence) systems.
Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
Dr. Asaf Tzachor had three papers published on famine dynamics, AI for agricultural supply chain risk management, and the capital theory approach to sustainability. Simon Beard et al. responded to Baum’s reply to their paper “An Analysis and Evaluation of Methods Currently Used to Quantify the Likelihood of Existential Hazards.” Dr. Lalitha Sundaram was one of the volunteers from the University of Cambridge, AstraZeneca, and GlaxoSmithKline who helped to create a state-of-the-art COVID-19 testing facility in just five weeks.
Faunalytics published a new study that examined the experiences of animal advocates in the US and Canada to determine the causes of turnover in the movement. They found that advocates stayed a median of 2.3 years with each organization and left for a variety of reasons, including problems with leadership (40%), finding a better opportunity (35%), not wanting to do a particular type of advocacy anymore (27%), and burnout (21%).
They also updated their global animal slaughter statistics and charts and added several new study summaries to their research library on topics including fish sentience and welfare, and the market landscape of plant-based meat in the US. Additionally, they published a guest blog post by Jamie Harris that draws from interviews with advocates around the world to better understand what might help expand and strengthen animal advocacy in their communities.
Fish Welfare Initiative
Fish Welfare Initiative has published two new pieces that they hope will be useful to other organizations considering work on fish issues:
- “Aquaculture in Asian Countries,” which they believe is the most comprehensive report to date discussing fish farming in Asia, the continent where nearly 90% of farmed fish are raised.
- “Fish Movement Survey Results,” which discusses the current and future work that animal advocacy organizations are planning to reduce fish suffering.
Future of Humanity Institute
FHI’s Research Scholars Programme is hiring a third cohort of research scholars, who will start work in spring 2021. It is a selective, two-year research programme, with a lot of latitude for exploration as well as significant training and support elements. FHI will offer around eight salaried positions to early-career researchers who want to shed light on the big-picture questions critical to humanity’s well-being. The deadline to apply: 12:00 GMT on 14 September. Find out more and apply here.
FHI’s Summer Research Fellowship wraps up on 21 August. Twenty-six researchers joined the team remotely, working on topics across the whole range of FHI’s interests.
Cullen O’Keefe published a working paper titled “How Will National Security Considerations Affect Antitrust Decisions in AI?”
Future of Life Institute
FLI published a landing page on lethal autonomous weapons systems, which provides an overview of the issue, a list of reasons to support a ban, and more. They also released three new podcasts:
- “Steven Pinker and Stuart Russell on the Foundations, Benefits, and Possible Existential Threat of AI”
- “Sam Barker and David Pearce on Art, Paradise Engineering, and Existential Hope”
- “Evan Hubinger on Inner Alignment, Outer Alignment, and Proposals for Building Safe Advanced AI.”
GiveWell provided updates on how some of the organizations they have supported are responding to COVID-19. GiveWell was excited to see coverage of a recent 20-year follow-up study on the impact of deworming, which was partially funded by a GiveWell Incubation Grant, in Vox and on NPR.
Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
In January, GCRI put out an open call for people interested in seeking advice or collaborating on GCRI’s AI projects. More than 60 people from around the world responded to the call. GCRI anticipates conducting a second round of this program later in the year. The results of our 2020 advising and collaboration program are summarized here.
GCRI Executive Director Seth Baum has a new paper, “Artificial Interdisciplinarity: Artificial Intelligence for Research on Complex Societal Problems,” in Philosophy & Technology. The paper explores the use of AI in interdisciplinary research on catastrophic research and other complex societal problems.
Global Priorities Institute (GPI)
GPI held a series of seminars in June, and recordings of the talks are now online. Additionally, GPI recently published several new working papers on their website, including Christian Tarsney’s “Exceeding Expectations: Stochastic Dominance as a General Decision Theory” and Andreas Mogensen and David Thorstad’s “Heuristics for Clueless Agents: How to Get away with Ignoring What Matters Most in Ordinary Decision-making.”
The Good Food Institute
- Bollywood power couple Genelia and Riteish Deshmukh, with strategic support from GFI India, launched their new plant-based meat startup Imagine Meats.
- GFI Israel co-hosted an alternative protein-focused event with the Israel Innovation Authority. The event attracted more than 250 attendees.
- New Scientist published a letter to the editor written by GFI Executive Director Bruce Friedrich about why governments should fund open access alternative protein R&D. Bruce notes: “As has been the case with just about every transformative advancement, public funding of fundamental research will be key.”
Happier Lives Institute
HLI published two new pieces of research:
- “Using Subjective Well-Being to Estimate the Moral Weights of Averting Deaths and Reducing Poverty,” which models the relative value of two key outcomes in cost-effectiveness analyses.
- “Life Satisfaction and Its Discontents,” a working paper that investigates the nature and plausibility of life satisfaction theories of well-being.
The Humane League
Last month, THL UK secured Better Chicken Commitments from five companies, including Nando’s UK & Ireland, a multinational chicken restaurant chain with over 400 locations across their UK and Ireland operations. This major commitment will impact 30,000,000 chickens annually, or 2% of the UK supply chain.
In July (in the US), THL helped organize a coalition of over 120 organizations for a week of actions against Tyson Foods to hold the company accountable for profiting off the abuse of both humans and animals. THL is building on this momentum against chicken producers like Tyson with their campaign to eliminate live-shackle slaughter.
Open Philanthropy announced grants including $3.3M to the Global Priorities Institute for general support, $2.5M to Stanford University to test an antiviral drug candidate against COVID-19 and other viruses, and $800K to Sinergia Animal to support corporate cage-free campaigns and investigations across Latin America.
RC Forward released their 2019 cost-effectiveness analysis and project review conducted by Rethink Priorities. Appended to the cost-effectiveness analysis is additional commentary from the Rethink Charity staff on their budget, programs, and related communications strategy.
Key highlights from the analysis include $850K to $1.7M in estimated counterfactual donations caused in 2019. The average $1 spent on RC Forward operations is estimated to generate $4-$10 in additional funds to effective charities, with a best guess of $6. The platform has passed through $6.7M CAD (~ $4.93M USD) in total since 2017.
Wild Animal Initiative
Wild Animal Initiative welcomed Biotechnology Legal Fellow Suzanne Van Arsdale and Special Project Advisor Stien van der Ploeg to the team.
WAI received an $80K grant from the Animal Welfare Fund. The grant will go toward WAI’s ongoing efforts to establish a thriving field of wild animal welfare research. Among the activities this funding will support are academic outreach, re-granting, and exploring the possibility of a dedicated journal.
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