TL;DR: Lately I talked to several people who'd consider cofounding an EA startup but are blocked by having no concrete idea. Help! Please post your ideas here and I'll get potential CTOs to read them

The rest of the post is only if you're unsure what such people often would or wouldn't want to work on, feel free to skip it and just pitch your idea or share this question with someone else. This is all somewhat time sensitive. Thanks!

They're looking for something that feels like a startup

Such as Momentum, Wave, or Metaculus. 

Not something that feels like a side project, such as a small chrome extension.

Also not a "regular" job as a senior software developer. They are aware of the 80k job board as an option, this post is aiming at something else.

Something that EAs have some kind of advantage in

For example "we care about this more than usual". Something that would explain why nobody else already implemented the idea just to make a ton of money.

Ideally there's a CEO

Especially if it's a very ambitious idea such as "a twitter that promotes high quality conversations" which many people tried and it's unclear (to me) how to pull it off.

Ideally the CEO would post here and be open for questions.

Ideas I'm aware of

  1. Ambitious Altruistic Software Engineering Efforts: Opportunities and Benefits
  2. Even More Ambitious Altruistic Tech Efforts
  3. A list of technical EA projects
  4. What Are Your Software Needs?

I'm still going over them, but this is time sensitive, so posting meanwhile

The closest matches so far:

  • Prediction market ideas: I'm checking those out
  • Ambitious Twitter-like ideas: Blocked by the CEO problem

Thank you!

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AI alignment is rapidly scaling funding, and this means grantmakers will be stretched thin and less able to reliably avoid giving money to people who are not mission aligned, not producing useful research, or worst of all just want to extract money from the system. This has the potential to cause massive problems down the road, both by producing distracting low-quality research and by setting up expectations which will cause drama if someone is defunded later on while there's still a lot of money flowing to others.

An attack-resistant EigenKarma[1]-like network for alignment researchers would, if adopted, allow the bottleneck of grantmaker time to be eased and quality of vetting to be improved, by allowing all researchers to participate in the process of vetting people and assessing the quality of their work.  The ideal system would:

  • Allow grantmakers to view any individual's score with an arbitrary initial trusted group, so they could analyze how promising someone seems from the perspective of any subgroup, with a clean UI.
  • Allow people to import their own upvote history from any of AF/LW/EAF to seed their outflowing karma, but adjust it manually via a clean UI.
  • Have some basic tools to flag suspicious voting patterns (e.g. two people only channeling karma to each other), likely by graphing networks of votes.
  • Maybe have some features to allow grants to be registered on the platform, so grantmakers can see what's been awarded already?
  • Maybe have a split between "this person seems competent and maybe we should fund them to learn" vs "this person has produced something of value"?

Rob Miles has some code running on his Discord with a basic EigenKarma system, which is currently being used as the basis for a crypto project by some people from Monastic Academy, and could be used to start your project. I have some thoughts on how to improve the code and would be happy to advise.

I'm imagining a world where researchers channel their trust into the people they think are doing the most good work, which means that grantmakers can go "oh, conditioning on interpretability-focused researchers as the seed group, this applicant scores highly" or "huh, this person has been working for two years but no one trusted thinks what they're doing is useful" rather than relying on their own valuable time to assess the technical details or their much less comprehensive and scalable sense of how they think the person is perceived.

Obviously some pre-research would be to make a sketch of how it'd work and ask grantmakers and researchers if they would use the system, but I for one would if it worked well (and might provide some seed funding to the right person).

  1. ^

    This is Rob Miles's description of his code, I hear the EigenTrust++ model is even better, but have not read the paper yet to verify that it makes more sense here.

Exit strategy: sell to Reddit? (Although to be fair I guess there won't be much in the way of protected IP)

Additional layer: Have the researchers have a separate "Which infrastructure / support has been most valuable to you?" category of karma, and use that to help direct funding towards the most valuable parts of the infrastructure ecosystem to support alignment. This should be one way, with researchers able to send this toward infrastructure, but not the reverse since research is the goal.

An easier means of starting up an EA-aligned, accredited private school.

As EA matures, there will be more and more parents. Kids of self-identified EAs are (going out on a limb) likely to be very smart and neuroatypical, and to struggle with the default schooling system .

As remote work options free up location choice, there could be major EA community-building gains from making it more straightforward to start an aligned micro school.

Speaking from personal experience, schooling considerations are a major limitation on my family's ability to relocate and get more intimately involved with the EA community. I'm sure we're not alone.

SchoolHouse is very much the kind of thing I'm thinking of. I have no idea what competition is like on the tech side of this, only that finding an actual school that works for my kids is still super challenging.

I’m Alex’s wife and this came out of a conversation during our Saturday night date watching the SERI conference.

An important point is that the kids of EAs are way more likely than others to grow up to become EAs. We certainly share these values with our children.

If the EA community is taking a long term view, we should be investing in the children of EAs as likely future EAs. Adding support for EA families may sow the seeds for future EA generations. Should EA be supporting their peers’ parental leave?

  • It's listed in the list of software projects above, but I really think that Coordination Software (https://www.lesswrong.com/s/vz9Zrj3oBGsttG3Jh) has a lot of potential, if only somebody could find the right angle -- how to define the group that is voting to change its norms or take an action, what killer applications of the software or particular audiences would be a good place to start, etc...

  • I think that remote-working software is very positive for civilization; allowing people to work on top tech projects while not living in exploitative NIMBY cities (or even living in the developed world at all!) will do a lot to increase economic growth and distribute more resources to poorer areas. Of course after covid everyone is working on this, but almost none of the efforts are targeted overseas. Combine Wave-style currency transfer with translation and other tools, and maybe the right legal framework to make it easy for US companies to hire/outsource to people abroad, and you've created a kind of "virtual immigration" allowing thousands of people in India or Latin America to work remotely and get paid western wages for working on software projects.

  • There are a lot of good prediction market angles. One of the best remaining unexplored niches, IMO, is creating flexible software that corporations can use to set up their own internal prediction markets and forecasting tournaments (and ideally integrate those with other tools like their scrum boards and issue tracking and etc). See this link for more detail on my idea about creating "the Gitlab of prediction markets": https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/dQhjwHA7LhfE8YpYF/prediction-markets-in-the-corporate-setting?commentId=eaLBFJJJgiDGY5QHM

Internal prediction markets for organizations:

[I ended up rambling here, sorry]

Sounds relatively promising, thank you! I also think prediction market ideas are a good candidate to focus on

 

Things I don't understand about this idea

That I hope someone more expert can help with

I offered this to a company (w ~500 employees) that I worked for

If I remember their replies correctly:

  • It will take time from the employees
  • The main people who know how to make this prediction are already in charge of it

From a "lean startup" mindset, I'd hope to find a few concrete suggestions for prediction markets that a few concrete companies would be interested in running. Before that, can you imagine a question like that? [Expert advice needed!] Are we imagining, for example, Facebook (Meta) opening a prediction market on how many people will buy VR headsets next year?

I internally predict that founders will be extremely uninterested in this, but there's only one way to find out.

Maybe founders from our community would be willing to do some user research, but again, I don't even know what kind of companies would be early adopters.

 

Ok, sounds super promising, thank you very much! This is currently my top candidate

The comment I linked (laying out my "Gitlab of prediction markets" idea) is replying to a very high-quality post by Nuno Sempere and pals which examines exactly these questions of what stops corporations from enthusiastically adopting prediction markets / forecasting.  My "gitlab" idea is an attempt to address some of the potential bottlenecks to wider adoption:

  • Make an easy-to-use tool for companies to set up internal prediction markets or forecasting tournaments, so that even medium-sized companies can freely experiment with in the technology (rather than just Google/Microsoft/Facebook/etc), and it's easy for employees to use so you get plenty of engagement.  Thus addressing what Nuno considers the #1 most important challenge to prediction markets in a corporate setting, "maintaining a prediction market given current technologies".  Individual companies shouldn't have to do all the work themselves and reinvent the wheel; they should be able to buy prediction market tech as a service!
  • Maybe some high-quality tutorials, UX design, and demo examples to help employees understand what prediction markets are and help companies understand how to use them (how to write good questions, what business functions might benefit from getting predictions, etc).  Thus attempting to address challenge #2, "Writing questions that are both informative for decision-making and attractive to traders."
  • With a bit of experimentation, I feel like it should be simple enough to tune the sweet spot of challenge #3, "attracting enough predictors to get accurate forecasts while also preventing the market from taking up too much of the employees' time and attention".  Should the market just be run on fake internet points like Metaculus?  Fake internet points plus prizes for top predictors?  Stock bonuses based on performance? Varying amounts of real money?  Surely it wouldn't be too hard to find the right knobs to turn so that companies can incentivize their employees to participate the right amount on average.  This is another benefit of offering a service to many companies -- experiment once and then offer that expertise to each customer, rather than forcing each new internal prediction market initiative to jump in blind and risk wasting a bunch of employee time if they mess up the rewards structure.
  • An external tool means companies get to use advanced features (like conditional prediction markets) right away, but (like Gitlab and other software-developer tools) they also have lots of control to self-host and customize the software if they want for their specific needs.  (This is different from most prediction market software today where, at best, you can create private markets for your organization and that's it; no customizability or ownership.)
  • Instead of a weird standalone experiment, offer integrations with other sales/marketing tools (like salesforce business software) so that the prediction markets can be seamlessly integrated with sales targets/quotas, advertising and A/B testing analysis, financial models, etc.  Do the same with software developer tools like git, issue tracking, kanban boards, schedule tools... all the usual Jira / Asana stuff.  That way, the act of predicting how long a product will take to come to market can be directly integrated with schedule & issue tracking tools to spot problems and reallocate resources.  Prediction markets shouldn't just be standing weirdly off to one side of everything a company does, but should become another tool in the integrated management/productivity toolkit of philosophies like "scrum", "agile", etc.  I think this would greatly help companies find a use case for prediction markets and other forms of forecasting in their existing workflows.

As for a roadmap of who the early-adopters are going to be -- I think your first market is probably going to be "medium-sized tech companies of the sort that regularly attempt to use prediction markets (and maybe have a CEO who happens to be excited about the idea), but smaller than Google/Microsoft/Facebook and thus would benefit from an external pre-packaged solution".  You could probably get some EA funding as initial seed money, and some of the larger EA/rationalist orgs might be willing to help out and experiment with the system internally, in order to get a better sense of which use cases you should focus on.  (For-profits like Wave might be especially valuable to get feedback from -- are prediction markets more useful for comparing marketing strategies and maximizing sales, or to predict software dev timelines, or for high-level strategy questions like "which direction should we take the company" / "will this product flop"?)  Then build your integrations towards whichever application (sales vs dev vs strategy) seems to be getting the most traction, and roll out the product to more normal tech companies and eventually non-sillicon-valley non-tech companies.

Alternatively (caveat: this is a weird idea), maybe early on you could pitch prediction markets as a good way for especially loose/decentralized teams to get agreement on some debated issue.  Like cryptocurrency projects looking for consensus on adopting a change to their protocol (easy to raise a lot of money if your project has a light coat of crypto-paint, perhaps!), or as a way for two companies considering a partnership to jointly and fairly asses the value that each brings to the table (seems to go against every rule of negotiation but might just be crazy enough to work??), or as a tool that helps build agreement on big questions of company direction and get employees more mission-aligned around key initiatives at otherwise large, dispersed, slow-moving organizations like General Motors or Boeing.

This is such a great idea, I really hope someone does it! My company is small (~80 person startup), but might be an example of a potential customer type - we're an infectious disease intelligence company, so we're literally trying to predict epidemics/disease events/operational disruption and an internal PM could be a useful way to organize our ongoing analysis and judgment.

Generally anyone working in the risk/critical event/threat intelligence/OSINT space might have a similar use case around collecting and coordinating their internal experts' assessments.

Also, this may be taking the Gitlab comparison more literally than you intended but the '/estimate' quick action has always seemed like a juicy UX for collecting predictions!

Remote-working software:

I assume there's a huge financial incentive to get this right, so there's no added value for an EA to do it. (no?)

I would have thought so too, but I've been mystified by how few of the pandemic-remote-work efforts have been aimed towards "virtual immigration" tools that make it easier for US companies to outsource software developer tasks.  Maybe there are legal obstacles to hiring overseas employees (but surely there are lots of easy ways to get around this by having them be "contractors" or something)?  I fear that it's not happening simply because places like India or Latin America are poorer than the USA so it's a less lucrative potential market than selling Zoom/Teams licenses to Fortune-500 companies.

The pieces are all there but there seems to be a dearth of explicitly "virtual immigration" oriented companies who are trying to cobble said pieces together:

  • Flexible options for companies to post bounties for work, hire short-term contractors or freelancers, or have an on-ramp for hiring someone as a permanent employee.  (ie just replicate the basic functionality of existing freelancing sites)
  • Use tools like Google Translate and Grammarly to make it easier for people to communicate and transact fluently across cultures.  (How about something as simple as a video-call service where you're auto-translating what people are saying in near-real-time?)  Here's a startup who implemented this feature and got bought by Zoom, so I guess it's coming, but I don't yet see it in any of the actual products I use.
  • Hook into an international payments system like Wave to make it easy for companies to pay overseas freelancers wherever they live.
  • Maybe partner with companies in the target countries; ie partner with an Indian company who can provide offices with good computers/internet and vetted coders, and you help match them to employers in the USA and smoothly integrate them into their USA developer team by making it easy for the employers to adopt remote-working best practices.

But maybe there is some logical reason why this seemingly solid plan is not happening, or maybe it is happening but I haven't noticed yet because the startups are still scaling up.

TL;DR: Strong upvote, thank you!

 

I fear that it's not happening simply because places like India or Latin America are poorer than the USA so it's a less lucrative potential market than selling Zoom/Teams licenses to Fortune-500 companies.

This sounds maybe true!

 

I can totally imagine it being false, because it's still a big enough market in theory so supposedly it's worth fighting over. But I also understand why it wouldn't be the ideal first market for a typical company.

 

Regarding the specific reasons that it is harder there: this would be the job of a good product person to start talking to potential customers, I think. But that seems solvable

Coordination software:

Seems like something that requires an extreme expertise, which falls into the category of "I wish a CEO would say they want to back this project (and answer questions about it)"

This topic does interest me so I'll read the sequence, thanks :)

Though if you have something to add, please tell me beforehand, because these people won't remain available for long

(Thank you!)

Do these have to be software ideas to suit the technical skills of the CTO? I can imagine some more constructiony things that could potentially make money and be big:

  • Become a real estate developer, start an affinity city / intentional community along the lines of Arizona's car-free 'culdesac' neighborhood, but experiment with new social and governing institutions like quadratic public goods funding, or urban design built around remote work, or something something crypto property rights, or liquid democracy for residents to make collective decisions, or an assurance contract to get people to move there initially... basically do a Charter City but as a suburban development within the USA. Get rich by owning the land that will hugely appreciate in value when the neighborhood does well. Hope that the successful institutions in your town will be adopted by larger cities / states / nations and thereby improve civilization's overall decisionmaking abilities.

  • Make better ventilation / UV-light sanitation / PPE tech, then sell the ventilation tech to new buildings and sell the PPE to hospitals and national stockpiles.

  • Get good at building especially deep, airtight, large bunkers that can serve the EA desire for long term civilizational resilience from pandemics, asteroid strikes, nuclear wars, etc. Sell your premium bunkers to governments and eccentric billionaires. (For more on these last two bullet points, see here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/u5JesqQ3jdLENXBtB/concrete-biosecurity-projects-some-of-which-could-be-big-1)

My thought on reading this is that people should explicitly not constrain idea selection to software. I think this leads in bad directions. There are tons of people who want to make software. The way to improve the world is to get out there and build stuff that most software people don't think is possible. (I was the tech founder for Wave, but Drew's non-technical abilities were far more counterfactually important than my tech skills in terms of making huge progress on important problems!) Software skills are super-relevant in all industries.

Repeating in my own words to see if I understood:

  1. You're suggesting that potential CTOs do an idea selection process
  2. And find any useful idea, not just in software, and do that one
  3. Even if it is  "create a nuclear shelter for EAs" or "Work on Tobacco Taxation"
  4. Because that's how one does the most impact. 
  5. There will be room for software in almost any project.
  6. And you suggest that their current sense of what they'll feel excited to do is.. not important? (Sorry, this sounds like I'm strawmanning what you're saying, but I don't understand it)

Would you correct my probably wrong understanding?

Make better ventilation / UV-light sanitation / PPE tech, then sell the ventilation tech to new buildings and sell the PPE to hospitals and national stockpiles.

This project might fit one of the people I'm thinking about. Could you tell me more / link somewhere?

I was also involved in something similar, so we can chat :)

Also, I think that Alex Barnes is working around UV sanitation

Read more at the link to "Concrete Biosecurity Projects" in that comment, and also this one: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Bd7K4XCg4BGEaSetp/biosecurity-needs-engineers-and-materials-scientists Will Bradshaw who wrote this linked post would probably be happy to hop on a zoom call with you (as he did recently with me) and talk in more depth.

Do these have to be software ideas to suit the technical skills of the CTO?

We're not trying to (only) optimize on skills, we're trying to optimize on personal fit, and specifically a feeling that I'll vaguely describe as "waking up in the morning really excited", which clicks for different people in different ways.

I personally understand the excitement of opening a startup, but I'm not sure how to describe it in text

TL;DR: Subscribe to this comment to get notified about the most promising ideas

"the most promising" is according to my own judgement.

Please don't reply to this comment yourself, but feel free to start your own list

How to subscribe:

Click the "..." on the top right:

And then "Subscribe to comment replies":

 

Also, 

If you care about promising EA Software projects, consider getting in touch with me 

Even just to let me know you're a person that cares about this thing

Adding: This comment was requested by yet another potential EA CTO who I didn't know beforehand and am happy to hear from

A better Swapcard; EA might be your first client

 

Discuss here

"Better Twitter" that promotes high quality conversations:

Disclaimer: This comment of mine might cause harm

If this comment leads you to try building a "Better Twitter" without acknowledging what makes this problem hard (and so many people to try and fail at it), and without some general idea of how to do better (beyond "startups are hard, but it will be ok!"), then this comment has harmed you. I hope you don't go down that path

The comparative advantage of EA/Lesswrong

  1. We already have a critical mass of people having a lot of unusually high quality online conversations every day (in Lesswrong and in the EA forum), including disagreeing with each other. Getting such a critical mass is a huge problem for almost anyone else who wants to try this
  2. The Lesswrong dev team is already working on this problem.

How I'd approach this

  1. Talk to the lesswrong team, my prior is that they'll have suggestions that I can't guess
  2. Probably gradually turn lesswrong+EAForum into something better instead of starting from scratch? I'm not sure
  3. Slowly expand to more people`

 

Prediction markets for using inside organizations (link, please discuss there) :

  • Probably useful if figured out how to do it right (since prediction markets are amazing in general)
  • Currently some options are available, 
    • practically nobody uses these options (so there's a huge available market, if there is potential product-market-fit. Also, it doesn't seem like this will "simply happen" if none of us picks it up)
    • More than zero companies DO use them (google), which is some evidence for potential product-market-fit, more evidence than one usually gets
  • EAs & Rationalists have domain expertise here: People in our community are paying attention, participating, and advancing the cutting edge of the field of prediction markets

My next steps would be something like:

  • Get up to date about the idea of prediction markets within companies, and in parallel:
  • Talk to companies, try finding a specific thing they'd like to have a prediction market about, and what their pushbacks are (why do they say "no"?)

Biological Safety Reporting System:

Despite the effectiveness of safety reporting systems (see, e.g., Aviation Safety Reporting System) at identifying weak points in safety protocols and reducing risks of accidents, there does not appear to be an analogous system for biological risks.  [1]

Desired Features: 

  • Anonymous reporting
  • Optional identity verification of reporters (for credibility and whistleblower protection)
     - Encription of reporter identity (secure multi-party computation?) for increased whistleblower security
  • Submission of bioinfohazard sequences to a biological risk sequence surveillance organization (e.g., SecureDNA
  • Encription of reports containing bioinfohazards


EA Advantages:

 

  1. ^

    The Federal Select Agent Program only applies to a short list of pathogens and does not apply to novel hazards.

This doesn't sound like a startup but it does sound like a potentially very important (and maybe very easy) software project.

First question:

"Anonymous reporting [+] Optional identity verification of reporters"

This doesn't seem to go together well.

I understand there are too conflicting needs here:

  1. Make reports reliable so that people will take them seriously
  2. Make reports anonymous so that whistleblowers will use the system (because they know they won't be exposed)

Could you say much more about the requirements? (Or could you define a "formula" that would accomplish both?

 

Meta:

Are you a person who could say "yes" to a specific system design here and then if it would be built, you could get it to be used in production?

"This doesn't sound like a startup"
Agreed, but I decided to err on the side of being overly broad with the definition.  

Meta note: Implementing a biological safety reporting system would need reputable institutional backing in order to gain traction.  I am not particularly well-positioned to enact or influence adoption of a reporting system nor am I likely well-suited to designing one.  

 

Requirements:

Unverified anonymous reporting would need to be possible, but would likely only be useful for general safety issues (e.g., ACME autoclaves keep failing sterilization tests) or raising awareness of concerns (e.g., I hear that the Akoawak Lab is adapting N1H5 influenza for handshake transmissibility) instead of being immediately actionable.  

Identity verification of the reporter should be able to be decoupled from the report and, if they wish to remain anonymous, the key to their identity can remain in their hands.  Alternatively, the identity can remain with the reporting system and only be revealed when a specified criteria is met (e.g., BWC investigation, scientific misconduct hearing, a threshold of corroborating reports).

A better Swapcard:

The current Swapcard  is buggy and imperfect. The world maybe could use a better one?

A few alternatives exist but they don't seem so good (if one of them does seem good, please tell me or CEA !).

Your first client would be the EA community, and you could continue to build role out your startup and/or put some effort into integrating with the EA forum, which would be wonderful too

Something I've considered making myself is a Slackbot for group decision-making: forecasting, quadratic voting, etc. This seems like it would be very useful for lots of organizations and quite a low lift. It's not the kind of thing that seems easily monetizable at first, but it seems reasonable to expect that if it provides valuable, it could be the kind of thing that people would eventually have to buy "seats" for in larger organizations.

I don't think this passes a LT funding or talent bar but an idea I've been interested in for a while is a way for people to anonymously report sexual harassment or abuse, or possibly abuse in general*.

I haven't thought much about implementation details, but I think the idea would be for the accused to not be exposed until there are >=3 reports or something, to reduce false positives and on the assumption that most abusers are serial abusers. 

There are  some technical nuances. Specifically, you want a way for the website to check  for uniqueness of identities of people who report (so someone can't create 30 fake accounts to report) while not exposing  the identities to outsiders. It might also be good for the website to not store the identities of accusers in the backend either, for obvious security concerns. You can solve this with a number of privacy techniques (the most obvious that I can think of is saving a hash of people's Facebook unique IDs, though of course this isn't great. There might be a better off-the-shelf solution however).  

*One use case I'm tangentially familiar with is abuse of power from PhD supervisors.

EDIT: decided to retract this comment because the space of potential altruistic projects is extremely wide, and even though I'm inside-view more excited about this project than many others, it still seems like a bad norm to suggest things for an EA audience that even I don't think would be competitive with top LT projects.

[This comment is no longer endorsed by its author]Reply

Are they familiar with Charity Entrepreneurship? They research high-impact nonprofit ideas (which you can find on their website) and they have an incubation program 

Thanks,

CE's current ideas do not seem to be software projects. Maybe they have some small software component, but that's all

If I'm wrong, I'd be happy to hear

I believe, a system can be designed for distribution of money that lacks the most "problematic" features of UBI and streamlines the act of donations-making in general. The basic idea is to not give money away, but pay people for work - any work they want to do. Poetry writing, musical band practicing, gardening, picking trash,... They would have to report the work with a believable proof (photo, video, url,...) and have it approved by two other System-selected workers. They would receive a fixed amount of System Currency for every reported/approved hour. The Currency for the reward is created by the System at the moment the work gets approved. The Currency would be freely exchangeable for national currency (and back). A fixed exchange rate would be maintained by the donor and/or by inflow of national currency from other sources, like own economic activity of the workers in the System, investments into projects run by the workers in the System,... Products and services created in the System must be possible to purchase with the Currency. When purchased, the buyer pays the System, which at that moment destroys the Currency paid and awards the creator/seller of the purchased product with a numerical, reputation-like reward instead. The reputation reward is equal in amount to the paid Currency. A reputation score of a worker is non-transferable. Separation of the monetary and the skills/reputation-signaling rewards is the key to making the system both - equitable economically and efficient at the same time (workers have different reputation "signatures")*.

The described system exists in a proof of work-level implementation and has a number of other, non-listed features. It was originally developed to make volunteer products consumption and production fair, but it will be used also for the use case described above. It would be great to find somebody who really understands technology to make the system scalable. Also, it will be easier to get funding with a team that has more than one founder -  I think.

The POC runs at https://rovas.app and theoretical foundations are described in a paper I wrote about this.

* The separation of economic and reputation rewards might sound crazy, but it was suggested recently for different use case

TL;DR: I don't personally think this is a good direction (sorry), but maybe it's worth it's own post so people can reply in a tidy way

 

Here are my initial replies:

 

1)

lacks the most "problematic" features of UBI

I think the most "problematic" features of UBI are "it costs a ton of money", no?

 

2)

streamlines the act of donations-making in general

Adding [making sure that people actually work] adds friction and thus makes the process less streamlined, not more streamlined, no? Compared to the alternative where you don't measure work

 

3)

Regarding paying people for work instead of nothing:

https://slatestarcodex.com/2018/05/16/basic-income-not-basic-jobs-against-hijacking-utopia/

Also, I don't understand what is the problem that you want to solve (by paying-for-work instead of paying-for-nothing). Related to (1)

 

4)

The Currency would be freely exchangeable for national currency (and back)

Sounds like your currency IS money for all practical purposes, except with more friction (sometimes people will exchange it back and forth). No? Why not just use normal money?

Thank you for getting back to me. Yes, I think it might be a good idea to introduce the System in a separate post and I will do it eventually. For now, if your contacts are interested, they can review the links I gave. Below are my responses to your questions.

  1. The System gives the high-value producers what they are after - a psychological signal of competence and relatedness (status is a pathological form of this signal). The actors working in the System basically trade the exchange value of material profit they would gain for their work in a classic market economy, for a non-monetary signaling reward. That value is the funding source for the system. Please note that charity runs on the same mechanism - the donors trade money for a psychological signal they need more than the money. The system was originally developed (and is a.t.m. used) to capture the volunteer-generated value, which is estimated to be more than a trillion USD/year. The money available for charitable causes probably exceeds this value. These two sources can bootstrap the System. Over time, the System will fund itself by its own economic activity - a radically different proposition from UBI.
  2. The System also solves one of the biggest problems in charity - optimal allocation of funds to places where they are needed the most. This is achieved by several mechanisms. One is  the motivation pull of non-monetary - signaling reward I mention above. This is the generator of resources that - given the floating exchange rate between the System and the national currencies, ensures that the least well off exchange their System money for a national currency first.
  3. My proposal is not for the "basic jobs"-type work. You can do anything you want in the System ... even disabled people can write poetry or collect napkins and get paid for it. An instinctive reaction one might have is - but people will do useless/unproductive things... well, UBI goes even further - it does not care what a person will do with the money. Besides, playing is a sign of intrinsic motivation which has all kinds of benefits, including producing innovation. Also, if offered a choice a normal person will choose to do something others will appreciate/use than digg a hole in the forest just to get paid.
  4. Yes, it is money, but different :-). Unlike (for example) fiat money, the System currency creation is directly tied to actually performed work. The money is "minted" whenever new work is reported in the system. The money supply in the System is held optimal by a mechanism that destroys money  when somebody makes a purchase. In effect, there is a silent contract that the System pays you before the market value of your product is known, but it then owns the product. Instead of profit, the product creator receives something similar to reputation points, which take care of psychological signaling that in fact is what motivates people to supply labor.

1)

I didn't understand if you agree that the most problematic feature of UBI is "it costs a ton of money".

Also, I don't see how the system is going to avoid paying these people a ton of money if the system pays these people something that can be directly traded for money.

[And I see other very big problems in this, but they are not the core issue]

2)

[I am going to hold back from commenting on "optimal"]

This doesn't answer my question, do you think your system has less friction than UBI?

3)

Scott's post does talk about "basic jobs" that are not productive (or hardly productive) (or surely - much less productive than would happen in our current economy), so I think it's point stands. Do you think I'm missing something?

4)

If we put aside the psychological point aspect, do you agree that this is equivalent to: Whenever someone "works", you give them some of your dollars for that work, and then you try to sell that work for as much as you can?

  1. Yes, UBI costs a ton of money. The system is not UBI, but  like UBI is (also) a redistribution mechanism; one that I believe achieves the goal more efficiently. The efficiency gains come from the economic value generated in the system by people working. That over time lowers the funding requirements for achieving the same outcomes as UBI would (ceteris paribus).
  2. The System might have higher friction than UBI, but it also might not, as there are other features, that will make seemingly sticky points negligible. For example, people might perceive participation in the system as playing a game (there are indicators that this might be the case). Being autonomous is a hugely attractive feature too (see below)
  3. This is probably what you are missing - in the system, people can freely choose any type of activity they want to do. In the jobs guarantee scheme, I can't choose for example to do mapping for the Openstreetmap project, or program a computer game, if the government does not offer such "jobs". ...and to use one of the examples Scott brings up, raising a child can be reported as work and be  paid.
  4. The psychological aspect can't be put aside. The system has been originally modeled on the behavior of volunteers, who ignore the economic aspect of their work and  chase instead satisfaction of their psychological needs. The needs satisfaction is facilitated by various signals (in the volunteering domain these include the number of users, likes, badges,...). Seeking to maximize the signal makes the by-the-hour paid workers to sell their products, as that's what they receive - a signal - when somebody buys their product. It should be noted, that also many successful entrepreneurs consider money an indicator of their skills and often get rid of much of economic value they earn in the form of donations. Trading money for "signals" is quite common.

Ok nice

1.

The efficiency gains come from the economic value generated in the system by people working

I think the economic gains from the people "working" in the system will be  negligible, this seems like a Double Crux (a point that if one of us will change their mind about, we might change our mind on the entire idea. For you too? For me, if I'd think the economic gains are not negligible, it would make me view your idea way way more positively)

My opinion is basically based on Econ 101, saying that (A) "deciding what to produce based on the 'market' demand is insanely efficient." and (B) "Trying to guess what to produce based on a committee of professionals is way way less efficient, and results in producing things that are way less needed", from which I conclude (C) "producing things based on a person deciding what they want to (or something like that) without even attempting to be a professional that studies the needs of the market, would be even worse than B, and (my opinion relies on the claim that: ) it will be way way less efficient than A"

4. The psychological aspect:

I bet if this would turn out to be a major aspect of the system, then the system would be out competed by games, which are insanely optimized for doing this.

A side point that I hope will not be distracting: There is a common pattern of startups that hope to convince people to do things and hoping that "gamification" will get this to happen. The actual situation is that there are very very few apps that have managed to achieve this (such as Facebook, Dualingo) except for actual games. I am just trying to say that achieving good gamification is something that was tried a lot and seems to be very hard. Also important: Whoever manages to crack the formula of "gamification" even a little becomes very very rich, so there are a lot of resources going into that problem already. But again, I hope this won't distract from the more-main points

In NEO (that's how the system is actually called for better or worse), all value-creation mechanisms that we know from the market economy are present, so I am sorry, but I do not think we have identified the DC :-)  Try to be more specific - what aspect do you think is different?

Maybe this will help to clarify things - the crucial (hmm, do we have a suspect?) difference from a "normal" market economy, is separation of  the for-the-value-creation less important aspect of work reward (the exchange value) from the salient one - the psychological signal.

About the gaming thing. That is not what NEO success or failure  actually hinges on. It might be nice if it happens, but if NEO wins, it will be because it is more economically efficient than the alternatives. Apparently the 800 lb gorilla is the capitalist system, which is of course enormously successful. What does NEO bring to the ring? Separation of concerns - economic from the psychological. Capitalism rewards workers with both at the same time (money) and I see that as a source of inefficiency, because  people - especially the most creative ones - are gunning for the psychological reward. In money they inadvertently get also exchange value reward, proportional to the signaling one and that causes economic inequality - a source of inefficiency. NEO also rewards the exceptional value creators more than others - with stronger signal - but it leads to inequality that is beneficial (same function as in capitalism). The economic value in NEO is constantly redistributed virtually equally among the workers, eliminating (extreme) inequality.

I claim that in NEO, a workers will do tasks that are WAY less valuable to other-people, compared to what the worker would have done in a capitalist system.

Is that our double crux?

 

You said:

if NEO wins, it will be because it is more economically efficient than the alternatives

I don't think that is the case and have listed some arguments supporting that view. What makes you think that NEO workers will produce less valuable output?

Before I get into "what makes me think that NEO workers will produce less valuable output",

If I'll convince you that they'll produce less valuable [to others] output, would you drop NEO?

If you'll convince me that they'll produce more valuable [to others] output, I will probably want to work on it myself

Yes, I will, regardless of your less than firm commitment to helping out in case I am right.

Let's make clear, that we are comparing capitalism as we know it (say the Western type) and a hypothetical situation, when everybody works in NEO.

(my "less than firm" commitment is "less firm" because this is too early to unambiguously commit to a project, for example there me unexpected-to-me problems like you just raised - the need to maybe coordinate the entire planet to move over at once or something like that. But still, me saying that some vision would get me to potentially want to work on it myself, even fulltime, is saying a lot, for me, and is said with the intent of showing I'd care about that)

 

Ok, in capitalism, people pick tasks based on "how much are people expected to pay for this [as a proxy for how much other people want it]"

In NEO, people pick tasks based on.. what seems fun? (With zero anything like market research, right?)

 

And I think that picking which tasks to do is very important to overall efficiency. Do you agree with this?

Your objection seem to focus on the most important difference between NEO and capitalism - the autonomy to choose whatever one wants to do. If I understand, you imply that more autonomy leads to slacking. The need for autonomy is however critical condition for the emergence of intrinsic motivation and a large body of literature (keywords: self determination theory) shows superiority of intrinsic over the extrinsic motivation in various domains (creativity, persistence,..) The literature also shows that intrinsically motivated employees produce more valuable economic contributions. Many things in psychology are disputed, but the existence of the two types of motivation and superiority of the intrinsic one is not.

I could list a number of examples that confirm the notion that people in general want to be useful to others, but I think I could not do a better job than the scientists studying motivation. Maybe one example for all. Just look at volunteers, like the FOSS programmers, Wikipedia editors or Openstreetmap mappers. No economic carrots or sticks that would force them supply labor and yet, their output is so valuable that it is being massively appropriated by the commercial sector.

Nice, feels like we're zooming in to our disagreement

 

I'd split this into:

  1. Picking what task to do (should I build a chair or fix a car?)
  2. How much motivation do I have for this task / how hard do I try / do I slack off

Even if NTO would be 3 times as effective in point 2, I still think point 1 is much more important, and that's what I'd focus on

wdyt?

Re. 1 - most people in NEO would choose the task that pays the most - just like in capitalism. The payment in NEO has purely signaling (non-monetary) form, but that does not matter. Also in capitalism only the magnitude of the payment ultimately matters (the signal), not the exchange value it represents (that gets ultimately converted to status - a form of the signal)

The more creative people would also do what they do in capitalism - choose the thing they like to do.  Elon Musk types would build Teslas and flamethrowers, other would found My Lackey, or Kozmo.com. Some will succeed, some will fail. We love them all in NEO.

Re. 2. - as I wrote previously, motivation is plentiful in NEO - and of the right kind. The "most people" category I mention in point #1 above are motivated extrinsically, but there is a scale from Extrinsic to Intrinsic and "most people" would be much closer to "I" in NEO than if they worked in capitalism and consequently would be more performant (and happier).

Re. 1 - most people in NEO would choose the task that pays the most - just like in capitalism.

In NEO, how would I know if I'd get paid more for building a chair or for fixing a car? 

(Sorry if you answered this already, feel free to point me to the answer)

You are actively trying to get buyers to pay as much of their money as possible for the stuff you make. When they pay, they do so to the System, which converts the payment to a numeric reward (I call it the Merit reward). The money is destroyed in the process and the seller of the product receives Merits. Individual's Merit score is a reflection of their abilities, or their popularity. It can not be transferred, you can not buy anything for it and everybody can see how an individual's Merits were earned.

You would know that you would earn more for building a car vs chair the same way as in capitalism - by selling them. Market determines the price - no change here from capitalism.

Ok, and how do I buy stuff?

(Where does my money come from / how much do I have? Can I offer my money to anyone to buy anything, just like in capitalism?)

The NEO currency is fully convertible and is called Chron. Where do Chrons come from:

  1. you do some work,
  2. get some proof you did the work  (link to a github commit page, photo, video recording,...),
  3. create a report in rovas.app and attach the proofs,
  4. rovas.app will send request to two algo-determined users to verify your report,
  5. if your report gets approved, you get 10 Chrons for every hour of your work

Every work report belongs to a project you create. When you are buying somebody's product, you go to that product's project in rovas.app and reward it. You can do it with your Chrons, or with national currency.

Something like give well (evidence based, reasoning transparency) but…

  • Rates a broader set of charities, not shying away from cross-cause and “US versus internationally operating” charity comparisons

  • Explicitly models (calibrated) uncertainty

– makes a pitch to a broader audience, and prominently comparing impact ratings of popular charities To each other, and to more effective ones… To get people thinking about this and to get charities to offer better evidence and compete on this basis

Rereading your post, I’m not sure if my suggestion is primarily software—driven.

(I somehow missed this comment before, sorry!)

Assuming this is a good idea (which it might be), it seems to me like the bottle neck would be something like "generate impact evaluations" (or some meta like "decide which impact evaluations to do" or "where to publicize them")

The software aspect could probably be done in wordpress/wix/squarespace, with zero code. Or if the amount of charities evaluated becomes huge (which seems unlikely given what I estimate to be the bottle neck) then maybe add an element made of airtable/monday (still zero code).

Anyway, if this project becomes somewhat real and has any bottle neck around software, I will almost surely be happy to resolve it myself (including writing custom software if that's the reasonable thing to do), just let me know

Thanks. I think the impact evaluations, meta analysis and montecarlo/fermi estimate are probably the bottleneck. Some statistical and simulation coding may be relevant

As a POC, perhaps you could write a post in your favorite social media comparing the impact of popular charities to more effective ones and see how that goes.

I personally do not expect that merely having high quality evidence would be enough to change people's minds

And if you somehow are able to write a post like that which convinces people, I'd send you to CEA or some similar organization which will hopefully find a good use for your talents