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Are there currently any safety-conscious people on the OpenAI Board?

The current board is:

  • Bret Taylor (chair): Co-created Google Maps, ex-Meta CTO, ex-Twitter Chairperson, current co-founder of Sierra (AI company)
  • Larry Summers: Ex U.S. Treasury Secretary, Ex Harvard president
  • Adam D'Angelo: Co-founder, CEO Quora
  • Dr. Sue Desmond-Hellmann: Ex-director P&G, Meta, Bill & Melinda Gates; Ex-chancellor UCSF. Pfizer board member
  • Nicole Seligman: Ex-Sony exec, Paramount board member
  • Fidji Simo: CEO & Chair Instacart, Ex-Meta VP
  • Sam Altman
  • Also, Microsoft are allowed to observe board meetings

The only people here who even have rumours of being safety-conscious (AFAIK) is Adam D'Angelo, who allegedly played a role in kickstarting last year's board incident, and Sam, who has contradicted a great deal of his rhetoric with his actions. God knows why Larry Summers is there (give it an air of professionalism?), the rest seem to me like your typical professional board members (i.e. unlikely to understand OpenAI's unique charter & structure). In my opinion, any hope of restraint from this board or OpenAI's current leadership is misplaced.

UK prime minister Rishi Sunak got some blowback for meeting with Elon Musk to talk about existential AIS stuff on Sky News, and that clip made it into this BritMonkey video criticizing the state of British politics. Starting at moment 1:10:57:

...the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom interviewing the richest man in the world, talking about AI in the context of the James Cameron Terminator films. I can barely believe I'm saying all of this.

Okay, so one thing I don't get about "common sense ethics" discourse in EA is, which common sense ethical norms prevail? Different people even in the same society have different attitudes about what's common sense.

For example, pretty much everyone agrees that theft and fraud in the service of a good cause - as in the FTX case - is immoral. But what about cases where the governing norms are ambiguous or changing? For example, in the United States, it's considered customary to tip at restaurants and for deliveries, but there isn't much consensus on when and how much to tip, especially with digital point-of-sale systems encouraging people to tip in more situations. (Just as an example of how conceptions of "common sense ethics" can differ: I just learned that apparently, you're supposed to tip the courier before you get a delivery now, otherwise they might refuse to take your order at all. I've grown up believing that you're supposed to tip after you get service, but many drivers expect you to tip beforehand.) You're never required to tip as a condition of service, so what if you just never tipped and always donated the equivalent amount to highly effective charities instead? That sou... (read more)

Maybe EA philanthropists should be invest more conservatively, actually

The pros and cons of unusually high risk tolerance in EA philanthropy have been discussed a lot, e.g. here. One factor that may weigh in favor of higher risk aversion is that nonprofits benefit from a stable stream of donations, rather than one that goes up and down a lot with the general economy. This is for a few reasons:

  • Funding stability in a cause area makes it easier for employees to advance their careers because they can count on stable employment. It also makes it easier for nonp
... (read more)
These are good arguments for providing stable levels of funding per year, but there are often ways to further that goal without materially dialing back the riskiness of one's investments (probable exception: crypto, because the swings can be so wild and because other EA donors may be disproportionately in crypto). One classic approach is to set a budget based on a rolling average of the value of one's investments -- for universities, that is often a rolling three-year average, but it apparently goes back much further than that at Yale using a weighted-average approach. And EA philanthropists probably have more flexibility on this point than universities, whose use of endowments is often constrained by applicable law related to endowment spending.

Status: Fresh argument I just came up with. I welcome any feedback!

Allowing the U.S. Social Security Trust Fund to invest in stocks like any other national pension fund would enable the U.S. public to capture some of the profits from AGI-driven economic growth.

Currently, and uniquely among national pension funds, Social Security is only allowed to invest its reserves in non-marketable Treasury securities, which are very low-risk but also provide a low return on investment relative to the stock market. By contrast, the Government Pension Fund of Norway (als... (read more)

It might be worthwhile reading about historical attempts to semi-privatize social security, which would have essentially created an opt-in version of your proposal, since individual people could then choose whether to have their share of the pot in bonds or stocks.

Disclaimer: This shortform contains advice about navigating unemployment benefits. I am not a lawyer or a social worker, and you should use caution when applying this advice to your specific unemployment insurance situation.

Tip for US residents: Depending on which state you live in, taking a work test can affect your eligibility for unemployment insurance.

Unemployment benefits are typically reduced based on the number of hours you've worked in a given week. For example, in New York, you are eligible for the full benefit rate if you worked 10 hours or less ... (read more)

April Fools' Day is in 11 days! Get yer jokes ready 🎶

Content warning: Israel/Palestine

Has there been research on what interventions are effective at facilitating dialogue between social groups in conflict?

I remember an article about how during the last Israel-Gaza flare-up, Israelis and Palestinians were using the audio chatroom app Clubhouse to share their experiences and perspectives. This was portrayed as a phenomenon that increased dialogue and empathy between the two groups. But how effective was it? Could it generalize to other ethnic/religious conflicts around the world?

Although focused on civil conflicts, Lauren Gilbert's shallow explores some possible interventions in this space, including:

  • Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration (DDR) Programs 
  • Community-Driven Development
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
  • Cash Transfers and/or Job Training
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)
  • Contact Interventions and Mass Media
  • Investigative Journalism
  • Mediation and Diplomacy
Copenhagen Consensus has some older work on what might be cost-effective to preventing armed conflicts, like this paper.
Joshua Greene recently came to Israel to explore extending their work aiming at bridging the Republican-Democrat divide in the US to the Israel-Palestine conflict. A 2020 video here.
There's psychological research finding that both "extended contact" interventions and interventions that "encourage participants to rethink group boundaries or to prioritize common identities shared with specific outgroups" can reduce prejudice, so I can imagine the Clubhouse stuff working (and being cheap + scalable).

Episodes 5 and 6 of Netflix's 3 Body Problem seem to have longtermist and utilitarian themes (content warning: spoiler alert)

  • In episode 5 ("Judgment Day"), Thomas Wade leads a secret mission to retrieve a hard drive on a ship in order to learn more about the San-Ti who are going to arrive on Earth in 400 years. The plan involves using an array of nanofibers to tear the ship to shreds as it passes through the Panama Canal, killing everyone on board. Dr. Auggie Salazar (who invented the nanofibers) is uncomfortable with this plan, but Wade justifies it in th
... (read more)
I loved Liu's trilogy because it makes longtermism seem commonsensical. 

Crazy idea: A vegan hot dog eating contest

Tobias Häberli

Crazy idea: When charities apply for funding from foundations, they should be required to list 3-5 other charities they think should receive funding. Then, the grantmaker can run a statistical analysis to find orgs that are mentioned a lot and haven't applied before, reach out to those charities, and encourage them to apply. This way, the foundation can get a more diverse pool of applicants by learning about charities outside their network.

Marjolein Oostrom
Great idea!

I think we separate causes and interventions into "neartermist" and "longtermist" causes too much.

Just as some members of the EA community have complained that AI safety is pigeonholed as a "long-term" risk when it's actually imminent within our lifetimes[1], I think we've been too quick to dismiss conventionally "neartermist" EA causes and interventions as not valuable from a longtermist perspective. This is the opposite failure mode of surprising and suspicious convergence - instead of assuming (or rationalizing) that the spaces of interventions that are... (read more)

"Quality-adjusted civilization years"

We should be able to compare global catastrophic risks in terms of the amount of time they make global civilization significantly worse and how much worse it gets. We might call this measure "quality-adjusted civilization years" (QACYs), or the quality-adjusted amount of civilization time that is lost.

For example, let's say that the COVID-19 pandemic reduces the quality of civilization by 50% for 2 years. Then the QACY burden of COVID-19 is  QACYs.

Another example: suppose climate change will reduce the quality of civilization by 80% for 200 years, and then things will return to normal. Then the total QACY burden of climate change over the long term will be  QACYs.

In the limit, an existential catastrophe would have a near-infinite QACY burden.

Utility of money is not always logarithmic

EA discussions often assume that the utility of money is logarithmic, but while this is a convenient simplification, it's not always the case. Logarithmic utility is a special case of isoelastic utility, a.k.a. power utility, where the elasticity of marginal utility is . But  can be higher or lower. The most general form of isoelastic utility is the following:

Some special cases:

  • When , we get linear utility, or .
  • When , we get the square root utility function, .
  • When , we get the familiar logarithmic utility function, .
  • For any , the utility function asymptotically approaches a constant as  approaches infinity. When , we get the utility function .

 tells us how sharply marginal utility drops off with increasing consumption: if a person already has  times as much money as the baseline, then giving them an extra dollar is worth  times as much. Empirical studies have found that  for most people is between 1 and 2. So if the average GiveDirect... (read more)

Harrison Durland
The ratio of (jargon+equations):complexity in this shortform seems very high. Wouldn't it be substantially easier to write and read to just use terms and examples like "a project might have a stair-step or high-threshold function: unless the project gets enough money, it provides no return on investment"? Or am I missing something in all the equations (which I must admit I don't understand)?
I'm basically saying that the logarithmic utility function, which is where we get the idea that doubling one's income from any starting point raises their happiness by the same amount, is a special case of a broader class of utility functions, in which marginal utility can decline faster or slower than in the logarithmic utility function.
  All of the maths here assumes smooth utility returns to money; there are no step functions or threshold effects. Rather, it discusses different possible curvatures.
Harrison Durland
I wasn't trying to imply that was the only possibility, I was just highlighting  step/threshold functions as an example of how the utility of money is not always logarithmic. In short, I just think that if the goal of the post is to dispute that simplification, it doesn't need to be so jargon/equation heavy, and if one of the goals of the post is to also discuss different possible curvatures, it would probably help to draw rough a diagram that can be more-easily understood.
Charles He
My fan fiction about what is going on in this thread:   A good guess is that "log utility" is being used by EAs for historical reasons (e.g. GiveWell's work) and is influenced by economics, where log is used a lot because it is extremely convenient. Economists don't literally believe people have log utility in income, it just makes equations work to show certain ideas.   It's possible that log utility actually is a really good approximation of welfare and income. But sometimes ideas or notions get codified/canonized inappropriately and accidentally, and math can cause this.   With the context above, my read is that evelynciara is trying to show that  income might be even more important to poor people than believed.  She's doing this in a sophisticated and agreeable way, by slightly extending the math. So her equations aren't a distraction or unnecessary mathematical, it's exactly the opposite, she's protecting against math's undue influence. 
Harrison Durland
I was hoping for a more dramatic and artistic interpretation of this thread, but I’ll accept what’s been given. In the end, I think there are three main audiences to this short form: 1. People like me who read the first sentence, think “I agree,” and then are baffled by the rest of the post. 2. People who read the first sentence, are confused (or think they disagree), then are baffled by the rest of the post. 3. People who read the first sentence, think “I agree,” are not baffled by the rest of the post and say “Yep, that’s a valid way of framing it.” In contrast, I don’t think there is a large group of people in category 4. Read the first sentence, think “I disagree,” then understand the rest of the post. But do correct me if I’m wrong!
Charles He
Well, I don't agree with this perspective and its premise. I guess my view is that it doesn't seem compatible for what I perceive as the informal, personal character of shortform (like, "live and let live") which is specifically designed to have different norms than posts.   I won't continue this thread because it feels like I'm supplanting or speaking for the OP.

Nonprofit idea: YIMBY for energy

YIMBY groups in the United States (like YIMBY Action) systematically advocate for housing developments as well as rezonings and other policies to create more housing in cities. YIMBYism is an explicit counter-strategy to the NIMBY groups that oppose housing development; however, NIMBYism affects energy developments as well - everything from solar farms to nuclear power plants to power lines - and is thus an obstacle to the clean energy transition.

There should be groups that systematically advocate for energy projects (which are mostly in rural areas), borrowing the tactics of the YIMBY movement. Currently, when developers propose an energy project, they do an advertising campaign to persuade local residents of the benefits of the development, but there is often opposition as well.

I thought YIMBYs were generally pretty in favor of this already? (Though not generally as high a priority for them as housing.) My guess is it would be easier to push the already existing YIMBY movement to focus on energy more, as opposed to creating a new movement from scratch.

Yeah, I think that might be easier too. But YIMBY groups focus on housing in cities whereas most utility-scale energy developments are probably in suburbs or rural areas.
Hmm, culturally YIMBYism seems much harder to do in suburbs/rural areas. I wouldn't be too surprised if the easiest ToC here is to pass YIMBY-energy policies on the state level, with most of the support coming from urbanites.  But sure, still probably worth trying.
Yeah, good point. Advocating for individual projects or rezonings is so time-consuming, even in the urban housing context.

I think we need to be careful when we talk about AI and automation not to commit the lump of labor fallacy. When we say that a certain fraction of economically valuable work will be automated at any given time, or that this fraction will increase, we shouldn't implicitly assume that the total amount of work being done in the economy is constant. Historically, automation has increased the size of the economy, thereby creating more work to be done, whether by humans or by machines; we should expect the same to happen in the future. (Note that this doesn't exclude the possibility of increasingly general AI systems performing almost all economically valuable work. This could very well happen even as the total amount of work available skyrockets.)

Hauke Hillebrandt
Also see a recent paper finding no evidence for the automation hypothesis:

I think an EA career fair would be a good idea. It could have EA orgs as well as non-EA orgs that are relevant to EAs (for gaining career capital or earning to give)

EA Global normally has an EA career fair, or something similar

One thing the EA community should try doing is multinational op-ed writing contests. The focus would be op-eds advocating for actions or policies that are important, neglected, and tractable (although the op-eds themselves don't have to mention EA); and by design, op-eds could be submitted from anywhere in the world. To make judging easier, op-eds could be required to be in a single language, but op-ed contests in multiple languages could be run in parallel (such as English, Spanish, French, and Arabic, each of which is an official language in at least 20 countries).

This would have two benefits for the EA community:

  • It would be a cheap way to spread EA-aligned ideas in multiple countries. Also, the people writing the op-eds would know more about the political climates of the countries for which they are publishing them than the organizers of the contest would, and we can encourage them to tailor their messaging accordingly.
  • It would also be a way to measure countries' receptiveness to EA ideas. For example, if there were multiple submissions about immigration policy, we could use them to compare the receptiveness of different countries to immigration reforms that would increase global well-being.
I think this is a great idea. A related idea I had is a competition for "intro to EA" pitches because I don't currently feel like I can send my friends a link to a pitch that I'm satisfied with. A simple version could literally just be an EA forum post where everyone comments an "intro to EA" pitch under a certain word limit, and other people upvote / downvote. A fancier version could have a cash prize, narrowing down entries through EA forum voting, and then testing the top 5 through online surveys.  I think in a more general sense, we should create markets to incentivise and select persuasive writing on EA issues aimed at the public.
That’s a great idea! I’ve been trying to find a good intro to EA talk for a while and I recently came across the EA for Christians YouTube video about intro to EA and though it’s kinda leaning towards to the religious angle, it seemed like a pretty good intro for a novice. Would love to hear your thoughts about that. Here’s the link:

Possible outline for a 2-3 part documentary adaptation of The Precipice:

Part 1: Introduction & Natural Risks

  • Introduce the idea that we are in a time of unprecedented existential risk, but that the future could be very good (Introduction and Chapter 1)
  • Discuss natural risks (Chapter 3)
  • Argue that man-made risks are greater and use this to lead to the next episode (Chapter 3)

Part 2: Human-Made Risks

  • Well-known anthropogenic risks - nuclear war, climate change, other environmental damage (Chapter 4)
  • Emerging technological risks - pandemics, AI, dystopia (Chapter 5)
  • Existential risk and security factors (Chapter 6)

Part 3: What We Can Do

  • Discuss actions society can take to minimize its existential risk (Chapter 7)

What this leaves out:

  • Chapter 2 - mostly a discussion of the moral arguments for x-risk's importance. Can assume that the audience will already care about x-risk at a less sophisticated level, and focus on making the case that x-risk is high and we sort of know what to do about it.
  • The discussion of joint probabilities of x-risks in Chapter 6 - too technical for a general audience

Another way to do it would be to do an episode on each type of risk and what can be done about it, for ... (read more)

I lowkey miss the name "shortform" 🙁

It seems like decibels (dB) are a natural unit for perceived pleasure and pain, since they account for the fact that humans and other beings mostly perceive sensations in proportion to the logarithm of their actual strength. (This is discussed at length in "Logarithmic Scales of Pleasure and Pain".)

Decibels are a relative quantity: they express the intensity of a signal relative to another. A 10x difference is 10 dB, a 100x difference is 20 dB, and so on. The "just noticeable difference" in amplitude of sound is ~1 dB, or a ~25% increase. But decibels can ... (read more)

An idea I liked from Owen Cotton-Barratt's new interview on the 80K podcast: Defense in depth

If S, M, or L is any small, medium, or large catastrophe and X is human extinction, then the probability of human extinction is

So halving the probability of all small disasters, the probability of any small disaster becoming a medium-sized disaster, etc. would halve the probability of human extinction.

On the difference between x-risks and x-risk factors

I suspect there isn't much of a meaningful difference between "x-risks" and "x-risk factors," for two reasons:

  1. We can treat them the same in terms of probability theory. For example, if  is an "x-risk" and  is a "risk factor" for , then . But we can also say that , because both statements are equivalent to . We can similarly speak of the total probability of an x-risk factor because of the law of total probability (e.g. ) like we can with an x-risk.
  2. Concretely, something can be both an x-risk and a risk factor. Climate change is often cited as an example: it could cause an existential catastrophe directly by making all of Earth unable to support complex societies, or indirectly by increasing humanity's vulnerability to other risks. Pandemics might also be an example, as a pandemic could either directly cause the collapse of civilization or expose humanity to other risks.

I think the difference is that x-risks are events that directly cause an existential catastrophe, such as exti... (read more)

I think your comment (and particularly the first point) has much more to do with the difficulty of defining causality than with x-risks.

It seems natural to talk about force causing the mass to accelerate: when I push a sofa, I cause it to start moving. but Newtonian mechanics can't capture casualty basically because the equality sign in lacks direction. Similarly, it's hard to capture causality in probability spaces.

Following Pearl, I come to think that causality arises from manipulator/manipulated distinction.

So I think it's fair to speak about factors only with relation to some framing:

  • If you are focusing on bio policy, you are likely to take great-power conflict as an external factor.
  • Similarly, if you are focusing on preventing nuclear war between India and Pakistan, you are likely to take bioterrorism as an external factor.

Usually, there are multiple external factors in your x-risk modeling. The most salient and undesirable are important enough to care about them (and give them a name).

Calling bio-risks an x-factor makes sense formally; but doesn't make sense pragmatically because bio-risks are very salient (in our community) on their own because they are a canonica... (read more)

I think partnering with local science museums to run events on EA topics could be a great way to get EA-related ideas out to the public.

That's a pretty cool idea

Tentative thoughts on "problem stickiness"

When it comes to comparing non-longtermist problems from a longtermist perspective, I find it useful to evaluate them based on their "stickiness": the rate at which they will grow or shrink over time.

A problem's stickiness is its annual growth rate. So a problem has positive stickiness if it is growing, and negative stickiness if it is shrinking. For long-term planning, we care about a problem's expected stickiness: the annual rate at which we think it will grow or shrink. Over the long term - i.e. time frames of 50 years or more - we want to focus on problems that we expect to grow over time without our intervention, instead of problems that will go away on their own.

For example, global poverty has negative stickiness because the poverty rate has declined over the last 200 years. I believe its stickiness will continue to be negative, barring a global catastrophe like climate change or World War III.

On the other hand, farm animal suffering has not gone away over time; in fact, it has gotten worse, as a growing number of people around the world are eating meat and dairy. This trend will continue at least until alternative proteins become com

... (read more)
Do you know if anyone else has written more about this? 

Big O as a cause prioritization heuristic

When estimating the amount of good that can be done by working on a given cause, a good first approximation might be the asymptotic behavior of the amount of good done at each point in time (the trajectory change).

Other important factors are the magnitude of the trajectory change (how much good is done at each point in time) and its duration (how long the trajectory change lasts).

For example, changing the rate of economic growth (population growth * GDP/capita growth)  has an  trajectory change i... (read more)

I just listened to Andrew Critch's interview about "AI Research Considerations for Human Existential Safety" (ARCHES). I took some notes on the podcast episode, which I'll share here. I won't attempt to summarize the entire episode; instead, please see this summary of the ARCHES paper in the Alignment Newsletter.

  • We need to explicitly distinguish between "AI existential safety" and "AI safety" writ large. Saying "AI safety" without qualification is confusing for both people who focus on near-term AI safety problems and those who focus on AI existential safety problems; it creates a bait-and-switch for both groups.
  • Although existential risk can refer to any event that permanently and drastically reduces humanity's potential for future development (paraphrasing Bostrom 2013), ARCHES only deals with the risk of human extinction because it's easier to reason about and because it's not clear what other non-extinction outcomes are existential events.
  • ARCHES frames AI alignment in terms of delegation from m ≥ 1 human stakeholders (such as individuals or organizations) to n ≥ 1 AI systems. Most alignment literature to date focuses on the single-single setting (one principal, one agent), b
... (read more)

Making specialty meats like foie gras using cellular agriculture could be especially promising. Foie gras traditionally involves fattening ducks or geese by force-feeding them, which is especially ethically problematic (although alternative production methods exist). It could probably be produced by growing liver and fat cells in a medium without much of a scaffold, which would make it easier to develop.

This sounds plausible to me, and there's already at least one company working on this, but I'm actually pretty confused about what goes into foie gras. Like do we really think just having liver and fat cells will be enough, or are there weird consistency/texture criteria that foie gras eaters really care about? Would be excited to hear more people chime in with some expertise, eg if they have experience working in cellular agriculture or are French.

Some rough thoughts on cause prioritization

  • I've been tying myself up in knots about what causes to prioritize. I originally came back to effective altruism because I realized I had gotten interested in 23 different causes and needed to prioritize them. But looking at the 80K problem profile page (I am fairly aligned with their worldview), I see at least 17 relatively unexplored causes that they say could be as pressing as the top causes they've created profiles for. I've taken a stab at one of them: making surveillance compatible with privacy, civil libert
... (read more)

I'm excited about Open Phil's new cause area, global aid advocacy. Development aid from rich countries could be used to serve several goals that many EAs care about:

  • Economic development and poverty reduction
  • Public health and biosecurity, including drug liberalization
  • Promoting liberal democracy
  • Climate change mitigation and adaptation

Also, development aid can fund a combination of randomista-style and systemic interventions (such as building infrastructure to promote growth).

The United States has two agencies that provide development aid: USAID, which provid... (read more)

NYC is adopting ranked-choice voting for the 2021 City Council election. One challenge will be explaining the new voting system, though.

Questioning the new "EA is funding constrained" narrative

I recently saw a presentation with a diagram showing how committed EA funding dropped by almost half with the collapse of FTX, based on these data compiled by 80k in 2022. Open Phil at the time had a $22.5 billion endowment and FTX's founders were collectively worth $16.5 billion.

I think that this narrative gives off the impression that EA causes (especially global health and development) are more funding-constrained than they really are. 80k's data excludes philanthropists that often make donations ... (read more)

I think some of us really need to create op-eds, videos, etc. for a mainstream audience defending longtermism. The Phil Torres pieces have spread a lot (people outside the EA community have shared them in a Discord server I moderate, and Timnit Gebru has picked them up) and thus far I haven't seen an adequate response.

There should be a directory of EA co-living spaces, if there isn't already. The EA Hub would be a good place for it.

Back-of-the-envelope calculations for improving efficiency of public transit spending

The cost of building and maintaining public transportation varies widely across municipalities due to inefficiencies - for example, the NYC Second Avenue Subway has cost $2.14 billion per kilometer to build, whereas it costs an average of $80.22 million to build a kilometer of tunnel in Spain (Transit Costs Project). While many transit advocacy groups advocate for improving quality of public transit service (e.g. Straphangers Campaign in NYC), few advocate for reducing was... (read more)

AOC's Among Us stream on Twitch nets $200K for coronavirus relief

"We did it! $200k raised in one livestream (on a whim!) for eviction defense, food pantries, and more. This is going to make such a difference for those who need it most right now." — AOC's Tweet

Video game streaming is a popular way to raise money for causes. We should use this strategy to fundraise for EA organizations.

Aaron Gertler
It's difficult to raise money through streaming unless you already have a popular stream. I ran a charity stream for an audience of a few hundred people for three hours and raised roughly $150, and I may be the most popular video game streamer in the community (though other people with big audiences from elsewhere could probably create bigger streams than mine without much effort). If anyone reading this is in contact with major streamers, it might be worth reaching out, but that can easily go wrong if the streamer has a charity they already feel committed to (so be cautious).

Hot take: Too many EA orgs use blue and white in their branding.

We're probably surveilling poor and vulnerable people in developing and developed countries too much in the name of aiding them, and we should give stronger consideration to the privacy rights of aid recipients. Personal data about these people collected for benign purposes can be weaponized against them by malicious actors, and surveillance itself can deter people from accessing vital services.

"Stop Surveillance Humanitarianism" by Mark Latonero

Automating Inequality by Virginia Eubanks makes a similar argument regarding aid recipients in developed countries.

Aaron Gertler
Interesting op-ed! I wonder to what extent these issues are present in work being done by EA-endorsed global health charities; my impression is that almost all of their work happens outside of the conflict zones where some of these privacy concerns are especially potent. It also seems like these charities are very interested in reaching high levels of usage/local acceptance, and would be unlikely to adopt policies that deter recipients unless fraud concerns were very strong. But I don't know all the Top Charities well enough to be confident of their policies in this area. This would be a question worth asking on one of GiveWell's occasional Open Threads. And if you ask it on Rob Mather's AMA, you'll learn how AMF thinks about these things (given Rob's response times, possibly within a day).
Thank you for sharing this! I took a class on surveillance and privacy last semester, so I already have basic knowledge about this subject. I agree that it's important to reject false tradeoffs. Personally, my contribution to this area would be in formulating a theory of privacy that can be used to assess surveillance schemes in this context.
Shafi Goldwasser at Berkeley is currently working on some definitions of privacy and their applicability for law. See this paper or this talk. In a talk she gave last month she talked about how to formalize some aspects of law related to cryptographic concepts to formalize "the right to be forgotten". The recording is not up yet, but in the meantime I paste below my (dirty/partial) notes from the talk. I feel somewhat silly for not realizing the possible connection there earlier, so thanks for the opportunity to discover connections hidden in plain sight! Shafi is working directly with judges, and this whole program is looking potentially promising. If you are seriously interested in pursuing this, I can connect you to her if that would help. Also, we have someone in our research team at EA Israel doing some work into this (from a more tech/crypto solution perspective) so it may be interesting to consider a collaboration here. The notes- "What Crypto can do for the Law?" - Shafi Goldwasser 30.12.19: * There is a big language barrier between Law and CS, following a knowledge barrier. * People in law study the law of governing algorithms, but there is not enough participation of computer scientists to help legal work. * But, CS can help with designing algorithms and formalizing what these laws should be. * Shafi suggests a crypto definition for "The right to be forgotten". This should help * Privacy regulation like CCPA and GDPR have a problem - how to test whether one is compliant? * Do our cryptographic techniques satisfy the law? * that requires a formal definition * A first suggestion: * after deletions, the state of the data collector and the history of the interaction with the environment should be similar as to the case where information was never changed. [this is clearly inadequate - Shafi aims at starting a conversation] * Application of cryptographic techniques * History Oblivious Data Structure * Dat
The talk is here

"Stop comparing your behind the scenes to someone else's highlight reel"

Some people in the EA community need to hear this: it's not healthy to compare yourself to other EAs. I hope someone writes a blog post about this

A rebuttal of the paperclip maximizer argument

I was talking to someone (whom I'm leaving anonymous) about AI safety, and they said that the AI alignment problem is a joke (to put it mildly). They said that it won't actually be that hard to teach AI systems the subtleties of human norms because language models contain normative knowledge. I don't know if I endorse this claim but I found it quite convincing, so I'd like to share it here.

In the classic naive paperclip maximizer scenario, we assume there's a goal-directed AI system, and its human boss tells it... (read more)

Ben gives a great example of how the "alignment problem" might look different than we expect: The case of the house-cleaning robot * Problem: We don’t know how to build a simulated robot that cleans houses well * Available techniques aren’t suitable: * Simple hand-coded reward functions (e.g. dust minimization) won’t produce the desired behavior * We don’t have enough data (or sufficiently relevant data) for imitation learning * Existing reward modeling approaches are probably insufficient * This is sort of an “AI alignment problem,” insofar as techniques currently classified as “alignment techniques” will probably be needed to solve it. But it also seems very different from the AI alignment problem as classically conceived. ... * One possible interpretation: If we can’t develop “alignment” techniques soon enough, we will instead build powerful and destructive dust-minimizers * A more natural interpretation: We won’t have highly capable house-cleaning robots until we make progress on “alignment” techniques I've concluded that the process orthogonality thesis is less likely to apply to real AI systems than I would have assumed (i.e. I've updated downward), and therefore, the "alignment problem" as originally conceived is less likely to affect AI systems deployed in the real world. However, I don't feel ready to reject all potential global catastrophic risks from imperfectly designed AI (e.g. multi-multi failures), because I'd rather be safe than sorry.
Gordon Seidoh Worley
I think it's worth saying that the context of "maximize paperclips" is not one where the person literally says the words "maximize paperclips" or something similar; this is instead an intuitive stand-in for building an AI capable of superhuman levels of optimization, such that if you set it the task, say via specifying a reward function, of creating an unbounded number of paperclips you'll get it doing things you wouldn't as a human do to maximize paperclips because humans have competing concerns and will stop when, say, they'd have to kill themselves or their loved ones to make more paperclips. The objection seems predicated on interpretation of human language, which is aside the primary point. That is, you could address all the human language interpretation issues and we'd still have an alignment problem, it just might not look literally like building a paperclip maximizer if someone asks the AI to make a lot of paperclips.
Neel Nanda
I don't think this is a good representation of the classic scenario. It's not that the AI "doesn't know it's wrong". It clearly has a good enough model of the world to predict eg "if a human saw me trying to do this, they would try to stop me". The problem is coding an AI that cares about right and wrong. Which is a pretty difficult technical problem. One key part of why it's hard is that the interface for giving an AI goals is not the same interface you'd use to give a human goals. Note that this is not the same as saying that it's impossible to solve, or that it's obviously much harder than making powerful AI in the first place, just that it's a difficult technical problem and solving it is one significant step towards safe AI. I think this is what Paul Christiano calls intent alignment I think it's possible that this issue goes away with powerful language models, if that can give us an interface to input a goal via a similar interface to instructing a human. And I'm excited about efforts like this one. But I don't think it's at all obvious that this will just happen to work out. For example, GPT-3's true goal is "generate text that is as plausible as possible, based on the text in your training data". And it has a natural language interface, and this goal correlates a bit with "do what humans want", but it is not the same thing. This point feels somewhat backwards. Everything Ai systems ever do is maximising an objective function, and I'm not aware of any AI Safety suggestions that get around this (just ones which have creative objective functions). It's not that they convert verbal commands to an objective function, they already have an objective function, which might capture 'obey verbal commands in a sensible way' or it might not. And my read on the paperclip maximising scenario is that "tell the AI to maximise paperclips" really means "encode an objective function that tells it to maximise paperclips"   Personally I think the paperclip maximiser scenario
By the way, there will be a workshop on Interactive Learning for Natural Language Processing at ACL 2021. I think it will be useful to incorporate the ideas from this area of research into our models of how AI systems that interpret natural-language feedback would work. One example of this kind of research is Blukis et al. (2019).

Content warning: the current situation in Afghanistan (2021)

Is there anything people outside Afghanistan can do to address the worsening situation in Afghanistan? GiveDirectly-style aid to Afghans seems like not-an-option because the previous Taliban regime "prevented international aid from entering the country for starving civilians." (Wikipedia)

The best thing we can do is probably to help resettle Afghan refugees, whether by providing resources to NGOs that help them directly, or by petitioning governments to admit more of them. Some charities that do th... (read more)

Also, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a teaching moment for improving institutional decision making. Biden appears to have been blindsided by the rapid Taliban insurgency: (I thought that it might take 30 days for the Taliban to completely take over Afghanistan, whereas it happened over a weekend.) And in general, the media seems to think the US drawdown was botched. USA Today has called it "predictable and disastrous."
Marjolein Oostrom
I don’t have anything to add, but I think you’re right. It’s very hard to hear the “Americans matter more than other people” implied or stated in the article comments.
I agree with you that situations like the current one in Afghanistan might be among our most impactful issues, but:  1. If you wanna talk about iidm, I'd rather think more about how to make failing states in developing countries more viable and functional than improve US government decision-making. Tbh, idk if US decision was a matter of a judgment mistake: Biden's recent statements seem to show that he doesn't really regret the decision - that the unwillingness to keep troops in Afghanistan dominated the risk of having Taleban back in power. 2. I'm not sure there's still any low-hanging fruit concerning Afghanistan, but we still have many other poor countries in civil war where there is still hope of getting a viable democratic regime - like Haiti and Chad. Perhaps it could be useful to have a theory of what features make a "nation building effort" viable (like in East Timor) or not - and also what can be done to mitigate the harm caused by another government collapse. My current pet theory is that these efforts only have a winning chance when the corresponding country is afraid of being invaded by another foreign power; otherwise, the nation building effort is likely to be regarded as a  colonial invasion. 3. Even though I can only think of Taleban's return as catastrophic, I wonder if their recent displays of willingness to engage in international relations is only to get recognition for the new regime (implying we'll be back to middle age again in a few months), or if they're actually aiming to modernize a little bit (even if just to prevent another future invasion).  

Do emergency universal pass/fail policies improve or worsen student well-being and future career prospects?

I think a natural experiment is in order. Many colleges are adopting universal pass/fail grading for this semester in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, while others aren't. Someone should study the impact this will have on students to inform future university pandemic response policy.

Aaron Gertler
When suggestions of this type come up, especially for causes that don't have existing EA research behind them, my recommended follow-up is to look for people who study this as normal academics (here, "this" would be "ways that grades and grading policy influence student outcomes"). Then, write to professors who do this work and ask if they plan on taking advantage of the opportunity (here, the natural experiment caused by new grading policies). There's a good chance that the people you write to will have had this idea already (academics who study a subject are frequently on the lookout for opportunities of this kind, and the drastic changes wrought by COVID-19 should be increasing the frequency with which people think about related studies they could run). And if they haven't, you have the chance to inspire them! Writing to random professors could be intimidating, but in my experience, even when I've written emails like this as a private citizen without a .edu email address, I frequently get some kind of response; people who've made research their life's work are often happy to hear from members of the public who care about the same odd things they do.
Thanks for the suggestion! I imagine that most scholars are reeling from the upheavals caused by the pandemic response, so right now doesn't feel like the right time to ask professors to do anything. What do you think?
Aaron Gertler
Maybe a better question for late May or early June, when classes are over.
alex lawsen (previously alexrjl)
I think that's probably true for those working directly on the pandemic, but I'm not sure education researchers would mind being bothered. If anything they might welcome the distraction.

Reason to invest in cultivated meat research: we can use meat scaffolding technology to grow nervous tissue and put chemicals in the cell media that cause it to experience constant euphoria

I think improving bus systems in the United States (and probably other countries) could be a plausible Cause X.

Importance: Improving bus service would:

  • Increase economic output in cities
  • Dramatically improve quality of life for low-income residents
  • Reduce cities' carbon footprint, air pollution, and traffic congestion

Neglectedness: City buses probably don't get much attention because most people don't think very highly of them, and focus much more on novel transportation technologies like electric vehicles.

Tractability: According to Higashide, ... (read more)

Interesting post! Curious what you think of Jeff Kaufman's proposal to make buses more dangerous in the first world, the idea being that buses in the US are currently too far in the "safety" direction of the safety vs. convenience tradeoff. GiveWell also has a standout charity (Zusha!) working in the opposite direction, trying to get public service vehicles in Kenya to be safer.
I like Kaufman's second, third, and fourth ideas: * Allow the driver to start while someone is still at the front paying. (The driver should use judgment if they're allowed to do this, because the passenger at the front might lose their balance when the bus starts. Wheelchairs might be especially vulnerable to rolling back.) * Allow buses to drive 25mph on the shoulder of the highway in traffic jams where the main lanes are averaging below 10mph. * Higher speed limits for buses. Lets say 15mph over. (I'm not so sure about this: speed limits exist in part to protect pedestrians. Buses still cause fewer pedestrian and cyclist deaths than cars, though.) But these should be considered only after we've exhausted the space of improvements to bus service that don't sacrifice safety. For example, we should build more bus-only lanes first.
Wait, do buses some place not start moving until... everyone's sitting down? Does that mean there's enough seats for everyone?
I don't have statistics, but my best guess is that if you sample random points across all public buses running in America, in over 3/4 of the time, less than half of the seats are filled. This is extremely unlike my experiences in Asia (in China or Singapore).

Is there any appetite for a project to make high-risk, high-yield donation recommendations within global health and development? The idea would be to identify donation opportunities that could outperform the GiveWell top charities, especially ones that make long-lasting and systemic changes.

Possible research/forecasting questions to understand the economic value of AGI research

A common narrative about AI research is that we are on a path to AGI, in that society will be motivated to try to create increasingly general AI systems, culminating in AGI. Since this is a core assumption of the AGI risk hypothesis, I think it's very important to understand whether this is actually the case.

Some people have predicted that AI research funding will dry up someday as the costs start to outweigh the benefits, resulting in an "AI winter." Jeff Bigham wrote ... (read more)

Have you seen the Metaculus "Forecasting AI Progress" tournament?

I've realized that I feel less constrained when writing poetry than when writing essays/blog posts. Essays are more time-consuming for me - I spend a lot of time adding links, fact-checking my points, and organizing them in a coherent way, and I feel like I have to stake out a clear position when writing in prose. Whereas in poetry, the rules have more to do with making the form and content work well together, and evoking an emotional response in the reader.

I also think poetry is a good medium for expressing ambiguity. I've written a few draft poems in my ... (read more)

How pressing is countering anti-science?

Intuitively, anti-science attitudes seem like a major barrier to solving many of the world's most pressing problems: for example, climate change denial has greatly derailed the American response to climate change, and distrust of public health authorities may be stymying the COVID-19 response. (For instance, a candidate running in my district for State Senate is campaigning on opposition to contact tracing as well as vaccines.) I'm particularly concerned about anti-economics attitudes because they lead to bad economi

... (read more)
Aaron Gertler
Epistemic status: Almost entirely opinion, I'd love to hear counterexamples When I hear proposals related to instilling certain values widely throughout a population (or preventing the instillation of certain values), I'm always inherently skeptical. I'm not aware of many cases where something like this worked well, at least in a region as large, sophisticated, and polarized as the United States.  You could point to civil rights campaigns, which have generally been successful over long periods of time, but those had the advantage of being run mostly by people who were personally affected (= lots of energy for activism, lots of people "inherently" supporting the movement in a deep and personal way).  If you look at other movements that transformed some part of the U.S. (e.g. bioethics or the conservative legal movement, as seen in Open Phil's case studies of early field growth), you see narrow targeting of influential people rather than public advocacy.  Rather than thinking about "countering anti-science" more generally, why not focus on specific policies with scientific support? Fighting generically for "science" seems less compelling than pushing for one specific scientific idea ("masks work," "housing deregulation will lower rents"), and I can think of a lot of cases where scientific ideas won the day in some democratic context. This isn't to say that public science advocacy is pointless; you can reach a lot of people by doing that. But I don't think the people you reach are likely to "matter" much unless they actually campaign for some specific outcome (e.g. I wouldn't expect a scientist to swing many votes in a national election, but maybe they could push some funding toward an advocacy group for a beneficial policy). **** One other note: I ran a quick search to look for polls on public trust in science, but all I found was a piece from Gallup on public trust in medical advice.  Putting that aside, I'd still guess that a large majority of Americans woul
I think a more general, and less antagonizing, way to frame this is "increasing scientific literacy among the general public," where scientific literacy is seen as a spectrum. For example, increasing scientific literacy among climate activists might make them more likely to advocate for policies that more effectively reduce CO2 emissions.

Matt Yglesias gets EA wrong :(

What EAs think is that people should make decisions guided by a rigorous empirical evaluation based on consequentialist criteria.

Ummm, no. Not all EAs are consequentialists (although a large fraction of them are), and most EAs these days understand that "rigorous empirical evaluation" isn't the only way to reason about interventions.

It just gets worse from there:

In other words, effective altruists don’t think you should make charitable contributions to your church (again, relative to the mass public this is the most cont

... (read more)

Improving checks and balances on U.S. presidential power seems like an important, neglected, and tractable cause area.

  • Importance: There is a risk that U.S. federal government policy will become erratic, since each president can easily reverse the previous president's executive actions (for example, Biden reversed many of Trump's EOs during his first few weeks of office). The uncertainty makes it hard to reliably adapt to policy changes (this is a recognized challenge for businesses, and also applies to other interest groups, such as LGBTQ+ people, refugees
... (read more)

John, Katherine, Sarah, and Hank Green are making a $6.5M donation to Partners in Health to address the maternal mortality crisis in Sierra Leone, and are trying to raise $25M in total. PIH has been working with the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health to improve the quality of maternal care through facility upgrades, supplies, and training.

PIH blog postvlogbrothers video

[crossposted to r/neoliberal]

Epistemic status: Although I'm vaguely aware of the evidence on gender equality and peace, I'm not an expert on international relations. I'm somewhat confident in my main claim here.

Gender equality - in societies at large, in government, and in peace negotiations - may be an existential security factor insofar as it promotes societal stability and decreases international and intra-state conflict.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, women's participation in peacemaking and government at large improves the durability of peace agreements and social ... (read more)

I think the instrumental benefits of greater equality (racial, gender, economic, etc.) are hugely undersold, particularly by those of us who like to imagine that we're somehow "above" traditional social justice concerns (including myself in this group, reluctantly and somewhat shamefully). In this case, I think your thought is spot on and deserves a lot more exploration. I immediately thought of the claim (e.g. 1, 2) that teams with more women make better collective decisions. I haven't inspected this evidence in detail, but on an anecdotal level I am ready to believe it.
Note: I recognize that gender equality is a sensitive topic, so I welcome any feedback on how I could present this information better.

Effective Altruism and Freedom

I think freedom is very important as both an end and a means to the pursuit of happiness.

Economic theory posits a deep connection between freedom (both positive and negative) and well-being. When sufficiently rational people are free to make choices from a broader choice set, they can achieve greater well-being than they could with a smaller choice set. Raising people's incomes expands their choice sets, and consequently, their happiness - this is how GiveDirectly works.

I wonder what a form of effective altruism that focused o... (read more)

This sounds a lot like a version of preference utilitarianism, certainly an interesting perspective. I know a lot of effort in political philosophy has gone into trying to define freedom - personally, I don't think it's been especially productive, and so I think 'freedom' as a term isn't that useful except as rhetoric. Emphasising 'fulfilment of preferences' is an interesting approach, though. It does run into tricky questions around the source of those preferences (eg addiction).
Yeah, it is very similar to preference utilitarianism. I'm still undecided between hedonic and preference utilitarianism, but thinking about this made me lean more toward preference utilitarianism. What do you think is wrong with the current definitions of liberty? I think the concept of well-being is similarly vague. I tend to use different proxies for well-being interchangeably (fulfillment of preferences, happiness minus suffering, good health as measured by QALYs or DALYs, etc.) and I think this is common practice in EA. But I still think that freedom and well-being are useful concepts: for example, most people would agree that China has less economic and political freedom than the United States.
I don't mind rhetorical descriptions of China as having 'less economic and political freedom than the United States', in a very general discussion. But if you're going to make any sort of proposal like 'there should be more political freedom!' I would feel the need to ask many follow-up clarifying questions (freedom to do what? freedom from what consequences? freedom for whom?) to know whether I agreed with you. Well-being is vague too, I agree, but it's a more necessary term than freedom (from my philosophical perspective, and I think most others).

Worldview diversification for longtermism

I think it would be helpful to get more non-utilitarian perspectives on longtermism (or ones that don't primarily emphasize utilitarianism).

Some questions that would be valuable to address:

  • What non-utilitarian worldviews support longtermism?
  • Under a given longtermist non-utilitarian worldview, what are the top-priority problem areas, and what should actors to do address them?

Some reasons I think this would be valuable:

  1. We're working under a lot of moral uncertainty, so the more ethical perspectives, the better
... (read more)
Also just realised that the new legal priorities research agenda touches on this with some academic citations on pages 14 and 15.
Toby Ord has spoken about non-consequentialist arguments for existential risk reduction, which I think also work for longtermism more generally. For example, Ctlr+F for "What are the non-consequentialist arguments for caring about existential risk reduction?" in this link. I suspect relevant content is also in his book The Precipice. Some selected quotes from the first link: * "my main approach, the guiding light for me, is really thinking about the opportunity cost, so it's thinking about everything that we could achieve, and this great and glorious future that is open to us and that we could do" * "there are also these other foundations, which I think also point to similar things. One of them is a deontological one, where Edmund Burke, one of the founders of political conservatism, had this idea of the partnership of the generations. What he was talking about there was that we've had ultimately a hundred billion people who've lived before us, and they've built this world for us. And each generation has made improvements, innovations of various forms, technological and institutional, and they've handed down this world to their children. It's through that that we have achieved greatness ... is our generation going to be the one that breaks this chain and that drops the baton and destroys everything that all of these others have built? It's an interesting kind of backwards-looking idea there, of debts that we owe and a kind of relationship we're in. One of the reasons that so much was passed down to us was an expectation of continuation of this. I think that's, to me, quite another moving way of thinking about this, which doesn't appeal to thoughts about the opportunity cost that would be lost in the future." * "And another one that I think is quite interesting is a virtue approach ... When you look at humanity's current situation, it does not look like how a wise entity would be making decisions about its future. It looks incredibly juvenile and immature and li
Thanks for sharing these! I had Toby Ord's arguments from The Precipice in mind too.

I've been reading Adam Gopnik's book A Thousand Small Sanities: The Moral Adventure of Liberalism, which is about the meaning and history of liberalism as a political movement. I think many of the ideas that Gopnik discusses are relevant to the EA movement as well:

  • Moral circle expansion: To Gopnik, liberalism is primarily about calling for "the necessity and possibility of (imperfectly) egalitarian social reform and ever greater (if not absolute) tolerance of human difference" (p. 23). This means expanding the moral circle to include, at the least, all h
... (read more)
Aaron Gertler
Would you recommend the book itself to people interested in movement-building and/or "EA history"? Is there a good review/summary that you think would cover the important points in less time?
Yeah, I would recommend it to anyone interested in movement building, history, or political philosophy from an EA perspective. I'm interested in reconciling longtermism and liberalism. These paragraphs from the Guardian review summarize the main points of the book:

I've been thinking about AI safety again, and this is what I'm thinking:

The main argument of Stuart Russell's book focuses on reward modeling as a way to align AI systems with human preferences. But reward modeling seems more like an AI capabilities technology than an AI safety one. If it's really difficult to write a reward function for a given task Y, then it seems unlikely that AI developers would deploy a system that does it in an unaligned way according to a misspecified reward function. Instead, reward modeling makes it feasible to design an AI syste... (read more)

Steven Byrnes
Hmm, I remember him talking more about IRL and CIRL and less about reward modeling. But it's been a little while since I read it, could be wrong. Maybe there's an analogy where someone would say "If it's really difficult to prevent accidental release of pathogens from your lab, then it seems unlikely that bio researchers would do research on pathogens whose accidental release would be catastrophic". Unfortunately there's a horrifying many-decades-long track record of accidental release of pathogens from even BSL-4 labs, and it's not like this kind of research has stopped. Instead it's like, the bad thing doesn't happen every time, and/or things seem to be working for a while before the bad thing happens, and that's good enough for the bio researchers to keep trying. So as I talk about here, I think there are going to be a lot of proposals to modify an AI to be safe that do not in fact work, but do seem ahead-of-time like they might work, and which do in fact work for a while as training progresses. I mean, when x-risk-naysayers like Yann LeCun or Jeff Hawkins are asked how to avoid out-of-control AGIs, they can spout off a list of like 5-10 ideas that would not in fact work, but sound like they would. These are smart people and a lot of other smart people believe them too. Also, even something as dumb as "maximize the amount of money in my bank account" would plausibly work for a while and do superhumanly-helpful things for the programmers, before it starts doing superhumanly-bad things for the programmers. Yup, if you don't get corrigibility then you failed.

Content warning: missing persons, violence against women, racism.

Amid the media coverage of the Gabby Petito case in the United States, there's been some discussion of how missing persons cases for women and girls of color are more neglected than those for missing White women. Some statistics:

Black girls and women go missing at high rates, but that isn't reflected in news coverage of missing persons cases. In 2020, of the 268,884 girls and women who were reported missing, 90,333, or nearly 34% of them, were Black, according to the National Crime Informatio

... (read more)
Nathan Young
Hey, thanks for writing this.  I'm not quite sure I understand. Do you think this is an issue that isn't worked on enough?

I don't know how neglected it is compared to EA's standard portfolio of issues (U.S. issues tend to get disproportionate attention from Americans), but I think it's an interesting example of how people outside EA have applied importance and neglectedness to call attention to neglected issues.

Wild idea: Install a small modular reactor in a charter city and make energy its biggest export!

Charter cities' advantage is their lax regulatory environment relative to their host countries. Such permissiveness could be a good environment for deploying nuclear reactors, which are controversial and regulated to death in many countries. Charter cities are good environments for experimenting with governance structures; they can also be good for experimenting with controversial technologies.

Epistemic status: Tentative thoughts.

I think that medical AI could be a nice way to get into the AI field for a few reasons:

  • You'd be developing technology that improves global health by a lot. For example, according to the WHO, "The use of X-rays and other physical waves such as ultrasound can resolve between 70% and 80% of diagnostic problems, but nearly two-thirds of the world's population has no access to diagnostic imaging."[1] Computer vision can make radiology more accessible to billions of people around the world, as this project is trying to do.
... (read more)

Stuart Russell: Being human and navigating interpersonal relationships will be humans' comparative advantage when artificial general intelligence is realized, since humans will be better at simulating other humans' minds than AIs will. (Human Compatible, chapter 4)

Also Stuart Russell: Automated tutoring!! (Human Compatible, chapter 3)

In theory, any ethical system that provides a total order over actions - basically, a relation that says "action  is better than action " - is compatible with the "effective" part of effective altruism. The essence of effective altruism, then, is following a decision rule that says to choose the best action  available to you in any given situation.

As for the "altruism" part of EA, an ethical system would have to place value on "what's good/right for others," broadly defined. Usually that's the well-being of other individuals (as... (read more)

Effective giving, deontologist edition

I've got an idea for how to communicate the idea of effective giving to people even if they don't subscribe to consequentialist ethics.

I'm gonna assume that when deontologists and virtue ethicists donate, they still care about outcomes, but not for the same reasons as consequentialists. For example, a deontologist might support anti-bullying charities to reduce bullying because bullying is wrong behavior, not just because bullying has bad consequences. This person should still seek out charities that are more cost-effective at reducing bullying to donate to.

Epistemic status: Raw thoughts that I've just started to think about. I'm highly uncertain about a lot of this.

Some works that have inspired my thinking recently:

Reading/listening to these works has caused me to reevaluate the risks posed by advanced artificial intelligence. While AI risk is currently the top cause in x-risk reduction

... (read more)
Marjolein Oostrom
Have you read “Methods of Math Destruction” or “Invisible Women”? Both are on how bias in mostly white, mostly well/off, mostly male developers lead to unfair but self enforcing ai systems.

Some links about the alleged human male fertility crisis - it's been suggested that this may lead to population decline, but a 2021 study has pointed out flaws in the research claiming a decline in sperm count:

I didn't find this response very convincing. Apart from attempting to smear the researchers as racist, it seems their key argument is that while sperm counts appear to have fallen from towards the top to the bottom of the 'normal' range, they're still within the range. But this 'normal' range is fairly arbitrary, and if the decline continues presumably we will go below the normal range in the future. 

I don't know if this subject is still of interest to you, but Scott wrote a detailed review of the subject here; he concluded with essentially a 50% probability that we are seeing significant declines. There is also a Manifold market on the subject here.

Joan Gass (2019) recommends four areas of international development to focus on:

  • New modalities to foster economic productivity
  • New modalities or ways to develop state capabilities
  • Global catastrophic risks, particularly pandemic preparedness
  • Meta EA research on cause prioritization within global development

Improving state capabilities, or governments' ability to render public services, seems especially promising for public-interest technologists interested in development (ICT4D). For example, the Zenysis platform helps developing-world governments make d... (read more)

Practical/economic reasons why companies might not want to build AGI systems

(Originally posted on the EA Corner Discord server.)

First, most companies that are using ML or data science are not using SOTA neural network models with a billion parameters, at least not directly; they're using simple models, because no competent data scientist would use a sophisticated model where a simpler one would do. Only a small number of tech companies have the resources or motivation to build large, sophisticated models (here I'm assuming, like OpenAI does, that model siz... (read more)

Vaccine hesitancy might be a cause X (no, really!)

One thing that stuck out to me in the interview between Rob Wiblin and Ezra Klein is how much of a risk vaccine hesitancy poses to the US government's public health response to COVID:

But there are other things where the conservatism is coming from the simple fact, to put this bluntly, they deal with the consequences of a failure in a way you and I don’t. You and I are sitting here, like, “Go faster. The trade-offs are obvious here.” They are saying, “Actually, no. The trade-offs are not obvious. If this goe

... (read more)

Prevent global anastrophe we must.

I think there should be an EA Fund analog for criminal justice reform. This could especially attract non-EA dollars.

Update: This could be run by Just Impact. Maybe they already have something like this.

A social constructivist perspective on long-term AI policy

I think the case for addressing the long-term consequences of AI systems holds even if AGI is unlikely to arise.

The future of AI development will be shaped by social, economic and political factors, and I'm not convinced that AGI will be desirable in the future or that AI is necessarily progressing toward AGI. However, (1) AI already has large positive and negative effects on society, and (2) I think it's very likely that society's AI capabilities will improve over time, amplifying these effects and creating new benefits and risks in the future.

A series of polls by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs show that Americans increasingly support free trade and believe that free trade is good for the U.S. economy (87%, up from 59% in 2016). This is probably a reaction to the negative effects and press coverage of President Trump's trade wars - anecdotally, I have seen a lot of progressives who would otherwise not care about or support free trade criticize policies such as Trump's steel tariffs as reckless.

I believe this presents a unique window of opportunity to educate the American public ... (read more)

Social constructivism and AI

I have a social constructivist view of technology - that is, I strongly believe that technology is a part of society, not an external force that acts on it. Ultimately, a technology's effects on a society depend on the interactions between that technology and other values, institutions, and technologies within that society. So for example, although genetic engineering may enable human gene editing, the specific ways in which humans use gene editing would depend on cultural attitudes and institutions regarding the technology.

How... (read more)

Latex markdown test:

When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for people to dissolve the political bands that tie it with another

Aaron Gertler
Did you mean to leave this published after finishing the test? (Not a problem if so; just wanted to check.)
In an ironic turn of events, you leaving this comment has made it so that the comment can no longer be unpublished (since users can only delete their comments if they have no replies). 
Aaron Gertler
However, if evelynciara had replied "yes," I'd have removed the thread in their stead ;-)
Yes, I did. But I think it would be more valuable if we had a better Markdown editor or a syntax key.
Aaron Gertler
Noted. And thanks for having added your suggestions on the suggestion thread already.

Table test - Markdown

Column A Column B Column C
Cell A1 Cell B1 Cell C1
Cell A2 Cell B2 Cell C2
Cell A3 Cell B3 Cell C3
Seems to work surprisingly well!

If you're looking at where to direct funding for U.S. criminal justice reform:

List of U.S. states and territories by incarceration and correctional supervision rate

On this page, you can sort states (and U.S. territories) by total prison/jail population, incarceration rate per 100,000 adults, or incarceration rate per 100,000 people of all ages - all statistics as of year-end 2016.

As of 2016, the 10 states with the highest incarceration rates per 100,000 people were:

  1. Oklahoma (990 prisoners/100k)
  2. Louisiana (970)
  3. Mississippi (960)
  4. Georgia (880)
  5. Alabama (840
... (read more)

I'm playing Universal Paperclips right now, and I just had an insight about AI safety: Just programming the AI to maximize profits instead of paperclips wouldn't solve the control problem.

You'd think that the AI can't destroy the humans because it needs human customers to make money, but that's not true. Instead, the AI could sell all of its paperclips to another AI that continually melts them down and turns them back into wire, and they would repeatedly sell paperclips and wire back and forth to each other, both powered by free sunlight. Bonus points if the AIs take over the central bank.

Can someone please email me a copy of this article?

I'm planning to update the Wikipedia article on Social discount rate, but I need to know what the article says.

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