I started writing my EAG Bay Area application tonight (as any chronic procrastinator does), and instead ended up whipping up my backstory and a public declaration of my life's mission.
I moved to Berkeley in July of 2022 without knowing what EA was. I moved to California alone at 18 because I needed to find a community that both shared a similar fervor for their work, and had values that aligned with mine. Rolling back a couple of months, to May of my senior year of high school, I knew my time was coming to an end. I had so few days left to leave a tangible impact on a community I loved so dearly. I had grown a deep-rooted seed of love in my heart for my senior class, as well as the underclassmen I had mentored in sports, and academic tutoring.
I was brought up in a Christian household with core values of love, kindness, and responsibility. As I grew up, I tied these three values together, so by the time I was a senior in high school, the class president, and well-liked by my peers and administrators, I knew I needed to make a difference. I used the skills and ideas that I possessed to make my high school a better place for my peers, in return for the community and friendships they provided. But this love, and drive to make the community better extended beyond my peers.
I had grown up doing service projects, packing meals with Feed My Starving Children, helping the homeless during the George Floyd murder and riots near my home, and helping people who needed it. I grew up with two polar opposite perspectives from my parents. I had been instilled with the values of love and kindness from my mother, who would always go out of her way to make those around her comfortable and content. On the other side, my father, an observant, methodical engineer, taught me to think about why things worked the way they did. I ended up with a blend of these traits, which led me to sit in a hotel room one night in West Yellowstone, staying up until 2 am, reading about effective charities to which I could donate my money.
I was raised to work hard and earn my own money from a young age. I started caddying at the local country club at the age of 12, and by the age of 16, I had earned over $10,000 the previous summer. A little over a year before Yellowstone, I had decided that I would start donating a portion of my money. I had always tithed as a child, and at 15, my friend’s brother had recently become a quadriplegic, and I felt compelled to give $500 of my own money to help pay for rehab services.
At 15, I realized that there were two intuitive components to altruism, one of which I had been missing at the church. 1) I would donate my resources to causes that I felt passionate about, as I believed there was an emotional element that I needed to acknowledge which is hard coded into humans, that we as humans should help those around us, to preserve the lives of others, and further our collective existence. 2) I wanted to give to causes that I knew my money would go to good use for. I started to question how my money had been used at church, and where my money was going when I donated to charitable causes such as WorldVision, and the Salvation Army. I needed transparency. I needed to know that the time and energy I had put into earning my funds, was saving lives equally if not, better than I could if I used my time to save lives directly.
Flash forward to July of 2022, I sat in the Berkeley WeWork astounded that I had just talked to someone who shared the same passion that I had to make the world a better place, because of their love for humanity, as well as their desire to use their time effectively, and ask questions about why people did the things they did and acted the way they do. I soon stumbled across “Purchase Fuzzies and Utilons Separately”, and learned about the concept of Scope Insensitivity. I was challenged in my beliefs, with compelling arguments. I grappled with the idea that humans have intrinsic logical fallacies, that when identified and changed, have the chance to save human lives. But I was most drawn to the effective altruism community due to the openness of the discussion of ideas, and pursuit of truth. I was referred to the Peter Singer interview with Richard Dawkins and was sufficiently compelled by the argument to test being vegan for two months. I was swayed by the logical arguments, that also weaved in compelling emotional arguments. I myself wanted to learn to reason like Peter Singer.
I sympathize with the tweet, “I just feel like EA has gotten so intellectualized that the compassion part has been left behind”. I agree with the perspective that too many theoretical conversions can drag down the empirical “doing good” aspect of Effective Altruism (I’ve noticed this failure mode among rationalists in particular), but I also think that social groups and the motivation provided by immediate communities are overlooked when using the “doing the most good, the most effectively” lens for everything we do.
I decided to involve myself more in the community. I joined the UC Berkeley Effective Altruism group and attended weekly discussions. I joined a “What We Owe the Future” reading group, and invested time into learning about AI Safety. I engaged the group leaders with questions I had about the movement, and the suspiciously large amounts of funding. I went to the UC Berkeley EA retreat and attended parties and socials in the greater Berkeley community. I spoke with AI Safety researchers, animal welfare supporters, and students, as well as adults in my life, who had concerns about the movement. I strived to come up with my own beliefs for why I acted the way I did, and why I cared about humanity. I decided that ultimately I need a community of people I love around me to care for and give back to, but I recognize my cognitive biases and realize that I can and will think critically about my actions to improve the world and the lives of those who most need improvement. I most resonate with the theory of improving the baseline standard of life for as many of those in the world as possible, and I plan to commit my life to this mission.
I’ve used my interactions within the EA community to add a couple of PR's to the creation of the “Cage Free Hub” website from The Global Food Partners, to connect cage-free buyers and sellers in Asia. I’ve helped organize group events for the UC Berkeley EA group (an end-of-semester party with a GPT-3 made scavenger hunt and a puzzle hunt on the retreat), I’ve planned two hackathons- both the UC Berkeley AIS x Stanford Alignment Jam, as well as helping with the logistics and website building for the post-EAG Bay Area hackathon. I’ve begun donating to the Against Malaria Foundation. I recognize the danger that unaligned AI imposes and I want to help ensure the robust alignment of human values with rapidly developing AI, and plan to study how to best do this in college.
In summary, my move to Berkeley in July 2022 marked the beginning of my journey into the world of effective altruism. Born and raised with values of love, kindness, and responsibility, I was driven to make a positive impact on the world and had always been involved in service projects and charitable causes. Upon discovering the effective altruism community in Berkeley, I was drawn to its openness to discussion, the pursuit of truth, and its application of logic and reason to solving some of the world's most pressing problems. Despite some criticism that effective altruism can become too intellectualized and lose its compassionate edge, I saw the value in both the logical and emotional aspects of the movement and became more involved in the community through attending meetings, reading groups, and retreats. I strived to come to my conclusions about the movement and its impact, balancing my own beliefs and experiences with the perspectives of those around me and the rest of the world.
To some extent this is more or less a description of the brigthest side of the American Dream. It would be interesting to know what projects are you interested in.
Hi Arturo! I am currently working as a software developer intern at Indeed, and live in Berkeley. I'm helping out BASIS (the UC Berkeley AIS group) with logistics and event planning, as well as helping make Rob Miles TikTok videos, volunteering for Solar4Africa on their small solar car project to implement a "data collection phone" which records GPS and photos, self studying linear algebra and going through the AGISF with a group.
I'm interested in developing the skills and habits that will help me learn sustainably, and achieve academic excellence in college. I want to work on mini-projects within the projects listed above, that I'm passionate about (such as adding a feature on the BASIS website to interact with a graphical representation of the AIS pipeline), learning how to animate (for the TikTok videos, in a way that adds value and retention), and start doing more hands on work, such as wet labs, sewing, or building an electric bike, to re-discover my passion for biology and hands on work.
What an incredible energy! Good luck with those projects!
Very nice- where did you first hear about Feed My Starving Children?
My church also packed meals for FMSC for many years (our youth group also did 30 Hour Famine and would sometimes do this during that time).
Thanks for your work!