This is a frame that I have found useful and I'm sharing in case others find it useful.
EA has arguably gone through several waves:
|Waves of EA (highly simplified model — see caveats below)|
|First wave||Second wave||Third wave|
|Primary call to action||Donations to effective charities||Career change|
|Primary target audience||Middle-upper-class people||University students and early career professionals|
|Flagship cause area||Global health and development||Longtermism|
|Major hubs||Oxford > SF Bay > Berlin (?)||SF Bay > Oxford > London > DC > Boston|
The boundaries between waves are obviously vague and somewhat arbitrary. This table is also overly simplistic – I first got involved in EA through animal welfare, which is not listed at all on this table, for example. But I think this is a decent first approximation.
It’s not entirely clear to me whether we are actually in a third wave. People often overestimate the extent to which their local circumstances are unique. But there are two main things which make me think that we have a “wave” which is distinct from, say, mid 2022:
- Substantially less money, through a combination of Meta stock falling, FTX collapsing, and general market/crypto downturns
- AI safety becoming (relatively) mainstream
If I had to choose an arbitrary date for the beginning of the third wave, I might choose March 22, 2023, when the FLI open letter on pausing AI experiments was published.
It remains to be seen if public concern about AI is sustained – Superintelligence was endorsed by a bunch of fancy people when it first came out, but they mostly faded away. If it is sustained though, I think EA will be in a qualitatively new regime: one where AI safety worries are common, AI safety is getting a lot of coverage, people with expertise in AI safety might get into important rooms, and where the field might be less neglected.
Third wave EA: what are some possibilities?
Here are a few random ideas; I am not intending to imply that these are the most likely scenarios.
|Example future scenario||Politics and Civil Society||Forefront of weirdness||Return to non-AI causes|
|Description of the possible “third wave” — chosen to illustrate the breadth of possibilities||There is substantial public appetite to heavily regulate AI. The technical challenges end up being relatively easy. The archetypal EA project is running a grassroots petition for a moratorium on AI.||AI safety becomes mainstream and "spins out" of EA. EA stays at the forefront of weirdness and the people who were previously interested in AI safety turn their focus to digital sentience, acausal moral trade, and other issues that still fall outside the Overton window.||AI safety becomes mainstream and "spins out" of EA. AI safety advocates leave EA, and vibes shift back to “first wave” EA.|
|Primary constraint||Political will||Research||Money|
|Primary call to action||Voting/advocacy||Research||Donations|
|Primary target audience||Voters in US/EU||Future researchers (university students)||Middle-upper class people|
|Flagship cause area||AI regulation||Digital sentience||Animal welfare|
Where do we go from here?
- I’m interested in organizing more projects like EA Strategy Fortnight. I don’t feel very confident about what third wave EA should look like, or even that there will be a third wave, but it does seem worth spending time discussing the possibilities.
- I'm particularly interested in claims that there isn't, or shouldn't be, a third wave of EA (i.e. please feel free to disagree with the whole model, argue that we’re still in wave 2, argue we might be moving towards wave 3 but shouldn’t be, etc.).
- I’m also interested in generating cruxes and forecasts about those cruxes. A lot of these are about the counterfactual value of EA, e.g. will digital sentience become “a thing” without EA involvement?
Thanks to a bunch of people for comments on earlier drafts, including ~half of my coworkers at CEA, particularly Lizka. “Waves” terminology stolen from feminism, and the idea that EA has been through waves and is entering a third wave is adapted from Will MacAskill, though I think he has a slightly different framing, but he still deserves a lot of the credit here.
Starting date is somewhat arbitrarily chosen from the history listed here.
Arbitrarily choosing the coining of the word “longtermism” as the starting event of the second wave
Although Meta stock is back up since I first wrote this; I would be appreciative if someone could do an update on EA funding
Analogy from Will MacAskill: Quakers:EA::Abolition:AI Safety