One of the coolest EA things I saw during the pandemic was the creation of the microCOVID risk tracker by an EA group house in San Francisco. To me, it was a really inspiring example of the principles of effective altruism in action — using rationality and curiosity to solve a concrete problem to make people’s lives better.
I was having a dinner party with some friends last night with a theme of how we could improve indoor air safety, starting with our local community in New York. (Some background here on how my colleagues at 1Day Sooner and i think about the air safety problem). How can we get buildings to clean the air (by filtering it, mixing it with outdoor air, and sterilizing it with ultraviolet light) so that people don’t suffer from pollution and pathogens?
We were discussing what was feasible to accomplish politically and were struggling because a standard answer to “what air safety interventions are optimal for a space to adopt?” doesn’t yet exist. We agreed that it would be uniquely valuable to recruit early adopters (e.g. tech companies, private schools, universities) to try out solutions and test them for effectiveness in reducing disease. If well-designed, this could generate experimental evidence on effectiveness and create a template for later adopters and governments to implement.
An obvious place to start would be the EA community and trying to get EA spaces to implement air safety measures (like installing filters and upper-room UV light). There are a number of organizations that could fit the bill, and I’m aware of at least one that is exploring doing this in their own office.
One suggestion that uniquely resonated with me was the idea that the next EA Global (after EAG DC) should make its air safe. (That is, it should have a respiratory infection risk level it tries to achieve, some surrogate targets it aims to measure, and a set of indoor air interventions that are reasonably likely to achieve the intended risk level).
I don’t think this will be easy and in fact I think it might be more likely than not that we fail. But part of what is valuable about EA is our commitment to learning from failure and improve over time. Trying to implement air safety interventions will teach us about the existing gaps that need to be filled, which will get us closer for the next EAG (and EAGx) until we get to a point where we’re proud of our community for becoming safer and a better model for achieving good outcomes elsewhere.
I recognize it already takes a tremendous amount of effort to run EA Global, and I appreciate the work CEA does putting these events on. So my intention is not to create additional burden. But biosecurity is a cause many EAs are passionate about, and air safety is one of the most promising interventions to achieve deterrence-by-denial of engineered respiratory biothreats. I feel like making our own spaces safe from pathogens is a challenge that our community can and should rise to and that doing so will have outsized benefits on our ability to accomplish future policy. If you're interested in helping with this, let me know.