Effective Altruism Making Waves

byEvan_Gaensbauer3mo15th Nov 201816 comments


Over the last few years, I've noticed how bits and pieces of effective altruism have become mainstream. A couple weeks ago when I watched a YouTube video on my smartphone, there was an ad for the Beyond Burger available at A&W's across Canada. A&W's is one of the biggest fast food franchises in North America, and the Beyond Burger is a product from Beyond Meat, which has received support from the Good Food Institute, which in turn has received funding from the Open Philanthropy Project. This means effective altruism played a crucial role in the development of a consumer product that millions of people will be exposed to.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) developments make the headlines on a regular basis, especially regarding a coming age of automation looming in the near future. While concerns about existential risks from transformative AI are distinct from what issues regarding AI are most common in the public consciousness, whenever AI comes up in conversation I ask if people have heard about the AI safety concerns raised by public figures like Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Stephen Hawking. Most people I talk to when I bring this up have heard about it, and have a positive as opposed to negative attitude toward the idea the development of AI should be managed to minimize the chances it poses threats to humanity's safety or security. This is all anecdotal, but in my everyday life interacting with people outside EA, I'm surprised by how many people have some level of awareness of AI safety. It's been at least a couple dozen people.

I imagine because charities focused on helping the poor in the developing the world are so common, among the general public awareness of global poverty alleviation efforts advocated by EA relative to other charitable work in the developing world is probably pretty low. But among my circles of friends also participating in social movements or intellectual communities, such as the rationality community, or a variety of political or activist movements, most acquaintances I meet and friends I meet locally have already heard of effective altruism, and generally have a positive impression of EA topics like effective giving, and organizations like Givewell.

While the phrase 'effective altruism' isn't on everyone's lips, it seems like a significant proportion of the whole population of Canada and the United States is aware of things done to improve the world that effective altruism played an early hand in making happen. Overall, in the last couple years, how much more I notice connections to EA in my everyday life, unrelated to EA, is much more common. I don't know if this predicts or not a spike in growth and awareness of EA among the general public in the near future. But I've found it very surprising just how noticeable the early successes of the EA movement so far by how far and wide things EA as a movement has had a hand in have impacted the world. Does anyone else have a similar experience?