Epistemic status: Divine revelation.

EA community builders have recently launched programs targeting children as young as 12 or 13. This work is a substantial improvement on the status quo, but we think it is ineffective compared to outreach to even younger children. In this post, we make the basic case for infant outreach, then list several possible interventions.

Why infant outreach?

The simple answer is that infant outreach rates high on scale, tractability, and neglectedness.

  • Scale: the 0-5 age cohort is the largest five-year age cohort, containing 4.4% of the world population, and a substantial fraction of this is infants.
  • Neglectedness: To our knowledge, there are currently no large EA outreach efforts directed at infants. In the OpenPhil EA/LT survey of 217 longtermists, just 0% of respondents heard about EA or EA-adjacent ideas before age 2.
  • Tractability is obvious.

In addition, there are several factors that might make the scale of infant outreach even larger than expected:

  • Flynn effect (IQ steadily increases over time) means that average newborns are 4.24 IQ points higher than average 20-year-olds, and should be better alignment researchers.
  • Whereas high school and college students are often very busy, infants spend most of their time in unstructured play and have more time to learn about EA content.
  • Infant careers will be slightly closer to the future, making their uncertainty smaller and their actions higher leverage.
  • Infants are often sufficiently cute that they can substantially affect the opinions of their family and colleagues.

EA daycare groups

University groups have found success with the Intro Program and further cause-specific fellowships. Clearly, this model should also be applied to the world's top 20 daycares, targeting the cutest and most talented infants within those daycares. But since most infants cannot read, the standard Intro Program format will not work. I propose an adapted format: each week should be split into a readings section (where material is read to the students in a voice that is soothing yet serious) and discussions section, with nap-time in the middle.

To create highly engaged infants (HEIs), we also propose the Hercules Fellowship, a program creating a path for talented students under the age of two to drop out of daycare to pursue ambitious career opportunities. The Hercules Fellowship will provide financial and technical support to infants on this unconventional path, with the hope of matching students up with charity entrepreneurship ideas, research directions, and internships. The mythical hero Hercules created the Milky Way Galaxy as an infant, so we think this is a fitting name to inspire the most ambitious HEIs.

The Hercules Fellowship application can be as rigorous as other applications despite its target demographic. Applicants will have two toys placed in front of them, one of which represents a promising intervention. Applicants that consistently choose the promising toy will be selected for the fellowship.

Cause areaToy 1 (promising)Toy 2 (unpromising)
Global health and developmentMalaria netPlayPumps model 
Animal welfare1,000 chickensStray dog
Technical AI alignmentAn ELK 🦌AI containment box 🤖📦
Meta-EAFunding proposal for infant outreachFunding proposal for existing EA outreach
BiosecurityText of an improved UN Biological Weapons ConventionText of the current UN Biological Weapons Convention


 

As the number of HEIs grows, we expect further room for investment into infants to increase their effectiveness; for example, we think Nonlinear is particularly well-positioned to hire nannies for top infants, and eventually makeup artists to increase the cuteness of infants in community-building roles.

EA toys and activities

We can think of two classes of toys that would help infants to be more effective: those that convey key EA intuitions, and those that build technical skills. Both classes of toy include simple modifications to existing toys.

To build intuitions, we have the following toy proposals:

  • Most bead maze toys have around 10 beads. To counter scope insensitivity, we should create a bead maze with around 1050 beads, to help infants understand the astronomical number of future people that could exist.
  • Most animal toys either are totally inanimate or make sounds regardless of their capacity for suffering. To build correct intuitions, more morally valuable animals should make louder cries of pain. We propose a new line of stuffed animals that, when squeezed, cries with a volume proportional to the neuron count.
  • Most young children fail the Trolley Problem, because they have little experience with moral dilemmas as infants. The animal toys mentioned above could be extended into a trolley problem kit.
  • Few games played with infants let the infant compete against its parent. We think this misses a valuable opportunity; parents should compete against infants in conventional sports like baseball and water polo. Parents will utterly dominate the infant and all its friends, due to their ability to throw, run, and swim. This would help infants understand that a misaligned AI could apply strategies outside human capacity, far exceed the human range of skill, and quickly achieve world domination.
  • Bedtime stories told to infants should be replaced with transhumanist fables, which convey much more realistic intuition.

 

To build technical skills, we have the following proposals:

  • Infants should be taught to "shut up and multiply", but common pacifiers only teach half of that skill. A pacifier can be easily integrated with a graphing calculator to teach multiplication and Fermi estimates, providing pathways towards global priorities research careers.
  • Modify the common stacking rings toy into the very similar Tower of Hanoi, and include a series of exercises that guide the infant into a recursive proof of the solution.
  • When teaching infants to count, we can simultaneously teach them mathematical rigor, the set-theoretic foundations behind numbers, and the Lean automated proof assistant, through the natural number game.

Substantial effort should be spent to prototype these toys, measure their effectiveness through rigorous psychometric techniques, and scale the most promising ideas.

What about prenatal outreach?

The same factors that make outreach to infants more impactful than to older children or adolescents may in fact push the optimal age for outreach before birth. In particular, fetuses have even fewer demands on their time than infants; most spend up to 9 months not being productive. Prenatal outreach is largely outside the scope of this post. However, we have high-confidence ideas that should be explored immediately, like a version of the 80,000 Hours Podcast that is enunciated clearly enough to be heard from inside the womb.[1]

  1. ^

    Another idea is to encourage zygotes to split into identical twins, potentially doubling their impact.

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I can't believe how irresponsible this post is!!

Teaching kids how to solve the Tower of Hanoi? The game that is said to end the world when one such puzzle is finished?? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_Hanoi#Origins

Even if we only put a tiny probability of those stories being true the outcome is bad enough that we should avoid it at all costs! We should instead be teaching people to always solve Tower of Hanoi's incorrectly. The cost of failing some technical interview is worth it to not risk ending the world!

Thanks for this! Laughed out loud at "Tractability is obvious."

And we have joked about making an EA daycare for the co-working space in Berlin...

This is the high-impact opportunity I've been looking for my entire life! I've sold off all my stocks, my house and everything else I own, to maximize my donations to this project.

Mmm I sense a short life thusfar. I posit that the shorter the life thusfar the more likely you are to feel this way. How high impact! Think of all the impact we can make on the impactable ones! 

This is very well written.

LOL "0% of respondents heard about EA or EA-adjacent ideas before age 2."

this is pretty friggin epic