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TLDR

So, you think you’re an effective altruist? Okay, show us what you got — invest in charitable projects, then see how you do over the coming year. If you pick winners, you get (charitable) prizes; otherwise, you lose your (charitable) dollars. Also, you get to fund impactful projects. Win-win.

Click here to see the projects and to start investing!


What’s ACX/ACX Grants?

Astral Codex Ten (ACX) is a blog written by Scott Alexander on topics like effective altruism, reasoning, science, psychiatry, medicine, ethics, genetics, AI, economics, and politics. ACX Grants is a grants program in which Scott Alexander helps fund charitable and scientific projects — see the 2022 cohort here and his retrospective on ACX Grants 2022 here.

What do you mean by “invest in ACX Grants projects”?

In ACX Grants 2024, some of the applications were given direct grants and the rest were given the option to participate in an impact market.

Impact markets are an alternative to grants or donations as a way to fund charitable projects. A collection of philanthropies announces that they'll be giving out prizes for the completion of successful, effectively altruistic projects that solve important problems the philanthropies care about. Project creators then strike out to build projects that solve those problems. If they need money to get started, investors can buy a “stake” in the project's possible future prize winnings, called an “impact certificate.” (You can read more about how impact markets generally work here, and a canonical explanation of impact certificates on the EA Forum here.)

Four philanthropic funders have expressed interest in giving prizes to successful projects in this round:

So, after a year, the above philanthropies will review the projects in the impact market to see which ones have had the highest impact.

Okay, but why would I want to buy impact certificates? Why not just donate directly to the project?

Giving direct donations is great! But purchasing impact certificates can also have some advantages over direct donations:

Better feedback

Direct donation can have pretty bad feedback loops about what sorts of things end up actually being effective/successful. After a year, the philanthropies listed above will review the projects to see which ones are impactful — and award prizes to the ones that they find most impactful. You get to see how much impact per-dollar your investments returned, giving you grounded feedback.

Improving your modeling of grant-makers

Purchasing impact certificates forces you to put yourself in the eyes of a grant-maker — you can look through a bunch of projects that might be impactful, and, with your donation budget, select the ones you expect to have the most impact. It also pushes you to model the philanthropies with great feedback. What sorts of things do they care about? Why? What are their primary theories of change? How will the project sitting in front of you relevantly improve the world in a way they actually care about?

Make that charitable moolah 🤑

If you invest in projects that end up being really impactful, then you’ll get a share of the charitable prize funding that projects win! All of this remains as charitable funding, so you’ll be able to donate it to whatever cause you think is most impactful. For example, if you invest $100 into a project that wins a prize worth 2x it’s original valuation, you can then choose to donate $200 to a charity or project of your choice!

Who’s giving out the prizes at the end?

Four philanthropic funders have expressed interest in giving prizes[1] to successful projects that align with their interests:

Next year’s ACX Grants round (2025) will be interested in spending some of the money they normally give out as prizes for the projects that succeeded in this year’s (2024) round. ACX Grants 2025 will be most interested in giving out prizes to charities that pursue novel ways to change complex systems, either through technological breakthroughs, new social institutions, or targeted political change. The Long Term Future Fund (LTFF) and the Survival and Flourishing Fund (SFF) focus on the long-term future, including but not limited to AI safety, forecasting, and longtermist community building. The EA Infrastructure Fund focuses on EA community-building. You can find previous lists of grants funded by ACXG, the LTFF, the EAIF, and the SFF.

Anyone can invest in projects — including you!

Awesome! How do I start investing?

Click here to see all of the projects that you can invest in.

If you’re interested in learning more about investing on an impact market, donating to projects directly, or even just chatting about this sort of thing, you can email saul@manifund.org or book a call here.

  1. ^

    These “prizes” are sometimes called “retroactive funding."

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:43 AM

Glancing over the projects, I am confused about how some of them fit into the theoretical case for impact certificates as I understand it. Of course, my understanding could be incomplete or even wrong! To pick two examples, chosen because they are more legible as examples rather than out of any view of their merits:

  • Someone would like funding for an MPhil or MPhil/PhD. I can see how we would have a significantly better view on how impactful this grant (if made) was ~5-10 years down the future. I don't understand how the grantmakers are likely to have a better view of the grant's impact in spring 2025 than they have in spring 2024.
  • Someone would like funding to distribute books. It's unlikely we could ever reasonably and cost-effectively know how impactful this grant was. Even with ~twenty years' hindsight, figuring out the positive impact of the recipients and how much (if any) of that impact to assign to receiving a book sounds like a questionable use of resources.

I appreciate the desire for shorter feedback loops to prove / improve the impact-certificate model. But for these kinds of projects, it seems like we aren't really measuring impact -- we are guessing how the grantmakers will evaluate these projects a year later on much the same information that is available now. 

There are, of course, reasons one might want to do that. If I recall correctly, SFF does something vaguely similar to address grant opportunities that are too time-sensitive to wait for the next grantmaking cycle. But here, I'm having a hard time understanding the value proposition of devoting resources to predict how grantmakers will view the projected impact of these projects in ~12 months' time on ~the same information. 

hey jason, thanks for leaving your thoughts! i wrote a lot below — if you'd prefer to talk about this over a call, i'd be down! (i'd also be happy to take notes on the call and post them in this thread, for anyone who comes across it later. i'll update this comment if/when that happens.)

***

it looks like you had some uncertainty about how we're concretely planning to go about reviewing projects that will still be uncertain ~12 months from now. concretely, the way that the philanthropies will review projects a year from now is listed here:

Final oracular funders will operate on a model where they treat retrospective awards the same as prospective awards, multiplied by a probability of success. For example, suppose LTFF would give a $20,000 grant to a proposal for an AI safety conference, which they think has a 50% chance of going well. Instead, an investor buys the impact certificate for that proposal, waits until it goes well, and then sells it back to LTFF. They will pay $40,000 for the certificate, since it’s twice as valuable as it was back when it was just a proposal with a 50% success chance.

however, you also have a more substantive point:

I'm having a hard time understanding the value proposition of devoting resources to predict how grantmakers will view the projected impact of these projects in ~12 months' time on ~the same information.

if that ends up being the case — that, in ~12 months, grantmakers are acting on ~the same information about the projects — i think that we will have ex-post provided little value. however, i think the key here is the extent to which new information is revealed in the next ~12 months. here's how i'm thinking about it:

  • there will be less uncertainty about the impactfulness of most projects in ~12 months compared to now. that delta in uncertainty is really important, and the more of it there is, the better. (i'll touch on the examples you listed in a moment.)
  • however, the delta in uncertainty changes from one project to another:
    • for some projects, you get a lot of new information from the point in time they first received investment to the point in time the grantmakers review them.
    • ...but for others, you get little new information; in your words, "grantmakers will [be] view[ing] the projected impact of these projects in ~12 months' time on ~the same information."
  • impact markets work best when they list projects in the first category — ones that have a big delta in uncertainty from now to ~12 months from now; ones for which you get a lot of new information from the point in time they first received investment to the point in time the grantmakers review them. ideally, we want the projects on an impact market to maximize that delta in uncertainty.

my understanding of your claim is: you agree with the above three bullet points, and are concerned that a number of projects that we're listing will have a really small delta in uncertainty from now to ~12 months from now.

i'm not too worried about this concern, for two overlapping reasons:

  1. a lot happens in a year! for most of the projects, i'd be shocked if they were in a roughly similar position as they are immediately after getting funding — even if the position they're in is "we straightforwardly did what we said we would do," you've already reduced a lot of uncertainty. i agree that we aren't truly measuring impact in some platonic sense of impact measurement, but if i were a grantmaker, i would much much much rather be in the position of evaluating a project in the "~12 months from now" category than the "now" category. for the two examples that you happened to list, i think it's actually quite possible that there will be significant new information that comes out in the ~12 months after a project gets investment:[1]
    1. Someone would like funding for an MPhil or MPhil/PhD.
      • ~12 months from now, they didn't get into any grad schools/they decided not to go to grad school/etc.
      • ~12 months from now, they got into a great grad school, and their first few semesters they got great grades/published great research/etc.
    2. Someone would like funding to distribute books.
      1. ~12 months from now, they took the money, then disappeared/totally failed/the project didn't materialize/etc.
      2. ~12 months from now, they successfully distributed the books, in exactly the way they described.
  2. if we're running the impact market correctly, the above point (1) should be baked into investment decisions — investors want returns, which incentivizes them to pick the projects that will have the highest delta in uncertainty from now to ~12 months' time. after all, if a philanthropy reviews a project in a years' time and sees exactly the same information as an investor does today... then that investor won't make any returns.

i think you picked up on one potential failure mode, and i'd be interested to see if we end up failing in this way. right now, i'm not too concerned that will happen, though.

also, thanks for your detailed comment — i really appreciate the feedback. if you think i've missed something or that i went wrong somewhere, i'd really love to hear your thoughts. again, feel free to leave a comment in response, or if you'd prefer to talk about this over a call, i'd be down! :)

  1. ^

    obviously, all of the ones i'm listing are examples, and i'm making no forecast about the probabilities of any of them to actually happen

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