These monthly posts originated as the "Updates" section of the EA Newsletter.
You can see previous updates in our repository of past newsletters.
About the title of this post
I previously named these based on the month in which the reported events took place. However, updates now come in during the first/second week of the month in which the newsletter goes out, and tend to include news from the current and previous months.
So I've skipped from "January 2021" to "March 2021" to match up with how I title each edition of the newsletter. I'll maintain the new naming convention in future posts.
This month, Rob Wiblin spoke to Lewis Bollard about big wins against factory farming; Brian Christian about his new book The Alignment Problem; and Andy Weber about ways to render bioweapons obsolete.
Finally, Michelle Hutchinson shared her thoughts on why she finds longtermism hard, and what keeps her motivated.
Kirsty Henderson has officially stepped into the role of Executive Director of Anima International.
Four new partners in Ukraine and the second-largest retail chain in Lithuania, IKI, signed cage-free commitments. In addition, one of the biggest chains in Poland, Kaufland, announced it will speed up the process of withdrawing caged eggs.
Anima International’s Resource Library has been created, with the aim of helping people around the world who want to help animals by providing them with free information, resources, advice, and inspiration.
Animal Charity Evaluators
Animal Charity Evaluators shared an update on how their recommended charities have used grants from the Recommended Charity Fund to help animals over the past six months. ACE’s Marianne van der Werf also hosted a presentation and Q&A about ACE’s Movement Grants program. Watch the recording or view the presentation slides to learn more about the program and how you can apply in the future (the application for this round of funding closed on 12 March).
Animal Ethics published “An illustrated physiology of nervous systems in invertebrates.” It focuses on the level of centralization and the nervous system structures of representative animals from different phyla and classes.
They also published “What Animal Ethics is currently working on,” which details several ongoing projects, including a literature review about the behavioral evidence for sentience in invertebrates, a paper about the lives of wild animals in urban areas, updates to the ethics sections, and a new section on cognitive biases.
Cellular Agriculture Society
CAS published a set of new pages on their website, including:
The United Nations: A collaboration page highlighting the UN volunteers who have become CAS Fellows and how the developing CAS textbook integrates the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
90 Reasons to Consider Cellular Agriculture: An education page explaining the development of the literary project, as well as a breakdown of the potential negative ramifications that cellular agriculture could bring about.
Project CMF (Cell-based Meat Facility): A visioning page exploring the story behind the designs of a cellular agriculture meat production facility in the year 2040 and a breakdown of the CellAg production process, step by step.
Stanford University: A collaboration page detailing the development of the world’s first course on cellular agriculture, held at Stanford.
Centre for Effective Altruism
JP Addison and Sam Deere held an “Ask Me Anything” session on the EA Forum to describe their work as software engineers for CEA.
Relatedly, CEA is looking to hire a full-stack engineer to help us build a unified platform for the EA community; apply by 4 April, 2021.
Center on Long-Term Risk
Jesse Clifton published an overview of recent multi-agent research at CLR on the Alignment Forum.
On the CLR blog, Jesse Clifton published a post on weak identifiability and its consequences in strategic settings. Stefan Torges published a post on AI coordination challenges for preventing AI conflict. Both illuminate aspects of how potential bargaining failure might arise in multipolar scenarios, and how developers might address this by coordinating on relevant features of their AI systems.
Daniel Kokotajlo finished his series of posts on AI timelines. In his most recent one, he introduces a hypothetical scenario as a means of operationalizing a critical question about timelines: “Can we get transformative AI just by throwing more compute at the problem?” He then presents intuition pumps which support his affirmative answer.
Centre for the Study of Existential Risk
Sir Partha Dasgupta, Chair of CSER’s Management Board, published a high-profile review of the economics of biodiversity for the UK Treasury. As a contribution to the final review, Dr. Lauren Holt ran a remote workshop in collaboration with Dr. Bram Arnold, inviting philosophers, thinkers, and theologians to comment on the non-instrumental and non-economic value of biodiversity. Dr. Holt also wrote a companion review paper for the Treasury informed by the content of the workshop. In addition, Dr. Simon Beard contributed an essay to the review team on the non-economic values of nature.
CSER has contributed extensively to an ongoing inquiry by the House of Lords into UK risk assessment and risk planning. CSER founder Martin Rees and CSER Research Affiliate Des Brown are both serving members of the committee of inquiry. Catherine Rhodes gave oral evidence to an inquiry session on UK biosecurity and Simon Beard gave oral evidence to an inquiry session on technological risk. CSER researchers also contributed two written submissions to the inquiry:
- A unified submission that summarized CSER’s approach to defining and classifying extreme risks; the systemic nature of extreme risks; the relationship between extreme risk and global justice; and research on tools for appropriately responding to extreme risks.
- A summary of foresight, futures, and horizon scanning techniques that CSER has developed for the study of extreme risks, and that could be implemented within the UK policy context.
CSER researchers published a new study, “Assessing Climate Change’s Contribution to Global Catastrophic Risk,” in the journal Futures. The paper analyses how credible the threat from climate change to humanity's future is, and indicates both plausible mechanisms for a climate-induced catastrophe and policy options to mitigate this risk.
CSER continues to research the long-term implications of the COVID-19 pandemic for global catastrophic and existential risk. This month, Luke Kemp wrote an article on preparing and planning for a biosecure future, while Deutsche Welle interviewed Asaf Tzachor about how the coronavirus pandemic could lead to famines.
Jacob Ainscough, Alex McLaughlin, Luke Kemp, and Natalie Jones wrote an article for The Conversation, “Earth’s Existential Threats: Inequality, Pandemics and Climate Change Demand Global Leadership,” which examined the connections between global injustice and global catastrophic risk.
Second-round applications for Charity Entrepreneurship’s 2021 Incubation Program are now open. The deadline is 15 April! Use this form to apply. (Ignore the language that says “first-stage application form” — this is the right link.)
The program will be held online from 28 June to 27 August 2021. CE provides a free two-month intensive training, the opportunity to apply for up to $100,000 in seed funding, ongoing mentorship, and legal and operations support for a year after the program.
This year, you can also join the program to do region-specific research to lay the groundwork for new nonprofits. Apply for this via the standard application form.
Faunalytics published two new blog posts: “Five Tips For Choosing A High-Impact Research Topic” and “Cleaner Fish: A Neglected Issue Within A Neglected Issue.” They also added several new study summaries to their library on topics including Asian fish farming and value relevance when assigning moral worth.
Additionally, they produced the latest edition of their new Faunalytics Explains video series, and Faunalytics’ Board President recently conducted a leadership survey across major animal organizations to identify key issues and opportunities for farmed animal advocacy.
They’ve also added to their growing collection of research related to COVID-19. New articles include “The U.S. Egg Industry And COVID-19” and “We Don’t Need Animal Testing To Develop Effective Vaccines.”
Fish Welfare Initiative
FWI spent much of February conducting water samples and farmer surveys, in order to identify the welfare improvements required in the regions in India where they are working. They also spoke at Humane Society International India's Roundtable on Aquaculture, and were featured in a Future Perfect article: “The next frontier for animal welfare: Fish”.
Lastly, they are pleased to announce that Rhiddhi Patel has joined the team as a Legal Intern.
Future of Humanity Institute
In February, Spencer Becker-Kahn joined FHI as a Senior Research Scholar.
The Centre for the Governance of AI published “Institutionalizing ethics in AI through broader impact requirements” (Prunkl et al.) and “The Immigration Preferences of Top AI Researchers: New Survey Evidence” (Zwetsloot at al.). Also, Allan Dafoe and Waqar Zaidi co-authored “International Control of Powerful Technology: Lessons from the Baruch Plan for Nuclear Weapons.”
Carla Cremer co-authored “Artificial Canaries: Early Warning Signs for Anticipatory and Democratic Governance of AI” and, along with Jeffrey Ding at the Oxford Union, gave a talk titled “Smashing The Silos: Interdisciplinarity in AI.”
Hjalmar Wijk co-authored “Shielding Atari Games with Bounded Prescience,” which has been accepted to the 20th International Conference on Autonomous Agents and Multiagent Systems (AAMAS-21), and Michael Cohen co-authored “Fully General Online Imitation Learning.”
GiveWell recently published a write-up on grants they recommended to Innovations for Poverty Action from the Effective Altruism Global Health and Development Fund to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you to the donors who supported the fund for making this work possible! Here is GiveWell's explanation of the grant:
We are excited to share another grant we recommended to help fight the pandemic: supporting the largest randomized controlled trial to date on how effectively masks prevent COVID-19.
Last year, we made several grants to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We recently published a write-up about one grant and two follow-up grants, totaling $3.1 million, to Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) that we recommended between July and December 2020 as part of this work.
The grants to IPA supported a randomized controlled trial of an intervention to distribute and promote the use of face masks in Bangladesh. The investigators plan to assess which, if any, strategies increased mask-wearing and the extent to which an increase in mask-wearing reduced incidence of COVID-19, at both the community and individual level.
While there is compelling evidence from laboratory studies that masks reduce the spread of COVID-19, there is limited experimental evidence on the extent to which mask-wearing is effective in reducing transmission in a real-world situation (outside of the lab) and on which strategies increase mask uptake. The lack of strong experimental evidence, coupled with concerns that mask-wearing could increase risky compensatory behavior like reducing physical distancing, contributed to policymakers' reluctance to recommend or implement policies to increase mask use earlier in the pandemic. Policymakers have issued stronger recommendations since we made the July grant, but mask use remains low in many countries. Stronger evidence could lead governments to further encourage mask use.
This grant tackles an unusually important research question. Masks are likely to be one of the most cost-effective interventions to prevent COVID-19, and this is one of the few health interventions that is directly relevant to most people in the world. We look forward to preliminary results in the coming months.
If you'd like to find out more, you can listen to this podcast with Professor Mushfiq Mobarak, one of the Principal Investigators on the study.
Giving What We Can
Giving What We Can is hiring a Developer/Technical Product Manager to help maintain and develop their website and pledge dashboard.
Over the coming months they are co-hosting a series of EA-related outreach events in collaboration with other EA organisations. Some upcoming events include career panels on medicine, law, and charity entrepreneurship. Please get in touch if your organisation would like to collaborate on an event, or if you would like to volunteer to help organise these.
Global Catastrophic Risk Institute
GCRI is pleased to announce they have received a new $200,000 donation to fund work on AI from Gordon Irlam. Irlam previously made donations to fund GCRI’s AI project work in 2020 and 2019. GCRI is also pleased to announce that Andrea Owe will be joining GCRI as a full-time research associate. Andrea is an environmental and space ethicist based in Oslo, who will be leading a project on the ethics of AI and global catastrophic risk.
The Humane League
The Humane League (THL) continues to ratchet up the pressure on the chicken industry, urging companies to end some of the worst and most widespread abuses on factory farms by adopting the Better Chicken Commitment. Last month, THL launched a new campaign action website to shed light on the treatment of chickens raised for meat and to call on major food companies like Dairy Queen, Wingstop, and Bob Evans to end these abuses.
To ensure that corporate commitments are meaningful, THL also engages companies with cage-free commitments to hold them accountable. In response to outreach from THL UK, Kraft Heinz reported completely eliminating battery cages from their supply chain in Europe. THL Japan worked with Accor Hotels to publish their commitment in Japanese, and with Pullman Tokyo Tamachi to complete their cage-free commitment.
Ought would be grateful for help from the EA community with:
- Intros to researchers who seem like good users for the tool. The researchers who we support best today are those working on tech policy, especially if their work involves a lot of reading.
- Intros to researchers with a similar profile as above, and who are open to being shadowed for a day so we can learn about the research process more deeply.
- Examples of text-based classification tasks (the next research task we’re exploring with GPT-3).
- The prediction-specific version of Elicit now lives at forecast.elicit.org.
- Ought’s co-founders, Andreas Stuhlmüller and Jungwon Byun, did a podcast on their vision for Elicit and the exciting technical challenges that lie ahead.
- Ought has integrated their product roadmap into each of their job posts.
Rethink Priorities is hiring research interns. This position runs for three months, is open to candidates at 20-40 hours per week, pays $23-25/hour, is fully remote, and comes with good management and feedback with a great team. Apply by 4 April.
Qualia Research Institute
Qualia Research Institute shared two new publications on their blog:
- “Experientialist Theories of Well-Being” distills the existing academic discussion of hedonism into an easy-to-understand map.
- “Guide to Rigorous Reports of Exotic States of Consciousness” provides tools and advice to maximize the scientific utility of written reports of altered states of consciousness.
WANBAM completed a program evaluation for their second round of mentorship, with promising results. Fifty-eight percent of the program's mentees gave a 10/10 in response to the statement “I recommend being a WANBAM mentee,” with an average score of 9.28/10. During the six-month round, mentees reported 188 mentor meetings of 30-90 minutes in length.
WANBAM commenced their third round of mentorship, successfully onboarding 120 new mentees (a significant increase from round two), with over 60 mentors active during the round. This pool is highly diverse, with mentees representing all inhabited continents; in addition, 39.6% of mentees are women of color.
Based on positive feedback, WANBAM will continue to offer recruitment recommendations, and they urge EA and EA-aligned organizations to get in touch! They will additionally now offer one-off introductory chats for women, non-binary, and trans people of all genders interested in pursuing high-impact careers. They expect this will be most helpful for newcomers to effective altruism and those who would like to get looped into the WANBAM community between mentorship rounds. More information can be found on their website.
Wild Animal Initiative
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