What if a pandemic capable of killing millions of people appeared? How would we react? How early would we be able to understand the true level of the threat? The danger posed by Coronavirus is quite unclear at this time and the issue hardly seems neglected, yet it is extremely important to be prepared for the next pandemic. It's one thing to prepare plans in the abstract, against imaginary scenarios, quite another to go up against a real, unknown threat.
What if this was a real catastrophic or even existential threat? Or, what if the threat wasn't at the level, but it had the potential to decimate an EA hub? What if Coronavirus turns out to be as deadly as some people fear? These are important questions to have the answers to and people will be more motivated to answer these questions when there is a real event motivating action. Additionally, being presented with a solid target is a good way to spur creativity.
What kind of activities could be productive here?
- Running or participating in a prediction market
- Making a small donation to a relevant non-profit and reviewing the choice at some point in the future
- Working on AI to predict the spread of the virus
- Building tools to help spread information both among the EA community and to the public in general
- Alerts related to the virus
- Webpage on personal precautions
- Identifying and collating the best sources of information
- Analysis of policy responses and potentially lobbying the government to implement particular policies
Or basically anything else we'd actually do if our worst fears came true. Admittedly it could be a distraction for those who are doing the most important work, but the time of a lot of the rest of us (like me) isn't nearly as valuable.
To this end, I've created a Facebook Group - Effective Altruism Coronavirus Discussion.
And if you want to participate in a prediction market, we have one running:
There are three questions on the coronavirus.
In a sense, EA is already doing this. The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security is heavily funded by OpenPhil, and for the past month we have been going basically full-time on this:
However, having a private forum where people can openly communicate things that might get distorted if quoted out of context is very useful. I've joined the group, and am available to answer any questions there.
I guess it's not really a war game anymore... it's now actual war.