Cross-posted to my blog.
There are a few cause areas that are plausibly highly effective, but as far as I know, no one is working on them. If there existed a charity working on one of these problems, I might consider donating to it.
Happy Animal Farm
The closest thing we can make to universal eudaimonia with current technology is a farm of many small animals that are made as happy as possible. Presumably the animals are cared for by people who know a lot about their psychology and welfare and can make sure they’re happy. One plausible species choice is rats, because rats are small (and therefore easy to take care of and don’t consume a lot of resources), definitively sentient, and we have a reasonable idea of how to make them happy.
I am not aware of any public discussion on this subject, so I will perform a quick ad-hoc effectiveness estimate.
(Most of the figures below come from a personal communication with Emily Cutts Worthington, who is more knowledgeable about taking care of rats than I am. These figures are not robust but are based on her best guesses.)
A rat curator working a few hours a week can probably support 100 happy rats. I have a lot of uncertainty about how brain size affects sentience, but say a happy rat is half as happy as a happy human. Suppose the rats are euthanized when their health starts to deteriorate, so they get close to 1 QALY per year. This would cost about $5 per rat per month plus an opportunity cost of maybe $500 per month for the time spent, which works out to another $5 per rat per month. Thus creating 1 rat QALY costs $120 per year, which is $240 per human QALY per year.
Deworming treatments cost about $30 per DALY. Thus a rat farm looks like a fairly expensive way of producing utility. It may be possible to decrease costs by scaling up the rat farm operation, but it would have to be about an order of magnitude cheaper to rival deworming treatments.
This is just a rough back-of-the-envelope calculation so it should not be taken literally, but I’m still surprised by how cost-inefficient this looks. I expected rat farms to be highly cost-effective based on the fact that most people don’t care about rats, and generally the less people care about some group, the easier it is to help that group. (It’s easier to help developing-world humans than developed-world humans, and easier still to help factory-farmed animals.) Again, I could be completely wrong about these calculations, but rat farms look less promising than I had expected.
I know very little about humane insecticides but it’s a cause that’s plausibly highly cost-effective and virtually no one is working on it. I’m inclined to want to focus more on high-learning-value or far-future interventions; supporting humane insecticides probably only has short-term effects (albeit extremely large ones). But the overwhelming importance of reducing insect suffering (if insects feel pain, which seems sufficiently likely to be a concern) and the extreme neglectedness of this cause could possibly make it the best thing to work on.
High-Leverage Values Spreading
In On Values Spreading, I discuss the possibility of focusing values-spreading efforts on high-leverage individuals:
Probably, some sorts of values spreading matter much, much more than others. Perhaps convincing AI researchers to care more about non-human animals could substantially increase the probability that a superintelligent AI will also care about animals. This could be highly impactful and may even be the most effective thing to do right now. (I am much more willing to consider donating to MIRI now that its executive director values non-human animals.) I don’t see anyone doing this, and if I did, I would want to see evidence that they were doing a good job; but this would plausibly be a highly effective intervention.
I’d like to see an organization that focuses specifically on seeking out and implementing extremely high-leverage values spreading interventions. Perhaps this could mean trying to persuade AI researchers or geoengineering researchers to care about non-human animals–the results of their research could have drastic effects on animals and we want to make sure those effects are positive. I’m sure there are other high-leverage values spreading interventions that no one is currently doing (targeting high-impact researchers is just the first one I came up with off the top of my head); a dedicated organization could explore this space and try to find other highly effective strategies.
Promoting Universal Eudaimonia
Right now, shockingly few people are concerned with filling the universe with tiny beings whose minds are specifically geared toward feeling as much pure happiness as possible. I’d like to see more efforts to promote this outcome. Maybe the best way to do this is to start a Pay David Pearce to Do Whatever He Wants Fund, but I don’t know if David Pearce is funding constrained.