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With the seeming increase of AI risk discussion, I was just wondering if anything like this existed. My silly imagining of this might be a ~1/6 x-risk penalty on some lifetime donors (per Ord’s The Precipice x-risk estimation for this century), not that I think this should be the case or that I think this number is still representative.

I don’t mean this as an out of the blue criticism - mostly just curious if/how x-risk might be taken into account, since I myself am beginning to think in this way about my own life.




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Hi Phib, Michael from the GWWC Research team here! In our latest impact evaluation we did need to consider how to think about future donations. We explain how we did this in the appendix "Our approach to discount rates". Essentially, it's a really complex topic, and you're right that existential risk plays into it (we note this as one of the key considerations). If you discount the future just based on Ord's existential risk estimates, based on some quick-maths, the 1 in 6 chance over 100 years should discount each year by 0.2% (1 - ((1 - 1/6)^(1/100)) = 0.02). 

Yet there are many other considerations that also weigh into this, at least from GWWC's perspective. Most significantly is how we should expect the cost-effectiveness of charities to change over time.

We chose to use a discount rate of 3.5% for our best-guess estimates (and 5% for our conservative estimates); based on the recommendation from the UK government’s green book. We explain why we made that decision in our report. It was largely motivated by our framework of being useful/transparent/justifiable over being academically correct and thorough.

 If you're interested in this topic, and on how to think about discount rates in general, you may find Founders Pledge's report on investing to give an interesting read.

Hi Michael, thank you for the response, and I definitely should have checked out the full report to be more respectful of your time. Yeah, honestly seems really complex and I understand the need to prioritize, thanks for sharing.

I'm not sure how to evaluate this, I see existential risk kind of being relegated to a bullet point in the appendix and that may be a good place for it considering the sophisticated scope and in such a report... but I am also trying to reconcile this with such (moderate?) estimates as Ord's... where even humoring this chance seems ... (read more)

Michael Townsend🔸
No problem! Regarding: There was a typo in my answer before: (1 - ((1 - 1/6)^(1/100)) = 0.0018) which is ~0.2% (not 0.2), and is a fair amount smaller than the discount rate we actually used (3.5%). Still, if you assigned a greater probability of existential risk this century than Ord does, you could end up with a (potentially much) higher discount rate. Alternatively, even with a high existential risk estimate, if you thought we were going to find more and more cost-effective giving opportunities as time goes on, then at least for the purpose of our impact evaluation, these effects could cancel out.  I think if we spent more time trying to come to an all-things-considered view on this topic, we'd still be left with considerable uncertainty, and so I think it was the right call for us to just acknowledge to take the pragmatic approach of deferring to the Green Book.  In terms of the general tension between potentially high x-risk and the chance of transformative AI, I can only speak personally (not on behalf of GWWC). It's something on my mind, but it's unclear to me what exactly the tension is. I still think it's great to move money to effective charities across a range of impactful causes, and I'm excited about building a culture of giving significantly and effectively throughout one's life (i.e., via the Pledge). I don't think GWWC should pivot and become specifically focused on one cause (e.g., AI) and otherwise I'm not sure exactly what the potential for transformative AI should imply for GWWC. 
I really think that the discount rate equation used just doesn’t capture my intuitions about how impactful x-risk would be, but I think I will just leave it at that and stop bugging you (thanks for the thoughtful response again). Of course, it seems at some point you have to stop the recursive utilitarian dilemma of analysis paralysis and probably in that report this is a good place. Unsure as well, I think I’m at the point of waiting, and doing my best to learn, since I think any claims as to just how transformative AI might be regarding the economy and even how we come to solve problems is a matter of respecting probabilities that I’m uncertain about… to the extent that I guess having people just think about it is all I can ask (which it seems both you and GWWC are doing, in addition to all the impactful work y’all are doing - thank you again.)
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