Shortform Content [Beta]

seanrson's Shortform

Hi all, I'm sorry if this isn't the right place to post. Please redirect me if there's somewhere else this should go.

I'm posting on behalf of my friend, who is an aspiring AI researcher in his early 20's, and is looking to live with likeminded individuals. He currently lives in Southern California, but is open to relocating (preferably USA, especially California).

Please message if you're interested!

AaronBoddy's Shortform

How bad is it to exploit bees?

I agree that taking action to improve the welfare of farmed bees is positive.

But with other farmed animals such as chickens/pigs/cows, a significant goal to aim for is to ultimately bring fewer of those animals into existence in order to reduce overall suffering. 

But is that also the case for bee farming? Or do we instead want to increase the number of bees we farm because we need to increase commercial pollination services for a greater good? And if so, even if we weren't to intervene in bee welfare in any way, would we ... (read more)

I really like how you're using your shortform to ask these small, well-formed, interesting questions!

(I don't have anything useful to say here, I just wanted to give this my 👍.)

Is it possible to calculate the net utility (positive or negative) from bringing one suffering bee into existence?

I doubt it, but if so it would make a great unit of measurement.

AaronBoddy's Shortform

How bad is Amazon?

So there are a lot of reasons people don't like Amazon. It exploits its workers, it fights tax laws, it has a significant environmental impact etc.

But is Amazon net-negative from a consequentialist point of view, or is there a net-positive impact of Amazon? My rough thinking is:

  • Jeff Bezos has projects such as Blue Origin which might be positive for longtermism.
  • He recently donated $10billion to Climate Change with the Bezos Earth Fund (and this may continue?).
  • He has been interested in some other short term philanthropy in the past. His ex-
... (read more)
10akrolsmir1dI think you've left out the most important point: net positive effect of Amazon as having generated trillions of dollars of value for its customers, suppliers, and employees. * Customers gain from having a streamlined reliable online ordering experience, with fast delivery times, large body of reviews, and friendly dispute resolution policies * Suppliers gain access to the huge market of said customers, as well as the infrastructure to deliver products and collect payment * Employees are offered a job opportunity that they may freely choose to leave This doesn't even touch upon the huge social value from the websites built on top of their cloud. It's perhaps hard to appreciate without a background in tech, but briefly: before AWS (Amazon Web Services) and their competitors, every company had to build and manage their own servers, aka physical huge hot computers that require dedicated IT people to oversee and then break when too many people visit your website. Zvi has a line that goes like "The world's best charity is Amazon"

This is great thanks I hadn't considered this! I found the Zvi post you're referring to if anyone else is interested.

Do you know if there has been any work to try and quantify this added value from Amazon? (Like in Meatonomics, David Robinson Simon discusses the hidden costs of meat, so a $4 Big Mac really costs society $11, so that extra $7 cost is absorbed by society). Is there any potential to calculate something similar with Amazon? e.g. every $1 someone spends on Amazon typically saves the consumer/society $X. 

I'm not an economist and I know that... (read more)

3willbradshaw21hYeah, I'm not currently that excited about Bezos as a philanthropist, but the near-term impact of Amazon in the countries it operates in has been hugely positive, especially for low-income people.
JP's Shortform

Offer of help with hands-free input

If you're experiencing wrist pain, you might want to take a break from typing. But the prospect of not been able to interact with the world might be holding you back. I want to help you try voice input. It's been helpful for me to go from being scared about my career and impact to being confident that I can still be productive without my hands. (In fact this post is brought to you by nothing but my voice.) Right now I think you're the best fit if you:

  • Use a mac
  • Have ever written code, even a small amount, or otherwise feel
... (read more)
Nathan Young's Shortform

At what size of the EA movement should there be an independent EA whistleblowing organisation, which investigates allegations of corruption?

Can you think of any examples of other movements which have this? I have not heard of such for e.g. the environmentalist or libertarian movements. Large companies might have whistleblowing policies, but I've not heard of any which make use of an independent organization for complaint processing.

TrenchFloat's Shortform

I'd like to compile the inner-monologue responses people use to correct their own over- and under-confidence, both in forecasting and in judging one's own abilities, job prospects, etc.

Accuracy and balance are always ideal, but I'm interested in how people to respond to thoughts that casually prop up, which are suspicious of over- or under-confidence. Examples might be...

Responses to underconfident thoughts:

"Sure, there's only a 10% chance of getting that job, but it's not a lottery. They'll pick the best person for the job."

"Sure, there's only a 10% chanc... (read more)

So-Low Growth's Shortform

Question: Imagine we could quantify the amount of suffering the average person does by eating meat and the amount of environmental damage that comes from eating this meat. How much would they need to donate to the most effective charities (climate change and animal suffering) in order to off-set their meat-eating habit?

3Aaron Gertler6dPeople have tried to estimate similar figures before. See Jeff Kaufman on dairy offsets [] or Gregory Lewis on meat-eating [] (searching the term "moral offset" will help you find other examples I haven't linked). Some people also think this idea is conceptually bad or antithetical to EA [] .

Thank you Aaron. That's exactly what I was looking for, and additionally I can dig deeper!

BenMillwood's Shortform

Though betting money is a useful way to make epistemics concrete, sometimes it introduces considerations that tease apart the bet from the outcome and probabilities you actually wanted to discuss. Here's some circumstances when it can be a lot more difficult to get the outcomes you want from a bet:

  • When the value of money changes depending on the different outcomes,
  • When the likelihood of people being able or willing to pay out on bets changes under the different outcomes.

As an example, I saw someone claim that the US was facing civil war. Someone else ... (read more)

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2HaukeHillebrandt3dAgreed, but I don't think there's a big market inefficiency here with risk-adjusted above market rate returns. Of course, if you do research to create private information then there should be a return to that research. True, but I've heard that in the US, normally, if I lobby in the U.S. for an outcome and I short the stock about which I am lobbying, I have not violated any law unless I am a fiduciary or agent of the company in question. Also see [] I really like this, but... This seems to be why people have a knee jerk reaction against it.
7BenMillwood4dHmm, I was going to mention mission hedging [] as the flipside of this, but then noticed the first reference I found was written by you :P For other interested readers, mission hedging is where you do the opposite of this and invest in the thing you're trying to prevent -- invest in tobacco companies as an anti-smoking campaigner, invest in coal industry as a climate change campaigner, etc. The idea being that if those industries start doing really well for whatever reason, your investment will rise, giving you extra money to fund your countermeasures. I'm sure if I thought about it for a bit I could figure out when these two mutually contradictory strategies look better or worse than each other. But mostly I don't take either of them very seriously most of the time anyway :)

I'm sure if I thought about it for a bit I could figure out when these two mutually contradictory strategies look better or worse than each other. But mostly I don't take either of them very seriously most of the time anyway :)

I think these strategies can actually be combined:

A patient philanthropist sets up their endowment according to mission hedging principles.

For instance, someone wanting to hedge against AI risks could invest in (leveraged) AI FAANG+ ETF ( (read more)

Prabhat Soni's Shortform

I've never seen anyone explain EA using the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule). The cause prioritisation / effectiveness part of EA is basically the Pareto principle applied to doing good. I'd guess 25-50% of the public knows of the Pareto principle. So, I think this might be a good approach. Thoughts?

Showing 3 of 4 replies (Click to show all)
2Max_Daniel6dSee here [] for some related material, in particular Owen Cotton-Barratt's talk Prospecting for Gold and the recent paper by Kokotajlo & Oprea.
1Prabhat Soni6dHey, thanks for your reply. By the Pareto Principle, I meant something like "80% of the good is achieved by solving 20% of the problem areas". If this is easy to misinterpret (like you did), then it might not be a great idea :P The idea of fat-tailed distribution of impact of interventions might be a better alternative to this maybe?

The idea of fat-tailed distribution of impact of interventions might be a better alternative to this maybe?

That sounds harder to misinterpret, yeah.

alexrjl's Shortform

I'm considering taking the very +EV betting opportunities available with the US election with the money I plan to donate over the next 6 months, then donating the winnings (or not donating if I lose).

Some more discussion on my twitter here but I'm interested in thoughts from EAF members too. It's not a huge amount of money either way.

Thomas Kwa's Shortform

Are there GiveWell-style estimates of the cost-effectiveness of the world's most popular charities (say UNICEF), preferably by independent sources and/or based on past results? I want to be able to talk to quantitatively-minded people and have more data than just saying some interventions are 1000x more effective.

One argument against the effectiveness from mega charities who does a bunch of different, unrelated interventions is that from the Central Limit Theorem ( the average effectiveness of a large sample of interventions is apriori more likely to be close to the population mean effectiveness - that is the mean effectiveness of all relevant interventions. In other words, it's hard to be one of the very best if you are doing lots of different stuff. Even if some of the interventions you do are really effective, your average effectiveness will be dragged down by the other interventions.

11Larks10dUnfortunately most cost-effectiveness estimates are calculated by focusing on the specific intervention the charity implements, a method which is a poor fit for large diversified charities.
3Thomas Kwa10dHmm, that's what I suspected. Maybe it's possible to estimate anyway though-- quick and dirty method would be to identify the most effective interventions a large charity has, estimate that the rest follow a power law, take the average and add error bars upwards for the possibility we underestimated an intervention's effectiveness?
MichaelStJules's Shortform

The procreation asymmetry can be formulated this way (due to Jeff McMahan):

while the fact that a person's life would be worse than no life at all ... constitutes a strong moral reason for not bringing him into existence, the fact that a person's life would be worth living provides no (or only a relatively weak) moral reason for bringing him into existence.

This is a summary of the argument for the procreation asymmetry here and in the comments, especially this comment, which also looks further at the case of bringing someone into existence with a good life.... (read more)

I think my argument builds off the following from "The value of existence" by Gustaf Arrhenius and Wlodek Rabinowicz (2016):

 Consequently, even if it is better for p to exist than not to exist, assuming she has a life worth living, it doesn’t follow that it would have been worse for p if she did not exist, since one of the relata, p, would then have been absent. What does follow is only that non-existence is worse for her than existence (since ‘worse’ is just the converse of ‘better’), but not that it would have been worse if she didn’t exist.

The foot... (read more)

2MichaelStJules1moYou could equally apply this argument to individual experiences, for an asymmetry between suffering and pleasure, as long as whenever an individual suffers, they have an interest in not suffering, and it's not the case that each individual, at every moment, has an interest in more pleasure, even if they don't know it or want it. Something only matters if it matters (or will matter) to someone, and an absence of pleasure doesn't necessarily matter to someone who isn't experiencing pleasure* and certainly doesn't matter to someone who does not and will not exist, and so we have no inherent reason to promote pleasure. On the other hand, there's no suffering unless someone is experiencing it, and according to some definitions of suffering, it necessarily matters to the sufferer. * for example, when concentrating in a flow state, while asleep, when content. See also tranquilism [] and this post I wrote [] .
2MichaelStJules2moAnd we can turn this into a wide person-affecting view to solve the Nonidentity problem [] by claiming that identity doesn't matter. To make the above argument fit better with this, we can rephrase it slightly to refer to "extra individuals" or "no extra individuals" rather than any specific individuals who will or won't exist. Frick makes a separate general claim that if exactly one of two normative standards (e.g. people, with interests) will exist, and they are standards of the same kind (e.g. the extent to which people's interests are satisfied can be compared), then it's better for the one which will be better satisfied to apply (e.g. the better off person should come to exist). On the other hand, a narrow view might still allow us to say that it's worse to bring a worse off individual into existence with a bad life than a better off one, if our reasons against bringing an individual into existence with a bad life are stronger the worse off they would be, a claim I'd expect to be widely accepted. If we apply the view to individual experiences or person-moments, the result seems to be a negative axiology, in which only the negative matters, on, and with hedonism, only suffering would matter. Whether or not this follows can depend on how the procreation asymmetry is captured, and there are systems in which it would not follow, e.g. the narrow asymmetric views here [] , although these reject the independence of irrelevant alternatives. Under standard order assumptions which include the independence of irrelevant alternatives and completeness, the procreation asymmetry does imply a negative axiology.
sky's Shortform

Webinar tomorrow: exploring solutions journalism [for EA writers]:

If EA journalists and writers are planning to cover EA topics, I think a solutions journalism angle will usually be the most natural fit.

The Solutions Journalism Network "train[s] and connect[s] journalists to cover what’s missing in today’s news: how people are responding to problems."

The Solutions Journalism Network is having a webinar tomorrow:

Solutions journalism

"Can be character-driven, but focuses ... (read more)

Jamie_Harris's Shortform

Buying a house will probably save you lots of money, which you can later donate, but it might not make much difference (and may work out as negative) in terms of your ability to do good.

It seems like common sense that buying a house saves you from wasting money on rent and works out better, financially, in the long term. But earlier this year, John Halstead wrote a blogpost providing a bunch of reasons not to buy a house.

I had another look at John's calculations. I kept the basic calculations the same, but added a few considerations and re-checked the... (read more)

Showing 3 of 6 replies (Click to show all)

I also live in London, and bought a house in April 2016. So I've thought about these calculations a fair bit, and happy to share some thoughts here:

One quick note on your calculations is that stamp duty has been massively, but temporarily, cut due to COVID. You note it's currently £3k on a £560k flat. Normally it would be £18k. You can look at both sets of rates here.

When I looked at this, the calculation was heavily dependent on how often you expect to move. Every time you sell a home and buy a new one you incur large fixed costs;... (read more)

1Jamie_Harris10dNo, I haven't gone through and done that. Actually, John's calculations [] still come out in favour of buying from a financial perspective, albeit by a much smaller margin than in my calculations; I think he was put off for other reasons. I'm probably doing the maths completely wrong on that bit... suggestions for correct formula to use are welcome. Commenting on the sheet is currently on if you want to comment on directly. Yeah I haven't got my head very thoroughly round the various arguments on this, so thanks for sharing. My impression was also that using 3.5% didn't make much sense and should probably either go lower than that (for "patient" reasons) or much higher (if you think opportunities for cost-effective giving will diminish rapidly for various reasons. Some relevant context I probably should have added to the post was that I did this calculation because I was very surprised at John's overall conclusion and wanted to check it, and, despite this not being very thorough or anywhere near my research "expertise", I thought other people might benefit from these rough and ready efforts, so decided to share.
1Jamie_Harris10dNo, I didn't list the "other" pros and cons, this is just the financial perspective. I don't have a good sense of how difficult it is to move houses. But my guess is that a decision to move for work or not wouldn't be that dependent on selling a house. E.g. you either want to stay, come what may, because of reasons like friends, family, partners etc, or you're personally happy to move, and wouldn't mind selling then renting?
Michael_Wiebe's Shortform

So far, the effective altruist strategy for global poverty has followed a high-certainty, low-reward approach. GiveWell only looks at charities with a strong evidence base, such as bednets and cash transfers. But there's also a low certainty, high reward approach: promote catch-up economic growth. Poverty is strongly correlated with economic development (urbanization, industrialization, etc), so encouraging development would have large effects on poverty. Whereas cash transfers have a large probability of a small effect, economic growth is a small probabil... (read more)

I'm a big fan of ideas like this. One of the things I think EAs can bring to charitable giving that is otherwise missing from the landscape is being risk-neutral, and thus willing to bet on high variance strategies that, taken as a whole in a portfolio, may have the same or hopefully higher expect returns compared to typical risk-averse charitable spending that tends to focus on things like making no money is wasted to the exclusion of taking necessary risks to realize benefits.

6HaukeHillebrandt11dInteresting. Related: "Some programs have received strong hints that they will be killed off entirely. The Oxford Policy Fellowship, a technical advisory program that embeds lawyers with governments that require support for two years, will have to withdraw fellows from their postings, according to Kari Selander, who founded the program." [] []
GidonKadosh's Shortform

I've seen very few discussions on "multiplayer perspective" in the community (besides value of coordination on 80k's website, and the forum post How can we best coordinate as a community?, both written by Benjamin Todd), and I fear that we might be neglecting impactful opportunities.

I wonder whether actively encouraging people to take a multiplayer perspective, particularly in donations, can account for additional impact that we're missing out on when we talk so often about the marginal impact an individual has. For instance, I won... (read more)

Buck's Shortform

I’ve recently been thinking about medieval alchemy as a metaphor for longtermist EA.

I think there’s a sense in which it was an extremely reasonable choice to study alchemy. The basic hope of alchemy was that by fiddling around in various ways with substances you had, you’d be able to turn them into other things which had various helpful properties. It would be a really big deal if humans were able to do this.

And it seems a priori pretty reasonable to expect that humanity could get way better at manipulating substances, because there was an established hist... (read more)

Huh, interesting thoughts, have you looked into the actual motivations behind it more? I'd've guessed that there was little "big if true" thinking in alchemy and mostly hopes for wealth and power.

Another thought, I suppose alchemy was more technical than something like magical potion brewing and in that way attracted other kinds of people, making it more proto-scientific? Another similar comparison might be sincere altruistic missionaries that work on finding the "true" interpretation of the bible/koran/..., sharing their prog... (read more)

DanielFilan's Shortform

Ted Kaczynski as a relatively apolitical test case for cancellation norms (x-posted from LW, I'd link but the shortform post editor won't really let me):

Ted Kaczynski was a mathematics professor who decided that industrial society was terrible, and waged a terroristic bombing campaign to foment a revolution against technology. As part of this campaign, he wrote a manifesto titled "Industrial Society and Its Future" and said that if a major newspaper printed it verbatim he would desist from terrorism. He is currently serving eight life s... (read more)

To be explicit, here are some reasons that the EA community should cancel Kaczynski. Note that I do not necessarily think that they are sound or decisive.
- EAs are known as utilitarians who are concerned about the impact of AI technology. By associating with him, that could give people the false impression that EAs are in favour of terroristic bombing campaigns to retard technological development, which would damage the EA community.
- His threat to bomb more people and buildings if the Washington Post (WaPo) didn't publish his manifesto damaged good d... (read more)

Michael_Wiebe's Shortform

Will says:

in order to assess the value (or normative status) of a particular action we can in the first instance just look at the long-run effects of that action (that is, those after 1000 years), and then look at the short-run effects just to decide among those actions whose long-run effects are among the very best.

Is this not laughable? How could anyone think that "looking at the 1000+ year effects of an action" is workable?

Showing 3 of 8 replies (Click to show all)
11Dan_Keys1moIf humanity goes extinct this century, that drastically reduces the likelihood that there are humans in our solar system 1000 years from now. So at least in some cases, looking at the effects 1000+ years in the future is pretty straightforward (conditional on the effects over the coming decades). In order to act for the benefit of the far future (1000+ years away), you don't need to be able to track the far future effects of every possible action. You just need to find at least one course of action whose far future effects are sufficiently predictable to guide you (and good in expectation).

The initial claim is that for any action, we can assess its normative status by looking at its long-run effects. This is a much stronger claim than yours.

2Aaron Gertler1moI also find utilitarian thinking to be more useful/practical than "longtermist thinking". That said, I haven't seen much advocacy for longtermism as a guide to personal action, rather than as a guide to research that much more intensively attempts to map out long-term consequences. Maybe an apt comparison would be "utilitarianism is to decisions I make in my daily life as longtermism is to the decisions I'd make if I were in an influential position with access to many person-years of planning". But this is me trying to guess what another author was thinking; you could consider writing to them directly, too. (I assume you've heard/considered points of this type before; I'm writing them out here mostly for my own benefit, as a way of thinking through the question.)
Michael_Wiebe's Shortform

Why don't models of intelligence explosion assume diminishing marginal returns? In the model below, what are the arguments for assuming a constant , rather than diminishing marginal returns (eg, ). With diminishing returns, an AI can only improve itself at a dimishing rate, so we don't get a singularity.

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