124Joined Jul 2020



I enjoyed the new intro article, especially the focus on solutions.  Some nitpicks:

  • I'm not sure that it's good to use 1DaySooner as the second example of positive EA interventions.  I agree that challenge trials are good, but in my experience (admittedly a convenience sample), a lot of people I talk to are very wary of challenge trials.  I worry that including it in an intro article could create needless controversy/turn people away.
  • I also think that some of the solutions in the biodefense section are too vague.  For example, what exactly did the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security do to qualify as important?  It's great that the Apollo Programme for Biodefense has billions in funding, but what are they doing with that money? 
  • I don't think it makes sense to include longtermism without explanation in the AI section.  Right now it's unexplained jargon.  If I were to edit this, I'd replace that sentence with a quick reason why this huge effect on future generations matters or delete the sentence entirely.

Thanks for writing this up so concisely -- I think that this is a nice list of pros and cons.  I agree that the weekly/seminar model works better for virtual reading groups.  I certainly would not want to spend 6+ hours on Zoom for a reading group continuously.


I'm not sure what all of the participants' motivation was for joining (I should've gathered that info).  As background, we mostly publicized the intensive to members of MIT EA interested in AI safety and to members of Harvard EA.  Here are, I think, the main motivations I noticed:

  • Considering pursuing AI safety technical research as a career, and thus wanting to develop a foundation/overview (~2 participants);
  • Wanting to learn about an important EA cause area to get a more well-rounded view of EA, or to help with work in an adjacent cause area like AI governance (~2 participants);
  • Shoring up/filling in gaps in knowledge about AI safety, already planning to work in AI safety (~2 participants).

Good luck!  I'm excited to hear how this goes.


Agreed, although it's possible to use Messenger with a deactivated Facebook account, which seems to solve this issue.


Back of the envelope calculation

Answer by ag4000Apr 01, 202210

As an alternative to "Famine, Affluence, and Morality," there is Peter Unger's Living High and Letting Die, of which Chapter 2 is particularly relevant.  It's more philosophical (this could be a bad thing) and much more comprehensive than Singer's article.

This is the first of our cases:

The Vintage Sedan. Not truly rich, your one luxury in life is a vintage Mercedes sedan that, with much time, attention and money, you've restored to mint condition. In particular, you're pleased by the auto's fine leather seating. One day, you stop at the intersection of two small country roads, both lightly travelled. Hearing a voice screaming for help, you get out and see a man who's wounded and covered with a lot of his blood. Assuring you that his wound's confined to one of his legs, the man also informs you that he was a medical student for two full years. And, despite his expulsion for cheating on his second year final exams, which explains his indigent status since, he's knowledgeably tied his shirt near the wound so as to stop the flow. So, there's no urgent danger of losing his life, you're informed, but there's great danger of losing his limb. This can be prevented, however, if you drive him to a rural hospital fifty miles away. “How did the wound occur?” you ask. An avid bird‐watcher, he admits that he trespassed on a nearby field and, in carelessly leaving, cut himself on rusty barbed wire. Now, if you'd aid this trespasser, you must lay him across your fine back seat. But, then, your fine upholstery will be soaked through with blood, and restoring the car will cost over five thousand dollars. So, you drive away. Picked up the next day by another driver, he survives but loses the wounded leg.

Except for your behavior, the example's as realistic as it's simple.

Even including the specification of your behavior, our other case is pretty realistic and extremely simple; for convenience, I'll again display it:

The Envelope. In your mailbox, there's something from (the U.S. Committee for) UNICEF. After reading it through, you correctly believe that, unless you soon send in a check for $100, then, instead of each living many more years, over thirty more children will die soon. But, you throw the material in your trash basket, including the convenient return envelope provided, you send nothing, and, instead of living many years, over thirty more children soon die than would have had you sent in the requested $100.

Taken together, these contrast cases will promote the chapter's primary puzzle.


Thanks for sharing this!   I agree that learning about Bayes' Theorem is important for EAs, and really anyone in the world.  Small typo: it is Bayes' Theorem, not Baye's Theorem, as it's named after Thomas Bayes.


I absolutely LOVE these dialogues; they're my go-to introduction to why I think that animal welfare and veganism are so important.  I especially like to have people read them one day at a time, discussing each day with them after they've read it.  The dialogues are engaging and far more comprehensive for the size than anything else I know. 

One criticism I have is that the dialogues don't mention much the conditions in which animals on factory farms live.  I find that one bottleneck is that people don't always believe that factory farming is a big deal until they learn about the severity of suffering within the farms.  I therefore plan to supplement reading the Dialogues with some other sources.

By the way, if you want a legal free copy of the book, a previous draft was published in Between the Species.  You can find it here.

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