Alex HT

Wiki Contributions


We're Redwood Research, we do applied alignment research, AMA

What factors do you think would have to be in place for some other people to set up some similar but different organisation in 5 years time?

I imagine this is mainly about the skills and experience of the team, but also interested in other things if you think that's relevant

We're Redwood Research, we do applied alignment research, AMA

This looks brilliant, and I want to strong-strong upvote!

What do you foresee as your biggest bottlenecks or obstacles in the next 5 years? Eg. finding people with a certain skillset, or just not being able to hire quickly while preserving good culture.

Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021

What if LessWrong is taken down for another reason? Eg. the organisers of this game/exercise want to imitate the situation Petrov was in, so they create some kind of false alarm

Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021

An obvious question which I'm keen to hear people's thoughts on - does MAD work here? Specifically, does it make sense for the EA forum users with launch codes to commit to a retaliatory attack? The obvious case for it is deterrence. The obvious counterarguments are that the Forum could  go down for a reason other than a strike from LessWrong, and that once the Forum is down, it doesn't help us to take down LW (though this type of situation might be regular enough that future credibility makes it worth it)


Though of course it would be really bad for us to have to take down LW, and we really don't want to. And I imagine most of us trust the 100 LW users with codes not to use them :)

The importance of optimizing the first few weeks of uni for EA groups

This is great!  I'm tentatively interested in groups trying outreach slightly before the start of term. It seems like there's a discontinuous increase in people's opportunity cost when they arrive at university - suddenly there are loads more cool clubs and people vying for their attention. Currently, EA groups are mixed in with this crowd of stuff. 

One way this could look is running a 1-2 week residential course for offer holders the summer before they start at university (a bit like SPARC or Uncommon Sense).  

To see if this is something a few groups should be doing, it might be good for one group to try this and then see how many core members of the group come out of the project, compared to other things like running intro fellowships. You could roughly track how much time each project took to get a rough sense of the time-effectiveness. 

This might have some of the benefits you list for outreach at the start of term, but the additional benefit of having less competition. This kind of thing also has some of the benefits of high school outreach talked about here, but avoids some of the downsides - attendees won't be minors, and we already know their university destination.  There might be a couple of extra obstacles, like advertising the course to all the offer-holders, and some kind of framing issue to make sure it didn't feel weird, but I think these are surmountable. 

I'm not sure whether 'EA' would necessarily be the best framing here - there are four camps that I know of (SPARC, ESPR, Uncommon Sense, and Building a Better Future) and none of them use a direct EA framing, but all seem to be intended to create really impactful people long-term. (But maybe that means it's time to try an EA camp!)

Pretty unsure about all of this though - and I'm really keen to hear things I might be missing!

Towards a Weaker Longtermism

I tentatively believe (ii), depending on some definitions. I'm somewhat surprised to see Ben and Darius implying it's a really weird view, and makes me wonder what I'm missing.

I don't want the EA community to stop working on all non-longtermist things. But the reason is because I think many of those things have positive indirect effects on the EA community. (I just mean indirect effects on the EA community, and maybe on the broader philanthropic community, I don't mean indirect effects more broadly in the sense of 'better health in poor countries' --> 'more economic growth' --> 'more innovation')

For example non-longtermist interventions are often a good way to demonstrate EA ideas and successes (eg. pointing to GiveWell is really helpful as an intro to EA); non-longtermist causes are a way for people to get involved with EA and end up working on longtermist causes (eg. Charlotte Siegmann incoming at GPI comes to mind as a great success story along those lines); work on non-longtermist causes has better feedback loops so it might improve the community's skills (eg. Charity Entrepreneurship incubatees probably are highly skilled 2-5 years after the program. Though I'm not sure that actually translates to more skill-hours going towards longtermist causes).

But none of these reasons are that I think the actual intended impact of non-longtermist interventions is competitive with longtermist interventions. Eg. I think Charity Entrepreneurship is good because it's creating a community and culture of founding impact-oriented nonprofits, not because [it's better for shrimp/there's less lead in paint/fewer children smoke tobacco products].  Basically I think the only reasons the near-term interventions might be good is because they might make the long-term future go better.

I'm not sure what counts as 'astronomically' more cost effective, but if it means ~1000x more important/cost-effective I might agree with (ii). It's hard to come up with a good thought experiment here to test this intuition. 

One hypothetical is 'would you rather $10,000 gets donated to the Longterm Future Fund, or $10 mil gets donated to Give Well's Maximum Impact Fund'. This is confusing though, because I'm not sure how important extra funding is in these areas. Another hypothetical is 'would you rather 10 fairly smart people devote their careers to longtermist causes (eg. following 80k advice), or 10,000 fairly smart people devote their careers to neartermist causes (eg. following AAC advice)'. This is confusing because I expect 10,000 people working on effective animal advocacy to have some  effect on the long-term future. Some of them might end up working on nearby long-termist things like digital sentience. They might slightly shift the culture of veganism to be more evidence-based and welfarist, which could lead to faster flow of people from veganism to EA over time.  They would also do projects which EA could point to as success, which could be helpful for getting more people into EA and eventually into longtermist causes.

If I try to imagine a version of this hypothetical without those externalities, I think I prefer the longtermist option, indicating that the 1000x difference seems plausible to me.

I wonder if some of the reasons people don't hold the view I do is some combination of (1) 'this feels weird so maybe it's wrong' and (2) 'I don't want to be unkind to people working on neartermist causes'. 

I think (1) does carry some weight and we should be cautious when acting on new, weird ideas that imply strange actions. However, I'm not sure how much longtermism actually falls into this category. 

  • The idea is not that new, and there's been quite a lot of energy devoted to criticising the ideas. I don't know what others in this thread think, but I haven't found much of this criticism very convincing.
  • Weak longtermism (future people matter morally) is intuitive for lots of people (though not all, which is fine). I concede strong longtermism is initially very intuitive though
  • Strong longtermism doesn't imply we should do particularly weird things. It implies we should do things like: get prepared for pandemics, make it harder for people to create novel pathogens, reduce the risk of nuclear war, take seriously the facts that we can't get current AI systems to do what we want but AI systems are quickly becoming really impressive, and some/most kinds of trend-extrapolation or forecasts imply AGI in the next 10-120 years. Sure, strong longtermism implies we shouldn't prioritise helping people in extreme poverty. But helping people in extreme poverty is not the default action, most people don't spend any resources on that at all. (This is similar to Eliezer's point above).

I also feel the weight of (2). It makes me squirm to reconcile my tentative belief in strong longtermism with my admiration of many people who do really impressive work on non-longtermist causes and my desire to get along with those people. I really think longtermists shouldn't make people who work on other causes feel bad. However, I think it's possible to commit to strong longtermism without making other people feel attacked, or too unappreciated. And I don't think these kinds of social considerations have any bearing on which cause to prioritise working on. 

I feel like a big part of the edge of the EA and rationality community is that we follow arguments to their conclusions even when it's weird, or it feels  difficult, or we're not completely sure. We make tradeoffs even when it feels really hard - like working on reducing existential risk instead of  helping people in extreme poverty or animals in factory farms today.

I feel like I also need to clarify some things:

  • I don't try to get everyone I talk to to work on longtermist things. I don't think that would be good for the people I talk to, the EA community, or the longterm future
  • I really value hearing arguments against longtermism. These are helpful for finding out if longtermism is wrong, figuring out the best ways to explain longtermism, and spotting potential failure modes of acting on longtermism. I sometimes think about paying someone to write a really good, clear case for why acting on strong longtermism is most likely to be a bad idea
  • My all-things-considered view is a bit more moderate than this comment suggests, and I'm eager to hear Darius', Ben's, and others views on this
How Do AI Timelines Affect Giving Now vs. Later?

Nice, thanks for these thoughts.

But there's no way to save up labor to be used later, except in the sense that you can convert labor into capital and then back into labor (although these conversions might not be efficient, e.g., if you can't find enough talented people to do the work you want). So the tradeoff with labor is that you have to choose what to prioritize. This question is more about traditional cause prioritization than about giving now vs. later. 

Ah sorry I think I was unclear. I meant 'capacity-building' in the narrow sense of 'getting more people to work on AI' eg. by building the EA community, rather than building civilisation's capacity eg. by improving institutional decision-making. Did you think I meant the second one? I think the first one is more analogous to capital as building the EA community looks a bit more like investing (you use some of the resource to make more later)  

How Do AI Timelines Affect Giving Now vs. Later?

This is cool, thanks for posting :) How do you think this generalises to a situation where labor is the key resource rather than money?

I'm a bit more interested in the question 'how much longtermist labor should be directed towards capacity-building vs. 'direct' work (eg. technical AIS research)?' than the question 'how much longtermist money should be directed towards spending now vs. investing to save later?'

I think this is mainly because longtermism, x-risk, and AIS seem to be bumping up against the labor constraint much more than the money constraint. (Or put another way, I think OpenPhil doesn't pick their savings rate based on their timelines, but based on whether they can find good projects. As individuals, our resource allocation problem is to either try to give OpenPhil marginally better direct projects to fund or marginally better capacity-building projects to fund.)

[Also aware that you were just building this model to test whether the claim about AI timelines affecting the savings rate makes sense, and you weren't trying to capture labor-related dynamics.]

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