alexrjl's Comments

Shoot Your Shot

I currently do high school outreach also (in fact, in a context which selects for mathematical talent and enthusiasm, so not miles away from splash) feel free to PM me if you'd like to discuss ideas and/or have some help with session planning. I'd also recommend getting in touch with @cafelow on the forum.

Founders Pledge Climate & Lifestyle Report

Thanks for posting. I think it's really valuable to have high quality cause area specific analysis to point interested non-EAs towards and that founder's pledge has consistently been a great source of exactly this.

I'm a little skeptical about the strength of the claims around the waterbed effect. It seems like governments historically have been much better at setting targets than meeting them, and that individual emissions make targets marginally less likely to be hit. It seems likely that e.g. if in 2040 it becomes clear that there's no way the UK will meet its 2050 target without huge and extremely costly changes, the government will move the target target than implement them, which would make anything that makes the target harder to hit potentially very harmful.

Illegible impact is still impact

Thank you for writing this. As someone whe estimates his own career path has almost entirely illegible impact, it's made me more excited to continue trying to maximise that impact, even though it's unlikely to be visible. I thought it was worth commenting mostly as even though the majority of the impact you've had by writing this post will be illegible, it might be nice to see some of it.

What posts you are planning on writing?

Importance, Tractibility and Neglectedness should not have equal weight.

TL;Dr, Neglectedness is a useful tiebreaker and gives you information about tractability but the relatively common matrix approach of scoring possible ideas on ITN and then ranking based on the sum of the scores overweights it.

Personal Data for analysing people's opinions on EA issues

The negative repercussions of this in terms of how EA is perceived seem absolutely enormous. Cambridge Analytica has got to be one of most despised companies in the Western world.

alexrjl's Shortform

Discounting the future consequences of welfare producing actions:

  • there's almost unanimous agreement among moral philosophers that welfare itself should not be discounted in the future.
  • however many systems in the world are chaotic, and it's very uncontroversial that in consequentialist theories the value of an action should depend on the expected utility it produces.
  • is it possible that the rational conclusion is to exponentially discount future welfare as a way of accounting for the exponential sensitivity to initial conditions exhibited by the long term consequences of one's actions?
Interaction Effect

I think the other responses capture the most important response to your question, which is that we tend to look at the value of things on the margin. However, as you're clearly thinking intelligently about important ideas, I thought I'd point you in the direction of some further thinking.

Another, perhaps clearer case where this "thinking on the margin" happens is with charity evaluation. If, for example, there existed some very rare and fatal disease which cost only pennies to cure, it would be extremely cost effective for people to donate to an organisation providing cures, until that organisation had enough to cure everyone with the disease. After this point, the cost effectiveness of additional funding would dramatically drop. Usually this doesn't happen quite so dramatically, but it's still an important effect. It is this sort of reasoning which has prompted givewell, for example, to look at "room for additional funding", see here.

There's another way of looking at your question though, which is to re-phrase it as "how should we assign credit for good outcomes which required multiple actors?"

One approach to answering this version of the question is discussed in depth here. I think you may enjoy it.

The Economic Lives of the Poor

Thank you for posting this. It's an excellent summary and also brought to my attention an important article I otherwise might not have come across for months.

What book(s) would you want a gifted teenager to come across?

I preordered a copy for the library and it was checked out almost instantly. :)

alexrjl's Shortform

I started donating regularly but following the thought process:

Some amount of money exists which is small enough that I wouldn't notice not having it.

This is clearly a lower bound on how much I am morally obligated to donate, because not having it costs me 0 utility, but giving it awa generates positive utility for someone else.

I ended up donating £1/month, but committing never to cancel this and periodically review it. I now donate much, much more.

To do:

Compare the benefits of encouraging other people to take a similar approach with the potentially harm associated with this approach going wrong, specifically moral licensing kicking in at relatively small donation amounts.

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