AronM

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I'm Linch Zhang, an amateur COVID-19 forecaster and generalist EA. AMA

I would like to hear your thoughts on Generalist vs Specialist debate.

    • Advice for someone early as a generalist?
    • Did you stumble upon these different fields of interest by your own or did you surround yourself with smart people to get good understandings of various fields?
    • Thoughts on impact comparissons? (Eg can a generalist maybe bring knowledge/wisdom from intuitively non-adjacent disciplines into a project and help advance it?)
    • What skills are you lacking \ or which ones would you like to aquire to become a "Jack of all trades"?
    • Are you even aiming to become even more of a generalist? Yes or no - please elaborate.
ALLFED 2019 Annual Report and Fundraising Appeal

Yes, we are looking into cellular agriculture. Right now we have 2 papers in peer-review, which are covering single cell protein from bacteria that either feed on hydrogen or methane. One of these projects was announced in the report above:

The project will investigate using hydrogen-eating single-cell protein as a food source in catastrophes. The hydrogen would be obtained by electricity splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, or by gasifying (heating without oxygen) solid fuels such as wood, coal, or peat.

And yes we are in contact both with Solar Foods and the Good Food Institute. Even though these forms of food production currently cost more than conventional agriculture they are interesting for ALLFED's mission for 2 reasons:

1) They don't rely on the sun. So these are feasible ways to produce food in a nuclear or volcanic winter.

2) These technologies might help with specific nutrient requirements. Given a scenario in which we would be quickly scaling up the most promising 1-3 solution(s) to meet our caloric demand we might be at risk of malnutrition because not all micronutrients are being covered.

Food Crisis - Cascading Events from COVID-19 & Locusts

Just leaving a quick comment to clarify that I did not downvote your comment.

X-risks to all life v. to humans
Another crucial consideration may be the timeline of intelligent life re-evolving. In scenario B), intelligent life may re-evolve but it may take 100 million years, as opposed to 1 million years in scenario

This is the biggest argument for me against the consideration. I can easily think that it would take way longer than that for intelligent life to reemerge. It took something like 4.6 billion years for us to evolve and in roughly 0.5 billion years the sun will make life on earth uninhabitable. I guess if other primates survive that is a "good" starting point for evolution but intelligent life doesn't seem to be a necessary step for me for survival.

Food Crisis - Cascading Events from COVID-19 & Locusts

Thank you very much for that GJOpen link. On March 30 you estimated a 66% of famine in those regions to be a slight overestimate. Would you mind sharing why you thought this way back then and if you updated in the mean time (and if yes, why)?

Currently the forecast average is at 70%. I put in a 65%.

Reasons for a lower chance:

  • The amount of global kcal locked up due to trade restrictions has gone done in the last week from 4.3 to 2.5% AND the USA joined the pledge to keep food supply chains running (after some hestiation apprently since they weren't mentioned on the 21. April news article but the final version included them).
    • This, together with the fact that relatively high stocks exist, gives me hope that food can be shipped around the world before a famine is declared.
  • From the 5 countries included in the forecast I expect Tanzania and Uganda not to reach famine-levels. (Side note: South Sudan, not part of the forecast, seems to be at higher risk.)
  • Even though we might reach crisis levels of malnutrition, we might not see a famine being declared due to the IPC definition / thresholds.

Reasons for a higher chance:

  • I haven't seen locusts responses that seemed convincing enough to be able to keep the swarms in check. A third wave in Ethiopia and Kenya is a likely possibility.
  • Global supply chains and responses are stressed to their limits due to COVID-19. Even if enough food globally exists, it might not reach those in need on time in sufficient quantities.
  • Due to economic breakdowns (local currencies losing value, export revenue collapsing) the majority (?) of food imports into these nations would need to come from humanitarian aid. It is unclear to me how much foreign aid we will see globally with a lot of debate and spending being national to combat the COVID-19 outbreak within own boarders.

I do except most of these regions to reach crisis levels though (which is a different level from the forecast). This means immense suffering, loss of life and severe poverty for the survivors (for potentially years to come) which is why action should be undertaken.

We're Rethink Priorities. AMA.

It seems like RP's team is working remotely. If not please ignore my questions.

How do you deal with the challenges of researchers working remotely? How do you make sure you are having frequent exchanges and smooth communication?

In case you have some people working at one place (eg office) and some people working remotely:

How do you maintain a coherent team feeling? Do you think one requires such a feeling?


ALLFED 2019 Annual Report and Fundraising Appeal

We can't give a public statement yet. We are expecting one on December 13. The intention of the institute is to cover GCR, x-risks and futurology/foresight.

As soon as we have something to publish I will update this comment and then report accordingly.

EA Handbook 3.0: What content should I include?

2 key information helped me to have impact (after I read about EA, the core ideas and values).

Short version:

1. Not only AI-researchers can do impactful work. Also engineers and other fields. See: http://effectivethesis.com/

2. Most of EAs focus is on preventing x-risks/GCR which is correct because we can't afford to have them occur even once. Work on surviving and lessen the far future impact of x-risks is neglected. ALLFED (Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters) is working on feeding everyone in a catastrophe and has alot of low hanging fruits to work on for multiple disciplines. [80k podcast episode] [ALLFED papers on x-risks and solutions]

Longer Version:

1. I didn't study something AI related and was unsure on how I could contribute in a meaningful and impactful way. I think this is a situation many new EAs face, as some of them are still studying when they hear about EA and they probably didn't choose their field of study with EA in mind. Luckily I found out about http://effectivethesis.com/ . There one can find ways to contribute. The suggested topics cover various fields from Agricultural Science, Economics, Engineering (my background) over to Sociology.

2. Regarding X-risks / GCR

Once one realizes the value of the longterm future one is eager to work on preventing x-risks/GCRs. Most of EAs work on reducing the probability of such events happening in the first place. E.g reducing the amount of nuclear weapons. I think this is the correct way of approaching these problems since for most of these scenarios humanity can't afford them to occur even once. But to contribute to AI research or to lessen the probability of a nuclear war one needs very specific skills that might not be the best fit for everyone. This can discourage new EAs.

Unfortunately for some of these scenarios (e.g super volcano, asteroid impact) the probability will never reach 0% and therefore we need to prepare. Surviving these catastrophes is often neglected. ALLFED (Alliance to Feed Earth in Disasters) is researching on feeding everyone no matter what and through that, lessen the far future impact of otherwise existential risks. Because this is neglected there are alot of low hanging fruits for people to work on. I for example started to work for ALLFED right after my undergrad / bachelors degree. People interested in this kind of work can find information here: [80k podcast episode] [ALLFED papers on x-risks and solutions]