avacyn

238Joined Nov 2016

Comments
29

I disagree with 2 and somewhat disagree with 3.

Re 2 - I think there's a lot of value early on to describing clearly what you do via your name,  and particularly how you might be different than similar organizations. A big challenge for new organizations is building a network of people (donors, employees, advisors) that are excited about what the group is doing. Making it clear to people why they might get excited to you via your name is a way to make this process much easier.

If you expand your strategy in the future you can always rebrand. Rebranding is disruptive, but it often won't be as harmful as missing out on valuable connections early on.

Re 3 - getting lots of feedback is great, and you make a good point regarding how to get feedback. However, I think you have to be careful about how you weigh that feedback. The more people who weigh in on something like this, the more likely you'll end up selecting for something that doesn't have downsides, rather than something that actively has upsides (especially non-obvious ones, such as clearly describing what you do).

I’ll preface by saying that I’m not deeply informed about the activities of the various non-profits in the technology alternative space (GFI, MII, New Harvest,  Cellular Agriculture Society). However, based on my direct anecdotal experience working with some of these orgs, as well as strong impressions formed through working adjacent to them at a cell ag company, their relative  rankings don't line up with my understanding of their relative impact and competence. ACE's comprehensive write ups don't provide much more detail either.  I worry that ACE has holes in their process that cause them to be systematically wrong about charities in the animal-alternative technology space. I would welcome more explanation for what went into these rankings.

I have a lot of respect for ACE, and I think that charity evaluation here is even more difficult than it is for conventional animal advocacy. However, if I were a donor, I would place very limited weight on ACE’s rankings for these orgs in particular, absent more info.

(I have no opinions ACE’s recommendations for other charities, and would probably still mostly defer to ACE there).

Not to over-emphasize this part of the debate, but I don't think future cultured meat systems will be that analogous to how they look in animals. For example, modern bioreactor systems often employ a "sterile boundary" approach to sterility, which is pretty different than using antibodies to attack foreign  particles. Depending on what bioreactor system you use, there are lots of things that look pretty different than what happens inside an animal.

Completely agree! I'll also point out that there's tons of promising fast growing startups in the alternative protein space.

I think this is a bit of a straw-person. It may be true that some commentators overstate the immediate relevance of this consideration, as well as how close companies are to reaping the benefits of this efficiency. However, a more charitable interpretation of the argument is that at scale, support systems will be amortized over a much larger amount of desired output. To give two examples:

  • Animals expend a substantial amount of calories thinking with their brain. This processing will be centralized, and paired down in scope in the computers that run the bioreactors.
  • Animals spend a lot of energy regulating body temperature. Given that bioreactors will be much bigger than animals, they will have a much lower surface area for heat transfer.

(To be clear, I don’t think this category of argument is a major consideration in favor nor against the feasibility of cultured meat. There are arguments pointed in both direction. One disadvantage of bioreactors is that they have to be designed to last decades, have modular components that can be swapped out, etc.)


 

Thanks Linch! Apologies for the things I misunderstood / misrepresented about your report. Any sloppiness was the result of being rushed. I hope it’s clear that I was trying to engage in good faith :).

I agree with your characterization of the Altruist’s goals. Indeed, I think one of the biggest reasons to be bearish on cultured is if you’re super bullish on plant-based!

Re my theory of change, one other area that we may take lessons from is AI. I’m hesitant to speak too much about that since folks here know way more about it than me, but if AGI ends up being possible, it seems like it would have been important that domain-specific AIs were highly economically useful at various levels of sophistication. 

Re the crux you identified - I agree that imagining such scenarios is important to thinking about the possible outcomes of cultured meat. I’m not sure I understand your distinction in the last paragraph of your comment. However, a couple of related thoughts:

  • I don’t imagine it’s a good use of EA resources to devote tons of money directly to cultured meat R&D. Instead, it seems better to identify high leverage ways to increase funding, e.g. GFI’s work to hire lobbyists to get governments to invest huge sums and provide great incentives for research (like they have for solar).
  • It doesn’t seem particularly optimistic to think that there will be on the order of tens of billions of dollars of investment over the next 10-20 years (even potentially with minimal EA intervention). I’d have to think a bit more about the different scenarios, but there are lots of worlds where there are impressive milestones reached, lots of private funding, funding by incumbent food companies, governments, etc in which we’d see that kind of investment. Tesla alone has an R&D budget of around 1.5B / year.

In particular, there is a talent bottleneck for science and engineering roles.

As someone with experience hiring in the alternative protein sector, I have a few thoughts about this:

  • The current talent bottlenecks in the industry may not be a great guide for a young professional's career, at least in the alternative protein sector. Things in these industries change extremely quickly. Given that it could take 5+ years to get educated in one of these technical fields, the landscape by the time you finish your degree may look pretty different. Product improvement is a major focus now, but in the future I can see a major emphasis on policy (government funding for technical research can be a massive resource for public-good focused industries), management, operations, and marketing / PR (e.g. once the competition with conventional meat gets a bit dirtier).
  • In my experience, the talent bottleneck for food science is greater than for other technical fields. Plant-based, cultivated, and fermented alt-proteins all need food scientists, and the explosion in plant-based meat (which is 10x bigger than cultivated and fermented) has put a lot of strain on that labor market. I also think it may be somewhat faster to get trained in food science than in e.g. bioengineering.

Very thorough writeup :)

Agree!

Another possible difference between the startup world and the EA world is that startups have access to much stronger direct feedback loops than non-profits, i.e. trying to sell to customers and seeing what happens. This means that startups don't have to think through everything super carefully before executing.

I remember being surprised by the differing mindsets about operations when I transitioned to being more involved in the tech startup world after already being involved in EA. In the startup world you often hear things like "Ideas are cheap; execution is everything" which likely leads to operations feeling less low status. This is a major contrast to the EA world where many are highly intellectual, and place a high value on ideas. Given that startups tend to have more skin in the game than non-profits, perhaps EA non-profits could benefit from shifting more towards this mindset.

[Separating from my other comment, since it's a separate idea]

There's a fifth idea that  activists might consider when taking conflicted omnivores seriously, although it's a bit ickier. Activists may be able to take whatever feeling is underlying the answers to these polls, and combine it with peoples' general lack of education around factory farming, and garner broad support for something that seems much less radical than it is. For example, imagine a ballot initiative that aimed to "ban artificial insemination" in the dairy industry. Given polls like these, people may be inclined to support it, despite being unaware that it could cripple the dairy industry.

Load More