Ben_West

Head of Community and Outreach at CEA. Non-EA interests include terrible puns, chess, YouTube, and applying science to things it isn't usually applied to.

Insta: @happy.effective.altruism TikTok: @benthamite

Ben_West's Comments

AMA or discuss my 80K podcast episode: Ben Garfinkel, FHI researcher

What would you recommend as the best introduction to concerns (or lack thereof) about risks from AI?

If you have time and multiple recommendations, I would be interested in a taxonomy. (E.g. this is the best blog post for non-technical readers, this is the best book-length introduction for CS undergrads.)

[Updated 6/21] 'Existential Risk and Growth' Summary

That's a fair point. I guess the thought experiment could be something like: the department is responsible for some set of people's welfare 50 years from now. We have to either convince that department to have a lower discount rate 50 years from now, or adopt some measures such that the people born 50 years from now will have doubled the consumption (relative to the counterfactual)?

If that's right, the discount rate thing still seems easier. It seems hard to double consumption over a 50 year period, though definitely easier than doubling it immediately.

[Updated 6/21] 'Existential Risk and Growth' Summary

I just looked at the one paper. I'm not sure if other sources disagree.

Even if was 2 though, I still feel like it would be cheaper?

It's hard for me to think about changing individuals, but if I think of governments: there some government department which is responsible for the welfare of some population. We have 2 options:

  1. Convince them to update their models to move their discount rate from 2% to 1%, or
  2. Convince them to adopt some policy which doubles the consumption of everyone within that population

Surely the first one is easier? If only because it's at least in principle possible – even if the US government would magically do whatever I said, I don't know if I could suggest a policy change that would double consumption.

EA Handbook, Third Edition: We want to hear your feedback!

Thanks for posting these! I had never read a few of them, and I especially liked "desperation".

[Updated 6/21] 'Existential Risk and Growth' Summary

Thanks for writing this up! It sparked some good discussion here at CEA.

This paper claims that CRRA (γ) is around 1. According to the table in the article (p13 in your summary), if γ=1.1, then we are indifferent between decreasing the discount rate from 2% to 1.87% versus doubling consumption.

I admit that I have a very poor model of how hard it is to decrease someone's discount rate, but it seems massively easier to decrease people's discount rates by 13 basis points versus doubling consumption. Are my intuitions really off about that?

If I'm right, it seems like this model pretty clearly argues for spreading longtermism versus economic growth.

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

Thanks for clarifying! I understand the intuition behind calling this "neglectedness", but it pushes in the opposite direction of how EA's usually use the term. I might suggest choosing a different term for this, as it confused me (and, I think, others).

To clarify what I mean by "the opposite direction": the original motivation behind caring about "neglectedness" was that it's a heuristic for whether low hanging fruit in the field exists. If no one has looked into something, then it's more likely that there is low hanging fruit, so we should probably prefer domains that are less established . (All other things being equal.)

The fact that many people have looked into climate change but we still have not "flattened the emissions curve" indicates that there is not low hanging fruit remaining. So an argument that climate change is "neglected" in the sense you are using the term is actually an argument that it is not neglected in the usual sense of the term. Hence the confusion from me and others.

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

The same can hardly be said for AI safety, wild animal welfare, or (until this year, perhaps) pandemic prevention. - Will

Otherwise, looking at malaria interventions, to take just one example, makes no sense. Billions have and will continue to go in that direction even without GiveWell - Uri

I noticed Will listed AI safety and wild animal welfare (WAW), and you mentioned malaria. I'm curious if this is the crux – I would guess that Will agrees (certain types of) climate change work is plausibly as good as anti-malaria, and I wonder if you agree that the sort of person who (perhaps incorrectly) cares about WAW should consider that to be more impactful than climate change.

Climate Change Is Neglected By EA

Thanks for sharing! This does seem like an area many people are interested in, so I'm glad to have more discussion.

I would suggest considering the opposite argument regarding neglectedness. If I had to steelman this, I would say something like: a small number of people (perhaps even a single PhD student) do solid research about existential risks from climate change -> existential risks research becomes an accepted part of mainstream climate change work -> because "mainstream climate change work" has so many resources, that small initial bit of research has been leveraged into a much larger amount.

(Note: I'm not sure how reasonable this argument is – I personally don't find it that compelling. But it seems more compelling to me than arguing that climate change isn't neglected, or that we should ignore neglectedness concerns.)

Critical Review of 'The Precipice': A Reassessment of the Risks of AI and Pandemics

This is really interesting! It seems like there's also compelling evidence for more than 2:

While there is no direct evidence that any of the 25 [18] species of Hawaiian land birds that have become extinct since the documented arrival of Culex quinquefasciatus in 1826 [19] were even susceptible to malaria and there is limited anecdotal information suggesting they were affected by birdpox [19], the observation that several remaining species only persist either on islands where there are no mosquitoes or at altitudes above those at which mosquitoes can breed and that these same species are highly susceptible to avian malaria and birdpox [18,19] is certainly very strong circumstantial evidence...

The formerly abundant endemic rats Rattus macleari and Rattus nativitas disappeared from Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean (10°29′ S 105°38′ E) around the turn of the twentieth century. Their disappearance was apparently abrupt, and shortly before the final collapse sick individuals were seen crawling along footpaths [22]. At that time, trypanosomiasis transmitted by fleas from introduced black rats R. rattus was suggested as the causative agent. Recently, Wyatt et al. [22] managed to isolate trypanosome DNA from both R. rattus and R. macleari specimens collected during the period of decline, whereas no trypanosome DNA was present in R. nativitas specimens collected before the arrival of black rats. While this is good circumstantial evidence, direct evidence that trypanosomes caused the mortality is limited

162 benefits of coronavirus

Yeah, even if it just leads to acceptance that higher education is about signaling, that seems like a step in the right direction to me. It at least lays the groundwork for future innovators who can optimize for signaling as opposed to "education."

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