Greg S

Secretary @ Effective Altruism Australia
173 karmaJoined Working (6-15 years)Canberra ACT, Australia



I'm the Secretary of Effective Altruism Australia and founder of Effective Altruism Australia: Environment. 

After 15~ years in the Australian national security community, including in the Prime Minister's Department and as a senior adviser to the Home Affairs Minister, I now work full-time advocating for longtermist policies in Australia.  


How others can help me

I think meaningful responses to GCRs and other long-term priorities requires coordinated multilateral policy effort. If you're working in policy , I'd love you to reach out and talk about your priorities and traction points. 

I'm also keen to talk to everyone in Australia (and the region). Policy change shouldn't be just a few people on the hill. There are ways for everyone in the community to be empowered. You might be surprised at the impact a single person can have if armed with the right information, contact and timing. 

How I can help others

I have connections in the Australian public service. If you're after an impactful policy career I can put you in touch with the right people to get started, including for mid and late career opportunities.


If you're interested in this event, but not in Brisbane - we'll be doing similar events around Australia. Sign up to the Good Ancestors' newsletter to receive and email when the details are available, otherwise keep an eye on your local group.

 Newsletter — The Good Ancestors Project 

Thanks for this comment. I couldn't agree more. 

As you say, the overwhelming perspective in Australia up until a few months ago was in favour of acceleration for economic gain and somewhat interested in near-term ethical concerns. It's probably only a marginal overstatement to say that the political environment was actively hostile to AI safety considerations. 

There was a real risk that Australia was going to 'drag the chain' on any international AI safety work. Anyone who has been involved in international negotiations will know how easily one or two countries can damage consensus and slow progress. 

It's obviously hard to calculate the counterfactual, but it seems certain that the work in the community you refer to has helped normalise AI safety considerations in the minds of senior decision-makers, and so there's a real possibility that that work shaped how Australia acted at the Summit. 

Thanks so much for the summary Zan.  The letter has attracted a really good spread of AI expertise in Australia, has given us a vehicle to talk to other experts and government advisors less focused on safety issues. The letter is also attracting a reasonable amount of media attention this morning. 

It's hard to overstate how backwards the Australian government's leadership is on AI safety concerns at this point in time. If things continue as they are, it's essentially certain that the Australian government is going to be a skeptical voice in any multilateral negotiations relating to global agreements and standards setting etc. Given Australia's geopolitical position, it would meaningfully harm global efforts if Australia is pulling in the wrong direction.

I'm really hopeful that this effort will have a meaningful impact in Australia correcting course. This is a great start, but it will require sustained effort. 

Thanks Max - I'm glad this is a hot research topic. 

At Good Ancestors Policy, we have begun advocating for the adoption in Australia of various pandemic prevention and mitigation approaches. The residual uncertainty (specifically that we don't have enough evidence to confidently advise on how that risk-benefit calculus should be assessed in different contexts) makes it very difficult currently to advocate for anything specific relating to far-UVC.

My hunch is that government-directed advocacy for far-UVC is only likely to be successful if we can say "this technology has significant benefits during a pandemic, but provides meaningful ongoing benefit from reducing 'colds and flus' even when there isn't a pandemic". That is, if the pitch is instead "install this technology, turn it on if a certain risk threshold is crossed, and the cost-benefit works out because pandemics are super bad" governments might be unlikely to bite even if that cost-benefit assessment is robust.

Will keep following this closely! 

I think the 'good vibes' that help policy advocacy come (in part) from benefiting from other people's positive externalities. That's to say, I'd like us to be in a position where we can say "we're the movement that achieved X, Y and Z. So when we ask your nation to (put 5% of its aid budget to bed nets) you should take us seriously". 

To the extent that we're more centralised and coordinated, it's easier to say "we're the movement that achieved X, Y and Z". When we intentionally fracture and distance ourselves, we also fracture and distance ourselves from those positive externalities.

Again, I recognise that there is a give and take here - risks and opportunities. I just think that we need to put this potential path to policy impact as an 'opportunity' that we largely pass-up when we choose to distance our work and organisations from other another. 

I think I mostly agree with what you're saying. Perhaps the difference at the margins is that if 10 organisations get 10 grants for 10 researchers for 6 months, what they'll each do is find a person for a short-term contract. If someone leaves or gets sick etc, a stream of work might not be completed and an organisation will be in a tight spot. 

If that was instead one organisation, maybe it brings on 5-6 researchers for a year (or ongoing), makes some assumptions about staff turnover and part-time arrangements, and when someone leaves or gets sick it's not a big deal because work can be reassigned between the team and project timelines can be shuffled (surge people onto the more urgent work). Basically bigger numbers (dollars; staff; projects) gives managers more wiggle room to find ways to make things work.

But I agree with you, that if funders were hard over on smaller organisations, there are ways they could ease the employment model concerns in other ways. I just think the ideal situation from an employment and management perspective would be longer term and more centralised. 

I'm not sure that's true for two reasons:

First, there's a lot of niche special interest groups that get their way with government. There's lots of ways to pressuring government for a policy outcome that aren't a simple popular appeal.

Second, I don't think it's impossible to build public support for many things we believe in. I think a message like "it's unacceptable that in current year there are people who need something as simple as a net, but don't have access to it - government could fix this today" could easily have popular appeal. Or at least sufficient popular that an alliance of governments would put a few per cent of their aid budgets on the problem and fix it. I agree that not everything we care about could work this way, but many things could. 

A factor in favour of a more coherent EA that this post misses is the importance of policy advocacy. 

I think in almost all of the spheres we care about governments hold most of the levers. For instance, it would be within the power of many countries to unilaterally solve the global insecticide-treated bed net problem if they were sufficiently motivated. I could make this a very long list. 

As a public servant and ministerial adviser, I've been on the receiving end of well-coordinated campaigns by global not-for-profits. They're extraordinal good at getting their way. The example I usually think of is Save the Children. It's hard to know for sure, but StC seems to have fewer people involved than EA and less money. But they have significant access to the leaders of dozens of countries; the ability to drive multilateral agreements through international decision-making bodies (see the UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child); and genuine geostrategic influence.

The EA movement has all the ingredients (global reach; motivated talent; money) necessary to have influence of that kind, or more. But we chose not to (for many of the reasons outlined above), and I think our impact suffers hugely because of that choice. I think we've made a bad deal. I would much rather we paid the price of coordination, managed the risks that result, and used it to be serious players in global policy.  


As a manager of a small "EA organisation" I strongly agree with this post. 

To expand slightly on the points you made under the flexibility headings, I focus on two things more significant organisations can offer that smaller ones can't:

  1. Better support to employees, particularly in fostering diversity. To oversimplify, a small organisation with the funding models and employment models that follow typically can't offer the proper range of supports (e.g. parental leave, a degree of employment stability, internal mobility for career growth) that a diverse workforce needs. This directly causes many of the diversity challenges EA faces and harms the movement.
  2. Linked to the previous point - talent identification and management. I know the people in my field and I know the people in my area. I know the other institutions where the talent is currently employed. I can find value-aligned talent and pull them into my organisation / our sphere. But the model needs to be legible to them. When I explain the bizarre series of runways and grants that my organisation is funded by, and the limits and dependencies that follow, that is a massive turn-off to people. And fair enough. Going back to point 1, risky employment structures are only tolerable for a subset of people.

There's also a point about weight and influence. We greatly reduce our policy influence by fracturing ourselves so much. We are a significant movement that ought to have a weight in the policy conversation equal to our significance. But we present ourselves poorly for that purpose and are weaker as a result. I understand there are risks we manage through the current approach, but I think we are very much on the wrong point of the spectrum. 

In my specific case, I would much prefer a world where funders who wanted activities to occur in Australia were able to pool money into one or a small number of top-level organisations and communicate to the board their top-down view of prioritisation and the degree of autonomy + trust  they are or aren't happy with through funding agreements. And then the organisation can do fundraising and community building and policy development and advocacy and organising conferences and coordinating volunteers and all the other things. Presumably, it would also be easier for donors to interface with one or a few organisations, rather than dozens.

I agree with the bulk of this post, but disagree (or have misunderstood) in two specific ways:

First, I think it is essential that EA is a “practical project”, not merely (or primarily) an intellectual project. Peter Singer shared an intellectual insight linked to practical action, and the EA community used that insight to shape our thinking on impactful interventions and to make a practical difference in the world. It’s the link to practical action that, for me, is the most important part of what we do. I think EA is, and should be, fundamentally a practical project. Of course, we should do sufficient intellectual work to inform that practical project. But, if we lose sight of the practical project, I don’t think it’s “effective” or “altruism”. 

Second, I think the trend of “disassociating” is typically unhelpful. You note elsewhere in your post that brand damage risks negative feedback loops (and hence a reduction in tractability) and that there is a chance that the community tears itself apart in the face of setbacks. I think disassociating fuels those fires. Personally, I plan to keep associating the EA brand (appropriately) with the good work that I do, because I want everyone in this community to benefit from the positive externality of my work (as humble as that might be). It would be nice if others did the same. That’s how we rebuild and come out of this stronger. If everyone doing good work disassociates, that’s the definition of the community tearing itself apart. 

On the balance of things we agree on (and my own priors separate to recent events), I think EA becoming more centralised is right. I agree that we need to focus on good governance and integrity. Doing that effectively requires a sufficient centre-of-mass. The current situation with very many dozens (hundreds?) of small organisations and grant-funded individuals largely doing their own things is not well suited for good governance and high integrity. I think funders should strongly update to provide funding to established organisations (geographically based or subject matter based) to achieve particular outcomes, rather than providing grants to individuals. Empowering peak bodies on issues or in locations lets them have the weight and expertise necessary to drive integrity and enforce norms. But that’s verging on a different conversation. 

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