528Joined Aug 2020


I co-founded the Lead Exposure Elimination Project (https://leadelimination.org/), an international NGO that works to avert childhood lead poisoning.

I've also published academic research on X-Risk and have a particularly strong interest in Great Power Conflict.


Answer by JackJun 10, 202220

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Ahhhh I see! Thanks for clarifying! 

And thanks again - this was a great read.

Really interesting thoughts! Thanks for putting this together. So useful and practical to have a priority list of this kind! 

I was quite surprised that policy around nuclear weapons isn't rated even higher. Looking at your spreadsheet, I think the 'Australia ROI' score for nuclear war might be quite strongly underrated at present.  It is currently rated on that metric as a 2 (out of 5) meaning "Compared to other countries, Australia has little control and influence on this issue. Australia also has a poor international reputation on this issue and rarely implements best practices. Australia has no comparative advantages for addressing this issue."

This seems to be a mistake to me. You're right that Australia has little sway on the likelihood of nuclear war, or on the behaviour of major nuclear powers, and it isn't a nuclear power itself. However, it still has huge advantage compared to most countries in addressing existential risk - the reason being that (according to a number of experts like Brian Martin and Toby Ord) Australia seems far more likely than almost any other country to survive a nuclear war.  So while there likely isn't much work to be done in Australia to prevent a nuclear war from occurring, it seems like there is a huge amount that could be done in Australia, and maybe only in Australia, in order to prevent the actual extinction risk attached to nuclear war. 

In particular a) having plans set up for survival of some portion of the Australian population so that nuclear war doesn't result in extinction (At present, it's my understanding that the Australian government has no contingencies in place for population survival after nuclear war at this point) and b) ensuring that Australia doesn't arm themselves with nuclear weapons/doesn't take actions that lead it to become a major nuclear target in future. As being a nuclear target would jeopardise one of the places most likely to survive. These two approaches seem like they could be powerful ways to avoid the extinction risk associated with nuclear weapons, and Australia would be better positioned to implement this than almost any other country (possible exceptions/other viable countries might be New Zealand, or possibly Argentina).

Any change of score here - even a change by one point on this one metric - would make nuclear risk the #1 highest priority option to address in Australia in your spreadsheet. As it currently scores as the equal most important option in you list.

It seems valid using your metrics too, as rating it a 3 would mean that "Compared to other countries, Australia has some control and influence on this issue." and " "Australia has few comparative advantages for addressing this issue." (instead of no comparative advantages), which, even under conservative assumptions seems highly likely to be true. 

Given Australia's uniquely good positioning with this issue, is there a reason it wasn't rated higher on this metric? Perhaps there's something I've missed.

This was a great post! Really enjoyed reading it! 

That said, the ordering in the shortlist in this post is a touch confusing - it doesn't seem to map to the total scores in your spreadsheet? e.g. AI scores as equal 4th-6th most important in your spreadsheet, but is listed 1st in the short list. Meanwhile nuclear war and pandemic risk score as equal 1st-3rd, but are listed 9th and 10th in the shortlist. I wonder if it would make more sense to list the options that scored the highest first (as presumably, they should be prioritised the most)?

Interesting list! One important cause area that I think may have missed is preventing/avoiding stable longterm totalitarianism. 

Toby Ord and Bryan Caplan have both written on this - see  "the Precipice" for Ord's discussion and "The Totalitarian Threat" in Bostrom's "Global Catastrophic Risks" for Caplan's.

It may be worth adding these to the list as it seems that totalitarianism is fairly widely accepted as a cause candidate. Thanks for the post as well, lots of interesting ideas and links in here!

Thank you for these interesting answers. Do you think the creation of new fields is also subject to diminishing returns? e.g. are new fields harder to find as well? Or do you think that only technologies are subject to diminishing returns? 

On this note, do you think progress is likely to be open to us indefinitely, or would you expect that eventually we will reach a level of technological maturity where all meaningful low-hanging fruit (be they individual technologies or S curves) have been picked and there is little further technological progress? If so, why? If not, why not?

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