Jamie Harris works at two nonprofits:

  • LEAF, which seeks to introduce intelligent and altruistically motivated 16-18 year olds to ideas about how they can contribute to tackling some of the world’s most pressing problems, especially those that might have lasting effects on the long-term future. Involved since LEAF's inception in 2021, Jamie is now directing the project. https://leaf.courses/

  • Animal Advocacy Careers (which Jamie co-founded), which seeks to address the career and talent bottlenecks in the animal advocacy movement. https://www.animaladvocacycareers.org/

He previously worked as a teacher for 3 years, then as a researcher at the longtermist think tank Sentience Institute for 3.5 years.

Give Jamie anonymous advice / feedback here https://forms.gle/t5unVMRci1e1pAxD9

Topic Contributions


Issues with centralised grantmaking

I agree that centralised grant-making might mean that some promising projects are missed. But we're not solely interested in this? We're overall interested in:

Average cost-effectiveness per $ granted * Number of $ we're able to grant

My intuition would be that the more decentralised the grant-making process, the more $ we're able to grant.

But this also requires us to invest more talent in grant-making, which means, in practice, fewer promising people applying for grants themselves, which might non-negligibly reduce average cost-effectiveness per $ granted.

Beyond the above consideration, it seems unclear whether decentralised grant-making would overall increase of decrease the average cost-effectiveness. Sure, fewer projects above the current average cost-effectiveness would slip through the net, but so too fewer projects below the current average cost-effectiveness would slip through the net. So I'd expect these things to balance each other out roughly UNLESS we're making a separate claim that the current grantmakers are making poor / miscalibrated decisions. But at that point, this is not an argument in favour of decentralising grant-making, but an argument in favour of replacing (or competing with) the current grantmakers.

So maybe overall, decentralising grant-making would trade an increase in $ we're able to grant for a small decrease in average cost-effectiveness of granted $.

(I felt pretty confused writing these comments and suspect I've missed many relevant considerations, but thought I'd flesh out and share my intuitive concerns with the central argument of this post, rather than just sit on them.)

Shortening & enlightening dark ages as a sub-area of catastrophic risk reduction

This seems like a cool initial exploration of a potentially important area. Thank you + well done!

The device idea seems intuitively promising.

In a talk at EAGx Oxford, someone (I forget who -- maybe Anders Sandberg) mentioned the idea that the internet archive is a tiny org with not much investment. If that whole infrastructure could be backed up somewhere and stored in a way that would survive loss of electricity/other major systems above ground and also this location publicly known / easily accessible somehow, would that achieve the same purpose?

(I have no technical knowledge about these things and for all I know, this already exists. I'm just spitballing.)

Bibliography of EA writings about fields and movements of interest to EA

Cool list! I wrote a few other social movement case studies not on this list when I was working at Sentience Institute.

(I think they're more relevant to the farmed animal movement than to the effective altruism community but if this was an intentional rather than accidental exclusion, I would be interested to hear reasons why SI's anti-slavery and Fair Trade case studies merit inclusion here but the others don't.)

Anti abortion movement: https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/anti-abortion

Anti death penalty movement: https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/death-penalty

Prisoners rights movement (less relevant, IMO): https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/prisoners-rights

Additionally, you highlighted the anti-nuclear movement as worthy of further study. The focus was on the proliferation of nuclear power, but J (another former SI researcher) wrote a cool case study report which includes some interesting info about the anti-nuclear movement: https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/nuclear-power-clean-meat

We Ran a "Next Steps" Retreat for Intro Fellows

Do you have plans for follow-up on this retreat? Actually, since I'm reading this a month after it was posted; have you done any follow-up with these people already?

(Context for the question: I'm running an in person retreat and think that the question of what follow-up to do afterwards / whether we can encourage longer-term engagement is one of my biggest uncertainties.)

Which EA orgs provide feedback on test tasks?

Animal Advocacy Careers: with each of our hiring rounds so far (three), when we send emails to people who were invited to submit test tasks or interviews but who we're not moving forward with their applications, we say that we can provide personalised feedback if they'd like.

A surprisingly low proportion of people seem to ask for it. (Maybe half?)

When we send out these emails, we also try to give a quick sense of the common strengths of our top candidates, plus the number of people who applied or made it to the stage they made it to, in case that context helps.

Rowing and Steering the Effective Altruism Movement

<<I also know about a handful of people who have 'jumped ship'; who, after spending many hundreds of hours working on effective altruism causes, have concluded that they are too disillusioned with the ship's direction to stay on board and no longer wish to associate with the movement. These are not people who were never going to become highly engaged in the community in the first place. They are people who have contributed enormously to the effective altruism project and could have continued if they had been more confident in its ability to move in the right direction.>>

I'd love to hear more about this. What were these people's concerns? What sorts of things are they doing now that seem better? These questions seem relevant both to rowing and steering.

(For context, I don't know people like this. Maybe they know about important arguments I don't. Should I jump ship too?)

Jamie_Harris's Shortform

I haven't read Moravec's book very thoroughly, but I ctrl+f'd for "simulation" and couldn't see anything very explicitly discussing the idea that we might be living in a simulation. There are a number of instances where Moravec talks about running very detailed simulations (and implying that these would be functionally similar to humans). It's possible (quite likely?) Bostrom didn't ever see the 1995 article where Moravec "shrugs and waves his hand as if the idea is too obvious." 

Either way, it seems true that (1) the idea itself predates Bostrom's discussion in his 2003 article, (2) Bostrom's discussion of this specific idea is more detailed than Moravec's.

Bostrom (2003) cited Moravec (1988), but not for this specific idea -- it's only for the idea that "One estimate, based on how computationally expensive it is to replicate the functionality of a piece of nervous tissue that we have already understood and whose functionality has been replicated in silico, contrast enhancement in the retina, yields a figure of ~10^14 operations per second for the entire human brain."

But yeah, his answer to the question "How did you come up with this?" in the 2008 article I linked to in the original post seems misleading, because he doesn't mention Moravec at all and implies that he came up with the idea himself.

World's First Octopus Farm - Linkpost

Some of your thinking and estimates here seem reasonable and useful! I just want to pick up on one small subsection that surprised me:

"As in, say a country like Spain outlaws the practice of farming octopus (which in itself may be pretty unlikely), then I think a big multinational company like Nueva Pescanova (the company claiming to start the first commercial octopus farm) perhaps just goes to some other country they work in (and they are present in 20ish). "

Why did this surprise me / why are our intuitions different?

I think there might be some difference in optimism about the value of legislation.

I expect that preventative action is much more tractable than retrospective action to abolish an industry that has already been developed. E.g. see "It is probably easier to abolish a practice through legislation if that practice is not in regular use" here: https://www.sentienceinstitute.org/death-penalty#the-causes-of-legislative-change . So challenging the first example of an unusually negative (and/or unusually unpopular) practice seems especially important. If fighting this specific company encourages a battle that spirals across several countries and results in legislation in several places but fails to stop this specific company farming octopus somewhere then I imagine I would consider that to be a major victory.

Relatedly, I have in my head a model where anti octopus farming legislation in one country makes anti octopus farming legislation in another. E.g. see "Once influential international bodies adopt a value, they may exert pressure on institutions in other parts of the world to adopt the same value" at the same link as above.

Alternatively, maybe it's because you're focusing on helping the octopuses in question in this specific farm. Whereas my concern is not: "(how) can we prevent Nueva Pescanova farming and selling 3,000 tons of farmed octopus per year," but "(how) can we prevent (octopus) farming?"

EA outreach to high school competitors

Glad to see discussion and suggestions for ways to reach out to people currently still at school! Thanks for the contribution.

"I want to discuss a possible modification to the strategy of high school outreach - specifically targeting high-level STEM (+logic, philosophy, and debate) competitors. It seems that this narrowing down would select for people who would be more likely to act on EA ideas."

My sense is that this slightly misrepresents the current landscape. I think that, when it comes to school outreach, there are many possible combinations of the following variables:

(1) age of target audience, e.g. 11-15 years old, 16-18 years old, 18 years old only, etc. (2) outreach methods and proxies that you use as indicators of promisingness, e.g. high performing schools, olympiad participants, performance on an application process, recommendation from teachers, etc. (3) format, e.g. written online advice, an online course, a summer camp, an after school club, integrated into assemblies, etc. (4) focus cause/intervention area, e.g. all of EA, longtermism, extinction risk reduction, AI safety, rationality, etc. (5) "ask" and key metrics you, e.g. changing degree programmes, signing up for a newsletter, reading X resources, joining an EA group once they reach university, etc. (6) marketing strategy, e.g. career benefits, help you land a place at uni, impactful in itself, intrinsically interesting, etc.

I think that very few of the possible permutations have been tried. So your post proposes something specific within the second variable category I offered. That seems good, and I'd be keen to see more exploration. But I don't think that there's a very extensive current "strategy of high school outreach." Given that the EA movement currently has quite a lot of funding and there are a decent number of people interested in EA movement building, I think the focus should be more on adding to the current portfolio of efforts than redirecting it.

It's possible we already agree here and I was just reading too much into your exact phrasing.

One even more nitpicky comment:

"It seems that university outreach is more effective than high school outreach according to current metrics, and that one of the main factors making high school outreach ineffective is a lack of selection."

I think I've read all the posts in the Forum's "effective altruism outreach in schools" tag, and neither of the two clauses in this summary sentence fitted well with my memory/impression. I'd be interested in elaboration, clarification, or supporting links/evidence if you're happy to provide it!

Thanks for your engagement with this important topic.

Biosecurity needs engineers and materials scientists

An interesting post! It seems like the post is doing several things:

(1) positing some potential problems and gaps in current efforts in biosecurity. (2) suggesting some possible steps that could be taken to address them. (3) suggesting or arguing that engineers and materials scientists would be well-placed to undertake or contribute to these steps.

Your comments on all three seem plausible to me (a non-expert). But you seem to provide more links and evidence for (2) than (1) or (3).

Since (2) and (3) are dependent upon (1) being correct, I'd be interested in what sorts of evidence you have for it. E.g. what has led you to make the following claims?

  • The whole of "the problem" section, especially "Unfortunately, people with these backgrounds are currently severely lacking in biosecurity."
  • "PPE that was highly effective, easy to use, and cheap to distribute... is currently laughably neglected."
  • "relatively little time and money have gone into either implementing these technologies or identifying promising alternatives."

Regarding (3), I have similar but lower priority questions. That case seems more intuitive to me.

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