Jeff Kaufman

Software developer in Boston, currently earning to give.

Full list of EA posts:

Topic Contributions


What are some high-EV but failed EA projects?

Wave's first attempt to build a mobile money system was in Ethiopia. I joined them to help with it, and was laid off when it failed.

(They've more recently been successful in Senegal and elsewhere; it's just the initial Ethiopia project that failed.)

St. Petersburg Demon – a thought experiment that makes me doubt Longtermism

The expected value of this strategy is undefined.

If you follow the strategy, won't you eventually get three sixes? Which means that any run through this procedure will end up with a value of zero, no?

Does the undefined come from the chance that you will never get three sixes, combined with the absolutely enormous utility of that extremely improbable eventuality?

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

One option here could be to lend books instead. Some advantages:

  • Implies that when you're done reading the book you don't need it anymore, as opposed to a religious text which you keep and reference.

  • While the distributors won't get all the books back (and that's fine) the books they do get back they can lend out again.

  • Less lavish, both in appearance and in reality.

This is what we do at our meetups in Boston.

The biggest risk of free-spending EA is not optics or motivated cognition, but grift

if I were to spend a few weeks in Oxford mingling with people, arguing for the importance of EU policy, that would potentially do more to change people's minds than if I were to spend that time writing on the forum.

I also don't know whether this is true, but the general idea that talking to people in person individually would be more persuasive than over text isn't surprising. There's a lower barrier to ideas flowing, you can better see how the other person is responding, and you don't have consider how people not in the conversation might misinterpret you.

EA and the current funding situation

I am still surprised that funding is continually the first topic, after I specify that the government is the best institution to finance such a project. EA would go bankrupt, if they tried to stop hurricanes...

The reason I brought up funding was not that I thought it might make sense for EAs to fund the entire thing, but that it might allow you to address the reasons your proposal is currently stalled. I gave a few ideas of specific things you might do with funding:

  • Free up your time to learn how to run a simulation.
  • Free up your time to for lobbying.
  • Exploring existing work on hurricane prevention.
  • Hiring someone else to do any of the above.
EA and the current funding situation

I think the biggest reason why your tone is relevant here is that you are seeking introductions to potential collaborators. People care a lot about what others are like to work with!

Announcing the Nucleic Acid Observatory project for early detection of catastrophic biothreats

This sounds like a really valuable project, and I'm glad you're working on it! What sort of end-to-end latency (sample collection to analysis complete) do you think you might be able to achieve? For example, CDC Flu Virologic Surveillance has a latency of ~2 weeks (the most recent is currently from the week ending 2022-04-30, which I think means 12-18d since diagnosis), while MWRA Biobot typically posts data from two days ago each afternoon. If you're trying to catch things with rapid growth, getting down to a day or lower is probably pretty important?

EA and the current funding situation

I can think of two main reasons why your posts haven't resulted in introductions to relevant specialists:

  • People with those connections haven't seen your posts.

  • While such people have seen your posts they don't consider this opportunity sufficiently promising to pass it on.

While many people do read the Forum it wouldn't be surprising if no one had seen your post who knew anyone relevant, since there aren't that many relevant experts. And even if they are, when you give someone an introduction you are staking some of your social capital, and based on your initial post and comments here I would not, personally, be willing to stake such capital.

I had seen that you'd written that you weren't looking for funding, and my post above doesn't suggest that you were. Instead, I was suggesting that you do and giving ideas on how you might use funding to make progress on this project. After reading your responses here, however, I withdraw that suggestion.

EA and the current funding situation

I think it changes it some, but not hugely? Even if the best remaining option for making the world better was direct cash transfers I think donations would still make a lot of sense; There's Lots More To Do.

I also don't think we stay in the current dynamic. Part of why it is important for a lot of people to go into directly doing useful things now is to identify and scale up opportunities for directing a lot of money toward valuable things. It's become harder to identify extremely cost-effective ways of spending your money to speed that process up, but money will still be very important.

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