Jeff Kaufman

Software Engineer @ Nucleic Acid Observatory
12404 karmaJoined Aug 2014Working (15+ years)Somerville, MA, USA



Software engineer in Boston, parent, musician. Switched from earning to give to direct work in pandemic mitigation. Married to Julia Wise. Speaking for myself unless I say otherwise.

Full list of EA posts:


extraordinary evidence would be required to move up sufficiently many orders of magnitude for an AI or bio terrorist attack to have a decent chance of causing human extinction.

How extraordinary does the evidence need to be? You can easily get many orders of magnitude changes in probabilities given some evidence. For example, as of 1900 on priors the probability that >1B people would experience powered flight in the year 2000 would have been extremely low, but someone paying attention to technological developments would have been right to give it a higher probability.

I've written something up on why I think this is likely: Out-of-distribution Bioattacks. Short version: I expect a technological change which expands which actors would try to cause harm.

(Thanks for sharing a draft with me in advance so I could post a full response at the same time instead of leaving "I disagree, and will say why soon!" comments while I waited for information hazard review!)

I think comparisons to paper cuts and other minor harms don't work very well with people's intuitions: a lot of people feel like (and sometimes explicitly endorse that) no number of paper cuts can outweigh torturous agony. See this old LW post and the disagreements around it.

Instead, my experience is people's intuitions work better when thinking in probabilities or quantities: what chance of suffering for a human would balance against that for a chicken? Or how many chickens suffering in that way would be equivalent to one human?

Elizabeth's comment seemed to interpret Marcus as only referring to salary

I see Elizabeth as saying "all expenses are staff expenses", which is broader than salary and includes things like office and food?

I think why Elizabeth was pointing out that the calculation implies only staff costs contribute to the overall budget because if you have expenses for things other than staff (ex: in my current org we spend money on lab reagents and genetic sequencing, which don't go down if we decide to compensate more frugally) then your overall costs will drop less than your staff costs.

Downvoted because this comment seems to take Marcus's comment out of context / misread it ... I don't think the numbers are likely exactly right, but I think the broad point is correct.

I think it depends a lot on whether you think the difference between 10x ($10M vs $1M) and 1.4x (30% savings) is a big deal? (I think it is)

Thanks for writing this up!

At the top it says it is a linkpost for , which seems to be private?

full-time nannies/au pairs

As in 40hr/wk, continuous, or something else?

The sense in which I'm using "sacrifice" is just "giving something up": it's not saying anything about how the situation post-sacrifice compares to other people's. For example, I could talk about how big or small a sacrifice it would be for me go vegan, even if as a vegan I would still be spending more on food and having a wider variety of options than most people globally. I think this is pretty standard, and looking through various definitions of "sacrifice" online I don't see anyone seeming to use it the way you are suggesting?

It's definitely true that, holding everything equal, spending less on salaries means it's easier to fundraise, and organizations can get more done for a given amount of money. But of course if you ask someone who could be earning $500k to work for $50k most of them (including me!) will say no, and even people who say yes initially are more likely to burn out and decide this is not what they want to do with their life.

There are also other costs to pushing hard on frugality: people will start making tradeoffs that don't really make sense given how valuable their time is to the organization. For example, in 2015 when our first child was refusing to eat at daycare it would have been possible for us to hire someone to watch them, but this would have been expensive. Instead, we chose a combination of working unusual hours and working fewer hours so she wouldn't need to be in daycare. We were both earning to give then, so this was fine, but if we had been doing work that was directly valuable I think it would probably have been a false economy.

if sacrifices compared to the private sector become expected

I think this general area is quite subtle and confusing, where people have really different impressions depending on their background. From my perspective, as someone making about 1/3 as much in a direct work job as I was making (and expect I could still make) in industry, this is already a relative sacrifice. On the other hand, I also know people at EA orgs who would be making less money outside of EA. I don't at all have a good sense of which of these is more typical? And then the longer someone spends within EA, developing EA-specific career capital and foregoing more conventional career capital, the lower a sacrifice it looks like they are making (relative to the highest comp job they could get right now) but also the higher a sacrifice there actually making (relative to a career in which they had optimized for income).

(And, as always, when people give us as examples of people making large sacrifices, I have to point out that the absolute amount of money we have kept has been relatively high. I expect most EAs who spent a similar period in direct work were living on less and have much lower savings than we can. And I think this would still be true even if current direct work compensation had been in place since 2012.)

I think if you're thinking along these lines, a donor lottery might be a good fit for you? It has the advantage of getting money out the door quite a bit sooner, though some people don't like the randomization aspect or how it can seem weird/crass/illegible.

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