Jonas Vollmer

I'm the Head of EA Funds at the Centre for Effective Altruism.

Previously, I was a co-founder and co-executive director at the London-based Center on Long-Term Risk, a research group and grantmaker focused on preventing s-risks from AI.

My background is in medicine (BMed) and economics (MSc) with a focus on health economics and development economics.

See my LinkedIn.

Comments

Are we living at the most influential time in history?

Now it's officially on BBC: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200923-the-hinge-of-history-long-termism-and-existential-risk

But here’s another adjective for our times that you may not have heard before: “hingey”.

Although it also says:

(though MacAskill now prefers the term “influentialness”, as it sounds less flippant)

Apply to EA Funds now

Update: The LTFF application deadline has been extended through Friday, October 2nd.

Long-Term Future Fund: September 2020 grants

Thanks for the critique!

In addition to four videos on his own channel, Robert Miles also published three videos on Computerphile during the last 12 months. He also publishes the Alignment Newsletter podcast.  So there's at least some additional output. There's probably more I don't know of.

you could find someone with a similar talent level (explaining fairly basic concepts)

I personally actually think this would be very difficult. Robert Miles' content seems to have been received positively by the AI safety community, but science communications in general is notoriously difficult, and I'd expect most YouTubers to routinely distort and oversimplify important concepts, such that I'd worry that such content would do more harm than good. In contrast, Robert Miles seems sufficiently nuanced.

(Disclosure: I work at EA Funds.)

EAF’s ballot initiative doubled Zurich’s development aid

I shared an update on the basic rights for primates initiative here. (TL;DR: The Swiss supreme court has ruled that the initiative is valid, so the vote will finally happen. The ruling has created a lot of national and international headlines.)

Political initiative: Fundamental rights for primates

Update: The initiative was initially declared invalid, but our supporters decided to litigate. This Wednesday, the Swiss federal court ruled that the initiative is valid! I.e., the court has confirmed that primates could in principle be holders of basic rights, and the city of Basel will have a ballot vote on whether primates deserve basic rights. This made front page headlines in all major Swiss newspapers. There’s a decent chance of it passing, and if it does, that would make Basel one of the first places in the world where nonhuman animals hold basic rights.

Some media coverage in English:

  • https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/voters-to-decide-on-basic-rights-of-primates/46037828
  • https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8744207/Switzerland-region-vote-giving-primates-fundamental-constitutional-rights.html

Some coverage in German:

  • https://www.srf.ch/news/schweiz/grundrechte-fuer-affen-bundesgericht-erklaert-basler-primaten-initiative-fuer-zulaessig
  • https://www.20min.ch/story/haben-affen-in-basel-bald-menschenrechte-581046338538
  • https://www.nzz.ch/schweiz/primaten-initiative-ist-laut-bundesgericht-zulaessig-ld.1576944
Giving and receiving feedback

The Google Docs commenting feature in particular invites micro-feedback rather than general high-level points. When asking for feedback on a Google Doc, I usually include a template like the following at the beginning (I don't always use all of it):

Epistemic status: …

Giving feedback on this document

I’d greatly appreciate critical feedback, especially about X. Thanks for taking the time, … Your feedback would be most appreciated about:

  • Do you think is broadly on the right track? Did I overlook important points? Do you think my line of argument makes sense?
  • Is the structure and form appropriate? Should it be shorter/longer?
  • In which areas do you think this document needs the most further work?

Please give feedback by DATE.

Giving and receiving feedback

Someone recently asked me how to get better at receiving feedback. My response:

I'm not sure I have a lot of very insightful stuff to say, just the "obvious advice":

  • Right before receiving the feedback, consciously adopt a constructive mindset. (I usually do something like this: "What comes might hurt, but it won't be about me as a person in general, just about my behavior, which I can change; I'll try to breathe and relax if the feedback produces this tightening feeling.")
  • If I think that people are being overly negative, I force them to be more constructive by asking questions like "What would you suggest?", "Interesting. Do you have ideas for how to address this?", "I agree this is a concern, but I'm not sure how to solve it, do you have a suggestion?"
  • One thing that usually helps me is asking people whether my work is overall on the right track, and the answer is usually yes, and that makes it easier to take critical feedback. Many people forget to give high-level feedback, but it's usually quite easy to prompt them to do so.
  • If something feels threatening, asking others who I know value my contributions for their take usually helps me put things into perspective. E.g., when someone was negative about me, I asked some of my former colleagues whether they think I can do my new job well, and their take was something like "yeah you probably don't have the type of skill that this person mentions, but I don't think that skill is key to what you're trying to do, and this person doesn't appreciate some of the skills you have, either, so basically they shouldn't complain as much."
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