Jonas Vollmer

I appreciate honest and direct feedback: https://admonymous.co/vollmer

I'm the Executive Director at EA Funds, based in Oxford. You can best reach me at jonas.vollmer@centreforeffectivealtruism.org.

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). See my LinkedIn.

Unless explicitly stated otherwise, opinions are my own, not my employer's. (I think this is generally how everyone uses the EA Forum; others who don't have such a disclaimer likely think about it similarly.)

Wiki Contributions

Comments

A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good

Yeah, in my model, I just assumed lower returns for simplicity. I don't think this is a crazy assumption – e.g., even if the AI portfolio has higher risk, you might keep your Sharpe ratio constant by reducing your equity exposure. Modelling an increase in risk would have been a bit more complicated, and would have resulted in a similar bottom line.

I don't really understand your model, but if it's correct, presumably the optimal exposure to the AI portfolio would be at least slightly greater than zero. (Though perhaps clearly lower than 100%.)

What would you do if you had half a million dollars?

I think deciding between capital allocators is a great use of the donor lottery, even as a Plan A. You might say something like: "I would probably give to the Long-Term Future Fund, but I'm not totally sure whether they're better than the EA Infrastructure Fund or Longview or something I might come up with myself. So I'll participate in the donor lottery so if I win, I can take more time to read their reports and see which of them seems best." I think this would be a great decision.

I'd be pretty unhappy if such a donor then felt forced to instead do their own grantmaking despite not having a comparative advantage for doing so (possibly underperforming Open Phil's last dollar), or didn't participate in the donor lottery in the first place. I think the above use case is one of the most central one that I hope to address.

I tentatively agree that further diversification of funding sources might be good, but I don't think the donor lottery is the right tool for that.

What would you do if you had half a million dollars?

I really liked this comment. Three additions:

  • I would take a close look at who the grantmakers are and whether their reasoning seems good to you. Because there is significant fungibility and many of these funding pools have broad scopes, I personally expect the competence of the grantmakers to matter at least as much as the specific missions of the funds.
  • I don't think it's quite as clear that the LTFF is better than the EA Infrastructure Fund; I agree with your argument but think this could be counterbalanced by the EA Infrastructure Fund's greater focus on talent recruitment, or other factors.
  • I don't know to what degree it is hard for Longview to get fully unrestricted funding, but if that's hard for Longview, giving it unrestricted funding may be a great idea. They may run across promising opportunities that aren't palatable to their donors, and handing them over to EA Funds or Open Philanthropy may not be straightforwardly easy in some cases.

(Disclosure: I run EA Funds, which hosts the LTFF and EA Infrastructure Fund. Opinions my own, as always.) 

Metaculus Questions Suggest Money Will Do More Good in the Future

It's worth pointing out that these questions apply specifically to global health and development, but could be very different in other cause areas.

I don't think question 1 provides evidence that money will do more good in the future. It might even suggest the opposite: As you point out, malaria prevention and deworming might run out of room for more funding, and to me this seems more likely than the discovery of a more cost-effective option that is also highly scalable (beyond >$30 million per year).

A generalized strategy of ‘mission hedging’: investing in 'evil' to do more good

I took your spreadsheet and made a quick estimate for an AI mission hedging portfolio. You can access it here

The model assumes:

  • AI companies return 20% annually over the next 10 years in a short-timelines world, but less than the global market portfolio in a long-timelines world,
  • AI companies have equal or lower expected returns than the global market portfolio (otherwise we're just making a bet on AI),
  • money is 10x more useful in a short-timelines world than in a long-timelines world,
  • logarithmic utility.

In the model, the extra utility from the AI portfolio is equivalent to an extra 2% annual return. 

My guess is that this is less than the extra returns one might expect if one believes the market doesn't price in short AI timelines sufficiently, but it makes the case for investing in an AI portfolio more robust.

Caveat: I did this quickly. I haven't thought very carefully about the choice of parameters, haven't done sensitivity analyses, etc.

EA Infrastructure Fund: Ask us anything!

Update: Max Daniel is now the EA Infrastructure Fund's chairperson. See here.

You can now apply to EA Funds anytime! (LTFF & EAIF only)

Update: Max Daniel is now the EA Infrastructure Fund's chairperson. See here.

EA Infrastructure Fund: May 2021 grant recommendations

Update: Max Daniel is now the EA Infrastructure Fund's chairperson. See here.

EA Funds has appointed new fund managers

I am very excited to announce that we have appointed Max Daniel as the chairperson at the EA Infrastructure Fund. We have been impressed with the high quality of his grant evaluations, public communications, and proactive thinking on the EAIF's future strategy. I look forward to having Max in this new role!

EA Infrastructure Fund: Ask us anything!

I'm also in favor of EA Funds doing generous back payments for successful projects. In general, I feel interested in setting up prize programs at EA Funds (though it's not a top priority).

One issue is that it's harder to demonstrate to regulators that back payments serve a charitable purpose. However, I'm confident that we can find workarounds for that.

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