Topic Contributions


What are the key claims of EA?

Thanks for the very useful links, Stefan!
I think the usefulness of coordination is widely agreed upon, but we're still not working together as well as possible. The 80000hours article you linked even states:

Instead, especially in effective altruism, people engage in “single-player” thinking. They work out what would be the best course of action if others weren’t responding to what they do.

 I'll go and spend some time with these topics

What are the key claims of EA?

I've been thinking of distilling some of the criticism of EA that I hear into similar, clearly attackable foundational claims.

One thing I would add is the very individualistic view of impact. We act as individuals to maximize (expected) individual impact. This means things like founding an org, choosing your career, spending time deciding where your money goes. Collective action would mean empowering community-controlled institutions that make decisions by going through a democratic process of consensus-building. Instead our coordination mechanisms rely on trusting a few decision-makers that direct large amounts of funding. This is a consequence of the EA movement having been really small in the past.

Also, it seems we are obsessed with the measurable. That goes as far as defining "good" in a way that does not directly include complex relationships. Strict QUALY maximizers would be okay with eugenics. I don't even know how to approach a topic like ecosystem conservation from an EA perspective.

I think in general we should be aware that our foundational assumptions are only a simplified model of what we actually want. They can serve us fine for directly comparing interventions, but when they lead to surprising conclusions, we should take a step back and examine if we just found a weak spot of the model.

Some thoughts on vegetarianism and veganism

For me, having been a strict vegetarian since primary school, I'd have to consider the inverse question: As an EA, should I start eating meat?

Eating meat seems to involve a lot of hassle. I'd have to learn a lot about different types of meat, where to buy them, how to prepare them, figure out what I like and so on. Right now, I just don't perceive meat as food, and the thought of eating it feels kind of gross because of the killing and mess involved.

I would lose a bit of status among my green friends, and people would perceive me as morally inconsistent.

On the other hand, I see a few benefits to eating meat. In other countries, even here in Europe, it's very much the norm to eat meat, and much harder to eat vegetarian. Travelling there is always a bit of an extra hassle for me.
There might be a health benefit, though I'm not really sure what to expect here.

I guess the synthesis here is that I should sometimes eat meat for convenience, e.g. when travelling, but be sure to label it as an exception, so I don't lose my values.

Is a career in making AI systems more secure a meaningful way to mitigate the X-risk posed by AGI?

In their recent career profile, 80k hours suggest working as a SWE in an AI Safety research intuition. These institutions need good SWEs (and pay well), no ML required. I'd definitively consider that as well

Open Thread: Spring 2022

Hey Zach! I really like that prayer! Thank you for sharing it, and welcome to the community!

Bounty for your best 2 minute answer to an EA 'frequently asked question'

Note: I'm happy to hear feedback via DM, if you have any :)

That's a question that comes up a lot, and it makes sense. It's similar to the question of how much we should care about people in a different country. After all, it feels natural to care more about people close to you. But I think if you deconstruct this moral intuition, you'll find that we don't actually discount the value of a human life based on where or when they live. Instead, it's simply easier to effectively help those close to us, so we are predisposed to do that.

It's hard to know that your intervention will actually work the way you intend, if you plan it in the future. The future is hard to predict, and circumstances might be different then. If we look to the past as an example, this is less of a problem. Do you think that a rich person in ancient Rome, 2000 years ago, saving someone of starvation, has done a better thing than someone today who would save someone of starvation? Probably not, since they did pretty much the same thing: save someone's life.

Now sure, the person that was saved 2000 years ago possibly impacted the world a lot in this time, and probably in a good way. Measuring total impact, the Roman philanthropist achieved more, through an additional 2000 years of ripple effects. This might be a reason to help people now instead of later, but it still doesn't mean we should value their own lives less.

So, we should be somewhat biased to help people here and now, since we know that it works and that they will in turn have a longer future to positively affect. But I think the intrinsic value of their own lives does not depend on when they live.

EA Analysis of the German Coalition Agreement 2021–2025

I think there are definitely some areas where further European integration is warranted and popular across most of the political spectrum. We need a common foreign policy, we need a common migration policy. Just to get these wins, the EU will have to centralize some more power. Some other things also make sense and are rather popular, like allowing paneuropean party lists at EU parliament elections.

I think over time, the direction is towards tighter integration, but this will have to follow cultural integration of the people, not precede it.

Call for action for German university groups!

I'm looking forward to having this discussion specifically for EA Tübingen, but I'm pretty sure EA needs to focus much more on community-building. More than anything, this means creating opportunities to socialize with interesting people, and create a shared community-building culture. It means taking into account the local context and adjacent communities.

To me, it also means unbundling EA (the philosophy) from EA (the community) to make it easier to join even as a newbie. It could mean doing more public events, like talks and discussions. It could mean sponsoring and connecting the best existing local initiatives.

EA Analysis of the German Coalition Agreement 2021–2025

Hi, I contributed to that part, let me respond to both of your points:

  1. You are right, the plan is to get 80% of electricity from renewable sources by 2030. But it's complicated: At the same time, they expect to see an increase in electricity demand from 488 Twh in 2020 to 680-750 TWh per year, as more sectors are electrifying. Separately, they state the target to generate 50% of energy for heating from climate neutral sources by 2030. The goal is to also electrify transport. I can't quickly give you an overall target percentage, that would require further research. The exact goals for 2030 and 2045 will be put into law this year.

  2. Yes, they do plan to build up infrastructure for green hydrogen, but explicitly state they will remain technology-neutral for now, in order to quickly mature the hydrogen market. Personally, I think it's impossible to stay truly technology-neutral if you want to move that quickly. We can only build things that we know work today. And I think it makes sense to focus CCS efforts on sectors where there is no green alternative available yet, especially now while CCS is unreasonably expensive.

How do you get more people to give you feedback?

One of my professors sets aside 5 minutes at the end of every lecture and hands out paper slips with a few prompts and questions. This is wildly successful, almost everyone participates. We also did this at the end of the EA Berlin unconference this summer, setting aside 20-30 minutes to fill in a really thorough form.

Of course if you care about feedback at a later date, this approach won't work as well.

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