All of Mathieu Putz's Comments + Replies

How many EA 2021 $s would you trade off against a 0.01% chance of existential catastrophe?

I assume those estimates are for current margins? So if I were considering whether to do earning to give, I should use lower estimates for how much risk reduction my money could buy, given that EA has billions to be spent already and due to diminishing returns your estimates would look much worse after those had been spent?

2Linch10dYes it's about marginal willingness to spend, not an assessment of absolute impact so far.
What Small Weird Thing Do You Fund?

Great question! Guarding against pandemics do advocacy for pandemic prevention and need many small donors due to legal reasons for some of their work. Here's an excerpt from their post on the EA Forum:

While GAP’s lobbying work (e.g. talking to members of Congress) is already well-funded by Sam Bankman-Fried and others, another important part of GAP’s work is supporting elected officials from both parties who will advocate for biosecurity and pandemic preparedness. U.S. campaign contribution limits require that this work be supported by many small-to-medi

... (read more)
9jared_m11dAgree that GAP is a great cause for small U.S. donors! Their team is approaching the opportunity in a sophisticated way. We've given to GAP twice this fall, and expect to give more this winter / next year.
Announcing my retirement

Thanks so much for looking after possibly my favorite place on the internet!

When to get off the train to crazy town?

Hey, thanks for writing this!

Strong +1 for this part:

I had conversations along the lines of “I already did a Bachelor’s in Biology and just started a Master’s in Nanotech, surely it’s too late for me to pivot to AI safety”. To which my response is “You’re 22, if you really want to go into AI safety, you can easily switch”.

I think this pattern is especially suspicious when used to justify some career that's impactful in one worldview over one that's impactful in another.

E.g. I totally empathize with people who aren't into longtermism, but the reasoning ... (read more)

What is most confusing to you about AI stuff?

Here's a couple that came to mind just now.

  1. How smart do you need to be to contribute meaningfully t AI safety? Near top in class in high-school? Near top in class at ivy-league? Potential famous prof at ivy league? Potential fields medalist?

  2. Also, how hard should we expect alignment to be? Are we trying to throw resources at a problem we expect to be able to at least partially solve in most worlds (which is e.g. the superficial impression I get from biorisk) or are we attempting a hail mary, because it might just work and it's important enough to be

... (read more)
We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

I agree it's fine if fellowships aren't interesting to already-engaged EAs and I also see why the question is asked --- I don't even have a strong view on whether it's a bad idea to ask it.

I do think though that the fellowship would have been boring to me at times, even if I had known much less about EA. But maybe I'm just not the type of person who likes to learn stuff in groups and I was never part of the target audience.

We need alternatives to Intro EA Fellowships

Thanks for writing this, I think it's great you're thinking about alternatives!

The way I learned about EA was just by spending too much time on the forum and with the 80k podcast.

Then, I once attended one session of a fellowship and was a little underwhelmed. I remember the question "so can anybody name the definition of an existential risk according to Toby Ord" after we had been asked to read about exactly that — this just seemed like a waste of time. But to be fair, I was also much more familiar with EA at that point than an average fellow. It's very possible that other people had a better experience in the same session.

But I definitely agree there's room for experimentation and probably improvement!

5michaelchen18dI actually think the question about the definition of existential risk is useful, in order to make sure that everyone understands it correctly and doesn't think it means "risk that humanity goes extinct". If you've spent a lot of time learning about EA already, I don't think you would find much novel information from the Intro EA Fellowship, and I think that's fine.
Can we influence the values of our descendants?

Thanks for writing this up, super interesting!

Intuitively I would expect persistence effects to be weaker now than e.g. 300 years ago. This is mostly because today society changes much more rapidly than back then. I would guess that it's more common now to live hundreds of kilometres from where you grew up, that the internet allows people to "choose" their culture more freely (my parents like EA less than I do), that the same goes for bigger cities etc. Generally advice from my parents and grandparents sometimes feels outdated, which makes me less likely t... (read more)

3Jsevillamol16dI do think so! It's hard to contest that change across many dimensions has been accelerating []. And it would make sense that this accelerating change makes parental advice less applicable, and thus parents less influential overall.
An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars

I agree! I've added an edit to the post, referencing your comment.

An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars

Thanks for pointing this out! Hadn't known about this, though it totally makes sense in retrospect that markets would find some way of partially cancelling that inefficiency. I've added an edit to the post.

An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars

Thanks for pointing that out! I agree it's notable and have added it to the list. I don't have a strong opinion on how important this is relative to other things on there.

An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars

Thanks for your comment! Super interesting to hear all that.

And my pledge is 10%, although I expect more like 50-75% to go to useful world-improving things but don't want to pledge it because then I'm constrained by what other people think is effective.

Amazing! Glory to you :) I've added this to the post.

How to use the Forum

Thanks, it's probably better that way!

An update in favor of trying to make tens of billions of dollars

Thanks a lot for saying this!

Yeah, I wonder about the flexibility as well. At least, "I have good reason to think I could've gone to MIT/ Jane Street..." should go a long way (if you're not delusional).

How to use the Forum

Are upvotes anonymous or is there a way to view who upvoted your comments / posts? I'm not saying it should be one way or another, just curious.

3Aaron Gertler2moUpvotes (and downvotes) are anonymous.
First vs. last name policies?

Thanks for adding your opinion!

Yeah, coming from Luxembourg and studying in Germany, I do get the feeling that the norms differ here. I prefer first name norms though, so that's great :)

First vs. last name policies?

Thanks for your answer! I agree it's strange that these kinds of formalities are still so much of a thing among otherwise egalitarian people.

What should we call the other problem of cluelessness?

"The epistemic hurdle" (to doing good) feels catchy and like it captures (2). Not sure it's actually good, but I wanted to leave it here for you to judge.

4tae5mo"Epistemic hurdle" is nicely concise, and I like the corresponding mental image of EAs who are ready to run to do good, but need to overcome the barrier of (2).
AMA: Tim Ferriss, Michael Pollan, and Dr. Matthew W. Johnson on psychedelics research and philanthropy

Hi, very cool that you're doing this, thanks! Here goes my question:

How likely is it that taking psychedelics makes patients weird? Scott Alexander wrote up some anecdotes about many early psychedelicists getting weird as they experimented with these substances. He emphasizes it's all very speculative and of course subjective. And it probably involved pretty high doses / frequencies. But my very superficial understanding is, that it's hard to find good studies on this sort of thing, precisely because of the regulatory environment. Is that accurate or am I ... (read more)

7Dr. Matthew W. Johnson7moThere is a lot here. One is that at least some of this pattern is likely not causal but due to common predisposition. Those who are open enough to something outside of the mainstream and willing to consider topics that others consider beyond the pale, are likely to be interested in both psychedelics science and other fringe topics. Keep in mind a key issue is that we often (or ever) don't know ground truth, so there is a balance between being too closed and too open. For the statisticians this is the balance of type I and type II errors (false positives and false negatives). Another thing is that my impression is that at the extremes, there is a causal effect of psychedelics to cause negative personality problems (e.g., narcotism) and to adopt delusional beliefs. This is likely dose and frequency dependent but doesn't even show up for all folks who use high doses frequently. But for some, my guess is that yes, psychedelics can push people into these terrains. Of course, again, common predisposition is also at play, with those who are self-absorbed or into extreme conspiracy theories from the beginning also being attracted to psychedelics. I should say I have seen no evidence for any of this in either the older or modern sciences (including my own) with screened (for psychotic predisposition) participants with a limited number of sessions conducted with proper safety guidelines at play. Also, I wrote a receive piece that argues against the notion that as currently conducted, psychedelic therapy is likely to have substantial effect on political or religious affiliations ( ).
Where are you donating in 2020 and why?

First I've donated 10 dollars to Ought here (effectively 35):

Make a $10 donation into $35 - EA Forum (

Given the small amount, I didn't put much thought in, and hence I don't want to put detailed reasons here, to avoid spreading inaccurate memes. The very basic reason I chose an organisation working on AI safety was concern for the long-term future of humanity.

Second, I'm planning to do the rest and bulk of my giving through the donor lottery, mostly for the standard reasons found at the link. (One sentence summary: The expected amount... (read more)

2MichaelA1yInteresting reasoning, thanks for sharing! Regarding the optimum size for an individual donor to be, you or others might find this post (at least tangentially) interesting, if you haven't seen it already: Risk-neutral donors should plan to make bets at the margin at least as well as giga-donors in expectation [] .
AMA: Jason Crawford, The Roots of Progress

Thanks for your work and thanks for doing this!

In your interview with Patrick Collison, he says the following: 

"I think of EA as sort of like a metal detector, and they've invented a new kind of metal detector that's really good at detecting some metals that other detectors are not very good at detecting. But I actually think we need some diversity in the different metallic substances which our detectors are attuned to, and for me EA would not be the only one"

Discussion on the EA forum here, link to the interview here.

First, do you broadly agree with ... (read more)

9jasoncrawford1yI am broadly sympathetic to Patrick's way of looking at this, yes. If progress studies feels like a miss on EA's part to you… I think folks within EA, especially those who have been well within it for a long time, are better placed to analyze why/how that happened. Maybe rather than give an answer, let me suggest some hypotheses that might be fruitful to explore: * A focus on saving lives and relieving suffering, with these seen as more moral or important than comfort, entertainment, enjoyment, or luxury; or economic growth; or the advance of knowledge? * A data-driven focus that naturally leads to more short-term, measurable impact? (Vs., say, a more historical and philosophical focus?) * A concern about existential risk from technology and progress? * Some other tendency to see technology, capitalism, and economic growth as less important, less moral, or otherwise lower-status? * An assumption that these things are already popular and well-served by market mechanisms and therefore not-neglected? As for “tuning the metal detector”, I think a root-cause analysis on progress studies or any other area you feel you “missed” would be the best way to approach it! Well, one final thought: The question of “how to do the most good” is deep and challenging enough that you can't answer it with anything less than an entire philosophy. I suspect that EA is significantly influenced by a certain philosophical orientation, and that orientation is fundamentally altruistic. Progress isn't really altruistic, at least not to my mind. Altruism is about giving, whereas progress is about creating. They're not unrelated, but they're different orientations. But I could be wrong here, and @Benjamin_Todd, above, has given me a whole bunch of stuff to read to challenge my understanding of EA, so I should go digest that before speculating any more.
Recommendations for increasing empathy?

One thing that probably helps me stay motivated is listening to the 80000 hours and the future of life podcasts. It's lower effort (for me) than e.g. reading essays and hence a good option for periods where I'm especially busy. I don't know how motivated I'd feel without them, but I suppose hearing from lots of people who try to improve the world can be uplifting and maybe even more personal than blogposts. This might not work if you're not a 'podcast person' though.

How to share the basic concept of EA on social media? (Facebook in my case)

Thank you very much for that reply, you have convinced me and I will try all of those things.

Also, I now realise that sharing specific links etc. has the added bonus that it gives you a reason to post many times about EA themed things, instead of just once, so you can hopefully reach more people.

Thoughts on electoral reform

Hello, I think you make a good point, about the necessity to carefully weigh the up- and downsides of each system.

I do not have a strong view on which alternative voting system is best, since I haven't looked into it deeply enough. Still I want to address this proposition:

Much more is gained by displacing plurality than is lost by replacing it with a suboptimal alternative (for all reasonable alternatives to plurality).

I mostly agree with this position, especially in scenarios where no other option is realistically on the table. However, I do want to... (read more)

5Pablo2yThanks to your comment, I can now endorse what you said as a more accurate and nuanced version of the position my previous comment tried to articulate. Agreed 100%.