FHI - RA Nick Bostrom (previously, Toby Ord)


Some thoughts on EA outreach to high schoolers

If there were more orgs doing this, there’d be the risk of abuse working with minors if in-person.

I think this deserves more than a brief mention. One of the two high school programs mentioned (ESPR) failed to safeguard students from someone later credibly accused of serious abuse, as detailed in CFAR's write-up:

Of the interactions CFAR had with Brent, we consider the decision to let him assist at ESPR—a program we helped run for high school students—to have been particularly unwise ... We do not believe any students were harmed. However, Brent did invite a student (a minor) to leave camp early to join him at Burning Man. Beforehand, Brent had persuaded a CFAR staff member to ask the camp director for permission for Brent to invite the student. Multiple other staff members stepped in to prevent this, by which time the student had decided against attending anyway.

This is a terrible track record for this sort of outreach effort. I think it provides a strong reason against pursuing it further without a high degree of assurance that the appropriate lessons have been learned — something which doesn't seem to have been addressed in the post or comments.

Max_Daniel's Shortform

Nice post. I’m reminded of this Bertrand Russell passage:

“all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins ... Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.” —A Free Man’s Worship, 1903

I take Russell as arguing that the inevitability (as he saw it) of extinction undermines the possibility of enduring achievement, and that we must therefore either ground life’s meaning in something else, or accept nihilism.

At a stretch, maybe you could run your argument together with Russell's — if we ground life’s meaning in achievement, then avoiding nihilism requires that humanity neither go extinct nor achieve total existential security.

The Importance of Unknown Existential Risks

Thanks — I agree with this, and should have made clearer that I didn't see my comment as undermining the thrust of Michael's argument, which I find quite convincing.

The Importance of Unknown Existential Risks

Great post!

But based on Rowe & Beard's survey (as well as Michael Aird's database of existential risk estimates), no other sources appear to have addressed the likelihood of unknown x-risks, which implies that most others do not give unknown risks serious consideration.

I don't think this is true. The Doomsday Argument literature (Carter, Leslie, Gott etc.) mostly considers the probability of extinction independently of any specific risks, so these authors' estimates implicitly involve an assessment of unknown risks. Lots of this writing was before there were well-developed cases for specific risks. Indeed, the Doomsday literature seems to have inspired Leslie, and then Bostrom, to start seriously considering specific risks.

Leslie explicitly considers unknown risks (p.146, End of the World):

Finally, we may well run a severe risk from something-we-know-not-what: something of which we can say only that it would come as a nasty surprise like the Antarctic ozone hole and that, again like the ozone hole, it would be a consequence of technological advances.

As does Bostrom (2002):

We need a catch-all category. It would be foolish to be confident that we have already imagined and anticipated all significant risks. Future technological or scientific developments may very well reveal novel ways of destroying the world.

How Much Does New Research Inform Us About Existential Climate Risk?

Very useful comment — thanks.

Overall, I don't view this as especially good news ...

How do these tail values compare with your previous best guess?

Objections to Value-Alignment between Effective Altruists

[ii] Some queries to MacAskill’s Q&A show reverence here, (“I'm a longtime fan of all of your work, and of you personally. I just got your book and can't wait to read it.”, “You seem to have accomplished quite a lot for a young person (I think I read 28?). Were you always interested in doing the most good? At what age did you fully commit to that idea?”).

I share your concerns about fandom culture / guru worship in EA, and am glad to see it raised as a troubling feature of the community. I don’t think these examples are convincing, though. They strike me as normal, nice things to say in the context of an AMA, and indicative of admiration and warmth, but not reverence.

Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books?

Hayek's Road to Serfdom, and twentieth century neoliberalism more broadly, owes a lot of its success to this sort of promotion. The book was published in 1944 and initially quite successful, but print runs were limited by wartime paper rationing. In 1945, the US magazine Reader's Digest created a 20-page condensed version, and sold 1 million of these very cheaply (5¢ per copy). Anthony Fisher, who founded the IEA, came across Hayek's ideas through this edition.


Should EA Buy Distribution Rights for Foundational Books?

Great post — this is something EA should definitely be thinking more about as the canon of EA books grows and matures. Peter Singer has done it already, buying back the rights for TLYCS and distributing a free digital versions for its 10th anniversary.

I wonder whether most of the value of buying back rights could be captured by just buying books for people on request. A streamlined process for doing this could have pretty low overheads — it only takes a couple minutes to send someone a book via Amazon — and seems scalable. This should be easy enough for a donor or EA org to try.

I also imagine that for most publishers, profits are concentrated after release

I looked into this recently, using Goodreads data as a proxy for sales. My takeaway was that sales of these books have been surprisingly linear over time, rather than being concentrated early on: Superintelligence; Doing Good Better; TLYCS

X-risks to all life v. to humans

Welcome to the forum!

Further development of a mathematical model to realise how important timelines for re-evolution are.

Re-evolution timelines have another interesting effect on overall risk — all else equal, the more confident one is that intelligence will re-evolve, the more confident one should be that we will be able to build AGI,* which should increase one’s estimate of existential risk from AI.

So it seems that AI risk gets a twofold ‘boost’ from evidence for a speedy re-emergence of intelligent life:

  • Relative AI risk increases, since risk from most other sources is discounted a bit.
  • Absolute AI risk increases, since it pushes towards shorter AGI timelines.

*Shulman & Bostrom 2012 discuss this type of argument, and some complexities in adjusting for observation selection effects

How Much Leverage Should Altruists Use?

[disclosure: not an economist or investment professional]

emerging market bonds ... aren't (to my knowledge) distorted by the Fed buying huge amounts of bonds

This seems wrong — the spillover effects of 2008–13 QE on EM capital markets are fairly well-established (cf the 'Taper Tantrum' of 2013).

see e.g. Effects of US Quantitative Easing on Emerging Market Economies

"We find that an expansionary US QE shock has significant effects on financial variables in EMEs. It leads to an exchange rate appreciation, a reduction in long-term bond yields, a stock market boom, and an increase in capital inflows to these countries."
Load More