Minh Nguyen

Pursuing an undergraduate degree

Bio

Participation
2

I developed a student forum with >300k active users and a study site with >25k users. It was more fun than studying.
I held an illegal solo climate protest (featured on Al Jazeera and BBC), weighing the risk of arrest versus the benefit of averting mass extinction.

How others can help me

Give me any EA-adjacent work, especially in existential risk, policy or mental health.

How I can help others

I've done advocacy, fundraising, full stack dev, digital marketing, HR, PR, legal, finances and other stuff founders have to figure out. I'll help you out if you're building something or helping someone.

Comments
26

Well, I'm an EA and I've scaled+secured funding for large-scale edutech ventures. My only comment would be to provide a compelling reason for someone to apply to DI. In edutech, I find there are 3 approaches:

  1. Securing funding from other institutions. By far the most common approach. Actual user experience becomes secondary if you can somehow convince schools/workplaces to sufficiently fund this, and you essentially secure a captive audience. Obviously, incentives skew here.
  2. Be fun and engaging to use, and then offer premium features.
  3. Present a viable alternative (in at least one niche area) to traditional education certificates

I have previously tried out an idea similar to yours. Singapore has the Skillsfuture program that subsidises job skills retraining. In theory, this is a forward-thinking move. However, in practice, the vast majority of the funding is given to the best marketers, not the best teachers. Mid-career tech transitions (usually forced) are an absolute bloodbath, and I suspect people in this job search are less receptive to adopting EA principles than they would be early in their career. After a while, the brain kind of goes into "I need a job regardless of whether it aligns with any principles", if that makes sense.

That said I don't know your context and future predictions based on past trends are notoriously bad, so I certainly encourage you to try.

(Also, to be honest, it makes me look bad when I claim something is cost-effective but can't provide a single real-world example with numbers to back up that claim.)

I think it's an epistemic issue inherent to impacts caused by influencing decision making.

For example, let's say I present a very specific, well-documented question: "Did dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki save more lives than it took?"

The costs here are specific: Mainly deaths caused by the atomic bombs (roughly 200k people)

The lives saved are also established: Deaths caused by each day the Japanese forces continued fighting, projections of deaths caused by the planned invasion of mainland Japan and famines caused the naval blockade of Japan.

There are detailed records of the entire decision making process at both a personal and macro level. In fact, a lot of the key decision makers were alive post-war to give their opinions. However, the question remains controversial in public discourse because it's hard to pin a number to factors influencing policy decisions. Could you argue that since the Soviet declaring war was the trigger for surrender, mayyyybe the surrender would have happened without the bombs?

Activism is way more nebulous and multivariate, so even significant impacts would be hard to quantify in an EA framework. Personally, I do see the case for underweighing activism within EA. So many other movement already prioritise activism, and in my experience it's super difficult to make quantitative arguments when a culture centres around advocacy. However, I would really like to see some exploration, if only so I don't have to switch gears between my diff friend groups.

I've dabbled in studying technological adoption (telegraph, phone, radio, TV, internet etc).

If I had to make this case, I would define parameters as:

What % of people use this medium every day/week/month? A more interesting sub-question would be to compare users of multiple platforms or users that "leapfrog" and use newer platforms without using older ones. For example, many people in developing regions use mobile internet but don't own  PC. Mobile gaming is close to making more annual revenue than console and PC combined. And some crypto apps like Axie Infinity have reported high number of users who do not have a fiat bank account.

What % of people would cite this medium as a means of contacting friends/family/spouses?

What % of people use this medium as  primary means of making new friendships/relationships? For example, we've recently passed a threshold where 40% of newly married couples met online, which a strong indicator of social habits shifting online.

I'm not in tune with the VR industry, but it's not the worst bet if you think VR adoption will follow the same rapid growth trajectory as mobile platforms.

This is very valuable!

I'm an undergrad, and I've been juggling EA and non-EA activism for several years.[1] I always felt EA could benefit more from research on social movements, because activism can yield very cost-effective results with shockingly little expenditure. I do get why it's not a big focus for the broader movement (protests being hard to quantify, controversy, EAs not really being activist types), but I'd certainly consider it neglected.

For example, climate activism is, in my opinion, a successful example of global activism bringing a niche x-risk into the mainstream, resulting in real policy change. Climate support suffers from pluralistic ignorance, where individuals underestimate public support for certain beliefs, and hence publicly understate their own support. Essentially, "I support climate action but don't believe others do." is an incredibly common concern I've heard, and it seems the only consistent way to bypass this is frequent public displays of widespread support.

More research on how public opinion for important issues can be funneled into solutions is very valuable.

  1. ^

     I ended up on BBC, Al Jazeera and others for climate activism. It was very interesting to watch people say "I agree climate change is a big deal but I disagree with your methods" in a thousand different ways.

Not OP but I have organised protests and researched the topic to inform my organising.

My answer is that it's like any strategy: you have to make the right tradeoffs aligning with your goals. You will find many example of massively unpopular but effective protests (MLK's protests for example had a >70% disapproval rating) or larger more popular protests that did not achieve their goals (pro-democracy protests in HK). A general rule like "don't protest like this, it doesn't historically work" is massively dependent on your specific context, and how the organisers execute. It's entire possible for the same strategy to have inconsistent results.

I find it more productive to view protests as campaigns with defined goals. For example, economic disruptions and strikes would work if your issue has a broad support base, like issues of inequality, climate change or cost of living. It is highly unlikely to work in cases of minority rights, such as gay rights or protection of racial-religious minorities. Because if you do that, the majority could easily distance themselves from you and not display solidarity. Gender issues are a mixed bag.

Sorry if that's not a helpful answer, but if you give me an example I can probably tailor the recommendations better.

Yeah there's way too many variables.

Anecdotally, the most engaged young EAs I've come across are usually heavily into liberal arts (a lot of philo and history majors) or CS majors. I'd find it difficult to make meaningful major-specific strategies off of that.

This actually aligns with my experience as well. Without external prompting, I find that students from "elite" schools were the most proactive. In Singapore there's only been one high school chapter. EA SG would have supported any HS student who asked, but that school was the only one that had any. Likewise, I later cofounded a climate advocacy org with someone I messaged on Twitter who was the first person to conduct  climate protest in Singapore, and us cofounders were from the two top schools even though we would have taken anyone. I suppose it's combination of curiosity+privilege.

But in any case, I think it's good not to assume current movement trends reflect some universal truth. I think EA should broaden its reach as much as it can, and methodical attempts at boosting participation is good. Heck, if you look at the most common alma maters of EAs, there's some distinctly non-Ivy, non Russell Group unis at the top distributions that prove anomalous outrach efforts can make a difference. No reason to say no to that.

Carnegie's philanthropy really fascinates me. His support for the Efficiency Movement, for example, strikes me as a sign that he would have liked Effective Altruism. I also spent much of high school doing education policy advocacy and building online student/support resources used by thousands of students, so the exponential benefit of knowledge sharing very much resonates with me.

However, I often wonder: Would interventions that we retroactively consider "very good examples of EA" have been considered EA at the time?

For example, correct me if I'm wrong, I don't think I've ever come across research covering education and literacy initiatives in an EA context. Global health research focuses on reducing disease burden, and not education or knowledge infrastructure initiatives that are comparable to what Carnegie did.

And certainly, contemporary EAs could argue that Carnegie could have spent his fortune reducing developing world disease burden or reducing the risk of great power conflict. Fun fact, Carnegie offered to purchase the Philippines' independence for $20 million ($700 Million today) and campaigned for Filipino independence until his death. 

Some historical interventions like the eradication of smallpox or the Green Revolution fit quite closely within existing EA frameworks, but others like Carnegie's libraries or Ralph Nader's advocacy for seat belt and safety regulation strike me as harder to fit under current EA frameworks.

I think this is an important question to ask. If EAs in fifty years are applauding interventions that the current EA movement is undervaluing, then I feel that reflects a misjudgement somewhere.

As someone who's been to a <5% acceptance rate school and a school that no one outside my city knows exists, I agree with this assessment.

To ground this discussion, I'll be using stats from the 2020 EA demographics survey.

Specifically, this chart of EA's alma maters.

As you can see, that's a huge overrepresentation from elite universities. Over 1/3 of respondents come from Oxbridge or T20 universities. The top-heaviness is even wilder if you dig into EA's funding sources. By 80k's own estimates, 80% of EA's funding essentially comes from the work of Dustin Moskovitz from Harvard and Sam Bankman-Fried from MIT.[1]

There's arguably some justification for this:

  1. Impact has a top-heavy distribution. I forget which post I saw, but the basic premise was that in the same way EA charities can be 1,000 times more impactful than the average charity, the work of a few influential EAs can be 1,000 times more impactful than the average EA. Some examples cited were AI research and policy. Personally, I agree. Do I want to think of myself as a temporarily embarrassed billionaire philanthropist? Sure. But realistically, why the hell would I have a problem with someone doing a lot of good? Go nuts.
  2. On the wealth front, you could argue that's just a reflection of existing systemic inequality. Global and societal wealth is largely concentrated in the top 10% or top 1%, and any nonprofit seeking funds would essentially mirror that distribution. And in any case, unless EA prioritises wealth redistribution as a nonnegotiable movement goal/cause area, isn't it a good thing that there are billionaires using their wealth, privilege and influence to fund solutions instead of demanding normal people donate? I try to donate, but I'm thankful the movement doesn't have to live or die based on whether a thousand EAs buy slightly more expensive ergonomic chairs or nice meals every Friday.

However, I think the argument for diversity remains compelling:

  1. In terms of neglectedness, this early in the movement, it's just logical to reach out to underrepresented demographics. A worldwide movement of a few thousand people should be evolving and adapting, and the 99% of institutions that are underrepresented present a compelling case. If this were a cause area exploration, it would be really weird to settle for engaging the top 1% just because they responded first.
  2. EA is ultimately about using evidence and reason to do the most good. Compared to other goals like making a lot of money, this goal benefits from diversity of perspective. If EA wants to solve humanity's problems, you'd think it would be beneficial to have more perspectives that are closer to explored cause areas, or perspectives that can make a case for a currently-neglected cause area.

Overall, I agree. And for certain EAs reading this who remain unconvinced, I doubt EA would have grown to what it is today if Will Macaskill had decided that American EAs weren't worth the trouble of reaching out to, or that certain initially-unpopular cause areas weren't worth acknowledging.

  1. ^

    Yes, I know FTX has a very EA-aligned team and is not just SBF. However, if you attempt to break down the actual alma maters of the FTX leadership, you'll find it only strengthens my point.

I obviously know little of the billionaire shadow cabal which runs the world, but I'll comment on this:

Establishing a prominent, highly visible, highly scalable flagship project could greatly increase publicity and the receptiveness of high net worth individuals.

I've founded a few advocacy orgs before. People seem much more enthusiastic to support a big ambitious project than a disparate bunch of good ideas. Currently, there are multiple fairly small established organisations, but nothing like The Gates Foundation seeks to eradicate malaria. In practical terms, there's no reason why multiple highly effective initiatives are less worth funding, but it's a psychology thing IMO.

Do correct me if you think this is wrong, haha.

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