RayTaylor

11Joined Mar 2015

Comments
70

I think the problem is not so much to find the perfect governance system (which changes over time and with context) ...

... but how to get there from here?

In business schools this is addressed through the research category 'Management of Change'. 

In politics, why it's easier in France is a perennial topic.

Is there another link? I couldn't open that one.

Does your analysis consider GCRs and tail risks through this century?

Wonderful to see this, thank you!

I see synergies with longtermism, especially considering likely irreversibility of species loss, species which may some day be really important.

EIA (environmental investigations agency) have done excellent work on long term effect of HCFCs, among other things, with real world impact.

For completeness, you might want to examine counterfactuals / challenges, or suggestions that:

# AI+nuclear weapons, and nuclear war itself are more immediate neglected risks; the predicted arrival date of AGI tends to get put back 5 years, every 5 years or so, and a nuclear war might push it back further:

# it could be that the population selection for IT-types within academia and EA leads to AGI being over-emphasised as a GCR within EA and academia; also, it's a really interesting and absorbing topic, so who wouldn't want to prioritise it?

# just because it's a high priority, doesn't mean everyone should be doing it!

# more EAs should go into defence, RAND and intelligence agencies, so that at least a few EAs know what is going on in there, and it isn't dominated by hawks

I think the problem you raise is important and real, but I'm not sure that a post or policy or even a project would solve it, not even with improved feedback from people who are starting to drift away (which would be valuable, and which I'd love to discuss elsewhere).  I think there may be a better approach, which is more likely to happen and more likely to succeed, since it will happen (and is already happening) anyway, as with most intellectual 'movements', especially those close to an emerging Zeitgeist or perennial topic.

Here's the rub:

Should EA be like a supertanker, centrally controlled, and therefore perhaps more vulnerable* to whole-movement shipwreck or disgrace that goes unanswered

Or should it be more like a fleet/regatta, able to weave, sub-divide and reunite, or to adapt depending on storms and circumstances/needs that become evident and ways to move which become viable?

And if "more like a fleet" is the answer, wouldn't that also solve this disillusionment problem, because people could join the particular ship or sailing style which they like? 

To a degree this is inevitably happening anyway, and I've seen it often in other contexts: Mennonites are famous for sub-dividing over minor differences, while retaining an overall unity. See also Quakers, NVC, scouts, psychoanalysts, socialists, even Utilitarians .... and that's just the last century or so!

What's the advantage of a unitary movement, especially if there is no central comms/PR?


* especially since there is no required comms plan and training for the core team and leading lights, who tend to be busy writing/researching/teaching, and no obvious overall PR/reputation management strategy, which seems very high risk, considering how interesting the topics are for journalists!

Thank you for doing this, very important and potentially it helps undo a mistake I made in my 20s: prioritising climate and neglecting biodiversity. (Sorry!) Can I clarify: is the topic biodiversity or mass extinction prevention? Both are valid, but strategies and timescales for both actions and outcomes could be very different.

I'd like to encourage both biodiversity protection and mass extinction prevention on grounds of:

A. Long-termism, life extension and ultimate value: 

  • Climate will eventually be stabilized, but biodiversity, once lost, is gone forever*.
  • Certain species may have within them the compounds/RNA/DNA needed for life extension.
  • More prosaically, imagine if cats, coffee, chocolate and vincristine** had gone extinct before we realised we liked or needed them!

B. Beauty:

  • This is non trivial, even in classical utilitarianism.
  • Minor example: think of the pleasure we can all have from nature documentaries knowing that those animals and plants are still doing fine.
  • With preference utilitarianism or Maslow's Being Values it becomes even more obvious that this matters a lot.

C. Neglectedness-within-EA 
(compared to climate change and non biological cause areas)

Both philosophy and IT/mathematics/computing tend  to attract people with a particular group of interests. If we continue to have less attention to biological fields than AI and suffering, we'll over time have fewer and fewer EAs with an interest in life sciences.

* especially those species we haven't even identified! Also, gene banking or even seed/gamete banking is notoriously unreliable, so there is no sure and easy hack.

** a fungus that is the basis for many cancer treatments

Species themselves are not inherently valuable.


Doesn't this depend on assuming negative utilitarianism, and suffering-focused ethic, or a particular set of assumptions about the net pleasure vs pain in the life of an 'average' animal?

> The experiences of individual conscious animals are what's valuable

Are you saying it's the ONLY thing that has value, and that everyone who thinks otherwise is wrong? (For example, I imagine this doesn't hold in preference utilitarianism, and maybe not in longtermist thinking.)

> the welfare of wild animals is basically orthogonal to biodiversity, at least as far as anyone can tell

What's your scientific evidence to support that, and is it refutable? 
Or can the opposite be asserted with the same data?

I think most ecologists/environmentalists would strongly dispute that, and I have certainly heard them making that case. They would contend, with evidence, that a biodiverse ecosystem is essential for resilience, health and maintaining a variety of ecological niches, and is essential for almost all species to thrive and adapt and evolve. 

I've observed a group of gardens over several decades as gardeners stopped using pesticides, and seen a flourishing of bird species, some of whom spend hours apparently flying as a group just for fun. (I presume this is teleologically a preparation for migration, but they wouldn't do it without some form of pleasure feedback, which we can presume they value.)

>even if biodiversity and wild animal welfare are positively correlated, I've never seen a good argument to that effect, 

Did you steel man on this, or search for good arguments? How are you defining wild animal welfare?

Please allow me some what-aboutism:

What about the whole science of ecology, and evidence from degraded ecosystems (including consequences for individual species and animals?) 

What about changes in the rate of animal and plant pathology where keystone and maintenance species are lost? (Wolves in Yellowstone and cleaner wrass in coral reefs are easy examples, also snails in ponds.

What about pollinators?

Taking your argument to it's logical extreme, we would eliminate almost all wild species. Would that really be a good planet for most people and most animals to live in? You would also be closing off many evolutionary pathways, with innumerable potential positive outcomes. As far as I can tell, this only makes sense if you place a massive priority on suffering cf pleasure in the very short term, and consider most wild animal lives as net negative in suffering vs pleasure. If you do. on your scale of suffering vs pleasure, where is the zero on the X-axis, and how do you justify that as being the balance point?

Wild animals themselves seem to want to live strongly enough to make great effort to stay alive - why should you (or any human) be deciding FOR them that they are better off not existing at all? Does this not apply even more, given that we can't even prove that you and other humans have free will?

>and surely increasing biodiversity isn't the best way to improve wild animal welfare.

At the moment I think we're just talking about reducing the rate of biodiversity loss, so if your original contention is correct, wild animal suffering is already reducing fast, at least in absolute terms, maybe not per individual.

But in many ecosystems maintaining or protecting it may indeed be the best way. Yellowstone wolves and coral bleaching provide great examples.

You'd also have to presume that as the proportion of domestic animals to wild animals increased, as you terminated the wild species, the domestic species were, from their own experience and with their 'animal' consciousness, happier than the lost wild species. Assuming you are very conscientious, that may be true for any pets that you yourself look after, but can we be sure that many generations of bears, stags, foxes etc would not miss vast pleasure from many lifetimes of behaviour. 

You could perhaps argue that loss of biodiversity poses an existential threat to humanity

Yes, both medium and long term, perhaps through a reduced portfolio of anti-virals, and probably most of all in the far future, in ways we can probably not imagine, no more than early humanoids could understand the importance of sand/silicon for AI.

, which matters more for the long-run future than wild animal welfare. But it seems like a very weak x-risk compared to things like AGI or nuclear war.

AGI and nuclear war are both risks, whereas biodiversity loss is certain: it has been happening and will continue to happen. Whether it becomes an obvious X-risk in future centuries  is very hard for us to assess right now, but again it's probably through reduced capacity to deal with pathogens that we would experience it most.

At the very least, could we consider the distress to those who love many of these species, and loss of a popular phenomena which has been much observed lately: cross-species friendship?

>Most people who prioritize biodiversity (IMO) don't seem to understand what actually matters,

Really?! That's very pejorative, don't you think? 

Your evidence? And your sample size?

> and they act as if a species is a unit of inherent value, when it isn't

On what grounds are you dismissing that contention, for those with slightly or very different philsophical and ethical positions to yourself?

—the unit of value is an individual's conscious experience.

Measured and compared how?

Thank you for doing this, very important and potentially it helps undo a mistake I made in my 20s: prioritising climate and neglecting biodiversity. (Sorry!)

I'd like to encourage this on grounds of:

A. Long-termism, life extension and ultimate value: 

  • Climate will eventually be stabilized, but biodiversity, once lost, is gone forever*. 
  • Certain species may have within them the compounds/RNA/DNA needed for life extension. 
  • More prosaically, imagine if cats, coffee, chocolate and vincristine** had gone extinct before we realised we liked or needed them! 

B. Beauty:

  • This is non trivial, even in classical utilitarianism. 
  • Minor example: think of the pleasure we can all have from nature documentaries knowing that those animals and plants are still doing fine.
  • With preference utilitarianism or Maslow's Being Values it becomes even more obvious that this matters a lot.

C. Neglectedness-within-EA 
(compared to climate change and non biological cause areas)

Both philosophy and IT/mathematics/computing tend  to attract people with a particular group of interests. If we continue to have less attention to biological fields than AI and suffering, we'll over time have fewer and fewer EAs with an interest in life sciences.

* especially those species we haven't even identified! Also, gene banking or even seed/gamete banking is notoriously unreliable, so there is no sure and easy hack.

** a fungus that is the basis for many cancer treatments

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