saulius

My name is Saulius Simcikas. I am a researcher at Rethink Priorities. Previously, I was a research intern at Animal Charity Evaluators, organised Effective Altruism events in the UK and Lithuania, and earned-to-give as a programmer.

saulius's Comments

Examples of people who didn't get into EA in the past but made it after a few years

Why were you so bent on getting an EA job?

I was never bent on getting an EA job. I wanted to test out many different jobs and see what fits me. I also wanted to have some impact. I didn’t write those two articles or criticize ACE and other organizations in order to increase my chances of getting a job at an EA org. I’m not sure that thought even crossed my mind. I did it because I wanted to have an impact.

When I was doing EA community building internship, my manager would ask me every week: “what have you learnt about your personal fit as an EA community builder?” Because that was the main goal. After he read my articles, he was like “I think you have a better fit for this kind of stuff”. And some other people said similar things. And I did feel that the research that I did had more potential to make an impact than other things I’ve tried. So I decided to try to do more research. I started applying for researcher jobs partly because I was running out of savings. But when I got the offer for the RP job, I still wasn’t sure if I should take it. What if they tell me to research something that I don’t feel is impactful or exciting? That happened during my ACE internship. I was considering living in CEEALAR and just doing research by myself instead.

I’m still unsure if I should be doing research. I feel like I’m having more expected impact but still not that much. When I talk to people at animal charities about what they are doing, it sounds much more impactful. Also, I don’t like looking at a screen all day, especially when it’s sunny outside. I’m set on doing research for now, but I’m thinking that maybe I should try to found a direct work charity or something some time in the future.

Why not ETG. You are a software engineer I see from your Linkedin.

Because I got bored of programming and I wasn’t that good at it. I also thought that I only have one life and it would be a shame if I never tried a different job. I considered trying out jobs like door-to-door salesman because they sounded fun, but since I also cared about impact, I applied for internships at EA orgs first.

Then, I do not know what else to base my actions on. I also don't understand what you mean by "too much".

I just happened to be a good enough personal fit to be a researcher despite being rejected from it at first. Maybe you are a better fit at something else. Being rejected in early hiring rounds is evidence that maybe this path is not for you. It’s not conclusive evidence, but it is evidence.

Do you like reading research? When you read it, do you spot mistakes? Are you a good writer? I think you can test your personal fit for being a researcher quite a bit by asking yourself questions like these. That’s one other thing you can use to make a decision on whether to persevere and try more to become a researcher, or whether to try something else. And different questions for different roles. And if you do decide you want to be a researcher, maybe you need to do something different than things I needed. E.g. a writing class or talking with other EAs more.

Another thing to base your actions on is experimenting - trying different things and seeing if you like them, and if you have an impact. I tried many different things to make an impact before (temporarily) settling on research. For example:

  • Making EA leaflets and distributing them in streets
  • Leafleting about animal welfare
  • Contributing to wikipedia articles on EA-related topics
  • Thinking super long and hard about where to donate
  • Convincing people who donate money to donate it to more effective charities
  • Going to activism events and trying to convince people to apply EA principles
  • Trying to start the EA movement in Lithuania
  • Organizing EA events in London
  • Etc.

When doing most of these things, I had a feeling that I’m not doing that much impact. So I stopped. Note that none of these required being employed at an EA org.

Examples of people who didn't get into EA in the past but made it after a few years
  1. Before the ACE's internship I applied to MIRI for a programming internship but didn't receive an answer. After ACE, I applied for various roles in Centre For Effective Altruism and wasn't selected. I also was rejected for researcher roles by OpenPhil (after some number of rounds) and Charity Entrepreneurship, shortly before I got the job at RP. It's possible that I got rejected by CE because I said that I was uncertain if I will be willing to move to Vancouver which is something that they wanted at that time, but I think it was more because I totally failed at a task they gave me during the hiring process. I guess I should note that OpenPhil had very many good applicants and CE was reluctant to hire at that time and I think they didn't hire anyone during that hiring round. Oh, I was also asked to apply for a researcher role at Effective Giving but in the end I was told that there was one candidate who was better fit than me and they hired them. I also applied as a researcher for Veddis Foundation and was not selected, no interview. There may have been more rejections that I don't remember. I think I applied for all or most of these researcher roles after writing those two articles.
  2. Yes, I didn't have a real job during that year and for a lot of the year I was doing random stuff like going to hippyish events. I did two weeks of contractor work for Effective Giving (I think after they decided to not hire me), but I think I didn't mention that to RP so I don't think it affected my hiring chances.
  3. Yes, it was the articles that drew attention to hirers at RP. I did not know hirers personally. When they reached out to me, they wrote "I've been following your research for ACE and on the EA Forum and I think you'd be an exceptional fit for the role." Similarly, I think that those articles were by far the main reason why Effective Giving was interested in me, though I did know the hirer personally. But it’s not enough to draw attention, I imagine that RP also hired me because I did ok or well at interviews and tasks.
  4. EA London asked publicly if anyone would be interested in organizing some concrete events with their help. I was the only one who volunteered and we organized an event. I think they offered me the internship because of that and because they knew that I won’t need that much management. I was already friends with people who were running EA London. Organizing events and writing articles have almost nothing in common so I think that it’s unrelated.

In general, I think that everyone’s situation is different and you shouldn’t base your actions on stuff like this too much. I think that in the end what helped me to be the kind of person who would be considered for these kinds of roles was a long time intense engagement with EA, thinking hard about where to donate, etc. Another thing I did that may have helped me get the ACE internship was criticising their work vie emails, pointing out something that I thought was a mistake.

Examples of people who didn't get into EA in the past but made it after a few years

I was hoping to get a position at ACE after my research internship (which lasted maybe 7 months) and I was told it was a possibility but they hired other people instead. However, after the internship I knew better what kind of articles would be useful and had some relevant connections. In the following year I wrote two articles (this and this) which were reviewed by my connections at ACE before publishing which was very useful . I also did some unrelated stuff like an EA community building internship. I applied for various EA jobs, mostly research, and didn't get some of them. Someone who was hiring at Rethink Priorities reached out to me and asked me to apply because they liked those two articles I wrote. I applied and got the job, about one year after my ACE internship ended.

CU & extreme suffering

I'm not sure there is an objective answer to your question because (to my knowledge) we don't have good definitions of suffering and well-being and no objective way to compare their intensity. It also depends on whether by "worst suffering" you mean the worst suffering current humans can experience, or the worst theoretically possible suffering (and the best theoretically possible well-being). Some speculations related to the latter can be read here. You can probably find more such speculations by going through these search results.

If you are asking about current humans, it may be informative to ask people who have experienced both extreme suffering and extreme happiness for their opinion. However, in my experience different people answer such questions very differently. Also, I imagine that even the same person may answer the question differently depending on whether you are asking them while they are experiencing intense suffering or after it has already happened. And it's unclear what to do with that.

Influencing pivotal Individuals

Organizations that aim to do that include Founders Pledge, Effective Giving, Raising For Effective Giving, Farmed Animal Funders. All of these organizations try to raise money for effective charities from wealthy individuals or advise wealthy individuals how to donate more effectively. There are probably more initiatives to inform influential people but you don't necessarily hear about them that much because often there is no need for these initiatives to be public.

Critical Review of 'The Precipice': A Reassessment of the Risks of AI and Pandemics

Hey, it’s an interesting article, thanks for writing it. I’ll just respond to one point.

Lacking a physical body to interact with people, it is hard to see how an AI could inspire the same levels of loyalty and fear that these three leaders (and many others like then) relied upon in their subordinates and followers.

If that is important, AI could make itself a virtual body and show videos of itself talking. People rarely see their leaders physically anyway. And the virtual body could be optimized for whatever is needed to gain power. It could maybe make itself more fearsome because lacking a body makes it less vulnerable, more mysterious and authoritative. It’s not just another human, it’s a whole new type of being that is better than us at everything.

If I am wrong and people would only follow other people, AI could e.g. hire a hitman to assassinate whoever and then assume their identity with deepfake-like videos and tell that they are filmed from a secret location for safety reasons. Or construct a new human identity.

This is all super speculative and these probably wouldn't be the strategies it would use, I'm just pointing out some possibilities. Also, note that it’s not my area and I only thought about it for ~15 minutes.

How good is The Humane League compared to the Against Malaria Foundation?

Commitments are usually made by grocers, restaurants, hotels, etc., not producers. You can see in this document by USDA that at least in the U.S., most important companies that made commitments are retailers, followed by restaurants. I think it's somewhat unlikely that many people will go to another grocer just to save a little bit of money on eggs. Similarly, I don't think that it will impact people's choice of restaurants much because egg prices probably won't influence meal prices that much. Also, some animal advocates believe that eventually all the production in some countries/regions like the U.S. will be cage-free because egg producers won't want to invest in new caged facilities when there is a risk that further corporate campaigns or law changes will take away the few remaining customers that buy caged eggs.

How good is The Humane League compared to the Against Malaria Foundation?

What is way more important is all the indirect effects and other factors that I list in the "Ways this estimate could be misleading" section of my corporate campaigns CEA here. I think that they might be more important than direct effects. The same could also be true about AMF.

How good is The Humane League compared to the Against Malaria Foundation?

Note that (unless I missed something) your animal welfare report commits this same minor mistake of assuming that all hens used by companies that made cage-free commitments were in battery cages. While I think that's true for the majority of hens, some of them were already in cage-free systems, and some were in enriched cages. But this is more than outweighed by some very conservative assumptions. E.g., that THL's work only moved policies forward by 1 year or something like that. So it's no big deal :)

How good is The Humane League compared to the Against Malaria Foundation?

Note that according to WHO, in 2018 there were 228 million cases of malaria worldwide resulting in an estimated 405,000 deaths. So for every lethal case, there were 405,000 / 228 million = 563 non-lethal cases. AMF founder said that bednets prevent these non lethal cases as well. I don’t know how much suffering an average case of malaria causes but the combined effect is probably significant. Especially when we take into account some of the complications that sometimes arise from malaria.

For example, GiveWell claims that “It is also believed that malaria can cause permanent disability (hearing impairment, visual impairment, epilepsy, etc.)”. An old Giving What We Can report says “our model suggests that the distribution of long-lasting insecticide treated bednets averts one case of epilepsy for about $25,000.” Note that it is not only difficult to live with epilepsy, but it’s also difficult and stressful to raise a child that has epilepsy (see this video).

How much to weigh these effects and effects of other diseases AMF may prevent (e.g. dengue, yellow fever, zika, encephalitis) depends on the subjective trade-off between preventing deaths and preventing suffering. I feel that my personal trade-off would give much more relative weight to the suffering than GiveWell does. Although I’m sure that GiveWell has solid reasons for making their estimates in the way that they did.

Finally, GiveWell’s estimate doesn’t seem to take into account many other effects. E.g.:

  • Preventing deaths prevents grief of parents, siblings and friends
  • Preventing morbidity also prevents a lot of additional trouble associated with it
  • Bednets prevent mosquito bites which we all know are annoying
  • On the other hand, I remember reading somewhere that people feel discomfort when sleeping under bednets
  • Malaria has a high economic burden and bednets reduce that as well.
  • Relatedly, bednets can empower some struggling people. An old GiveWell blog says: “a substantial part of the good that one does may be indirect: the people that one helps directly (by e.g. funding distribution of bednets) become more empowered to contribute to society, and this in turn may empower others, etc. If one believes that, on average, people tend to accomplish good when they become more empowered, it’s conceivable that the indirect benefits of one’s giving swamp the first-order effects.”
  • Fighting malaria impacts the size of the human populations which has many different consequences
  • FInally, AMF has an impact on mosquitos. The only analysis of that that I know of is the one by Brian Tomasik but it is from a negative utilitarian point of view. Also, I don’t know if killed mosquitos mean that some other animals also don’t get mosquito bites and associated problems.

Note that I'm not at all an expert on any of these problems so don't put too much weight on what I say.

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