saulius

5913 karmaJoined Dec 2015Bow Rd, London E3, UK

Bio

My name is Saulius Šimčikas. I spent the last year on a career break and now I'm looking for new opportunities. Previously, I worked as an animal advocacy researcher at Rethink Priorities for four years. I also did some earning-to-give as a programmer, did some EA community building, and was a research intern at Animal Charity Evaluators. I love meditation and talking about emotions.

Personal feedback form: https://forms.gle/3QBCJ3wsJnjPPWqF6 It can be anonymous. I especially welcome negative feedback.

How others can help me

Tell me what you want me to do with my life, especially if you can pay me for it.

Comments
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Topic contributions
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There were many predictions about AI and AGI in the past (maybe mostly last century) that were very wrong. I think I read about it in Superintelligence. A quick Google search shows this article which probably talks about that.

Cultured meat predictions were overly optimistic, although many of those predictions might have been companies hyping up their products to attract investors. There's also probably a selection bias where the biggest cultured meat optimisits are the ones who become cultured meat experts and make predictions

Detach the grim-o-meter comes to mind. I think that post helped me a little bit.

I'm afraid that I don't remember anymore. You can reach out to the Welfare Footprint Project directly about this if this is decision-relevant to you. If you do that, updating with their answer here would be useful as I would like to know this too.

I wonder if Open Philanthropy thinks about it because they fund both animal advocacy and global poverty/health. Animal advocacy funding probably easily offsets its negative global poverty effects on animals. It takes thousands of dollars to save a human life with global health interventions and that human might consume thousands of animals in her lifetime. Chicken welfare reforms can half the suffering of thousands of animals for tens of dollars. However, I don't like this sort of reasoning that much because we may not always have interventions as cost-effective as chicken welfare reforms.

Also, you can argue against the poor meat eater problem by pointing out that it's very unclear whether increased animal production is good or bad for animals. In short, the argument would be that there are way more wild animals than farmed animals, and animal product consumption might substantially decrease wild animal populations. Decreasing wild animal populations could be good because wild animals suffer a lot, mostly due to natural causes. See https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/topics/logic-of-the-larder I think this issue is also very under-discussed.

saulius
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I think the reason is that it doesn't really have a target audience. Animal advocacy interventions are hundreds of times more cost-effective than global poverty interventions. It only makes sense to work on global poverty if you think that animal suffering doesn't matter nearly as much as human suffering. But if you think that, then you won't be convinced to stop working on global poverty because of its effects on animals. Maybe it's relevant for some risk-averse people. 

I love all of these decisions and reasoning and think that you should go into this direction even further. I think it might be both cheaper and more effective to mostly abandon EAGs and run smaller, more specialised events instead.

My hypothesis is that people from different cause areas don’t get much out of interacting with each other at EAGs. This hypothesis can be tested with questions on post-EAG surveys. I believe the hypothesis because I just stick to other animal advocates at EAGs since these are the people I have the most productive and work-relevant conversations. I see other animal advocates doing the same. 

Currently, I see EAGs as three or four barely related conferences running in the same building at the same time. This has drawbacks. Attendees have to navigate a bigger venue to find talks and 1-1s. More importantly, attendees are less likely to start chats with random strangers or join a random group of people talking because there are fewer common things to talk about. You’re less likely to randomly bump into the people you’d have the most productive conversations with. Or you might bump into them later in the conference which would give you less time to spend with them.

I sometimes do talk with people from other cause areas but it often goes something like this:

“What do you work on?”

“Animals, you?”

“AI”

We might part ways after that, or we might talk about food, how we got into EA, or our jobs.[1] But in whichever case, I’m unlikely to change my mind on something work-relevant or to find a new collaborator in that conversation. While it’s nice to make friends with random people, it’s not a good use of time on a weekend that costs “around $1.5k–2.5k per person.” If all EAG was like that, even providing a guide dog to a blind person for $50k seems like a better use of charity money. So these are not the interactions you want to foster.

I do think that a productive cross-pollination of ideas from different EA cause areas is possible. But smaller events that are dedicated to a specific type of interplay between cause areas might be much better at this. I and the person working on AI mentioned above might find a productive conversation topic much easier at an event like the AI, Animals, and Digital Minds conference because we will be prompted by talks and the theme to think about relevant topics. Although we might also be prompted to have a similar conversation by a talk at an EAG about it.

For other types of cross-pollination, local EA events might be better and cheaper. It’s not like I need a specific AI safety specialist who needs to fly in so I could ask them my beginner questions about AI safety (or debate prioritising animals vs AI). My local EA interested in AI would do. Making local EA friends might also be better because it can be more helpful for sustaining motivation. Also, when I was thinking about switching from animals to AI, I didn’t have time at an EAG to grab a random AI safety person and ask them beginner questions because I was busy meeting animal advocates and they were probably busy too. And I didn’t know which AI safety person to grab.

I think it’s useful to ask “did people from all around the world need to fly for this?” when considering what conversations we want to encourage at global conferences. Examples that satisfy this criterion include (1) people working on similar things in different countries learning from each other, (2) meeting the few other people in the world who work on your niche topic, (3) meeting your colleagues in person. More specialised conferences would likely make all of such conversations easier.

  1. ^

    We could also try to find out why we chose to prioritize different cause areas. And the first few such conversations can be very productive but in my experience, most people who have been in EA for a while have had too many such conversations already. I’m open to the possibility that I’m wrong about this but in that case, I’d rather organise separate smaller local events for people who are interested in cause area battles. 

Nice ^_^ One final thought. I mentioned that scale depends on multiple parameters:

  1. Current human population
  2. Expected growth in the human population
  3. Current animal production per capita
  4. Expected change in the production per capita

You account for 2,3, and 4 with a separate variable “expected growth in animal production” which would be something like “projected number of farmed animals in 2050 divided by the current number of farmed animals”. And then also have a variable “Current human population”. I think it makes sense to split because these two variables matter for different reasons, and someone may put weight on one but not the other.

Also, yes, I very much had the same dilemma years ago. Mine went something like this:

Heart: I figured it out! All I care about is reducing suffering and increasing happiness!

Brain: Great! I've just read a lot of blogs and it turns out that we can maximise that by turning everything into a homogenous substance of hedonium, including you, your mom, your girlfriend, the cast of Friends, all the great artworks and wonders of nature. When shall we start working on that?

Heart: Ummm, a small part of me think that'd be great but... I'm starting to think that maybe happiness and suffering is not ALL I care about, maybe it's a bit more complex. Is it ok if we don't turn my mom into hedonium?

My point is, in the end, you think that suffering is bad and happiness is good because your emotions say so (what other reason could there be?). Why not listen to other things your emotions tell you? Ugh, sorry if I’m repeating myself.

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