All of TopherHallquist's Comments + Replies

My Cause Selection: Michael Dickens

AI safety is such a new field that I don't expect you need to be a genius to do anything groundbreaking.

They claim to be working on areas like game theory, decision theory, and mathematical logic, which are all well-developed fields of study. I see no reason to think those fields have lots of low-hanging fruit that would allow average researchers to make huge breakthroughs. Sure, they have a new angle on those fields, but does a new angle really overcome their lack of an impressive research track-record?

But I expect them to be better at AI safety res

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My Cause Selection: Michael Dickens

If I had to guess, I would guess FLI, given their ability to at least theoretically use the money for grant-making. Though after Elon Musk's $10 million, donation this cause area seems to be short on room for more funding.

3RyanCarey6yAlthough FLI were only able to grant a very small fraction of the funds that researchers applied for, and many organisations have scope for expansion beyond the grants they recieved.
My Cause Selection: Michael Dickens

Thanks for writing this, Michael. More people should write up documents like these. I've been thinking of doing something similar, but haven't found the time yet.

I realized reading this that I haven't thought much about REG. It sounds like they do good things, but I'm a bit skeptical re: their ability to make good use of the marginal donation they get. I don't think a small budget, by itself, is strong evidence that they could make good use of more money. Can you talk more about what convinced you that they're a good giving opportunity on the margin? (I'm ... (read more)

8tobiaspulver6yThanks for bringing this up, Topher! As Michael said, there are various things we would do if we had more funding. 1) REG’s ongoing operations need to be funded. Currently, we have around 6 months of reserves (at the current level of expenses), but ideally we would like to have 12 months. This would enable us to make use of more (sometimes unexpected) opportunities and to try things because we wouldn’t have to constantly be focused on our own funding situation. 2) We could potentially achieve (much) better results with REG by having additional people working on it. The best illustration of this is probably one person that we met (by going to poker stops) with a strong PR & marketing background who’s been working in the poker industry for 10 years now (there are not that many people with a level of expertise and network about the poker world like this person). This person woud like to work with us, but we had to decline her for the moment, even though we think that it would (clearly) be worth it to hire her. Another thing we would like to do is hiring someone to organise more charity tournaments and establish partnerships with industry leading organisations or strengthen existing ones, improve member communications and do social media. There are already several candidates who could do this, but we are hesitant to make this investment since we lack the appropriate funding. 3) Another way we would use additional funds is by working on various REG “extensions”. We are about to set up two REG expansions, but we won’t have enough resources to make the most out of even these two – and there are many more potentially really promising REG expansions that could be done. (The first of the two REG expansions that is likely going to be spread among the respective community in a few days is “DFS Charity”, a REG for Daily Fantasy Sports, an industry that is currently growing substantially and with a fair share of people with a similar (quantitative) mindset as poker players ha
2RyanCarey6yTo put this in context, the emerging consensus is that publicly advocating for x risk reduction in the area of AI is counterproductive, and it is better to network with researchers directly, something that may be best done by performing relevant research.
0Tom_Ash6yWhat are the best groups that are specifically doing advocacy for (against?) AI risk, or existential risks in general?
0MichaelDickens6yI asked Tobias Pulver about this specifically. He told me about their future plans and how they'd like to use marginal funds. They have things that they would have done if they'd had more money but couldn't do. I don't know if they're okay with me speaking about this publicly but I invite Tobias or anyone else at REG to comment on this. If ACE thought this was best, couldn't it direct some of the funds I donate to its top charities? (This is something I probably should have considered and investigated, although it's moot since I'm not planning on donating directly to ACE.) AI safety is such a new field that I don't expect you need to be a genius to do anything groundbreaking. MIRI researchers are probably about as intelligent as most FLI grantees. But I expect them to be better at AI safety research because MIRI has been working on it for longer and has a stronger grasp of the technical challenges.
Rich-country policy changes that could greatly benefit poor countries

I was 12 when those demonstrations happened, and I'm a little fuzzy on the agenda of the protesters. I'm currently finishing up Stigliz's Gobalization and its Discontents, which while critical of the IMF, also complaints about anti-globalization activists lobbying for more protectionist measures on the part of developed countries, against goods produced in developing countries. Do you have any idea if that applies to the Seattle protests?

0tomstocker6yYes. It applies. But they were also asking for what you were asking for.
Rich-country policy changes that could greatly benefit poor countries

Question about CGD: are they optimizing for making their proposals sound boring even though in fact they ideally want huge changes from the status quo? Or do they really just think we need tweaks to the status quo?

(This is based on a very superficial glance at their site, was already planning on trying to read more of their materials.)

Have we underestimated the risk of a NATO-Russia nuclear war? Can we do anything about it?

Hmmm... let me put it this way: I suspect the right approach to dealing with the current situation in Ukraine is to back off there, while taking a hard line re: willingness to defend Baltic NATO states like Estonia. Truly sharp red lines are established by things like the NATO treaty, not [hawkish politician X] shooting his mouth off.

2Larks7yOk, so it sounds like you basically agree with what I said; that increasing the West's willingness to compromise over the Baltics would be actively bad. However, I think you over-estimate how valuable treaties are in the absense of the institutional will to defend them. We had a Memorandum [] to defend Ukraine, but that neither prevented Putin from invading nor caused us to defend Ukraine. Treaties are credible only because there are hawkish politicians and voters who assign terminal value to honour, even if in retrospect they wish they could avoid having to fight.
Have we underestimated the risk of a NATO-Russia nuclear war? Can we do anything about it?

I know GiveWell is aware of these articles, and has looked more into nukes. Probably more conversation notes will be coming out.

This is good to know.

Why not support the existing organizations, which have people with a lifetime of experience, scholarly background, and political connections?

Do you have any specific organizations in mind? Existing anti-nuclear weapons orgs seem focused on disarmament–which seems extremely unlikely as long as Putin (or someone like him) is in power in Russia. And existing US anti-war orgs seem tragically ineffective. Bu... (read more)

July Open Thread

Crap, thanks. Forgot the forum uses Markdown rather than HTML.

0Ervin7yCould the tech team (tag Peter Hurford and Tog Ash) add some allowed HTML tags maybe?
July Open Thread

I've been using my nominally-an-atheism-blog on Patheos for a lot of EA-related blogging, but this is sub-optimal given that lots of people find the ads and commenting system extremely annoying. My first post on the new blog is titled, The case for donating to animal rights orgs. I'm hoping that with a non-awful commenting system, we'll get lots of good discussions there.

2MichaelDickens7yLooks like the formatting on your link is messed up.
Shop for Charity: how to earn proven charities 5% of your Amazon spending in commission

Seconded. The post seems to imply he's setting up a non-profit for this purpose, but it would be nice to have details.

1Tom_Ash7yYes, I've created the 'Amazon Associates' [] accounts for Charity Science [], the (already established) EA non-profit that I work for. Our policy is to always regrant any money which isn’t specifically earmarked to cover our operating costs to GiveWell-recommended charities, and this will always apply to commission earned through Amazon.
3Tom_Ash7yThanks guys, it's helpful to know that that was unclear. I've added this sentence to clarify that the commission scheme works rough as I understood: "The 5% comes from Amazon's 'affiliate' scheme, and goes to affiliate accounts which I've set up for this project, the money from which I'll always direct only to GiveWell-recommended charities." Let me know if there's anything else you'd like me to make clear.
Shop for Charity: how to earn proven charities 5% of your Amazon spending in commission

Is there any way this is a violation of the Amazon affiliates agreement?

2Tom_Ash7yHey Topher, I couldn't see anything that it violates in the 'Associates Programme Linking Requirements', and I've run similar schemes on other websites for years without problems (though for non-altruistic ends!) Scott Alexander likewise suggests people bookmark his own Amazon associates address in the sidebar of [] to support his blogging. Though I'll talk to AlasdairGives about whether it's safest for people to bookmark the 'Shop for charity' page on my website [] instead, given his comment about this.
How a lazy eater went vegan

I've come to think protein is somewhat over-rated as a concern for vegans. Unless you're trying to be a body builder, I think it's pretty easy to get enough protein through the sources mentioned in the OP (cereals and legumes are complimentary in terms of their amino acid content).

How a lazy eater went vegan

Yes, hence "or foods fortified with them." I don't particularly like soymilk, but sometimes drink calcium-fortified orange juice.

Why is effective altruism new and obvious?

Somewhat echoing atucker: the moral ideas behind effective altruism have been around for a long time, but are also quite contrarian and have never been widely embraced. But the moral ideas—even in a form pretty damn close to their current one, like Peter Singer's writings in the 70s—aren't enough to give you EA as we know it. You also need a fair amount of expertise to come up with a strong game plan for putting them into practice. Singer couldn't have founded GiveWell, for example.

(One odd thing: as far as I know, Singer has never been involved in the nuc... (read more)

3RyanCarey7yIt probably wasn't immediately obvious how important the future is. The ancestors of far future concern are Sagan and Parfit. E.g Sagan: "If we are required to calibrate extinction in numerical terms, I would be sure to include the number of people in future generations who would not be born.... (By one calculation), the stakes are one million times greater for extinction than for the more modest nuclear wars that kill "only" hundreds of millions of people. There are many other possible measures of the potential loss—including culture and science, the evolutionary history of the planet, and the significance of the lives of all of our ancestors who contributed to the future of their descendants. Extinction is the undoing of the human enterprise."
Brainstorming thread: ideas for large EA funders

Nope. I bought Google, IBM, Microsoft, and a South American agribusiness company, all in an attempt to bet on guesses about long-term trends (information technology and maybe natural resources being really important). I'm unsure if this is a good idea—arguably I should focus on maximizing near-term expected returns—but it's something I'm doing now. For reasons Paul gave, it's at least no worse than investing in an index, but maybe I should have used the money for a larger Angel investment, I don't know.

2Paul_Christiano7yIt could be worse, mostly by correlating your investment returns with the general success of the tech sector (with which your ordinary income is tightly linked, and moreover which drives much effective altruist philanthropy).
Career choice: Evaluate opportunities, not just fields

This strongly fits with my experience. Even on a pure earnings basis, as I've researched various job opportunities I've found there's a shocking amount of variation on how much two job opportunities can differ, much more than I initially anticipated based on a naive view of what a competitive job market looks like. Often this pops up in non-obvious ways.

Actually examples that might happen to you: one finance firm turns out to be much better about paying bonuses to new employees who make big contributions right away. Or maybe Google only offers you slightl... (read more)

Brainstorming thread: ideas for large EA funders

As someone who received a Large Sum of Money (as defined in this post) last year, here's what I actually did with it:

  • spent some of it on my living expenses while I acquired skills to get a new job, then looked for a job
  • invested it in Vanguard index funds
  • donated a small portion of it
  • spent more of it on living expenses when I decided to quit my job and look for a new one
  • and most recently did a calculation regarding what I thought I could afford to lose, and invested that much money in individual stocks plus some in a startup founded by member of the r
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2AGB7yi understand you finding the premise odd. However, it became apparent to me in the course of casual conversations that many people do indeed have an intuition that you should be able to do something 'clever' with sums on this level. Evidence for that Is provided by most of the rest of the comments.
0Ben_Kuhn7yWhy did you invest in individual stocks? Did you have insider information about them?

I think the answer to your first question is mostly contained in my response to Owen. I agree that in theory cosmopolitans might disagree on immigration reform, but I chose not to talk much about it because I thought talking about cosmopolitanism and military intervention was more interesting.

For your second question, yeah, I would want to apply cosmopolitanism to cities, too. Though drill down to very small groups, and I'm less eager to take a hard stance. Bryan Caplan thinks we have special obligations to family members, but that has

Maybe I should wrap some of these comments up into a clarifying addendum.

0RobBensinger7yRe the first question, I think I was missing a connotation you associate between the word 'cosmopolitanism' and political / nation-oriented interventions. Perhaps you were guarding against the interpretation that being a 'citizen of the world' (as opposed to a citizen of one's homeland) requires one to endorse open borders or world governments. Re the second question, perhaps we should say that cosmopolitanism is about being indifferent to where strangers and acquaintances live or have lived (including where they were born), but it's not about being indifferent to whether someone's a stranger vs. a close friend. So if you live in a town of 200 and are close friends with all those people, cosmopolitanism says it's fine to strongly privilege your town over other towns, by analogy with its being fine to privilege your family/friends over others' families/friends. But if you live in a city of 200,000 and don't know the vast majority of residents, cosmopolitanism forbids privileging arbitrary residents of your city over arbitrary residents of other cities.

When I was writing this post, I meant to define cosmopolitanism as something that does not take a position either way on nonhumans or future generations. Two reasons for this:

  1. My goal was to increase self-awareness about concern for people in other countries being a distinctive feature of effective altruism. Whereas people who are especially concerned about animals or future generations tend to already be pretty self-aware that not everyone shares their position.
  2. As Robert Wiblin noted in his summit talk, the effective altruism community does have a few p
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3Owen_Cotton-Barratt7yThat's fair. Though in that case I'd have liked to have seen some explicit contrast with these other questions (if only to say that you didn't mean that, so that readers didn't immediately start thinking on those lines).