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Effective altruism: an elucidation and a defence

Stefan Schubert

March 22, 2017

In this paper, the authors discuss Iason Gabriel’s recent piece on criticisms of effective altruism. Many of the criticisms rest on the notion that effective altruism can roughly be equated with utilitarianism applied to global poverty and health interventions which are supported by randomised control trials and disability-adjusted life year estimates. The authors reject this characterisation and argue that effective altruism is much broader from the point of view of ethics, cause areas, and methodology. We then enter into a detailed discussion of the specific criticisms Gabriel discusses. Their argumentation mirrors Gabriel’s, dealing with the objections that the effective altruist community neglects considerations of justice, uses a flawed methodology, and is less effective than its proponents suggest. Several of the criticisms do not succeed, but we also concede that others involve issues which require significant further study. The authors' conclusion is thus twofold: the critique is weaker than suggested, but it is useful insofar as it initiates a philosophical discussion about effective altruism and highlights the importance of more research on how to do the most good.

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Hard-to-reverse decisions destroy option value

Stefan Schubert, Ben Garfinkel

March 17, 2017

Some strategic decisions available to the effective altruism movement may be difficult to reverse. One example is making the movement’s brand explicitly political. Another is growing large. Under high uncertainty, there is often reason to avoid or delay such hard-to-reverse decisions.

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Will MacAskill on the Joe Rogan Experience podcast

Will MacAskill

March 14, 2017

Joe Rogan podcast image

Will MacAskill's appearance on the Joe Rogan podcast. Warning: contains explicit language

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Understanding cause-neutrality

Stefan Schubert

March 10, 2017

The term “cause-neutrality” has been used for at least four concepts: cause-impartiality, cause-agnosticism, cause-general investment, and cause-divergent investments. The first aim of this article is to define those concepts.

My second aim is to give a survey of considerations on the value of cause-impartiality, cause-agnosticism, cause-generality, and cause-divergence. In these sections, I among other things discuss the relations between the four concepts.

Though cause-impartiality is sometimes mixed up with the other three concepts, it does not entail any of them. Cause-agnosticism can be a reason for cause-divergent and cause-general investments. Cause-divergent and cause-flexible investments can substitute for each other, whereas cause-divergent and broad impact investments can complement each other. Recruiting cause-impartial individuals amounts to a cause-flexible investment.

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Changes in funding in the AI safety field

Seb Farquhar

February 1, 2017

The field of AI Safety has been growing quickly over the last three years, since the publication of “Superintelligence”. One of the things that shapes what the community invests in is an impression of what the composition of the field currently is, and how it has changed. This article provides an overview of the composition of the field as measured by its funding.

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Doing Good Better Podcast Episode 3: What?

January 30, 2017


In the third episode of the Doing Good Better podcast, we discuss what to do if you want to make a difference. What are some actions we can take that really help, what causes do we have the biggest potential to affect, and what is the link between poverty, malaria, and bednets?

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Doing Good Better Podcast Episode 2: How?

December 19, 2016


In the second episode of the Doing Good Better podcast, we discuss how to do the most good. That is, how should we think about finding out what works, how can experimental methods give us better insights, and how do we face up to evidence that challenges our existing beliefs?

Featuring special guest interviewer Latif Nasser, from WNYC's Radiolab

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