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Hayden Wilkinson: Doing Good in an Infinite, Chaotic World

February 18, 2020

Many people in the effective altruism (EA) community hope to make the world better by influencing events in the far future. But if the future can potentially contain an infinite number of lives, and infinite total moral value, we face major challenges in understanding the impact of our actions and justifying any particular strategy. In this academic session, Hayden Wilkinson discusses how we might be able to face these challenges — even if it means abandoning some of our moral principles in the process.

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Zach Groff: Does suffering dominate enjoyment in the animal kingdom?

February 18, 2020

In this academic session, Zach Groff, a PhD student at Stanford University whose research areas include welfare economics, discusses a 1995 paper whose authors argued that nature contains more suffering than enjoyment. After analyzing the model used in that paper, Groff found that an error negated its original conclusion, and that evolutionary dynamics imply that enjoyment may predominate for some species. In addition to this result, Groff discusses suggestions for the empirical study of wild animal welfare.

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Michelle Graham: How Evolution Can Help Us Understand Wild Animal Welfare

February 14, 2020

We must take evolution into account when we consider animal welfare — whether we’re thinking about which animals are sentient or how animals might respond to a given intervention. In this talk, Wild Animal Initiative’s Michelle Graham presents a brief introduction to the theory of evolution (she also recommends this video for more background), explains how understanding evolution can help us conduct better research, and discusses the ways misconceptions about evolution lead us astray.

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Dani Nedal: Risks From Great-Power Competition

February 13, 2020

When competition intensifies between powerful countries, peace and security are threatened in many ways. Proxy wars break out and global cooperation breaks down — including agreements on nuclear weapons. In this talk, Dani Nedal, who teaches global nuclear politics at Carnegie Mellon University, offers thoughts on these risks, and how countries and individuals can work to reduce them.

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Lewis Bollard: Lessons Learned in Farm Animal Welfare

February 12, 2020

Open Philanthropy has recommended over $90 million in grants for farm animal welfare work around the world. What have they learned? In this talk, Lewis Bollard, who heads Open Phil’s work on farm animal welfare, shares lessons on corporate reforms, plant-based meat, and the global scope of available funding.

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Phil Trammell: Philanthropy Timing and the Hinge of History

February 11, 2020

If we want to donate money, should we give it away now or invest it to give away later? The answer depends on many considerations, including our expected rate of return, the chance of our personal values changing, and the question of whether we live at the “Hinge of History” — a time with high-impact opportunities that will soon vanish.

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Daniel Gastfriend: Manufacturing medical countermeasures against catastrophic biothreats

February 10, 2020

The United States is underprepared for a future pandemic. A recent simulation conducted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security found that an engineered pathogen could overwhelm U.S. and global response capacity, killing more than 150 million people within 20 months. One important reason: The U.S. lacks the capacity to manufacture medical countermeasures (MCMs) fast enough to contain a global outbreak.

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Spencer Greenberg: Effective Behavior Change

February 7, 2020

If we want to improve the world (and ourselves), we need to start by changing the way we live — our habits and behaviors. In this talk, Spencer Greenberg, founder and CEO of ClearerThinking.org, discusses why behavior change matters and techniques we can use to get better at it.

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Brendan Eappen: Lessons from an EA-Aligned Charity Startup

February 6, 2020

When GiveWell wrote that they were looking for charities to work on micronutrient fortification, Fortify Health rose to the challenge. With help from a $300,000 GiveWell grant, they began to work on wheat flour fortification, hoping to reduce India’s rate of iron deficiency. In this talk, co-founder Brendan Eappen discusses the charity’s story and crucial decisions they faced along the way. He also offers advice to members of the effective altruism community interested in pursuing similar work in the field of global development.

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Andreas Stuhlmüller: Training ML Systems to Answer Open-ended Questions

February 5, 2020

In the long run, we want machine learning (ML) to help us answer open-ended questions like “Should I get this medical procedure?” or “What are the risks of deploying this AI system?“ Currently, we only know how to train ML systems if we have clear metrics or can easily provide feedback on the outputs. Andreas Stuhlmüller, president and founder of Ought, wants to solve this problem. In this talk, he explains the design challenges behind ML’s current limitations, and how we can make progress by studying the way humans tackle open-ended questions.

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