May 9, 2019
When researchers discovered that millions of wells in Bangladesh were contaminated with arsenic, they warned people to drink water from other sources. Unfortunately, those other sources were often contaminated with waterborne disease. Overall, they were more dangerous than the wells; child mortality increased by 45% among people who switched.
This unintended consequence shows the importance of counterfactual thinking: “It’s really important to look at what people are doing and compare it to their actual next-best choice, not to ideal choices they don’t even have.” [ ]
The Future of Life Institute chose Dr. Matthew Meselson to receive the Future of Life Award, a yearly prize given for “a heroic act that has greatly benefited humankind”. Meselson spent his career advocating against the development and use of biological weapons. [ ]
Holden Karnofsky wrote about the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, which brought together scientists from both sides of the Iron Curtain to discuss nuclear disarmament. Mostly funded by private donors, the conferences may have influenced several key nuclear treaties; however, it’s unclear whether such strong philanthropic opportunities still exist today. [ ]
Beyond Meat just became the first vegan meat company to go public; the stock price more than doubled in the first day of trading. This may indicate a strong market for similar products being developed by startups and established companies. [ ]
80,000 Hours published “Career advice I wish I’d been given when I was young”, a collection of thoughts from someone whose career they think did a lot of good. Recommendations include reading history, working on unpopular problems, and reaching out to thinkers you admire. [ ]
For most of the 20th century, many experts believed that mental health wasn’t a major issue for the developing world. But in 1990, researchers learned that mental disorders were “the single largest cause of disability worldwide […] in the poorest countries as well as the richest”.
Today, developing nations are working to create effective low-cost psychiatric programs — and in some cases, they appear to be succeeding. [ ]
From the EA Forum:
- The latest grant proposals from the Long-Term Future Fund
- Expert interview: Which (if any) invertebrate animals are conscious?
- Proposal: The EA community should spend more time on climate change
- Does “The Optimizer’s Curse” lead us to overestimate the value of certain causes?
Risks from advanced artificial intelligence are a major concern for many people and organizations in the EA movement. This month, we’re sharing two different introductions to the cause area.
- “The Artificial Intelligence Revolution” by Tim Urban of Wait But Why, was written for a broad audience; it assumes no prior knowledge and includes many examples and illustrations as it lays out a book-length argument for the importance of AI risk. If you read it, also read these clarifications and corrections from Luke Muehlhauser.
- The Open Philanthropy Project, which has been a major donor in this area for years, offers a more formal approach to the issue in “Potential Risks from Advanced Artificial Intelligence: the Philanthropic Opportunity” and their other posts on the topic.
As always, 80,000 Hours’ High-Impact Job Board features a wide range of positions, including at least 40 that were added this month.
If you’re interested in policy or global development, you may also want to check Tom Wein’s list of social purpose job boards.
To learn about new jobs as they get posted, check out the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.
Charity Entrepreneurship has published Top Charity Ideas 2019, a guide to the kinds of charities the organization wants to found through their incubation program. If you want to start a charity based on one of these ideas, the deadline to apply is 15 May 2019.
80,000 Hours added over 40 new jobs to their job board and released more than eight hours of expert interviews across three new podcast episodes:
- How to have a big impact in government & huge organisations, based on 16 years’ experience in the White House
- Animals in the wild often suffer a great deal. What, if anything, should we do about that?
- The team trying to end poverty by founding well-governed ‘charter’ cities
Animal Charity Evaluators
Animal Charity Evaluators published a report on the welfare of farmed fish and an analysis of their 2018 donor survey. They also disbursed over $1.4 million in grants from their Effective Animal Advocacy Fund; see their announcement to learn more about the Fund and the 49 grant recipients.
Center for Human-Compatible AI
Rohin Shah wrote a one-year retrospective of his AI Alignment Newsletter. CHAI researchers co-authored Characterizing Audio Adversarial Examples Using Temporal Dependency, How You Act Tells a Lot: Privacy-Leaking Attack on Deep Reinforcement Learning, and On the Feasibility of Learning, Rather than Assuming, Human Biases for Reward Inference. Finally, Martin Fukui joined CHAI’s operations team.
Effective Altruism Foundation
EAF published an annual report for their project Raising for Effective Giving. In 2018, they raised a total of $5,160,173 for high-impact charities.
Future of Life Institute
FLI presented the Future of Life Award to Matthew Meselson for his work on the Biological Weapons Convention. They released a video and podcast about lethal autonomous weapons, a two-part AI Alignment podcast, and a climate change podcast. They are currently running a short fiction contest with a $1000 prize.
GiveWell is looking for qualified candidates to join its team. This includes researchers who will evaluate types of programs GiveWell hasn’t yet evaluated, as well as individuals who will help to build an organization that functions effectively, supports GiveWell’s growth objectives, and provides a welcoming and productive working environment.
Open Philanthropy Project
The Open Philanthropy Project announced grants of $2.8M to the Centre for Effective Altruism, $2.1M to MIRI, $1.6M to the Humane League, and $1.5M to Fair and Just Prosecution. They also published blog posts about the Pugwash Conferences, new staff members, and Open Phil’s progress in 2018 and plans for 2019.
The Life You Can Save
The Life You Can Save released their latest annual report, which includes highlights from 2018 and a look at major projects for 2019. The Giving Games Project hired its first full-time staff member and published the first edition of its newsletter.
Wild Animal Initiative
Wild Animal Initiative added two new research staff in May, with academic backgrounds in evolutionary biology and ecology. They are seeking a new Executive Director who can conduct academic outreach within the sciences. Please refer anyone with a background in biology or ecology who might be a good fit for the role.
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This is an archived version of the EA Newsletter sent to 51,102 subscribers on March 7, 2019.
To see the full archives, click here.