Map of Open Spaces in Effective Altruism

post by Elizabeth · 2015-05-20T17:56:37.627Z · EA · GW · Legacy · 24 comments


  Existential Risk

[cross-posted from my blog.  Corrections will go there rather than here]

Effective altruism is really extraordinarily good at telling people where to give money, and pretty okay at telling people how to create less animal suffering.  Guidance on how to do anything else is substantially more opaque, because EA discourages a lot of traditional volunteering (at least as a way of improving the world.  As a hobby most people are still okay with it).  That’s a shame, because there’s a lot left to do.

There are an enormous number of unsolved problems in effective altruism, and philanthropy in general.  And there’s actually a fair amount of support for you, if you want to research or attempt a solution.  But the support is not very discoverable.   A lot of the information spreads via social osmosis, and if you’re more than two degrees out from one of the big EA hubs the process is slow and leaky.   It’s not always obvious from the outside how approachable many people and organizations in EA are, or what problems are waiting for solutions.  But once you have that knowledge, it’s really hard to remember what it was like when you didn’t, which makes it hard to figure out what to do about the problem.

This is my attempt to address that.  Below I have listed info on the major EA organizations, with emphasis on what problems they are interested in, how to learn more about them, and what kind of contact they encourage.   I would be surprised if this was enough to enable someone to go from 0-to-implementation on its own, but my hope is that it will provide some scaffolding that speeds up the process of learning the rest of it.

Institutions: did I get something about you wrong?  Miss you entirely?  Please let me know and I will update, I want this to be as accurate as possible.


Existential Risk

I struggled a bit writing this section.  The whole point of this exercise is helping people figure out where their idea falls in EA and who might want to hear them.  Existential risk is pretty much the definition of unknown unknowns, and while I understand the broad strokes, I’m not at all confident I can place boundaries without cutting off interesting and relevant work.  The best I can do is tell you where to look.


This is a super important category that I am so, so glad other people are handling, because asking people for money is not in my core skill set.  Left to my own devices I would do research (you know, like this) and then hope money appears.  In my defense, that’s working very well for GiveWell.  But I’m really glad there are other people working on more direct, asking-for-money type projects.

Thanks to John Salvatier and Jai Dhyani for comments on earlier drafts of this post, Ben Hoffman for the original idea, and Tom Ash for answering questions on .impact and Charity Science.


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Sean_o_h · 2015-05-22T10:44:45.028Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

A quick note to say that CSER has benefited tremendously from help from members of the effective altruism community over the past year, on areas that include outreach/web, lecture/seminar organisation and promotion, background research on foundations and research projects, grant preparation, feedback on specific research areas, community-building in Cambridge, not to mention philanthropic support. We have particularly benefited from local assistance/involvement. EAs I'd especially like to thank include Nick Robinson, Kristian Ronn, Ryan Carey, Will MacAskill, Amanda MacAskill, Alasdair Phillips-Robins, Paul Crowley. There are some pretty substantial achievements that we owe to the assistance of the EA community.

At this moment in time I don't think there are areas in which we can effectively make use of more volunteer assistance, for a couple of reasons. However, I have a few projects on the backburner that I think might be both interesting and suitable for volunteer involvement; I aim to write them up a little better when I have a little time over the summer. In the meantime, I would encourage interested EAs in the Cambridge/London area to attend our talks, and discuss existential risk matters with new people they meet there. One of our aims over the next year is to continue building up the community of young academics and students in various disciplines who are interested in existential risk, particularly in Cambridge and London, and so far our local events seem to be acting as a v good catalyst for this. And this complements the very satisfying progress we've been making in drawing in more senior academics at Cambridge to our various planned research projects and concerns.

(EDIT: I bet I've forgotten at least one super-important person. Please don't take offence; under time pressure and a little low on sleep!]

comment by Elizabeth · 2015-05-22T23:39:00.586Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks Sean. If someone was interested in volunteering and didn't want to bug you, what should they do? Subscribe to your newsletter? E-mail to get on a list for future volunteers? I'll update the blog post accordingly.

comment by jayd · 2015-05-25T17:47:48.076Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Listing newsletters for all orgs would be helpful.

comment by Sean_o_h · 2015-05-25T10:30:58.241Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

(1) Emailing would be good; I don't have time to answer all emails at present (sorry!), but I do read everything and keep track of volunteer offers. (2) Keep an eye out on the EA facebook/Lesswrong discussion forum as I may from time to time make requests for help/project involvement offers. A question (to moderators): is it ok to make such posts on this forum?

For (1), a paragraph about your background/strengths and a CV (not essential but helpful) would be v helpful. The kind of info FLI ask for on their volunteer form is very useful ( I.e. background/experience, areas of expertise, skills/interests, what you'd most be interested in doing, whether you're local to Cambridge. I would add to this expected availability - knowing if either (a) someone can provide a lot of hours in the near-term (for a near-term project) or (b) can offer a consistent X hrs/month over a longer period (for regular tasks) is tremendously helpful.

comment by RyanCarey · 2015-05-25T10:35:06.916Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, you can pop occasional volunteer requests in a monthly open thread, Sean.

comment by Denkenberger · 2015-05-29T02:37:07.279Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would add the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute to the X risk list. It looks across all risks that could significantly harm civilization and seeks to prioritize interventions. Its work is largely done by volunteers. Disclosure: I am a (volunteer) research associate there.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2015-05-22T12:58:22.991Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great post. Here's Brian Tomasik's research wishlist if anyone is interested.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2015-05-21T20:54:29.126Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

if you’re going to learn Ruby, it might as well be while patching up

Unfortunately, the forum is actually written in very antiquated Python. :(

comment by Elizabeth · 2015-05-22T23:39:23.958Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Fixed in original post.

comment by John_Maxwell (John_Maxwell_IV) · 2015-05-22T12:52:03.271Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

FWIW, I've worked extensively w/ both Ruby and Python and I recommend Python for beginning programmers. (Ruby is pretty good too though.)

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2015-05-22T21:08:13.413Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That makes sense; but I don't think you'd learn good Python habits from the EA forum codebase. Though we definitely could use someone who could try!

comment by Elizabeth · 2015-05-22T23:52:54.817Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

What's your timeline on that? web programming is in my medium-term goals.

comment by Peter_Hurford · 2015-05-23T02:48:13.085Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

There's definitely some work we'd be eager to see done, but I don't think it's time sensitive. I'll write up what that might be and get back to you.

comment by zdgroff · 2015-05-26T23:49:19.974Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Is there an EA mentoring program? I feel like that might address some of the friction between EAs and opportunities.

comment by Elizabeth · 2015-05-27T16:12:47.068Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Not to my knowledge. This might be a good thing to suggest to .impact

comment by Nekoinentr · 2015-05-27T16:35:26.866Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

That is well worth doing. There are instructions on doing this somewhere on their website .

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-30T00:23:48.403Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I've heard talk of mentoring programs in several other parts of the EA community as well. 80,000 Hours has one such program. I do think it would be good to look into doing more mentoring within EA though.

(By the way, I actually joined this community after having an EA mentor me!)

comment by Nekoinentr · 2015-05-31T20:23:57.900Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Interesting. What was your story?

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-31T23:51:11.557Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Well, one day I was volunteering at a climate change rally, and I got into a really interesting conversation with an EA who was there. The next day he decided to come to a meeting for the climate change group I was part of, and he added me on FB. He invited me to things such as the LW Canberra meetup and we talked (about EA ideas) pretty regularly on FB. And because of that, I got involved with EA quite quickly :)

comment by Nekoinentr · 2015-06-01T21:18:08.611Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Aha cool, that's a helpful explanation, as it's not what I was thinking of as mentoring. It's more like person-to-person introduction or local outreach.

comment by [deleted] · 2015-05-31T23:54:03.787Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I would STRONGLY recommend that more EAs do this informal kind of mentoring. I've been trying it myself, with quite a lot of success.