'Existential Risk and Growth' Deep Dive #3 - Extensions and Variations 2020-12-20T12:39:11.984Z
Urgency vs. Patience - a Toy Model 2020-08-19T14:13:32.802Z
Expected Value 2020-07-31T13:59:54.861Z
Poor meat eater problem 2020-07-10T08:13:11.628Z
Are there superforecasts for existential risk? 2020-07-07T07:39:24.271Z
AI Governance Reading Group Guide 2020-06-25T10:16:25.029Z
'Existential Risk and Growth' Deep Dive #1 - Summary of the Paper 2020-06-21T09:22:06.735Z
If you value future people, why do you consider near term effects? 2020-04-08T15:21:13.500Z


Comment by Alex HT on Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021 · 2021-09-26T15:57:00.502Z · EA · GW

What if LessWrong is taken down for another reason? Eg. the organisers of this game/exercise want to imitate the situation Petrov was in, so they create some kind of false alarm

Comment by Alex HT on Honoring Petrov Day on the EA Forum: 2021 · 2021-09-26T10:12:08.415Z · EA · GW

An obvious question which I'm keen to hear people's thoughts on - does MAD work here? Specifically, does it make sense for the EA forum users with launch codes to commit to a retaliatory attack? The obvious case for it is deterrence. The obvious counterarguments are that the Forum could  go down for a reason other than a strike from LessWrong, and that once the Forum is down, it doesn't help us to take down LW (though this type of situation might be regular enough that future credibility makes it worth it)


Though of course it would be really bad for us to have to take down LW, and we really don't want to. And I imagine most of us trust the 100 LW users with codes not to use them :)

Comment by Alex HT on The importance of optimizing the first few weeks of uni for EA groups · 2021-09-22T07:15:43.220Z · EA · GW

This is great!  I'm tentatively interested in groups trying outreach slightly before the start of term. It seems like there's a discontinuous increase in people's opportunity cost when they arrive at university - suddenly there are loads more cool clubs and people vying for their attention. Currently, EA groups are mixed in with this crowd of stuff. 

One way this could look is running a 1-2 week residential course for offer holders the summer before they start at university (a bit like SPARC or Uncommon Sense).  

To see if this is something a few groups should be doing, it might be good for one group to try this and then see how many core members of the group come out of the project, compared to other things like running intro fellowships. You could roughly track how much time each project took to get a rough sense of the time-effectiveness. 

This might have some of the benefits you list for outreach at the start of term, but the additional benefit of having less competition. This kind of thing also has some of the benefits of high school outreach talked about here, but avoids some of the downsides - attendees won't be minors, and we already know their university destination.  There might be a couple of extra obstacles, like advertising the course to all the offer-holders, and some kind of framing issue to make sure it didn't feel weird, but I think these are surmountable. 

I'm not sure whether 'EA' would necessarily be the best framing here - there are four camps that I know of (SPARC, ESPR, Uncommon Sense, and Building a Better Future) and none of them use a direct EA framing, but all seem to be intended to create really impactful people long-term. (But maybe that means it's time to try an EA camp!)

Pretty unsure about all of this though - and I'm really keen to hear things I might be missing!

Comment by Alex HT on [PR FAQ] Sharing readership data with Forum authors · 2021-08-09T11:48:50.598Z · EA · GW

I think I'd find this really useful

Comment by Alex HT on Towards a Weaker Longtermism · 2021-08-09T11:22:48.127Z · EA · GW

I tentatively believe (ii), depending on some definitions. I'm somewhat surprised to see Ben and Darius implying it's a really weird view, and makes me wonder what I'm missing.

I don't want the EA community to stop working on all non-longtermist things. But the reason is because I think many of those things have positive indirect effects on the EA community. (I just mean indirect effects on the EA community, and maybe on the broader philanthropic community, I don't mean indirect effects more broadly in the sense of 'better health in poor countries' --> 'more economic growth' --> 'more innovation')

For example non-longtermist interventions are often a good way to demonstrate EA ideas and successes (eg. pointing to GiveWell is really helpful as an intro to EA); non-longtermist causes are a way for people to get involved with EA and end up working on longtermist causes (eg. Charlotte Siegmann incoming at GPI comes to mind as a great success story along those lines); work on non-longtermist causes has better feedback loops so it might improve the community's skills (eg. Charity Entrepreneurship incubatees probably are highly skilled 2-5 years after the program. Though I'm not sure that actually translates to more skill-hours going towards longtermist causes).

But none of these reasons are that I think the actual intended impact of non-longtermist interventions is competitive with longtermist interventions. Eg. I think Charity Entrepreneurship is good because it's creating a community and culture of founding impact-oriented nonprofits, not because [it's better for shrimp/there's less lead in paint/fewer children smoke tobacco products].  Basically I think the only reasons the near-term interventions might be good is because they might make the long-term future go better.

I'm not sure what counts as 'astronomically' more cost effective, but if it means ~1000x more important/cost-effective I might agree with (ii). It's hard to come up with a good thought experiment here to test this intuition. 

One hypothetical is 'would you rather $10,000 gets donated to the Longterm Future Fund, or $10 mil gets donated to Give Well's Maximum Impact Fund'. This is confusing though, because I'm not sure how important extra funding is in these areas. Another hypothetical is 'would you rather 10 fairly smart people devote their careers to longtermist causes (eg. following 80k advice), or 10,000 fairly smart people devote their careers to neartermist causes (eg. following AAC advice)'. This is confusing because I expect 10,000 people working on effective animal advocacy to have some  effect on the long-term future. Some of them might end up working on nearby long-termist things like digital sentience. They might slightly shift the culture of veganism to be more evidence-based and welfarist, which could lead to faster flow of people from veganism to EA over time.  They would also do projects which EA could point to as success, which could be helpful for getting more people into EA and eventually into longtermist causes.

If I try to imagine a version of this hypothetical without those externalities, I think I prefer the longtermist option, indicating that the 1000x difference seems plausible to me.

I wonder if some of the reasons people don't hold the view I do is some combination of (1) 'this feels weird so maybe it's wrong' and (2) 'I don't want to be unkind to people working on neartermist causes'. 

I think (1) does carry some weight and we should be cautious when acting on new, weird ideas that imply strange actions. However, I'm not sure how much longtermism actually falls into this category. 

  • The idea is not that new, and there's been quite a lot of energy devoted to criticising the ideas. I don't know what others in this thread think, but I haven't found much of this criticism very convincing.
  • Weak longtermism (future people matter morally) is intuitive for lots of people (though not all, which is fine). I concede strong longtermism is initially very intuitive though
  • Strong longtermism doesn't imply we should do particularly weird things. It implies we should do things like: get prepared for pandemics, make it harder for people to create novel pathogens, reduce the risk of nuclear war, take seriously the facts that we can't get current AI systems to do what we want but AI systems are quickly becoming really impressive, and some/most kinds of trend-extrapolation or forecasts imply AGI in the next 10-120 years. Sure, strong longtermism implies we shouldn't prioritise helping people in extreme poverty. But helping people in extreme poverty is not the default action, most people don't spend any resources on that at all. (This is similar to Eliezer's point above).

I also feel the weight of (2). It makes me squirm to reconcile my tentative belief in strong longtermism with my admiration of many people who do really impressive work on non-longtermist causes and my desire to get along with those people. I really think longtermists shouldn't make people who work on other causes feel bad. However, I think it's possible to commit to strong longtermism without making other people feel attacked, or too unappreciated. And I don't think these kinds of social considerations have any bearing on which cause to prioritise working on. 

I feel like a big part of the edge of the EA and rationality community is that we follow arguments to their conclusions even when it's weird, or it feels  difficult, or we're not completely sure. We make tradeoffs even when it feels really hard - like working on reducing existential risk instead of  helping people in extreme poverty or animals in factory farms today.

I feel like I also need to clarify some things:

  • I don't try to get everyone I talk to to work on longtermist things. I don't think that would be good for the people I talk to, the EA community, or the longterm future
  • I really value hearing arguments against longtermism. These are helpful for finding out if longtermism is wrong, figuring out the best ways to explain longtermism, and spotting potential failure modes of acting on longtermism. I sometimes think about paying someone to write a really good, clear case for why acting on strong longtermism is most likely to be a bad idea
  • My all-things-considered view is a bit more moderate than this comment suggests, and I'm eager to hear Darius', Ben's, and others views on this
Comment by Alex HT on How Do AI Timelines Affect Giving Now vs. Later? · 2021-08-04T16:45:15.004Z · EA · GW

Nice, thanks for these thoughts.

But there's no way to save up labor to be used later, except in the sense that you can convert labor into capital and then back into labor (although these conversions might not be efficient, e.g., if you can't find enough talented people to do the work you want). So the tradeoff with labor is that you have to choose what to prioritize. This question is more about traditional cause prioritization than about giving now vs. later. 

Ah sorry I think I was unclear. I meant 'capacity-building' in the narrow sense of 'getting more people to work on AI' eg. by building the EA community, rather than building civilisation's capacity eg. by improving institutional decision-making. Did you think I meant the second one? I think the first one is more analogous to capital as building the EA community looks a bit more like investing (you use some of the resource to make more later)  

Comment by Alex HT on How Do AI Timelines Affect Giving Now vs. Later? · 2021-08-03T09:12:10.890Z · EA · GW

This is cool, thanks for posting :) How do you think this generalises to a situation where labor is the key resource rather than money?

I'm a bit more interested in the question 'how much longtermist labor should be directed towards capacity-building vs. 'direct' work (eg. technical AIS research)?' than the question 'how much longtermist money should be directed towards spending now vs. investing to save later?'

I think this is mainly because longtermism, x-risk, and AIS seem to be bumping up against the labor constraint much more than the money constraint. (Or put another way, I think OpenPhil doesn't pick their savings rate based on their timelines, but based on whether they can find good projects. As individuals, our resource allocation problem is to either try to give OpenPhil marginally better direct projects to fund or marginally better capacity-building projects to fund.)

[Also aware that you were just building this model to test whether the claim about AI timelines affecting the savings rate makes sense, and you weren't trying to capture labor-related dynamics.]

Comment by Alex HT on How large can the solar system's economy get? · 2021-07-01T09:47:18.536Z · EA · GW

Also this:

Comment by Alex HT on How large can the solar system's economy get? · 2021-07-01T09:44:37.534Z · EA · GW

This seems relevant:

Comment by Alex HT on Non-consequentialist longtermism · 2021-06-05T10:19:52.228Z · EA · GW 

Comment by Alex HT on Non-consequentialist longtermism · 2021-06-05T10:08:06.161Z · EA · GW

I've haven't read it, but the name of this paper from Andreas at GPI at least fits what you're asking - "Staking our future: deontic long-termism and the non-identity problem"

Comment by Alex HT on Is there evidence that recommender systems are changing users' preferences? · 2021-04-13T10:21:07.835Z · EA · GW

 Is The YouTube Algorithm Radicalizing You? It’s Complicated.

Recently, there's been significant interest among the EA community in investigating short-term social and political risks of AI systems. I'd like to recommend this video (and Jordan Harrod's channel as a whole) as a starting point for understanding the empirical evidence on these issues.

Comment by Alex HT on Confusion about implications of "Neutrality against Creating Happy Lives" · 2021-04-11T18:28:32.635Z · EA · GW

I agree with this answer. Also, lots of people do think that temporal position (or something similar, like already being born) should affect ethics.

But yes OP, accepting time neutrality and being completely indifferent about creating happy lives does seem to me to imply the counterintuitive conclusion you state. You might be interested in this excellent emotive piece or section 4.2.1 of this philosophy thesis. They both argue that creating happy lives is a good thing.

Comment by Alex HT on Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’ · 2021-03-12T11:16:29.383Z · EA · GW

I’m not sure I understand your distinction – are you saying that while it would be objectionable to conclude that saving lives in rich countries is more “substantially more important”, it is not objectionable to merely present an argument in favour of this conclusion?

Yep that is what I'm saying. I think I don't agree but thanks for explaining :)

Comment by Alex HT on Response to Phil Torres’ ‘The Case Against Longtermism’ · 2021-03-10T11:00:13.526Z · EA · GW

Can you say a bit more about why the quote is objectionable? I can see why the conclusion 'saving a life in a rich country is substantially more important than saving a life in a poor country' would be objectionable. But it seems Beckstead is saying something more like 'here is an argument for saving lives in rich countries being relatively more important than saving lives in poor countries' (because he says 'other things being equal').

Comment by Alex HT on Should I transition from economics to AI research? · 2021-02-28T19:42:59.334Z · EA · GW

There are also more applied AI/tech focused economics questions that seem important for longtermists (eg if GPI stuff seems to abstract for you)

Comment by Alex HT on Running an AMA on the EA Forum · 2021-02-18T22:01:35.604Z · EA · GW

Agree with Marisa that you'd be well suited to do an AMA

Comment by Alex HT on How can non-biologists contribute to wild animal welfare? · 2021-02-18T08:32:03.896Z · EA · GW

Also not CS and you may already know it: this EAG talk is about wild animal welfare research using economics techniques. Both authors of the paper discussed are economists, not biologists.

Comment by Alex HT on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-12T19:56:48.288Z · EA · GW

Thanks for you comment, it makes a good point . My comment was hastily written and I think my argument that you're referring to is weak, but not as weak as you suggest.

At some points the author is specifically critiquing longtermism the philosophy (not what actual longtermists think and do) eg. when talking about genocide. It seems fine to switch between critiquing the movement and critiquing the philosophy, but I think it'd be better if the switch was made clear. 

There are many longtermists that don't hold these views (eg. Will MacAskill is literally about to publish the book on longtermism and doesn't think we're at an especially influential time in history, and patient philanthropy gets taken seriously by lots of longtermists). 

I'm also not sure that lots of longtermists (even of the Bostrom/hinge of history type) would agree that the quoted claim accurately represent their views

 our current world is replete with suffering and death but will soon “be transformed into a perfect world of justice, peace, abundance, and mutual love.”

But, I do agree that some longtermists do think 

  • there are likely to be very transformative events soon eg. within 50 years
  • in the long run, if they go well, these events will massively improve the human condition 

And there's some criticisms you can make of that kind of ideology that are similar to the criticisms the author makes. 

Comment by Alex HT on Ecosystems vs Projects in EA Movement Building · 2021-02-10T15:33:54.794Z · EA · GW

from 'Things CEA is not doing' forum post 

We are not actively focusing on:


  • Cause-specific work (such as community building specifically for effective animal advocacy, AI safety, biosecurity, etc.)
Comment by Alex HT on Were the Great Tragedies of History “Mere Ripples”? · 2021-02-09T13:36:10.536Z · EA · GW

I don’t have time to write a detailed and well-argued response, sorry. Here are some very rough quick thoughts on why I downvoted.  Happy to expand on any points and have a discussion.

In general, I think criticisms of longtermism from people who 'get' longtermism are incredibly valuable to longtermists.

One reason if that if the criticisms carry entirely, you'll save them from basically wasting their careers. Another reason is that you can point out weaknesses in longtermism or in their application of longtermism that they wouldn't have spotted themselves.  And a third reason is that in the worlds where longtermism is true, this helps longtermists work out better ways to frame the ideas to not put off potential sympathisers.


In general, I found it hard to work out the actual arguments of the book and how they interfaced with the case for longtermism. 

Sometimes I found that there were some claims being implied but they were not explicit. So please point out any incorrect inferences I’ve made below!

I was unsure what was being critiqued: longtermism, Bostrom’s views, utilitarianism, consequentialism, or something else. 

The thesis of the book (for people reading this comment, and to check my understanding)

“Longtermism is a radical ideology that could have disastrous consequences if the wrong people—powerful politicians or even lone actors—were to take its central claims seriously.”

“As outlined in the scholarly literature, it has all the ideological ingredients needed to justify a genocidal catastrophe.”

Utilitarianism (Edit: I think Tyle has added a better reading of this section below)

  • This section seems to caution against naive utilitarianism, which seems to form a large fraction of the criticism of longtermim. I felt a bit like this section was throwing intuitions at me, and I just disagreed with the intuitions being thrown at me. Also, doing longtermism better obviously means better accounting for all the effects of our actions, which naturally pushes away from naive utilitarianism
  • In particular, there seems to be a sense of derision at any philosophy where the ‘means justify the end’. I didn't really feel like this was argued for (please correct me if I'm wrong!)
  • I don’t know whether that meant the book was arguing against consequentialism in general, or arguing that longtermism overweights consequences in the longterm future compared to other consequences, but is right to focus on consequences generally
  • I would have preferred if these parts of the book were clear about exactly what the argument was
  • I would have preferred if these parts of the book did less intuition-fighting (there’s a word for this but I can’t remember it)


  • “A movement is millennialist if it holds that our current world is replete with suffering and death but will soon “be transformed into a perfect world of justice, peace, abundance, and mutual love.” (pg.24 of the book)
  • Longtermism does not say our current world is replete with suffering and death
  • Longtermism does not say the world will be transformed soon
  • Longtermism does not say that if the world is transformed it will be into a world of justice, peace, abundance, and mutual love.
  • Therefore, longtermism does not meet the stated definition of a millennialist movement
  • Granted, there are probably longtermists that do hold these views, but these views are not longtermism. I don’t know whether Bostrom (whose views seems to be the focus of the book) holds these views. Even if he does, these views are not longtermism

Mere Ripples

  • Some things are bigger than other things
  • That doesn’t mean that the smaller things aren’t bad or good or important- they are just smaller than the bigger things
  • If you can make a good big thing happen or make a good small thing happen you can make  more good by making the big thing happen
  • That doesn't mean the small thing is not important, but it is smaller than the big thing
  • I feel confused

White Supremacy

  • The book quotes this section from Beckstead’s Thesis:

Saving lives in poor countries may have significantly smaller ripple effects than saving and improving lives in rich countries. Why? Richer countries have substantially more innovation, and their workers are much more economically productive. By ordinary standards—at least by ordinary enlightened humanitarian standards—saving and improving lives in rich countries is about equally as important as saving and improving lives in poor countries, provided lives are improved by roughly comparable amounts. But it now seems more plausible to me that saving a life in a rich country is substantially more important than saving a life in a poor country, other things being equal.

The book goes on to say:

In a phrase, they support white supremacist ideology. To be clear, I am using this term in a technical scholarly sense. It denotes actions or policies that reinforce “racial subordination and maintaining a normalized White privilege.” As the legal scholar Frances Lee Ansley wrote in 1997, the concept encompasses “a political, economic and cultural system in which whites overwhelmingly control power and material resources,” in which “conscious and unconscious ideas of white superiority and entitlement are widespread, and relations of white dominance and non-white subordination are daily reenacted across a broad array of institutions and social settings.”

On this definition, the claims of Mogensen and Beckstead are clearly white supremacist: African nations, for example, are poorer than Sweden, so according to the reasoning above we should transfer resources from the former to the latter. You can fill in the blanks. Furthermore, since these claims derive from the central tenets of Bostromian longtermism itself, the very same accusation applies to longtermism as well. Once again, our top four global priorities, according to Bostrom, must be to reduce existential risk, with the fifth being to minimize “astronomical waste” by colonizing space as soon as possible. Since poor people are the least well-positioned to achieve these aims, it makes perfect sense that longtermists should ignore them. Hence, the more longtermists there are, the worse we might expect the plight of the poor to become.

  • I'm pretty sure the book isn't using 'white supremacist' in the normal sense of the phrase. For that reason, I'm confused about this, and would appreciate answers to these questions
    • The Beckstead quote ends ‘other things being equal’. Doesn't that imply that the claim is not 'overall, it's better to save lives in rich countries than poor countries' but 'here is an argument that pushes in favour of saving lives in rich countries over poor countries'?
    • Imagine longtermism did imply helping rich people instead of helping poor people, and that that made it white supremacist. Does that mean that anything that helps rich people is white supremacist (because the resources could have been used to help poor people)?
      • What if the poor people are white and the rich people are not white?
      • Why do  rich-nation government health services not meet this definition of white supremacy?
  • I'd also have preferred if it was clear how this version of white supremacy interfaces with the normal usage of the phrase

Genocide (Edit: I think Tyle and Lowry have added good explanations of this below)

  • The book argues that a longtermist would support a huge nuclear attack to destroy everyone in Germany if there was a less than one-in-a-million chance of someone in Germany building a nuclear weapon. (Ch.5)
  • The book says that maybe a longtermist could avoid saying that they would do this if they thought that the nuclear attack would decrease existential risk
  • The book says that this does not avoid the issue though and implies that because the longtermist would even consider this action, longtermism is dangerous (please correct me if I’m misreading this)
  • It seems to me that this argument is basically saying that because a consequentialist weighs up the consequences of each potential action against other potential actions, they at least consider many actions, some of which would be terrible (or at least would be terrible from a common-sense perspective). Therefore, consequentialism is dangerous. I think I must be misunderstanding this argument as it seems obviously wrong as stated here. I would have preferred if the argument here was clearer
Comment by Alex HT on AMA: Ajeya Cotra, researcher at Open Phil · 2021-01-28T18:51:55.214Z · EA · GW

I’d be keen to hear your thoughts about the (small) field of AI forecasting and its trajectory. Feel free to say whatever’s easiest or most interesting. Here are some optional prompts:

  • Do you think the field is progressing ‘well’, however you define ‘well’? 
  • What skills/types of people do you think AI forecasting needs?
  • What does progress look like in the field? Eg. does it mean producing a more detailed report, getting a narrower credible interval, getting better at making near-term AI predictions...(relatedly, how do we know if we're making progress?)
  • Can you make any super rough predictions like ‘by this date I expect we’ll be this good at AI forecasting’? 
Comment by Alex HT on AMA: Ajeya Cotra, researcher at Open Phil · 2021-01-28T18:42:59.640Z · EA · GW

I'd be keen to hear your thoughts on AI forecasting-forecasting. It seems like progress is being made on  forecasting AI timelines.  Can you say a bit about how quick that progress is and what progress looks like. 

Comment by Alex HT on Lessons from my time in Effective Altruism · 2021-01-18T16:40:16.715Z · EA · GW

Joey, are there unusual empirical beliefs you have in mind other than the two mentioned? Hits based giving seems clearly related to Charity Entrepreneurship's work - what other important but unusual empirical beliefs do you/CE/neartermist EAs hold? (I'm guessing hinge of history hypothesis is irrelevant to your thinking?)

Comment by Alex HT on Can people be persuaded by anything other than an appeal to emotion? · 2021-01-02T19:58:30.024Z · EA · GW

My guess is that few EAs care emotionally about cost effectiveness and that they care emotionally about helping others a lot. Given limited resources, that means they have to be cost effective. Imagine a mother with a limited supply of food to share between her children. She’s doesn’t care emotionally about rationing food, but she’ll pay a lot of attention to how best to do rationing.

I do think there are things in the vicinity of careful reasoning/thinking clearly/having accurate beliefs that are core to many EAs identities. I think those can be developed naturally to some extent, and don’t seem like complete prerequisites to being an EA

Comment by Alex HT on Should Effective Altruists Focus More on Movement Building? · 2020-12-30T13:13:35.019Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this and contributing to the conversation :)

Relatedly, an “efficient market for ideas” hypothesis would suggest that if MB really was important, neglected, and tractable, then other more experienced and influential EAs would have already raised its salience.

I do think the salience of movement building has been raised elsewhere eg:

Having said that, I share the feeling that movement building seems underrated. Given how impactful it seems, I would expect more EAs to want to use their careers to work on movement building.

One resolution to this apparent conflict is that the fraction of people who can be good at movement building long-term might be smaller than it first seems. For lots of the interventions that you suggest, strong social skills and a strong understanding of EA concepts seem important, as well as some general executional or project management ability. Though movement builders don’t necessarily have to be excellent in any of these domains, they have to be at least pretty good at all of them. They also have to be interested enough in all of them to do movement building. This narrows down the pool of people who can work in movement building. 

Another possible reason is that  within the EA community movement building careers are generally seen as less prestigious than more ‘direct’ kinds of work and social incentives play a large role in career choice. For example, some people would be more impressed by someone doing technical AI safety research than by someone building talent pipelines into AI safety, even if the second one has more impact.

Also, as Aaron says, a lot of direct work has helpful movement building effects. 

I also agree with Aaron that looking at funding is a bit complicated with movement building, partly because movement building is probably cheaper than other things, but also that it can be hard to tease apart what's movement building and what's not. 

Comment by Alex HT on A case against strong longtermism · 2020-12-18T12:08:34.413Z · EA · GW

You really don't seem like a troll! I think the discussion in the comments on this post is a very valuable conversation and I've been following it closely. I think it would be helpful for quite a few people for you to keep responding to comments

Of course, it's probably a lot of effort to keep replying carefully to things, so understandable if you don't have time :)

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-12-01T21:25:43.786Z · EA · GW

Thanks! I appreciate it :)

It makes me feel anxious to get a lot of downvotes with no explanation so I really appreciate your comment.

Just to clarify when you say "if that is a real tradeoff that a founder faces in practice, it is nearly always an indication the founder just hasn't bothered to put much time or effort into cultivating a diverse professional network" I think I agree, but that this isn't always something the founder could have predicted ahead of time, and the founder isn't necessarily to blame. I think it can be very easy to 'accidentally' end up with a fairly homogeneous network eg. because your profession or university is homogenous. Sounds like Marcus is in this category himself (if tennis is mainly white, and his network is mainly tennis players).

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-12-01T09:28:37.757Z · EA · GW

Was this meant as a reply to my comment or a reply to Ben's comment?

I was just asking what the position was and made explicit I wasn't suggesting Marcus change the website.

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-11-30T14:55:50.920Z · EA · GW

Yep! I assumed this kind of thing was the case (and obviously was just flagging it as something to be aware of, not trying to finger-wag)

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-11-30T14:55:02.081Z · EA · GW

I don't find anything wrong at all with 'saintly' personally, and took it as a joke. But I could imagine someone taking it the wrong way. Maybe I'd see what others on the forum think

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-11-30T14:09:39.307Z · EA · GW

It looks like all the founders, advisory team, and athletes are white or white-passing. I guess you're already aware of this as something to consider, but it seems worth flagging (particularly given the use of 'Saintly' for those donating 10% :/).

Some discussion of why this might matter here:

Edit: In fact, while I think appearing all-white and implicitly describing some of your athletes as 'Saintly' are both acceptable PR risks, having the combination of them both is pretty worrying and I'd personally be in favour of changing it.

Edited to address downvotes: Obviously, it is not bad in itself that the team if the team is all white, and I'm not implying that any deliberate filtering for white people has gone on. I just think it's something to be aware of - both for PR reasons (avoiding look like white saviours) and for more substantive reasons (eg. building a movement and sub-movements that can draw on a range of experiences)

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-11-30T14:08:55.385Z · EA · GW

Some of the wording on the 'Take the Pledge' section seems a little bit off (to me at least!). Eg. saying a 1-10% pledge will 'likely have zero noticeable impact on your standard of living' seems misleading, and could give off the impression that the pledge is only for the very wealthy (for whom the statement is more likely to be true). I'm also not sure about the 'Saintly' categorisation of the highest giving level (10%). It could come across as a bit smug or saviour-ish. I'm not sure about the tradeoffs here though and obviously you have much more context than me.

Maybe you've done this already, but it could be good to ask Luke from GWWC for advice on tone here.

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-11-30T14:08:35.190Z · EA · GW

I see you mention that HIA's recommendations are based on a suffering-focused perspective. It's great that you're clear about where you're coming from/what you're optimising for. To explore the ethical perspective of HIA further - what is HIA's position on longtermism?

(I'm not saying you should mention your take on longtermism on the website.)

Comment by Alex HT on Introducing High Impact Athletes · 2020-11-30T14:08:18.146Z · EA · GW

This is really cool! Thanks for doing this :)

Is there a particular reason the charity areas are 'Global Health and Poverty' and 'Environmental Impact' rather than including any more explicit mention of animal welfare? (For people reading this - the environmental charities include the Good Food Institute and the Humane League along with four climate-focussed charities.)

Comment by Alex HT on The Case for Space: A Longtermist Alternative to Existential Threat Reduction · 2020-11-18T13:46:09.095Z · EA · GW

Welcome to the forum!

Have you read Bostrom's Astronomical Waste? He does a very similar estimate there.

I'd be keen to hear more about why you think it's not possible to meaningfully reduce existential risk.

Comment by Alex HT on What quotes do you find most inspire you to use your resources (effectively) to help others? · 2020-11-18T13:38:19.293Z · EA · GW

"Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine. In Nietzsche’s words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.

If we are the only rational beings in the Universe, as some recent evidence suggests, it matters even more whether we shall have descendants or successors during the billions of years in which that would be possible. Some of our successors might live lives and create worlds that, though failing to justify past suffering, would give us all, including some of those who have suffered, reasons to be glad that the Universe exists."

Comment by Alex HT on Why we should grow One for the World chapters alongside EA student groups · 2020-11-04T14:18:07.547Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! I and an EA community builder I know found it interesting and helpful.

I'm pleased you have a 'counterarguments' section, though I think there are some counterarguments missing:

  • OFTW groups may crowd out GWWC groups. You mention the anchoring effect on 1%, but there's also the danger of anchoring on a particular cause area. OFTW is about ending extreme poverty, whereas GWWC is about improving the lives of others (much broader)

  • OFTW groups may crowd out EA groups. If there's a OFTW group at a university, the EA group may have to compete, even if the groups are officially collaborating. In any case, they groups will be competing for attention of the altruistically motivated people at the university

  • Because OFTW isn't cause neutral, it might not be a great introduction to EA. For some people, having lots of exposure to OFTW might even make them less receptive to EA, because of anchoring on a specific cause. As you say "Since it is a cause-specific organization working to alleviate extreme global poverty, that essentially erases EA’s central work of evaluating which causes are the most important." I agree with you that trying to impartially work out which cause is best to work on is core to EA

  • OFTW's direct effects (donations to end extreme poverty) may not be as uncontroversially good as they seem. See this talk by Hilary Greaves from the Student Summit:

-OFTW outreach could be so broad and shallow that it doesn't actually select that strongly for future dedicated EAs. In a comment below, Jack says "OFTW on average engages a donor for ~10-60 mins before they pledge (and pre-COVID this was sometimes as little as 2 mins when our volunteers were tabling)". Of course, people who take that pledge will be more likely to become dedicated EAs than the average student, but there are many other ways to select at that level

Comment by Alex HT on What are novel major insights from longtermist macrostrategy or global priorities research found since 2015? · 2020-09-03T09:28:00.685Z · EA · GW

Thanks, that's helpful for thinking about my career (and thanks for asking that question Michael!) 

Edit: helpful for thinking about my career because I'm thinking about getting economics training, which seems useful for answering specific sub-questions in detail ('Existential Risk and Economic Growth' being the perfect example of this),  but one economic model alone is very unlikely to resolve a big question.

Comment by Alex HT on If you value future people, why do you consider near term effects? · 2020-08-29T14:22:39.092Z · EA · GW

Thank you :) I've corrected it

Comment by Alex HT on Urgency vs. Patience - a Toy Model · 2020-08-20T09:09:24.168Z · EA · GW
  1. I think I've conflated patient longtermist work with trajectory change (with the example of reducing x-risk in 200 years time being patient, but not trajectory change). This means the model is really comparing trajectory change with XRR. But trajectory change could be urgent (eg. if there was a lock-in event coming soon), and XRR could be patient. 
    1. (Side note: There are so many possible longtermist strategies! Any combination of  is a distinct strategy. This is interesting as often people conceptualise the available strategies as either patient, broad, trajectory change or urgent, narrow, XRR but there's actually at least six other strategies)
  2. This model completely neglects meta strategic work along the lines of 'are we at the hinge of history?' and 'should we work on XRR or something else?'. This could be a big enough shortcoming to render the model useless. But this meta work does have to cash out as either increasing the probability of technological maturity, or in improving the quality of the future. So I'm not sure how worrisome the shortcoming is. Do you agree that meta work has to cash out in one of those areas?
  3. I had s-risks in mind when I caveated it as 'safely' reaching technological maturity, and was including s-risk reduction in XRR. But I'm not sure if that's the best way to think about it, because the most worrying s-risks seem to be of the form: we do reach technological maturity, but the quality is large and negative. So it seems that s-risks are more like 'quality increasing' than 'probability increasing'. The argument for them being 'probability increasing' is that I think the most empirically likely s-risks might primarily be risks associated with transitions to technological maturity, just like other existential risks. But again, this conflates XRR with urgency (and so trajectory change with patience) 
Comment by Alex HT on Should We Prioritize Long-Term Existential Risk? · 2020-08-20T07:41:00.657Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this, I like that it's short and has a section on subjective probability estimates. 

  1. What would you class as longterm x-risk (reduction) vs. nearterm? Is it entirely about the timescale rather than the approach? Eg. hypothetically very fast institutional reform could be nearterm, and doing AI safety field building research in academia could hypothetically be longterm if you thought it would pay off very late. Or do you think the longterm stuff necessarily has to be investment or intitutional reform?
  2. Is the main crux for 'Long-term x-risk matters more than short-term risk' around how transformative the next two centuries will be? If we start getting technologically mature, then x-risk might decrease significantly. Or do you think we might reach technological maturity, and x-risk will be low, but we should still work on reducing it?
  3. What do you think about the assumption that 'efforts can reduce x-risk by an amount proportional to the current risk'? That seems maybe appropriate for medium levels of risk eg. 1-10%, but if risk is small, like 0.01-1%, it might get very difficult to halve the risk. 
Comment by Alex HT on What are novel major insights from longtermist macrostrategy or global priorities research found since 2015? · 2020-08-20T07:16:47.058Z · EA · GW

This is really interesting and I'd like to hear more. Feel free to just answer the easiest questions:

Do you have any thoughts on how to set up a better system for EA research, and how it should be more like academia? 

What kinds of specialisation do you think we'd want - subject knowledge? Along different subject lines to academia? 

Do you think EA should primarily use existing academia for training new researchers, or should there be lots of RSP-type things?

What do you see as the current route into longtermist research? It seems like entry-level research roles are relatively rare, and generally need research experience. Do you think this is a good model?

Comment by Alex HT on What (other) posts are you planning on writing? · 2020-08-20T06:52:02.823Z · EA · GW

I'd really like to see "If causes differ astronomically in EV, then personal fit in career choice is unimportant"

Comment by Alex HT on [deleted post] 2020-08-19T14:02:33.660Z

Toy Model

Let  be the value of the longterm future. Let  be the probability that our descendants safely reach technological maturity. Let  be the expected quality of the longterm future, given that we safely reach technological maturity.  Then the value of the longterm future is:

This ignores all the value in the longterm future that occurs when our descendants don't safely reach technological maturity. 

Assume that we can choose between doing some urgent longtermist work, say existential risk reduction - , or some patient longtermist work, let's call this global priorities research - . Assume that the existential risk reduction work increases the probability that our descendants safely reach technological maturity, but has no other effect on the quality of the future. Assume that the global priorities research increases the quality of the longterm future conditional on it occurring, but has no effect on existential risk.

Consider some small change in either existential risk reduction work or global priorities research. You can imagine this as $10 trillion, or 'what the EA community focuses on for the next 50 years', or something like that. Then for some small finite change in risk reduction, , or in global priorities research, , the change in the value of the longterm future will be:

Dropping the subscripts and dividing the first equation by the other:

Rewriting in more intuitive terms:

Critiquing the Model

I've made the assumption that x-risk reduction work doesn't otherwise affect the quality of the future, and patient longtermist work doesn't affect the probability of existential risk. Obviously, this isn't true. However, I don't think that reduces the value of the model much as I'm just trying to get a rough estimate of which produces more value - increasing the probability of space colonisation, or increasing the quality of the civilisation the colonises space. 

I have the suspicion that most of the value of broad, patient longtermist work (such as much of the philosophy being done at GPI, moral circle expansion

I've made the assumption that we can ignore all value other than worlds where we safely reach technological maturity.  This seems pretty intuitive to me, given the likely quality, size, and duration of a technologically mature society, and my ethical views. 

Putting some numbers in 

Let's put some numbers in. Toby Ord thinks that with a big effort, humanity can reduce the probability of existential risk this century from  to 1/6. That would make the fractional increase in probability of survival  (it goes from  to ). Assume for simplicity that x-risk after this century is zero. 

For GPR to be cost effective with XRR given these numbers (so the above equation is ), the fractional increase in the value of the future for a comparable amount of work would have to be .

Though Toby's numbers are really quite favourable to XRR, so putting in your own seems good. 

Eg. If you think X-risk is , and we could reduce it to  with some amount of effort, then the fractional increase in probability of survival is about  (it goes from  to ). So for GPR to be cost competitive, we'd have to be able to increase the value of the future by \(5.6\\)% with a similar amount of work that the XRR would have taken.


Would it take a similar amount of effort to reduce the probability of existential risk this century from  to 1/6 and to increase the fractional value of the future conditional on it occuring by ? My intuition is that the latter is actually much harder than the former. Remember, you've got to make the whole future  better for all time. What do you think?

Some things going into this are:

  • I think it's pretty likely () that there will be highly transformative events over the next two centuries. It seems really hard to make detailed plans with steps that happen after these highly transformative events.
  • I'm not sure if research about how the world works now actually helps much for people understanding how the world works after these highly transformative events. If we're all digital minds, or in space, or highly genetically modified then understanding how today's poverty, ecosystems, or governments worked might not be very helpful.
  • The minds doing research after the transition might be much more powerful than current researchers. A lower bound seems like 200+IQ humans (and lots more of them than are researchers now), a reasonable expectation seems like a group of superhuman narrow AIs, an upper bound seems like a superintelligent general AI. I think these could do much better research, much faster than current humans working in our current institutions. Of course, building the field means these future researchers have more to work with when they get started. But I guess this is negligible compared to increasing the probability that these future researchers exist, given how much faster they would be.

Having said that, I don't have a great understanding of the route to value of longtermist research there is that doesn't contribute to reducing or understanding existential risk (and I think it probably valuable for epistemic modesty reasons). 

I should also say that lots of actual 'global priorities research' does a lot to understand and reduce x-risk, and could understood as XRR work. I wonder how useful a concept 'global priorities research is', and whether it's too broad. 


  • Do you think this model is right enough to be at all useful? 
  • What numbers do you think are appropriate to put into this model? If a given unit of XRR work increases the probability of survival by , how much value could it have created via trajectory change? Any vague/half-baked considerations here are appreciated.
  • What's the best way to conceptualise the value of non-XRR longtermist work? Is it 'make the future go better for the rest of time'? Does it rely on a lock-in event, like transformative technologies, to make the benefits semi-permanent? 
Comment by Alex HT on Super-exponential growth implies that accelerating growth is unimportant in the long run · 2020-08-11T11:04:58.744Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this. I'd love to see your napkin math

Comment by Alex HT on Are there superforecasts for existential risk? · 2020-07-08T08:33:10.839Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the answer.

Will MacAskill mentioned in this comment that he'd 'expect that, say, a panel of superforecasters, after being exposed to all the arguments, would be closer to my view than to the median FHI view.'

You're a good forecaster right? Does it seem right to you that a panel of good forecasters would come to something like Will's view, rather than the median FHI view?

Comment by Alex HT on Are there superforecasts for existential risk? · 2020-07-08T08:32:52.868Z · EA · GW

Thanks for the answer.

Will MacAskill mentioned in this comment that he'd 'expect that, say, a panel of superforecasters, after being exposed to all the arguments, would be closer to my view than to the median FHI view.'

You're a good forecaster right? Does it seem right to you that a panel of good forecasters would come to something like Will's view, rather than the median FHI view?

Comment by Alex HT on Are there superforecasts for existential risk? · 2020-07-08T08:15:25.157Z · EA · GW

Thanks, those look good and I wasn't aware of them

Comment by Alex HT on The Moral Value of Information - edited transcript · 2020-07-03T19:16:20.072Z · EA · GW

Yep - the author can click on the image and then drag from the corner to enlarge them (found this difficult to find myself)