Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Designing user authentication protocols · 2023-03-18T20:08:16.909Z · EA · GW

A lot of work does go into it, but the users will mostly ignore that work and continue using "[Dog's name] + [Wife's birthday]" as a password (and that's if you're lucky).

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on FLI FAQ on the rejected grant proposal controversy · 2023-01-20T18:27:34.339Z · EA · GW

I don't understand. Who is the victim that I am blaming here? I was trying to support FLI by pointing out that, in my experience, when I hear an organisation described as "far-right", that tells me very little except that it is probably not openly and explicitly Marxist. Perhaps Nya Dagbladet is one of the rare exceptions who actually deserve the label - I don't know, I never heard of them before this controversy. But I definitely sympathise with FLI's not immediately giving 100% credence to the accusations.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on FLI FAQ on the rejected grant proposal controversy · 2023-01-19T21:16:47.315Z · EA · GW

The quality of public discourse worldwide has degraded so badly, with casual name-calling using highly charged labels, that many of these types of accusations are open to question upon examination.

That is definitely my reaction to any story with "Far-Right" in the headline.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Money Stuff: FTX Had a Death Spiral · 2022-11-10T20:21:55.424Z · EA · GW

If SBF committed fraud, there’s a distinct possibility that SBF will use altruism as a defence and/or justification for his actions in the coming months.

Sadly, I think his having been the second largest donor to the Biden 2020 campaign fund will be a more effective defence. It certainly worked for the people who lost hundreds of billions of Other People's Money in 2008.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on What are the most relevant subdomains of software for biosecurity? · 2022-10-24T16:38:57.093Z · EA · GW

If you have a software engineering background but no particular expertise in biology or information security, then I would suggest trying to find some existing open-source software project which is helpful to biosecurity work and then help to make it more robust and user-friendly. I haven't worked in biosecurity myself, but I can tell you from experience in other areas of biology that there are many software packages written by scientists with no training in how to write robust and usable software, and so there is a lot of low-hanging fruit for someone who can configure automatic testing, use a debugger or profiler, or add a GUI or web front end.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on What are the most relevant subdomains of software for biosecurity? · 2022-10-24T16:20:33.054Z · EA · GW

Much of the work in biosecurity is related to handling and processing large amounts of data, so knowledge of how to work with distributed systems is in demand.

Nowadays the amounts have to be extremely large before it is worth the effort of setting up a distributed system. You can fit 1 TB of RAM and several hundred TB of disk space in a commodity 4U server at a price equivalent to a couple of weeks of salary + overhead for someone with the skills to set up a high performance cluster, port your software to work on it, or debug the mysterious errors.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Effective Refugee Support + Response? · 2022-10-18T03:58:52.527Z · EA · GW

I don't have any in-depth knowledge of this field, but my guess is that, out of the set of interventions whose effectiveness is easy to measure, the most effective ones will be those that target internally or regionally displaced refugees in the third world, as opposed to those who make it to first world countries.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on What does moral progress consist of? · 2022-08-20T19:05:00.623Z · EA · GW

One reason for avoiding talking about "1-to-N" moral progress on a public EA forum is that it is inherently political. I agree with you on essentially all the issues you mentioned in the post, but I also realise that most people in the world and even in developed nations will find at least one of your positions grossly offensive - if not necessarily when stated as above, then certainly after they are taken to their logical conclusions.

Discussing how to achieve concrete goals in "1-to-N" moral progress would almost certainly lead "moral reactionaries" to start attacking the EA community, calling us "fascists" / "communists" / "deniers" / "blasphemers" depending on which kind of immorality they support. This would make life very difficult for other EAs.

Maybe the potential benefits are large enough to exceed the costs, but I don't even know how we could go about estimating either of these.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on EA Organizations Hiring Frustration · 2022-08-14T17:48:33.759Z · EA · GW

I would love to see hiring done better at EA organizations, and if there was some kind of "help EA orgs do hiring better" role I would jump at the chance.

This would be great. Changing the human parts of the hiring process would be a lot of work, but if you can just get organizations to use some kind of software that automatically sends out "We received your application" and "Your application was rejected" e-mails then that would be a good start.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on The (California) case for State Capacity as an EA cause area · 2022-08-14T17:11:55.552Z · EA · GW

Good point. So if we can't hope for state alignment then that is an even stronger reason to oppose building state capabilities.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Cause area: Short-sleeper genes · 2022-08-14T17:08:43.505Z · EA · GW

If there is a gene for "needing less sleep, high behavioural drive, etc", which seems like it ought to give an evolutionary advantage, and yet only a very small fraction of the population have the gene, there must be a reason for this.

I can think of the following possibilities:

  • It is a recent mutation.
  • The selective advantage of needing less sleep is not as great as it seems. (e.g. before artificial lighting was widespread, you couldn't get much done with your extra hours of wakefulness)
  • The gene also has some kind of selective disadvantage. (If we are lucky, the disadvantage will be something like "increased nutritional requirements" which is not a big problem in the present day.)

Do you have any idea which of these is the case?

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on The (California) case for State Capacity as an EA cause area · 2022-08-10T10:13:46.774Z · EA · GW

Improving state capacity without ensuring the state is aligned to human values is just as bad as working on AI capabilities without ensuring that the AI is aligned to human values. The last few years have drastically reduced my confidence in "state alignment" even in so-called "liberal" democracies.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on The Kindertransport - review of a historical altruistic movement · 2022-08-10T09:31:35.372Z · EA · GW

Some additional relevant historical background: in 1938, and especially before Kristallnacht, it was not at all obvious how bad the Nazi persecution of Jews would subsequently become. The Wannsee Conference, where the Nazi leadership decided to implement the "final solution", was still four years in the future. The pogroms of 19th-century Russia were still within living memory, and Western democracies still had colonial empires, Jim Crow laws, lynchings, and similar abominations. Without accurate statistics, it would have been hard to tell whether the newspaper stories coming out of Germany were any worse.

It would be interesting to hear what gave the organisers of the Kindertransport the foresight to know that this problem was urgent.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on The Kindertransport - review of a historical altruistic movement · 2022-08-10T09:03:26.078Z · EA · GW

Pedantry: it's Kristallnacht not Kristelnacht.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on The Kindertransport - review of a historical altruistic movement · 2022-08-10T09:01:33.174Z · EA · GW

Given that the immediate previous heading is "Take seriously the idea that you may be doing harm", I think we should give the OP the benefit of the doubt that he is aware that fully open borders might cause harms as well as benefits.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Hiring Programmers in Academia · 2022-07-27T14:18:04.372Z · EA · GW

I have worked as a programmer in academia (at a scientific research institute rather than a university), as my first job after a PhD in a natural science field where I had done some programming for data analysis etc. My main motivation was to get a CV entry with "software developer" in the job title, such that I would then have an easier time finding a software job in the private sector. (With hindsight I don't think this was necessary, but there are probably many people now under the same misapprehension that I was then.) Depending on the kind of programming skills you are looking for, it might be possible to find someone in a similar situation. 

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on One Million Missing Children · 2022-07-13T18:23:26.259Z · EA · GW

One possibly scalable intervention here would be a dating site (or other matchmaking service) that didn't have the fundamental conflict of interest where its income stream depends on its users failing to form successful long-term relationships.

The probability of success would be low, and even if you did gain a large market share it would only solve a fraction of the problem, but the cost of trying might be low enough that despite those factors it would still be a worthwhile philanthropic investment.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Strong Longtermism and Dobbs v. Jackson · 2022-07-03T09:03:43.198Z · EA · GW

An additional longtermist benefit of the decision is that the need to present the case for legal abortion in language that is biologically accurate and understandable to the general public (e.g. by using the word "woman") will improve epistemics among activists and the media. 

Hopefully this effect will extend outside gender to other questions where "progressive" dogma is obviously contrary to reality.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on What important truth do very few people agree with you on? · 2022-06-05T17:58:36.192Z · EA · GW

[With the caveat in Imma's comment]
I hold the following combination of beliefs, which are individually relatively common but rarely held together:

  • Many of the problems that anti-immigrationists claim are caused by migration are real and important.
  • Nevertheless, the benefits of reducing or eliminating migration restrictions would be so large that it is still a good idea on net.

As a corollary: I have heard many people (the example that springs to mind is Peter Singer in his interview for the 80k podcast, but there have been others) say something along the lines of "I would support open borders, but high immigration leads to the election of right-wing populist nativists who will enact harmful policies, therefore I reluctantly support immigration restrictions." I contend that it is not the mere presence of people of different ethnic groups that causes right wing populism, but rather the aforementioned problems (e.g. cultural clash, crime, stress on government services, collision with government-imposed inflexibility in the housing and labour markets etc.) combined with left-wing denials that the problems exist (and insistence that anyone complaining about them is a deplorable racist) that drive voters towards the only politicians offering to solve the problems. Therefore, interventions to engage with and reduce the problems caused by migration ("keyhole solutions" in Open Borders lingo) could enable more open borders without a political backlash.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on EA Tours of Service · 2022-05-12T08:12:53.842Z · EA · GW

Many intergovernmental organizations have a similar recruitment model with limited term contracts for most staff members. (My experience is with EMBL but I don't think the practice is limited to research-focused organizations.) The explicit aim is that staff members will join (possibly on secondment from national governments), bring their existing knowledge and share it with other staff from other countries, and then return to their home country bringing new experience to improve things there too.

The packages of benefits and perquisites offered by these organizations include some that EA organizations should consider duplicating if they want to encourage "tour of service" style employment.

  • Relocation assistance not only before starting the job but also after the end of the contract period.
  • Travel subsidies to encourage continuing links with the home country (and with the seconding organization, if applicable).
  • Dependents allowance, to compensate for the fact that e.g. if one spouse relocates to a foreign country for work then this lowers the earning potential of the other spouse.
Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Effective [Re]location · 2022-05-12T08:00:30.501Z · EA · GW

A platform that collates and displays data about localities from around the country (and world) in an easily digestible, comparable manner. High-level and granular data that could be provided may include wi-fi quality, acceptance of minority groups, frequency of crime, voting history and tax rate. provides a lot of this information. AFAIK it's funded by a company that sells relocation assistance to tech companies wanting to recruit internationally.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on How Do You Get People to Really Show Up to Local Group Meetups? · 2022-05-07T09:55:40.222Z · EA · GW

A necessary (but not sufficient) condition is that the people who want to attend meetups can find out when and where they are happening. You might think this is obvious, but my local group requires a login in order to view its "public calendar".

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Privacy as a Blind Spot: Are There Long Term Harms in Using Facebook, Google, Slack etc.? · 2022-05-06T17:21:07.921Z · EA · GW

One useful resource for gathering such evidence is the EA Polls Facebook group.

I strongly doubt that a poll hosted on Facebook will provide unbiased evidence on those questions.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Would it be convenient / effective to have an EA-aligned "investigations agency"? · 2022-03-02T19:39:20.191Z · EA · GW

In addition, it could be particularly convenient to identify malevolent aspiring leaders and show their true colors while they are in the "political cradle" - before they become famous and powerful enough to deflect public criticism.

I agree that this would be useful. However, any organisation which sets out to do this will become an attractive target for anyone who currently holds power and wants to disrupt challengers by claiming that they are malevolent.

In addition, given the state of libel laws in many countries, having a single well-funded organisation making public claims of malevolence is going to end with a huge fraction of those funds being spent on lawyers.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on Information security: Become a hacker, not a consultant · 2022-03-02T19:07:38.448Z · EA · GW

My experience as a recipient of security consultants' advice matches what you are saying. The sole result has been paperwork. Admittedly, some of this paperwork has actually been helpful (IT workers are not always very good at writing documentation.) but I still don't think it was worth the opportunity cost.

Comment by Chris Kerr (frenbaim) on How impactful is free and open source software development? · 2022-02-16T19:41:17.658Z · EA · GW

Thanks for writing this! Writing a post on FOSS as an EA intervention has been on my to-do list ever since I noticed about six months ago that nobody had written one yet.

One additional benefit of FOSS that you appear to have missed is that, by offering a competitive alternative to proprietary software (and importantly, an alternative which can never be bought out in a corporate takeover), FOSS helps prevent the vendors selling proprietary software from exploiting their users quite as much as they otherwise would.

I definitely started using FOSS to save money while I was still at school and university, but now I would pay thousands to avoid the pervasive anti-features in all the (now often free-as-in-beer) proprietary ecosystems.