Holden Karnofsky’s Most Important Century series is some of the best blogging of all time. Seriously. This month, we will be awarding prizes for the best responses to it.
Investigate some part of his Most Important Century blog post series (including points you think it misses or gets wrong!). There’s a lot of ideas in it, so feel free to go deep on something small, rather than trying to take the whole thing on at once.
You could also take a look at Holden’s list of important, actionable research questions for the most important century. They’re probably too big to answer in a blog post, but you can still use them for inspiration: by suggesting pieces of the answers, or sketching out a plan for answering them.
Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces
Deadline: Opens July 1st, Closes July 31th
How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to email@example.com with the subject line Post Prize #3. Looking forward to reading them!
It’s been another huge month for the blog prize. Read on to hear about the winners of our second Post Prize, and read until the end to hear about the theme for June’s prize.
We had many great responses to our second Post Prize, on how to actually increase your agency — and were very excited to see so many new bloggers join the discourse. We’re awarding prizes of $1,000 to:
Seven Ways to Become Unstoppably Agentic by Evie Cottrell — Evie writes about strategies she has learned in the last year that have help her become more agentic. We liked that she has actually used the strategies and that she recognizes the difficulties they pose.
Agency and Epistemic Cheems Mindset by Richard Chappell — Richard writes about us lacking agency in our epistemics, what he calls the Epistemic Cheems Mindset. As he writes:
We need not just good epistemics, but also epistemic ambition: a willingness to form (tentative, revisable) judgments, even in the face of uncertainty.
We like that Richard looks at an unusual but profound aspect of agency: It’s not just about whether we send the cold email, but whether we are asking the right questions at all.
Validation as a Bottleneck for Agency by Finn Hambly — Finn writes about the limits to any advice on being more agentic. Agency, in his view, needs to be cultivated and nurtured by an environment. So Finn discusses what sorts of norms are needed in an enviorment for agenctic people to flourish.
These weren’t written for the Post Prize, but we wanted to highlight two other great posts on agency.
Eric Gilliam writes on our massive success in fighting infectious diseases, and how that success alone counts for much of the decline in mortality in the 20th century. But that decline isn’t all due to vaccines and modern hospitals, as popular conception often dictates. It turns out to have been due to a series of public health interventions, most of all clean water. Gilliam writes:
I’m excited to announce that this is the first post of the Engineering Innovation Newsletter in partnership with Good Science Project. Good Science Project is a new organization dedicated to improving the funding and practice of science.
Jan Hendrik Kirchner writes on the state of AI alignment research, a field that seeks to align future AI values with human values, using a new dataset that he collected with AI Safety Camp. Some of the most interesting results include the growth of the field over the last 10 years and the clustering ofof subfields. We love to see participants using blogging as a way to share original research in an easily digestible way. Kirchner summarizes:
We collected and analyzed existing AI alignment research which we make publicly available. We found that the field is growing quickly, with several subfields emerging in parallel. We looked at the subfields and identified the prominent researchers, recurring topics, and different modes of communication in each. Furthermore, we found that a classifier trained on AI alignment research articles can detect relevant articles that we did not originally include in the dataset.
Saloni Dattani, Nick’s colleague at Works in Progress and a researcher at Our World in Data just launched a Substack, Scientific Discovery. She plans to send weekly updates on new good and important scientific research. Her most recent post explains one new study on the flu vaccine lowering risks of heart attack and stroke and another on the largest bacterium. Her second update writes on “Vaccines against heart attacks, giant bacteria, plus some great new books and podcasts.”
It’s not for the Blog Prize, but the Swift Centre, a new forecasting organization backed by the FTX Future Fund regranting program, has launched a new newsletter. Their first post explains their current thinking around monkeypox. The Centre is aiming to make forecasting more useful by explaining the “why” behind their probability estimates and looking at conditional scenarios.
The last thing the world wanted to hear, as it started to put the two years of the pandemic behind it, was that a new infectious disease was spreading unexpectedly. That is, however, what happened, when towards the end of April 2022 cases of the viral disease monkeypox were detected.
Tyler Cowen writes: “At critical moments in time, you can raise the aspirations of other people significantly, especially when they are relatively young, simply by suggesting they do something better or more ambitious than what they might have in mind […] This is in fact one of the most valuable things you can do with your time and with your life.”
We agree. For this post prize, we want to read your advice on how and why to increase your agency, reject ‘cheems mindset’, and aim higher. We want readers to feel more empowered to act on that idea they had for improving the world.
We don’t want to read a highly theoretical account of the meaning of agency. We want concrete, actionable advice for yourself or others on now to actually increase your agency. Stories and examples are encouraged.
Prize: Like before, we’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces
Deadline: Opens June 1st, Closes June 29th
How to submit: When you have finished your piece, tweet a link to it and tag and follow our Twitter, @effective_ideas. If you’re not on Twitter, email it to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line Post Prize #2. Looking forward to reading them! Continue reading “Post Prize #2: Building Agency”
We loved reading all your entries to our first Post Prize, where we asked you to describe the world 50 years from now. We’re awarding prizes of $1,000 to:
The Anatomy of Choice and The Uploading by Xander Balwit — two memorable and affecting short stories imagining scenes from a world with artificial wombs and the choice to preserve and ‘upload’ somebody’s personality. We liked how the stories were neither utopian nor dystopian, but conveyed the nuance of a world in which emancipatory technology has arrived and our culture is still adjusting around it.
The World in 2072 by Sam Atis — speaking of worlds that fall between utopia and dystopia: we enjoyed Sam Atis’ attempt to describe the boring timeline — “where things go mostly pretty well but some things also go pretty badly.”
Three Non-Dystopian Visions of 2072 by En Kepeig — this piece asks what to expect if we’re serious about the possibility of artificial general intelligence arriving within the next few decades. Some of the futures look wild.
It’s been another huge month for the blog prize. Make sure to check out our first post prize winners and second contest!
almost all of the important real-world implications of utilitarianism stem from [one] feature, one that I think probably ought to be shared by every sensible moral view. It’s just the claim that it’s really important to help others—however distant or different from us they may be.
Richard Y Chappell makes a strong case for the philosophy of ‘beneficentrism’: “utilitarianism minus the controversial bits”. While critics of utilitarianism tend to focus on its edge cases and controversial features, Chappell argues that its central insight is important, and underappreciated: help others, the more the better. This seems both uncontroversially good, and in practice bold and underappreciated. Chappell is on a roll with his blog Good Thoughts. For more on utilitarianism, he also helps run utilitarianism.net.
Whatever the situation, it should be obvious that aesthetics matter. They matter because they are unavoidable — if you don’t define them, they will be defined for you, probably in a haphazard way — and because they are often associated with success in some way […] Companies, political parties and philosophical movements that ignore their aesthetics are poised to do less good for the world (at least according to them) than they could otherwise do.
Étienne Fortier-Dubois has been struggling to feel excited about engaging with effective altruism, despite basically buying the key ideas. Why? “[T]he most interesting explanation I have at the moment is that Effective Altruism has an aesthetic problem. Its visual style is underdeveloped. Its ideas are expressed with dry and boring language. It inspires very little art. As a result, it has been difficult for me to get excited about contributing, or even to make sure that the values of the movement match mine. And I’m not the only one in this situation.”
A science of progress felt daunting, but Holton believed it was extremely worth doing. He believed that the study of the messy personal context of discoveries could soon come into its own as a full-fledged field.
Eric Gilliam introduces the ideas of Gerard Holton, a Progress Studies predecessor. Fascinating, comprehensive, and relevant!
But there is another kind of philanthropy—one that is much less common, but growing in importance. It’s based on the idea that the culture we live in influences the decisions of everyday people, entrepreneurs and policymakers. Recognising that influence, this kind of philanthropy wants to change that culture.
Shakeel Hashim coins and explains the idea of “cultural philanthropy”. The blog prize gets a shout-out too!
Innovation in governance is needed to solve many of the world’s problems. But innovation requires entry.
Maxwell Tabarrock returns with a compelling thought experiment: a model of legislating new countries or cities at the intersection of other countries’ laws.
See also Vitalik Buterin’s comment!
Check out this graph, showing how sub-technologies can ‘branch’ and ‘leapfrog’ one another to sustain exponential improvement, in this case for particle accelerators:
We’ve had a very exciting first month at the Blog Prize—viral posts, enlightening discourse, and cool new bloggers jumping into the race. We’re planning to announce mini-prizes soon for the best posts on specific subjects, so stay tuned.
We had two great explanations of longtermism, a central interest of ours, one from Simon Bazelon (@simon_bazelon)(of Secret Congress fame) and the other from Neel Nanda of Anthropic. Both tackle how to introduce longtermism without relying on too many abstract concepts or counterintuitive claims.
The pitches are both exciting and distinct: Simon writes of how we can emotionally relate to the far future, through an appeal to the preciousness and fragility of life. Neel uses case studies on AI and bio-risk, which suggest our survival is more precarious than we think.
“I think the most depressing fact about humanity is that during the 2000s most of the world was handed essentially free access to the entirety of knowledge and that didn’t trigger a golden age.”
In other words: where are all the geniuses? Hoel hypothesizes that we might need a new age of tutoring, and we are very excited about the conversation this generated. We need more geniuses!
On a similar note, Jeremy Driver (@J_D_89) writes a follow up to his now-legendary cheems mindset post, which focused on our social and political horizons, with a post on the personal cheems mindset:.
Broadly, personal cheems mindset is the reflexive decision for an individual to choose inaction over action, in particular finding reasons not to do things which have either high expected value, or a huge upside with very little downside risk.
We believe there’s a huge amount of good that’s not created because people needlessly limit their own ambitions, and Jeremy is one of our favorite writers on reclaiming your agency. He also wrote a post on reactions to the article. We like this piece of advice from Michael Story (@MWStory) he mentions:
Build your own anti-cheems community!
We also had a few favorite philosophical deep dives:
From Good Optics, “Past and Future Trajectory Changes,” “changes that improve the value of the long-term future through some mechanism other than preventing existential catastrophe.” He writes:
Whether trajectory change or existential risk mitigation is more effective obviously depends on the magnitude of existential risk. More fundamentally, it depends on how smooth or jumpy the curve of increase in the expected value of the future is. To the degree that the future is not completely determined yet, variation in human choices will result in variation in the ultimately amount of realized moral value. Good choices will result in more value than bad choices. Different worldviews imply different functions mapping quality of choices to amount of value. For instance, one might think that there are really only two equilbiria in the long-run: extinction and utopia. If this is your view, your function mapping performance to realized value would look something like this:
It seems pretty obvious to me that while GDP growth increases living standards, it also increases the chance of the world ending. If you look through Toby Ord’s list of existential risks to the world (x-risks) seen above, you’ll notice that the most dangerous x-risks almost certainly wouldn’t exist if not for the industrial revolution and economic growth. From nuclear war (1/1000 risk of wiping us out) to engineered pandemics (1/30 risk) to AI Risk (1/10 risk!), we’re basically playing Russian roulette with the future of the world, and most of the bullets are ones we could only put in the chamber thanks to economic growth.
Some people think that unless you’re messing up in silly ways, you should be acting “as if” you’re maximizing expected utility [but] expected utility maximization (EUM) can lead to a focus on lower-probability, higher-stakes events — a focus that can be emotionally difficult. For example, faced with a chance to save someone’s life for certain, it directs you to choose a 1% chance of saving 1000 lives instead – even though this choice will probably benefit no one. And EUM says to do this even for one shot, or few shot, choices – for example, choices about your career.