Blog Prize Digest: August

Just a quick update this month, as we’re giving two months to submit entries for Post Prize #4, for the best review of Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future.

 

Some of our favorites from the blogroll

 

Nick Bostrom is one of the most important philosophers in Effective Altruism and longtermism. Radio Bostrom highlights the his essential work, including “Letter from Utopia” (2008) and “The Vulnerable World Hypothesis” (2019), alongside a general introduction to Nick Bostrom’s thought. It is all available in audio form read by professional narrators. Give it a listen to learn more.
Radio Bostrom

Julian Hazell, an MSc student at Oxford, is writing a new blog about AI governance, global poverty, and more. We’ve already been impressed by his first post, “We are still in triage.” Make sure to check out his Twitter, too.
Blogger Dwarkesh Patel writes for the EA Forums on a paper from Tyler John and William MacAskill that proposes methods for governments to become more longtermist. Patel coins the term ‘State Capacity Longtermism’ and makes a distinction between medium-termism and longtermism. This forum post is an interesting addition to Dwarkesh’s regular blogging at The Lunar Society. Make sure to check out his podcast too, where he’s interviewed Sam Bankman-Fried, Will MacAskill, Tyler Cowen, and more.
Evaluation of Longtermist Institutional Reform – EA Forum

Post Prize #4
Continuing from August, Post Prize #4 will be for the best review of Will MacAskill’s What We Owe the Future. The book is MacAskill’s case for longtermism, the view that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time. The book addresses a host of fascinating topics like artificial intelligence, pandemics, global conflict, stagnation, population ethics, and much more. Order it here. Can’t afford a copy but want to compete in our review contest? Shoot us a Twitter DM and we will send you a copy.
We will be awarding prizes for the best reviews – positive or critical – of the book. Because the book comes out on August 16th, this contest will extend over the next two months, conclusion September 30th,
Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces
Deadline: Opens August 2nd, What We Owe the Future is released August 16th, and the prize will close September 30th.
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 nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #3. Looking forward to reading them!

Post Prize #4: What We Owe the Future

Post Prize #4: What We Owe the Future

 

Will MacAskill’s new book, What We Owe the Future, is releasing this month. The book is MacAskill’s case for longtermism, the view that positively influencing the longterm future is a key moral priority of our time. The book addresses a host of fascinating topics like artificial intelligence, pandemics, global conflict, stagnation, population ethics, and much more. We can’t wait. Preorder it here.
We will be awarding prizes for the best reviews of the book — positive, critical, or analytic. Because the book comes out on August 16th in the US, this contest will extend over the next two months, concluding September 30th.
Prize: We’ll award $1000 to the most outstanding pieces.
Deadline: Opens August 2nd, What We Owe the Future is released August 16th, and the prize will close September 30th.
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 nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #4. Looking forward to reading them!

Post Prize #3: Winners & Honorable Mentions

Announcing the winners from Prize #3, the Most Important Century
Zombie Universe by Toby Tremlett — One of the technologies Holden writes about in the Most Important Century is digital people, people who exist on computers. While Holden argues persuasively that digital people could be conscious, Toby writes of how important it is to understand whether they actual are conscious. If they aren’t, we could accidentally fill the universe with something analogous to philosophical zombies.
Re: the Social Science section of Holden Karnofsky’s Most Important Century by Zard Wright Weissberg — Zard writes about another aspect of digital people, their potential use for social science. What is the fundamental reason social science is so hard to learn from?
This Can Go On Pt 1 & 2 by Dwarkesh Patel — Holden writes about three key scenatios: Collapse, Stagnation, and Explosion. Dwarkesh argues that one other scenario is possible: Simmer.
In his follow up post, Dwarkesh argues that we can’t trust our intuitions about the limits to growth, and that “if our intuitions contradict the plausibility of large long-run growth rates, that’s so much the worse for our intuitions”.
Honorable mentions: we also enjoyed reading Maxwell Tabarrock on why The Most Important Century Is Not Unlikely, Robert Long on whether digital people would be conscious, En Kepeig In Favour Of Caution about AI, and Finn Hambly on attractors in history and whether we’re living in a simulation.
If you still want to learn more about the Most Important Centuryhypothesis, check out this great video from Rational Animations.
And stick around until the end to hear about Post Prize #4!

Post Prize #3: The Most Important Century

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 nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #3. Looking forward to reading them!

Blog Prize Digest: June

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.

Post Prizes!

Announcing the winners of Post Prize #2: Increasing Agency

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.

Honorable mentions

Two old favorites on agency

These weren’t written for the Post Prize, but we wanted to highlight two other great posts on agency.

Some of our favorites from the blog roll

We won the war on infectious diseases, but now we need to learn from it

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.

Researching Alignment Research: Unsupervised Analysis

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.

Two other exciting newsletter launches

Scientific Discovery

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.”

#2: Big studies and very big findings – by Saloni Dattani

The Swift Centre launches their first newsletter

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.

Monkeypox: the outlook for 2022

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.

From the judges:

If you are still hungry for more posts

Post Prize #2: Building Agency

Post Prize #2: Building Agency

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 nickwhitaker@effectiveideas.org with the subject line Post Prize #2. Looking forward to reading them! Continue reading “Post Prize #2: Building Agency”

Post Prize #1: Winners & Honorable Mentions

Post Prizes!

Announcing the winners of Post Prize #1: The world in 2072

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.”

Sensor 7182 by Chris Webster — we loved this piece imagining a biosafe world. A fine example of the ‘preparedness paradox’.

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.

Honorable mentions

  • The Cultural Superpowers of 2072 by Pradyumna Prasad — “By almost any measure America is the most culturally dominant country in the world.” Will that last? Prasad investigates.
  • The servers are on the moon by Finn Hambly — imagines a 2072 of mind uploading in a charming “letter from the future” style that reminds us of Bostrom’s ‘Letter from Utopia’. A highlight: “As for the AI stuff, it’s good at art and science — and it basically powers everything — but it doesn’t decide anything, really.”
  • The World in 2072 by Tom Spencer — a convincing case that simple extrapolation from the last half century of economic growth give us reasons for optimism about 2072
  • 2072: SpaceX Annual Shareholder Report by Connor and Maxwell Tabarrock — an imagining of Mars colonization that feels almost… plausible. Contained Avital’s favorite line (the part where Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence makes an appearance).
  • The World in 2072 by Dan Elton — considering the underrated trends that will shape 2072. India, transhumanism, AI, abundant energy, instability.

Blog Prize Digest: May

It’s been another huge month for the blog prize. Make sure to check out our first post prize winners and second contest!

Some of our favorites from the blog roll

Beneficentrism

https://rychappell.substack.com/p/beneficentrism

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.

https://rychappell.substack.com

Guided by the Beauty of One’s Philosophies

https://classicalfuturist.substack.com/p/guided-by-the-beauty-of-ones-philosophies

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.” 

https://classicalfuturist.substack.com

When do ideas get harder to find?

https://freaktakes.substack.com/p/when-do-ideas-get-easier-to-find?s=r

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!

https://freaktakes.substack.com

Cultural philanthropy: Influencing the culture to improve the world

https://essayant.xyz/2022/05/01/cultural-philanthropy-influencing-the-culture-to-improve-the-world/

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!

https://essayant.xyz

Interland: The Country In The Intersection

https://maximumprogress.substack.com/p/interland-the-country-in-the-intersection

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!

https://maximumprogress.substack.com

From the judges:

  • Fin is currently helping set up a prize for critiques and red teaming of / for effective altruism — stay tuned. He also recently spoke with Jason Crawford about progress studies, stagnation, and (existential) safety.
  • Leopold is still hard at work with the FTX Future Fund
  • Nick is cycling from NYC to Montreal 🚴
  • Avital took a few days off for the first time in a while!

If you are still hungry for more posts

Particle accelerator infographic of the month

Check out this graph, showing how sub-technologies can ‘branch’ and ‘leapfrog’ one another to sustain exponential improvement, in this case for particle accelerators:

 

Blog Prize Digest: April

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. 

Will MacAskill also announced a new book! It’s called, What We Owe the Future.

Some of our favorites from the blog roll

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. 

We’ve been enjoying Eric Hoel’s The Intrinsic Perspective blog from Eric Hoel (@erikphoel), especially his widely circulated post, “Why We Stopped Making Einstein’s:

“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: 

https://twitter.com/MWStory/status/1504049716400910338

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:

One of many good posts fFrom Sam Atis (@sam_atis) is,Was Iit Aall wWorth It?it,” Oon thinking through degrowth as a utilitarian:

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.

From Joe Carlsmith (@jkcarlsmith), a four-part series On Expected Utility:

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.

From the judges:

If you are still hungry for more posts:

Cliodynamics infographic of the month