About the author

Matt is the author, co-author, secondary-author, ghost-author, and non-author of articles, speeches, book chapters, and even entire books! The most recent is his blockbuster The Accidental Activist, which Amazon claims is by his wife Anne Green. So it goes. Currently, he is President of One Step for Animals; previously, he was shitcanned from so many nonprofits that we can’t list them all here. Before Matt’s unfortunate encounter with activism, he was an aerospace engineer who wanted to work for NASA (to impress Carl Sagan). His hobbies include photography, almost dying, and {REDACTED}. He lives in Tucson with Anne, along with no dogs, no cats, no guinea pigs, and only the occasional snake or scorpion.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

My expected value is bigger than yours (from Vox)

Reading through some pages on the Open Philanthropy Project's site, I re-discovered this Vox article: I spent a weekend at Google talking with nerds about charity. I came away … worried. It reminds me of a number of posts on this blog (e.g., Against Big Numbers) and makes some other good points. A few excerpts:

The common response I got to this was, "Yes, sure, but even if there's a very, very, very small likelihood of us decreasing AI risk, that still trumps global poverty, because infinitesimally increasing the odds that 10^52 people in the future exist saves way more lives than poverty reduction ever could."

The problem is that you could use this logic to defend just about anything. Imagine that a wizard showed up and said, "Humans are about to go extinct unless you give me $10 to cast a magical spell." Even if you only think there's a, say, 0.00000000000000001 percent chance that he's right, you should still, under this reasoning, give him the $10, because the expected value is that you're saving 10^32 lives. Bostrom calls this scenario "Pascal's Mugging," and it's a huge problem for anyone trying to defend efforts to reduce human risk of extinction to the exclusion of anything else. 

[U]ltimately you have to stop being meta ... if you take meta-charity too far, you get a movement that's really good at expanding itself but not necessarily good at actually helping people [or other animals -ed].



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