Friday, June 21, 2024

Weekend Read: Discussion re: Effective Altruism and Progress Studies

Toledo. Spain, not my hometown. And ducks!

The EA-Progress Studies War is Here, and It’s a Constructive Dialogue! 

I used to care about all this more, before writing Losing finished my transition to anti-utilitarian. But I still thought this was an interesting and informative exchange.

This might be my favorite quote:

I don’t think there’s a natural, sequential progression from Singer to Oxford, then out to California, culminating in longtermist concerns about human extinction. Rather, I think these were all separate strains present in the movement from the beginning. Will MacAskill and Toby Ord at Oxford were developing Giving What We Can, which was then just focused on global poverty, at around the same time that Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld were figuring out that GiveWell should focus on global poverty charities (instead of, say, public schools in New York City), and Eliezer Yudkowsky was debating Robin Hanson on the likelihood that superintelligent AI would lead to human extinction [and thus we should literally bomb data centers! -ed]. (This is roughly 2007-2009). For various historical, contingent reasons these groups of people have done a lot of work together, and of course they’ve influenced each other, but even today, they haven’t fully merged. 

This sounds like a nitpick, but I think it matters, because while EA can look very unified from the outside, in my experience it’s really a lot of different priorities and worldviews that share a belief that "doing good" is something we can quantify and should be cause-agnostic about. 

Also good:

I think EAs should pay careful attention to how all these issues are playing out — not only in excruciatingly detailed blog posts, but in the actual arena of politics. Otherwise they risk becoming, in practice and in effect, neo-Luddites, even if in theory and in their hearts they are temporarily embarrassed techno-optimists.

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