EA Wins 2023

Crossposted from Twitter.

As the year comes to an end, we want to highlight and celebrate some of the incredible achievements from in and around the effective altruism ecosystem this year.

1. A new malaria vaccine

The World Health Organization recommended its second-ever malaria vaccine this year: R21/​Matrix-M, designed to protect babies and young children from malaria. The drug’s recently concluded Phase III trial, which was co-funded by Open Philanthropy, found that the vaccine was between 68-75% effective at targeting the disease, which kills around 600,000 people (mainly children) each year.

The work didn’t stop there, though. Following advocacy from many people — including Zacharia Kafuko of 1 Day Sooner — the WHO quickly prequalified the vaccine, laying the groundwork for an expedited deployment and potentially saving hundreds of thousands of children’s lives. 1 Day Sooner is now working to raise money to expedite the deployment further.

2. The Supreme Court upholds an animal welfare law

In 2018, Californians voted for Proposition 12 — a bill that banned intensive cage confinement and the sale of animal products from animals in intensive confinement. The meat industry challenged the law for being unconstitutional — but in May of this year, the US Supreme Court upheld Prop 12, a decision that will improve the lives of millions of animals who would otherwise be kept in cruel and inhumane conditions.

Organizations such as The Humane League — one of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top charities — are a major part of this victory; their tireless campaigning is part of what made Prop 12 happen.

Watch a panel discussion featuring The Humane League at EAG London 2023 here.

3. AI safety goes mainstream

2023 was the year AI safety went mainstream. After years of work from people in and around effective altruism, this year saw hundreds of high-profile AI experts — including two Turing Award winners — say that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority”.

That was followed by a flurry of activity from policymakers, including a US Executive Order, an international AI Safety Summit, the establishment of the UK Frontier AI Taskforce, and a deal on the EU AI Act — which, thanks to the efforts of campaigners, is now going to regulate foundation models that pose a systemic risk to society.

Important progress was made in technical AI safety, too, including work on adversarial robustness, mechanistic interpretability, and lie detection.

Watch a talk from EAG Boston 2023 on technical AI safety here.

4. Results from the world’s largest UBI study

Since 2018, GiveDirectly — an organization that distributes direct cash transfers to those in need — has been running the world’s largest universal basic income experiment in rural Kenya.

In September, researchers led by MIT economist Taveneet Suri and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, published their latest analysis of the data — finding that giving people money as a lump sum leads to better results than dispersing it via monthly payments. Long-term UBI was also found to be highly effective and didn’t discourage work. The results could have significant implications for how governments disburse cash aid.

Watch GiveDirectly’s talk at EAGx Nordics 2023.

5. Cultivated meat approved for sale in US

After years of work from organizations like the Good Food Institute, in June 2023 the USDA finally approved cultivated meat for sale in the US.

The watershed moment made the US the second country (after Singapore) to legalize the product, which could have significant impacts on animal welfare by reducing the number of animals that need to be raised and killed for meat.

Watch the Good Food Institute’s Bruce Friedrich talk about alternative proteins at EAG London 2023 here.

6. A potentially dangerous virus-hunting programme was shut down

In 2021, USAID launched a $125 million dollar program to hunt down viruses that might cause a future pandemic. Biosecurity experts such as MIT’s Kevin Esvelt and Andrew Weber of the Council on Strategic Risks, however, were immediately concerned: such virus hunting could end up bringing new viruses back to society and causing outbreaks, or give bad actors the blueprints to develop new deadly pathogens.

After pressure from these experts and others, USAID cancelled the program this year — reducing the likelihood of a catastrophic pandemic accidentally occurring in the future.

Watch Kevin Esvelt’s talk at EAG Boston 2023 here.

7. And much, much more.

More happened in and around the effective altruism ecosystem this year than we could possibly cover in a post/​thread like this! The above is just a brief overview of some of the incredibly impactful work that’s been done. We didn’t touch on Charity Entrepreneurship’s incredible new charities, working on everything from protecting babies from syphilis to combating antimicrobial resistance; or how animal welfare activists successfully persuaded Jollibee to commit to only using eggs from cage-free hens. There wasn’t time to discuss the Lead Exposure Elimination Project’s incredible success in Malawi, where its work appears to have significantly cut the levels of toxic lead in paint. And we’ve not even mentioned the continued growth of the EA ecosystem, including hundreds of new people signing the Giving What We Can pledge to give away 10% of their income to effective charities.

We want to finish by thanking everyone — both those mentioned in this post and the many thousands of those not mentioned — for their incredible work to make the world a better place. Collectively, the effective altruism ecosystem continues to save the lives of both humans and animals, support those suffering from diseases or struggling with poverty, and build a safer future for all of us. Thank you for your work, and we look forward to an even more impactful 2024.

Thanks to Emma Richter for her help on this post.