30 second action you could take
Prospect Magazine is getting people to vote for the World’s Top Thinkers of 2022. There were fewer names I recognised on it than I expected, though David Chalmers and Demis Hassabis are amongst them.
I voted for Will MacAskill because I want more intellectual attention on really directly tackling how we can help sentient beings most over the very long run.
Voting was surprisingly quick and painless. While voting for public intellectuals seems rather frivolous, ranking highly on a chart like this can open doors for Will to have more conversations with people who are in a position to seriously put EA ideas or proposals into practice (and are so stretched for time they have to use rankings like this to narrow down who’s most worth meeting). Here are the nominees, or you can vote directly here.
[Disclaimer: his bio includes a description of 80,000 Hours, my employer; his link to it (trustee and cofounder) is not the reason I’m voting for him]
I felt uncomfortable about just taking 30 seconds to choose Will, and did end up spending more time reading some of the other bios, but in the end this seems like a rather silly popularity contest, especially given that it basically doesn’t even describe how you should vote (e.g., “who do you think is the most beneficial ‘thinker’?”). Of course, the fact that it is silly and ought to not be given attention by the public does not mean the public will ignore it, so yeah, I think Will is probably a good choice, and I don’t really have any substantive qualms with voting for him without having read many other profiles.
Taking the existence of this post as evidence, I think the odds that if I read all the other bios, I’d come to think that Will wasn’t worth voting for is <10%. Seems fine to me.
It was a tough decision, but it turns out I do care more about helping sentient beings in the long term than I do about Wordle and Derry Girls
Voted, it was surprisingly painless. Fingers crossed for Will, although he was buried in the middle of the pack of names due to unfortunate lack of alphabetical prominence. New cause area: renaming our thought leaders Aaron Aaronson.
There is actually research that suggests that people who have names early in the alphabet do a bit better in life. So although I’m sure you’re joking, it is a good idea.
Misleading title, took only a single digit number of seconds :)
Results are out: Will came in a respectable 6th out of 50, beating Elon Musk (8th). Philosopher Kathleen Stock won overall. Here is the one-sentence summary Will got:
Done, took less than 20 seconds—thanks for posting :)
I discovered Stefan Mancuso through the list of thinkers, who among other things claims that plants have rights.
This seemed like a good idea on its face, so I voted pretty quickly, but I’m beginning to worry a little bit more in retrospect. Will is unlikely to win because he’s on balance the most popular of these figures, but due to this post it is possible that he could win because of vote splitting and plurality dynamics rather than on the merits. In particular I worry that with a lot of these online polls, plurality dynamics sometimes lead to a winner who:
Pretty obviously did not win in a way that was actually reflective of their relative belovedness, and
Because of this, their win winds up leading many people to have more negative feelings towards the subject or at least its fanbase
Off the top of my head I believe something like this happened both with the video game Undertale and the prog rock band Dream Theater. Both are still quite popular but in their relevant spaces face a sort of vague scorn from what people see as an illegitimate listicle victory. Organizing votes in a public space like this may seem like something innocent everyone can do so it’s fair game, but I think you’d be surprised how much it can distort the results, and how much no one benefits when this distortion happens. Now I want to emphasize that I think this is only one consideration, and the vote may be worth it for other reasons anyway, but I’m more concerned now on reflection.
Y’all should vote for Will, or else David Chalmers or Demis Hassabis (DeepMind CEO). I like Joy Buolamwini too. Just don’t vote for Kathleen Stock because she’s a TERF.
I am a little concerned about the tone of this comment (and a little less so about the post overall). If what this contest represents is a (free and fair) election, I don’t think we should tell people “you SHOULD vote for A” or “you SHOULDN’T vote for B”. I would feel equally uncomfortable if we did this for any other type of election, especially without giving any rationale for our recommendations. Rather, people should vote based on their preferences (and ideally, these would be informed by more than just in-group recommendations) - if this is Will, great, if it’s someone else you feel deserves this more than him, more power to you.
To the extent that this contest is a free and fair election (and it’s not; internet polls are fundamentally insecure), it is legitimate for people to influence other people’s votes by giving them recommendations. Voters ultimately make their own decisions.
Admittedly I wrote the above comment in a rush, but I did give a rationale for my last recommendation (“don’t vote for Kathleen Stock because she’s a TERF”) - Stock has advocated for beliefs that harm transgender people. Specifically, she has signed a statement that describes “the practice of transgenderism” as inherently sexist (1, 2). (For clarification, TERF stands for “trans-exclusionary radical feminist”.)