A central directory for open research questions

Quite won­der­fully, there has been a pro­lifer­a­tion of re­search ques­tions EAs have iden­ti­fied as po­ten­tially worth pur­su­ing, and now even a pro­lifer­a­tion of col­lec­tions of such ques­tions. So like a good lit­tle EA, I’ve gone meta: this post is a col­lec­tion of all such col­lec­tions I’m aware of. I hope this can serve as a cen­tral di­rec­tory to all of those other use­ful re­sources, and thereby help in­ter­ested EAs find ques­tions they can in­ves­ti­gate to help in­form our whole com­mu­nity’s efforts to do good bet­ter.

Some things to note:

  • It may be best to just en­gage with one set of ques­tions that are rele­vant to your skills, in­ter­ests, or plans, and ig­nore the rest of this post.

  • It’s pos­si­ble that some of these ques­tions are no longer “open”.

  • I’ve in­cluded some things that aren’t ex­plic­itly writ­ten as col­lec­tions of re­search ques­tions, as long as re­search ques­tions could very eas­ily be in­ferred from them (e.g., from the prob­lems peo­ple iden­tify, or the posts peo­ple want writ­ten).

  • You can also find a Google Doc ver­sion of this post here; as ex­plained at the bot­tom of this post, I hope that that can grow into some­thing much bet­ter than this.

Var­i­ous EA-re­lated topics

Mostly fo­cused on longter­mism, ex­is­ten­tial risks, or GCRs

Mostly fo­cused on AI

Fairly tech­ni­cal (I think)

Less tech­ni­cal /​ AI strat­egy /​ AI gov­er­nance

Mostly fo­cused on biorisk or coronavirus

Cause pri­ori­ti­sa­tion/​global priorities

An­i­mal welfare

(Per­haps Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship and Re­think Pri­ori­ties have rele­vant col­lec­tions or re­search agen­das?)

Global health and development

Im­por­tant un­re­solved re­search ques­tions rele­vant to macroe­co­nomic policy—Open Philan­thropy Pro­ject, 2014

(Per­haps Char­ity En­trepreneur­ship and GiveWell have rele­vant col­lec­tions or re­search agen­das?)

Other ar­eas many EAs are in­ter­ested in

Im­prov­ing in­sti­tu­tional de­ci­sion-mak­ing & forecasting

Rationality

Men­tal health, hap­piness, etc.

Other?

I’d guess there are other rele­vant ar­eas for which re­search ques­tions have been col­lected some­where.

Po­ten­tial lists of lists which I haven’t prop­erly taken the lists from yet

What this could be­come (with your help!)

As noted ear­lier, I hope this can help some of the many won­der­fully cu­ri­ous EAs out there to find im­por­tant ques­tions they can start plug­ging away at, to help guide us all in our var­i­ous efforts to im­prove the world.

But I’m sure that:

  • I’ve missed var­i­ous col­lec­tions of ques­tions, es­pe­cially for cause ar­eas other than longter­mism (my per­sonal fo­cus)

  • New col­lec­tions will be made in future

  • There are many in­di­vi­d­ual ques­tions that haven’t yet been col­lected any­where, or new in­di­vi­d­ual ques­tions that could be sug­gested (I’ve added some as “Com­ments” in the google doc already)

  • Some peo­ple would find this more use­ful if some­one ac­tu­ally pul­led out all of the ques­tions from those col­lec­tions and or­ganised them, by topic and subtopic and so on (with the origi­nal source of each ques­tion refer­enced).

    • This could be in one cen­tral doc­u­ment, in a “fam­ily” of in­ter­linked doc­u­ments (e.g., one for each broad cause area), in a spread­sheet, or in a wiki-style page.

And I think we could do more to in­spire and sup­port peo­ple to ac­tu­ally in­ves­ti­gate these ques­tions than just as­sem­ble a big list. For ex­am­ple, we could some­how “at­tach” to each ques­tion, per­haps as com­ments or in­dented bul­let points, things like:

  • thoughts on how to ap­proach the question

  • po­ten­tial break­downs into subquestions

  • links to rele­vant resources

  • links to draft doc­u­ments where some­one has be­gun an­swer­ing cer­tain questions

  • “tags” in­di­cat­ing what sort of skills or back­grounds are re­quired for an­swer­ing each ques­tion or set of questions

  • offers of “prizes” (pay­ment) for suffi­ciently high qual­ity ex­plo­ra­tions of the ques­tions

    • Ideally, it’d be easy to offer the prizes, stipu­late the terms, and see the to­tal amount offered by ev­ery­one for a par­tic­u­lar question

And this could all be done col­lab­o­ra­tively. (Plus, I don’t ex­pect to have time to do it my­self.)

So here’s a Google Doc ver­sion of this post. Any­one can com­ment and make sug­ges­tions. Please do so, to make this as use­ful as it can be! (You can ei­ther say “some­one should prob­a­bly do X”, or just do go do X your­self.)

I’ll mon­i­tor and ac­cept changes reg­u­larly, and oc­ca­sion­ally up­date the post ver­sion as well. I’ll thank con­trib­u­tors at the bot­tom.

Also feel free to:

  • Du­pli­cate the doc

  • Create other docs and sug­gest links to them from this cen­tral directory

  • Let me know if you want to get full edit­ing per­mis­sions and be the per­son “in charge” of this doc

I’d be re­ally ex­cited to see this de­velop into some­thing that can re­ally help peo­ple ad­vance our move­ment’s col­lec­tive knowl­edge, and to see peo­ple ac­tu­ally ex­e­cut­ing on that—ac­tu­ally mak­ing those ad­vance­ments.

Thoughts from Aaron Gertler

I emailed Aaron Gertler of the Cen­tre for Effec­tive Altru­ism to ask his thoughts on how valuable some­thing like this would be, and what its ideal even­tual form might be. His re­ply, which he con­firmed it was ok for me to quote here, in­cluded the fol­low­ing:

I’m not sure how of­ten peo­ple ac­tu­ally look at these “open ques­tion” lists to de­cide on re­search pri­ori­ties, so I don’t know what kind of re­turn you’d get on your time. How­ever, some kind of Google Doc for this should ex­ist, and if your post is what causes that to hap­pen, I think it will be valuable (over time, some num­ber of peo­ple will even­tu­ally go look­ing for this sort of thing—I’ve been asked for it be­fore, and it will be nice to have a good place to send peo­ple).
A re­ally com­pre­hen­sive list of open ques­tions (which is reg­u­larly up­dated both with new ques­tions and with new re­sources rele­vant to old ques­tions) would be an in­ter­est­ing re­source, and is the kind of thing one could ap­ply for an EA Funds grant to sup­port; how­ever, I think you’d first have to make a case that such a thing would be used by at least a few peo­ple who oth­er­wise wouldn’t have picked very good re­search top­ics (the Effec­tive Th­e­sis use case is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this). It seems to me like any such list should be re­search-ori­ented (point­ing out where work can be done to re­solve con­fu­sion) more than de­bate-ori­ented (point­ing out what differ­ent peo­ple be­lieve), though of course your abil­ity to em­pha­size that will vary from ques­tion to ques­tion.

Hope­fully that can provide food for thought for peo­ple who might want to de­velop this idea fur­ther.

Thanks to all the peo­ple who cre­ated all the lists I’ve shown and/​or taken from here. And thanks to Aaron Gertler for his above-quoted thoughts, to David Kristoffers­son for helpful feed­back and ad­di­tions, and to Rem­melt Ellen for helpful com­ments.

This post is re­lated to my work with Con­ver­gence Anal­y­sis.