Announcing the Good Technology Project

Today we’re pleased to announce the launch of the Good Technology Project. The aim is of the project is to influence talented people within technology to work on higher-impact projects. To achieve that, our main objectives are to work out in more detail how we can do a large amount of good with tech, publish this information publicly, and promote it to technologists.

We think this could be high impact for a few reasons:

  • Technology has historically had a large impact on human welfare.

  • There are a lot of effective altruists in technical careers—especially in software—who could find more high impact work through our advice.

  • There isn’t much advice from the effective altruism community on how to have an impact with technology.

  • There’s a lot of existing expert knowledge on doing good with technology that would be much easier to access and consume as an individual if it were made accessible, collated and analysed.

On a personal level, the project speaks to our own needs. Both of us are software developers who would like to have direct impact with our work, but who feel that we don’t know how to do that effectively. We believe that there are many others in a similar position.

What will we do?

Our plan is to provide online resources for individuals and organizations who are trying to evaluate the impact of technology projects. This will help altruistic founders to pick good projects and potential employees to pick good employers.

We are starting by interviewing experts both in cause areas and in technologies, and creating case studies of existing high-impact technology projects. In the long term we hope to provide a guide to assessing the impact of novel projects, a list of project suggestions, and strategies for coming up with good ideas.

There are problems with our approach. There’s clearly overlap with EA Ventures, GiveWell, OpenPhilanthropy Project, and 80,000 Hours. It’s also unclear whether we should expect to be able to find good, tractable opportunities. We’ll be writing more about our strategy and testing our assumptions in the future, but we’d appreciate any comments or suggestions.

Where does the project fit in the effective altruism community?

80,000 Hours recently argued that the effective altruism community should concentrate more on filling talent gaps. We see our project as serving this need of shifting talent to more effective direct work.

We also plan to use existing work as much as possible. For example, when exploring causes we should be able to use the existing work from GiveWell and the Open Philanthropy Project. We also want to tap into the large pool of academic research around technical interventions, such as within the ICT for Development (ICT4D) field.

The organisation we are most likely to overlap with is 80,000 Hours, given that they aim to direct the work of talented people by giving advice. However, 80,000 Hours can’t do a detailed investigation of every career path, and within any career the bracket of “direct work” leaves a huge amount to be investigated. We could certainly see room for similar organizations in other areas like politics, health, or research, and we’d like to collaborate with them on finding important problems.

We’d love your feedback

This is a new project, and we’re very uncertain about all of it. We’d love to get your

feedback generally, and particularly on these topics:

  • What would success look like?

  • Are there any substantial downsides?

  • What are the most likely ways the project could fail?

  • What are the most likely ways the project could succeed?

  • How can we most effectively research how to do good with technology?

  • Anything else you think is important.

How can you get involved?

We’d love to talk to you if you’re interested in this project, and we’d particularly like to talk to the following sorts of people:

People who we’d like to help:

  • (Potential) technology entrepreneurs who want to have an impact with your project, whether you’ve already started something or you’re thinking about it.

  • Technology workers wondering how to have an impact with their work.

  • People involved in communities of technologists who might benefit from our work.

People we’d like help from:

  • Experts in cause areas who we can interview about how technology could be used in their cause area.

  • Experts in promising-looking technologies who could suggest ways of using them for good.

  • Researchers with knowledge of technology for good, the history of technology, economics of technology, impact evaluation, or any area you think would be helpful.

  • People with research experience who can critique the quality of our research.

Email us at (Richard Batty) or (Michael Peyton Jones) if you’d like to find out more. You can also sign up for our monthly mailing list on the website, and we’ll be posting new material on the blog regularly.