I’m just a normal, functioning member of the human race, and there’s no way anyone can prove otherwise
Note that a bunch of posts on this topic have previously been written—so probably worth checking them out first: See: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/topics/aging-research
Many of these were from 3-5 years ago, so it could be worth providing an update. It could also be worth creating a really thorough overview of the various arguments in one post, assuming none of the previous posts are in-depth enough, or lots of points are spread out across numerous posts.
I agree that ‘most of the badness of death comes from the person losing future happy life’.
However, there are also other factors that are relevant to whether ‘preventing a person’s existence is close to as bad as killing them’ (this obviously also depends what is meant by ‘close to’).
The claim seems to imply that we are doing something almost as bad as murder if we are failing to have as many children as possible. But a society where legislation reflected this position would reduce the quality of life of people who don’t want many (or any) children, would force women into being baby-making machines, and would plausibly result in a situation where individual children aren’t viewed as particularly important (if one dies, well, no time to grieve—another one is on the way). This strikes me as more absurd and dystopian than advocating for human extinction.
From a consequentialist utilitarian perspective, there is also the impact on those that know the existing person.
The death of an existing person often causes suffering and loss for those that know them. Whereas preventing the existence of a future person typically does not cause this wider suffering (except perhaps in some cases, e.g. when parents strongly desire a child but are unable to conceive).
This is a reasonable argument, and seems quite plausible for farmed animals.
I think the biggest uncertainty here—at least in terms of impact on animals—is what each additional human life means for wild animals. If wild animals typically have net negative lives, and more humans reduces the number of wild animals, then perhaps family planning charities aren’t beneficial for animals overall.
“Write a long essay on the risks associated with writing a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank” :)
April Fool’s day is a time when many individuals and companies choose to play pranks on their friends, family, and clients for a good laugh. While it can be a fun way to break the monotony of daily routines, pranking others can sometimes backfire and cause unintended consequences. This is especially true when it comes to writing a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank.
One of the primary risks involved in writing a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank is the possibility of offending or upsetting someone. If the joke is crafted in a way that targets a particular individual or group, it could be viewed as insensitive, hurtful, or even discriminatory. This could lead to hurt feelings, angry responses, and even legal repercussions in extreme cases.
Another risk associated with writing a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank is the potential for it to be misinterpreted or taken seriously. In today’s age of social media, it can be challenging to discern what is real and what is not, particularly with short posts that lack context or nuance. If someone falls for the joke and shares it with others without realizing it’s a prank, the misinformation can quickly spread and lead to confusion or even panic.
Furthermore, writing a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank can also damage one’s reputation. If the joke is inappropriate, offensive, or causes harm, it can tarnish the image and credibility of the person or company responsible for it. This could lead to a loss in trust, credibility, and even business opportunities, as clients or customers may choose to distance themselves from the offender.
Ultimately, it’s essential to weigh the risks and rewards carefully before deciding to write a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank. While it can be a fun way to engage with others and break up the monotony of daily life, it’s critical to ensure that the joke is harmless, appropriate, and doesn’t cause unintended consequences. If in doubt, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and refrain from attempting a prank altogether.
In conclusion, writing a very short post as an April Fool’s day prank can be a risky endeavor. It can offend, upset, mislead, and damage one’s reputation if not carefully crafted and executed. As such, those who choose to participate in pranking others should take care to consider the potential consequences and risks involved before acting. The responsibility of ensuring that the joke is harmless and appropriate ultimately lies with the prankster, and it’s vital to remember this when attempting to prank others.
I welcome the footnote setting out the detailed cost calculation.
It is this commitment to rigour and transparency that demonstrates the intellectual and moral superiority of effective altruists compared to other humans, and, indeed, all sentient life.
Both Will and Toby place moral weight on the non-person-affecting view, where preventing the creation of a happy person is as bad as killing them!
I’m not sure supporters of non-person-affecting views would endorse this exact claim, if only because a lot of people would likely be very upset if you killed their friend/family member.
From the perspective of long-termism, it seems plausible to me that countries with very rapidly growing populations, and that don’t allow women the ability to control whether and when to reproduce, may be less politically stable themselves and may also contribute to increased political instability globally (I have no evidence to support this—happy to be corrected). My intuition is that increasing global political stability and improving quality of life should be a key priority for longtermists over the next hundred years (after reducing x-risk), and once this is achieved more emphasis can be put on increasing population—if humans/posthumans/AGI in the future decide this is a good idea.
Thanks for the reply and for the edits made to your post.
To me this underlines the point that individual donors aren’t best placed to set priorities for what a countries or population needs.
I agree with this, but I don’t know what this implies in terms of my decisions about where to donate.
An example: let’s assume that, if we ignore the six key issues discussed in your paper, a donation of £5000 to the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) will (in expectation) save one life.
If we now take into account the six key issues, what does that imply? If I understand correctly, the implication is that donations are creating negative externalities due to the impact on the institutions and decision-making of the recipient country.
Perhaps this means that donating to global health charities generally is (e.g.) 20% less cost-effective, and therefore for AMF we should assume it actually takes £6000 (in expectation) to save one life. That would be somewhat worse—but still very cost-effective compared to many donation opportunities. I’m not sure it would change the minds of individual donors interested in improving global health.
Alternatively, perhaps it is much, much more serious . Perhaps supporting charities like AMF are actually doing more harm than good overall, i.e. the six key issues causes by donations mean that donations are causing net harm—more lives and QALYs are lost because of donations. If true, this clearly should change the mind of every individual donor.
From very quickly skimming over your paper, I can’t tell where the reality lies. What would be your intuition? Mine is very much leaning towards the first position—assuming that donations are possibly a bit worse than the intervention-specific estimate implies, but not dramatically so (and, if GiveWell’s models take into account the influence on gov spending, perhaps their estimates have already partly adjusted for this).
Hi Tom, welcome to the forum :)
A suggestion: perhaps you could edit your post to include the key arguments/lines of thinking. Both articles seem pretty interesting—you might get more engagement if the key points are included in the main post rather than requiring people to click away and read through the documents.
From the abstract of the first article:
We propose a new model that aims to address these challenges: that domestic finances should support essential health services and health aid should primarily be used to expand the package of affordable services at the margin. Instead of targeting the most cost-effective interventions, donors should support countries to have strong and effective prioritisation processes and direct any additional financial support for health services to those that would otherwise not be covered by domestic funds
My understanding is that GiveWell sort of take into account how donations can influence government spending through the ‘leverage’ and ‘funging’ components of their models (e.g. see here). However, I don’t know to what extent (if any) they adjust their recommendations based on discussions with a country’s government or health service.
I suspect your proposed model is perhaps more suited to megadonors and government aid, rather than small donors (except perhaps where those donors are influenced by the same recommender, e.g. GiveWell), because I’m not sure how individual donors would be able to know which services would otherwise not be covered by domestic funds?
Thanks for the reply! I agree having a directory seems potentially useful, and also that there could plausibly be some cases where having familiarity with EA could be particularly beneficial. Hopefully you’re documenting such cases and can point to examples. I’m just a bit wary that sometimes there seems to be a reluctance to use outside experts.
I liked this and would encourage you to publish it as a top-level post.
How did you identify “services that there is a high demand for but not enough supply”? Is it simply based on the “quick look” you did, or is there some other evidence?
The absence of EA services could simply be evidence of sufficient non-EA services, in which case it’s probably worth thinking about the pros and cons of having EA services.
The most obvious justification seems to be to keep money in the community, and/or to provide services at a relative discount.
However, by relying on EA services there is a risk of missing out on the highest quality services that already exist: I can’t think of any particular reason why EAs would necessarily be better than the rest of the world at providing finance, legal, or tech services. Though perhaps in many cases this doesn’t matter—maybe EA orgs merely need ‘adequate’ rather than ‘best’.
Why is it inadequate to use language associated with Bayes in an informal analysis? Are you suggesting that when people communicate about their beliefs in day-to-day conversation, they should only do so after using Dirichlet or another related process? Can you see how that is, in fact, extremely impractical? Can you see how it is rational to take into account the costs and benefits of using a particular technique, and while empirical robustness may sometimes be overwhelmingly important in some contexts, it is not always rational to use a method in some contexts such as if there are too high costs associated with using it?
Please keep taking screenshots! I’m sure you wouldn’t want to mislead your audience by only showing part of the discussion out of context :)
While I expect some EAs and rationalists do actually use Bayes formally in their analysis, a lot of its use is informal, using language associated with Bayes to communicate an approach to updating beliefs.
From this informal perspective, clarity and conciseness matters far more than empirical robustness.
Not movies, but watching Star Trek as a teenager strongly influenced my views towards non-humans.
While the focus is typically on attitudes towards biological aliens, a couple of episodes are centred around the rights of artificial intelligence: The classic Next Generation episode ‘The Measure of a Man’, and Voyager episode ‘Author, Author’. Though they both focus on specific individuals (namely Data, and The Doctor) they do touch on broader consequences and reasoning.
Given that this only involved one week of research, this is a strong starting point for more in-depth work—which, as you have indicated, will likely result in a less cost-effective estimate.
One quick comment:
DALYs are bad. They measure the burden of disease. They represent years lost to mortality, and years lost to poor health. We want to avert DALYs. In a couple of places this post talks about averting DALYs, but it mostly seems to talk as if DALYs are a good thing being lost to diabetes.
Similarly your evaluative framework states that ‘A full, healthy life is equivalent to 61.09 DALYs’. This seems to be conflating DALYs with QALYs; QALYs are good—we want more QALYs.
Agreed that it doesn’t solve that specific problem, but it serves the same end goal: making things easier for the reader.
This post has some additional helpful tips, in particular having a summary/putting key points up front.
Hey Vasco—I love how your posts often bring together points about different cause areas, making connections between topics that those focused on particular causes are perhaps either unaware of or choose to ignore because they are complicated and inconvenient!
Do you have an estimate of how likely an abrupt sunlight reduction scenario (ASRS) is to occur over the next (e.g.) 100 years? My intuition is that for the cases of volcanic and impact winters it’s extremely low, perhaps less than 0.1%. In which case it probably comes down to the likelihood and consequences of nuclear war.
I also wonder to what extent food shocks could be mitigated by the development of plant (or fungi) crops that are much more able to tolerate ASRS conditions. I can imagine these sorts of crops might be developed for the purposes of space exploration, e.g. if humans attempt to establish permanent bases on the Moon and Mars over the coming decades.