Hey David, yep not our finest moment, that’s for sure.
The critique writes itself so let me offer some partial explanation:
Extemporaneous speech is full of imprecision like this where someone is focused on highlighting one point (in this case the contrast between appropriate individual vs altruistic risk aversion) and misses others. With close scrutiny I’m sure you could find many other cases of me presenting ideas as badly as that, and I’d imagine the same is true for all interview shows edited at the same level as ours.
Fortunately one upside of the conversation format is I think people don’t give it undue weight, because they accurately perceive it as being scrappy in this way. (That said, I certainly do wish I had been more careful here and hopefully alarm bells will be more likely to go off in my head in a future similar case!)
I don’t recall people criticising this passage earlier, and I suspect that’s because prior to the FTX crash it was natural to interpret it less literally and as more pointing towards a general issue.
You can hear that with the $10b vs $0/20b comparison as soon as I said it I realised it wasn’t right and wanted to pare it back (“Maybe that’s an even bet”), because there’s no expected financial gain there. I should have compared it against $5b or something but couldn’t come up with the right number on the spot.
I was primarily trying to think in terms of the sorts of sums the great majority of listeners could end up dealing with, which is only very rarely above >$1b, which led me to add “or not really on the scale of the amount of money that any one person can make”.
If you’d criticised me for saying this in May I would have said that I was highlighting the aspect of the issue that was novel and relevant for most listeners, and that by the time someone is a billionaire donor they will have / should have already gotten individualised advice and not be relying on an introductory interview like this to guide them. They’re also likely to have become aware of the risk aversion issue just through personal experience and common sense (all the super-donors I know of certainly are aware of these issues, though I’m sure they each give it different weight).
All that said, the above passage is pretty cringe, and hopefully this experience will help us learn to steer clear of similar mistakes in future.
Hi Misha — with this post I was simply trying to clarify that I understood and agreed with critics on the basic considerations here, in the face of some understandable confusion about my views (and those of 80,000 Hours).
So saying novel things to avoid being ‘nonsubstantial’ was not the goal.
As for the conclusion being “plausibly quite wrong” — I agree that a plausible case can be made for both the certain $1 billion or the uncertain $15 billion, depending on your empirical beliefs. I don’t consider the issue settled, the points you’re making are interesting, and I’d be keen to read more if you felt like writing them up in more detail.
The question is sufficiently complicated that it would require concentrated analysis by multiple people over an extended period to do it full justice, which I’m not in a position to do.
That work is most naturally done by philanthropic program managers for major donors rather than 80,000 Hours.
I considered adding in some extra math regarding log returns and what that would imply in different scenarios, but opted not to because i) it would take too long to polish, ii) it would probably confuse some readers, iii) it could lead to too much weight being given to a highly simplified model that deviates from reality in important ways. So I just kept it simple.
I’d just note that maintaining a controlling stake in TSMC would tie up >$200 billion. IIRC that’s on the order of 100x as much as has been spent on targeted AI alignment work so far. For that to be roughly as cost-effective as present marginal spending on AI or other existential risks, it would have to be very valuable indeed (or you’d have to think current marginal spending was of very poor value).