It occurred to me recently that if a group of people eradicated malaria, say by exterminating Anopheles gambiae via gene drives, they would not be paid. That sounds like a potentially embarrassing mistake, so I'm hereby pledging $5,000 to anyone that manages to accomplish such a thing. This way if someone from Dath Ilan materializes into our world and asks us judgmentally whether or not Earth would even pay people for eradicating malaria, we can all respond "Our society definitely has an explicit, preregistered financial reward greater than $0 in place for anybody that does that" and sidestep some awkwardness.
Below I have written out the details for this new bounty in FAQ form.
Malaria Bounty FAQ
What specifically will lc wire me $5,000 for doing?
I will give you $5,000 if you permanently reduce global annual mortality from malaria by 95% or more. Eligibility for the reward is independent to how this is actually accomplished, save for two restrictions outlined below in the sections about unilateral action and negative side effects.
How will lc assign credit for solving malaria? Does developing the deployed technique count?
The money will be given to the person or group that directly causes the reduction in deaths. If a pioneering group of researchers wants to get my money, they will have to follow through by successfully managing and executing the deployment of their clever research to prevent people from dying.
I would like to handsomely reward both groups, but there are already many existing charities you can extract money from in advance, if you're working on tools to end malaria and want funding for that. So far, none of the (awesome) people developing those tools have opted to use them, partly because they insist on getting permission from local African governments, which are delaying them for political reasons. I reserve hope that I will some day have reason to send these researchers money, after a few more million people have died, but in the meantime there's not as much marginal benefit.
So can I get the bounty via unilaterally deploying biotech?
No, and this is the major restriction on payouts.
By "unilaterally" I mean: I am not going to award this bounty if other people with a strong understanding of the science or existing efforts suspect the project is/was catastrophically net negative, or if a post on LessWrong about the project leads users to point out straightforward reasons why the project is catastrophically net negative, or if I believe you made no attempt to get such people to actually check and then change their minds (or engage with their arguments for 100+ hours) before going ahead. There must be broad-based consensus among smart, informed people prior to your project's creation and launch that what you're doing is at least not going to backfire terribly. If someone thoughtful and scope-sensitive does believe your project's approach is going to backfire terribly you need to both have talked to that person and thoroughly documented your disagreements beforehand and gotten the OK from most other thoughtful people that your disagreements are obviously valid.
To give an example of a party meeting this bar: Target Malaria, if they were to decide to deploy a gene drive in the next few years, I would not consider to be acting unilaterally. They are taking great pains to do boatloads of prior safety research and get the blessings of every conceivable relevant person. They are also making sacrifices to PR that do not seem like they decrease existential risk from such a deployment, but they are definitely sufficiently cautious in the relevant ways.
So do I have to apply somewhere?
Nope. You may decide to contact me and provide relevant evidence so I am aware that malaria has been solved, but I expect I'll be proactively contacting the organization that actually does this after I hear about them doing it through the news. You just have to have respected unilateralists' curse and actively achieved buy-in from the majority of the most informed, reasonable people.
What if someone non-unilaterally eradicates malaria, in a way that still causes a legible negative side effect that someone gets angry about?
In that case, I shall construct and consult an expert technology ethics review board, staffed by myself. This ethical review board will formally determine whether or not the bad thing is veritably and legibly bad enough to outweigh saving hundreds of thousands of lives per year. If the review panel's unanimous finding is that this is indeed the case, then the party responsible will not receive the $5,000.
Examples of some malaria reduction techniques which could cause someone to be disqualified by the expert panel include:
- Starting a nuclear war.
- Releasing an AGI that turns most of the earth into paperclips.
- Using dark magicks to lower Africa into the sea.
Examples of secondary effects that are explicitly noted not to disqualify award recipients include:
- Somehow-negative press coverage about particular groups the review panel likes, such as rationalists, effective altruists, or LessWrong users.
- Accidental eradication of a few non-mosquito species, in a manner that is not historically notable against the larger backdrop of the Holocene extinction event.
- Sternly worded condemnation by a government previously plagued by Malaria, which doesn't then go onto, say, start a pan-African war that kills a million plus people.
In general, the review board will be asking themselves: "Would we rather 200 million people a year start becoming afflicted with malaria than this have happened?" If they conclude not, then that is a strong sign they will not disqualify you for those results.
What if someone mostly eradicates malaria, and nothing bad happens to real breathing humans as a direct consequence, but in the process of doing so they violate illegible principles of self determination?
I will still pay that person $5,000.
What if more than one person seems directly responsible for solving malaria?
If they're all members of the same organization dedicated to doing that, the reward will be sent to that organization, and then its overseers can distribute it as they wish. If instead it's a group of less than ten unaffiliated people, then I will send a fraction of the reward to each of them. If the group has ten or more such individuals I will send 500$ to a random selection of ten people, in order to avoid large potential transaction fees.
Why not wait to start the bounty until you've gathered more money?
It's probably true that this post is not going to convince anyone to solve the problem that wasn't going to anyways. However at least half of justice is rewarding people if they do good things, such as saving millions of lives. So it seems better to me that the person or group who solves malaria gets $5,000 instead of $0, even if they didn't expect to, or weren't primarily motivated by money. And I may simply never get around to gathering a bigger pile of gold for this.
On the other hand, a larger and more commensurate bounty would prevent marginal embarrassment in case the extradimensional visitor asks followup questions. So I will certainly accept additional pledges from anybody that wants to add money to what I understand today to be Earth's sole bounty for ending malaria. Feel free to express interest by commenting here, DMing me, or contacting me over session. If someone does that, I'll go ahead and set up some kind of very small nonprofit with more formalized payout requirements.
Feel free to start your own bounty as well.
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