The High Impact Network (THINK) - Launching Now

by Raemon3 min read8th Aug 201217 comments

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THINK, The High Impact Network, is going live this week.

We're a network of Effective Altruists (EAs), looking to do the most good for the most people1 as efficiently as possible. We aren't bound by a central cause or ethical framework, but rather by a process, and a commitment to rigor and rationality as we try to make the world a better place.

THINK meetups are forming around the world. Some are functioning as student groups at prominent universities, others are general meetups for people of all ages who want to make effective altruism a part of their life. As I write this, 20 meetups are getting ready to launch in the fall, and discussions are underway for an additional 30. If you'd like to connect with other EA-types, see if a meetup's forming in your area, or run your own meetup, send us an e-mail here, or visit our website.

We're putting together a collection of meetup modules, which newly formed groups can use for content at weekly meetups. These fall into roughly two categories:

  • Introductory materials, designed to teach the basics of Effective Altruism to newcomers.
  • Self Improvement tools, helping newcomers and veterans to become strong enough to tackle the difficult problems ahead.

Five sample modules are available on our website, and more are coming. If you have ideas for a module and would like to create you own, e-mail us at modules@thehighimpactnetwork.org.

But most importantly - we want bright, enthusiastic people who care deeply about the world to collaborate with each other on high impact projects. 


Optimal Philanthropy. Effective Altruism.

 

Less Wrong veterans will recognize the basics of Optimal Philanthropy, although we consider avenues beyond traditional charity. (The phrase "effective altruism" was settled on after much deliberation). For those unfamiliar, a brief overview.

Over the past decade, important changes have begun to take root in the philanthropy/altruist sector:

  • Organizations like Givewell, as well as a growing number of foundations like the Gates Foundation, are shifting the discussion of giving towards efficiency and evidence.
  • Groups like Giving What We Can and Bolder Giving are encouraging people to incorporate philanthropy into their lifestyle. You can donate 10% or more of your income and still be among the richest people on the planet, living a satisfying life.
  • The organization 80,000 Hours is promoting high impact career choice. You'll spent thousands of hours at your job. You can accomplish dramatically more good for the world if you optimize for it.

Above all, serious discussion is slowly mounting towards an incredibly important question - if you want to have the biggest impact you possibly can, what do you do?

Donating to provably efficient charities is an obvious first step, but more is possible. Systemic changes can have a powerful impact. New technologies have the potential to radically improve lives - as well as the capacity to destroy life as we know it. The Singularity Institute, the Future of Humanity Institute, Givewell and others are all in the process of grappling with this problem. I think it's fair to say that the Less Wrong community has had a noteworthy impact on the discussion.

We believe it's important that more people consider this question, and work on both the meta-tasks of comparing potential high impact causes, as well as the object-level tasks that follow. 

A New Kind of Community


These ideas have been spreading. The seeds have been sown for a new kind of movement, which we believe has the potential to change the world on a scale rarely seen - at least not in a deliberate fashion. The Effective Altruism movement is growing slowly, but we think it's time for it to explode into something powerful and good.
In many ways this is not unlike the existing Less Wrong community. The NYC Less Wrong meetup has had a profound impact on me, personally. I've learned to explore important new ideas, think rigorously. I've learned the value of having likeminded people to share both important problems and my day to day experiences with. Most importantly, I've developed a sense of agency - I've realized I can personally cause big things to happen.
Less Wrong is about general rationality, which people can apply to numerous areas. There's tremendous value to having that, without attaching it to any cause or even meta-cause. But there's room for more than one community (truth be told I think everyone should have at least two tribes that don't fully intersect). There's an Eliezer quote I've been thinking about lately:
"Should the Earth last so long, I would like to see, as the form of rationalist communities, taskforces focused on all the work that needs doing to fix up the world."

Among the most valuable things the Less Wrong community has taught is the importance of... well, community. For Effective Altruism to be successful as a movement and a lifestyle, it needs people working together who share a passion for it, a commitment to intellectual rigor, and a sense of humor. People who can help each other grow, collaborate on important projects, and more.

 

THINK. The High Impact Network. Ready to launch this fall.


After just two months of work, we have approximately 30 volunteers and 6 directors, putting an average of 170 hours per week into THINK. Twenty meetups are gearing up to launch, with discussions going to set up another thirty. Our English-speaking Facebook group has 103 members as I write this, and in just a week the Swedish-speaking group based in Stockholm went from 3 to 57 members.
This is just the beginning. We're ready to start tackling the world's biggest problems, and we hope you are too.

 


 

1 Where by "help 'people'" we mean "and animals too." Depending on your ethical framework. Probably not including clams. Quite possibly including future sentient beings of various sorts. It's complicated. Come to a meetup, we'll talk about it.

 

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Cute footnote. Are there any example project ideas being kicked around that you could describe?

We've got a brainstorming google doc for internal use, which will eventually be graduated to an "open projects" page. A few possibilities include:

1) Read through existing literature on potential high impact causes (ideally multiple sources with conflicting theses) and summarize it. Compile the info into a document that makes it easy to figure out what causes and solutions are worth examining in greater detail. (Coordinate with of THINK folk to avoid duplicate efforts, unless you deliberately want to get multiple views on a particular paper or book)

2) If you're a student group, convince a local school-based charity (i.e. some frat houses, other philanthropy student groups) to shift their priorities to higher impact causes

3) Campaign for your state to become "opt-out" rather than "opt-in" for organ donation.

4) Campaign to get academic journals to require preregistration of studies to combat publication bias.

Because THINK is primarily a network of young people, it might be worth getting into the math of financial planning. I'm a high school senior, and would very much like to make the most difference I can, but I'm a little lost on basic things like income and banks and taxes which people somehow pick up as they get older. General financial advice is too vague and doesn't focus on reducing suffering.

I, personally, would like to know things like "Which careers would optimize for the most lifetime impact, taking into account entry costs, income, probability of losing your job, opportunities to network, etc?" A medical degree costs a whole lot of time and money now, and could get you into debt - would the higher income lead to enough lives saved that it would be worth it? Would the higher probability of burnout and quitting make it not-worth-it again? Graphs of lifetime earnings, lifetime donations if you committed to donating a certain percentage of your income, projected job security, etc would be hugely helpful for me.

Edit: For example, I currently don't know how to program (beyond the absolute basics). Would learning how and doing my best to become a really great programmer be the best course of action for me in terms of the good I could do, even if it would take a decade or so to get any good? Or am I overvaluing programming because basically everyone here is a programmer?

I'm helping organize the Toronto meetup - anyone from the Toronto area who's interested can contact THINK through the website or PM me if you prefer.

Really excited about this!

Additional note:

We're like feedback on the meetup-modules in the "Ideas" section. If you have the time to read them in detail and provide comments (either here, via e-mail or PM), we'd appreciate it.

"Playtesting" them at existing Less Wrong meetups would be even more valuable.

"Playtesting" them at existing Less Wrong meetups would be even more valuable.

Yes, we tried this - and it's fun, too.

Glad to see 5 modules up there already - thanks to everyone who did the work producing these.

There are very, very few things I'm willing to be a walking advertisement for, so for what it's worth, when I saw your logo I thought "I want a T-shirt of that!" I suspect the conversations it would start and the potential donations it might inspire would be worth the price of the shirt, but that might just be a rationalization. Maybe my true reason is that I want to display tribe affiliation and it's just. So. Pretty.

Good to know. We'll need to address a lot of other pressing issues before we get to this but some T-shirt designs could definitely be valuable.

Nice logo! The first link in the page is broken.

You sure? Re-tested the first few links in a few different browsers and had a roommate do so as well. What happens when you click?

Supposed to go to: http://thehighimpactnetwork.org

Nice logo!

Thanks!

Sorry for the confusion, I fixed it when saw Luke's report, should've left a note.

Now it works. It was previously pointing to http://lesswrong.com/thehightimpactnetwork.org.

Weird - I did run into that but [thought] I fixed it in the draft 2 days ago. Huh.

You make claims that your movement is growing fast and that many people are already involved. These claims would be more credible you presented more evidence for how committed these people are. Joining a facebook group requires minimal commitment. It's even less impressive if THINK was free-riding from existing rational altruism groups.

When I look at the website, I don't see much evidence of 20 serious, well-organized groups being ready to roll-out three weeks from now.

Unrelated point: colleges have complicated restrictions on use of their logo. I'm not sure if your use is a problem, but you might want to check. See, e.g. http://www.clubsandsigs.harvard.edu/article.html?aid=106.

Definitely a legitimate concern.

What we actually have is around 50 potential groups, ranging on a spectrum from "might possibly happen" to "is almost certainly going to launch this fall" to "going to launch, and looks to be very strong right out the gate." The 20 meetups I referred to are groups with organizers which we've skyped with extensively, have talked about what needs to get done, and consider it highly likely that the group will launch successfully.

Realistically, some will likely flourish strongly and others will not. The primary difference in our strategy as compared to Giving-What-We-Can and 80000 hours is a massive outreach program. We've currently sent out e-mails to around a thousand students who are already involved with charity meetups or otherwise active in student groups. Our volunteers are continuing to research additional schools and find more people to recruit.

We're casting a wide net, and designing a system that is easier to replicate and self-propagate than existing EA networks.

Some of this is taking advantage of existing altruist networks (the responses from Harvard we've gotten mostly comes from an existing Effective Altruist meetup, and the primary difference is that now they'll have access to our meetup modules for weekly content). But we've also reached many new people. We're particularly excited about Boston University, where 8 people independently replied with interest in starting a meetup there, despite no existing Effective Altruist community.

The website will gradually be updated to showcase individual meetups and organizers. Signalling competence is certainly important, but it does take work beyond the actual competence and it was more important to start promoting the website than to make sure it was perfected first.

Unrelated point: colleges have complicated restrictions on use of their logo. I'm not sure if your use is a problem, but you might want to check. See, e.g. http://www.clubsandsigs.harvard.edu/article.html?aid=106.

Thanks. We'll look into that.

You might attract a broader audience if you removed references to Existential Risk and Transhumanism from your web page.

Transhumanism was put up recently and I would advocate against using that name. But for both of them, I think it depends dramatically on how you package it. "The Future of Medicine" doesn't sound so weird and can encourage people to go into research.

We are very conscious of how much "weird-budget" we have. If we remove all of the ideas that make us unique, then we end up being just a generic bunch of altruism-advocates. Existential Risk is also important, and simply removing it would defeat a lot of the point. But we are aware that if too many modules are too strange, we may lose people.