Compilation of currently existing project ideas to significantly impact the world

by diegocaleiro4 min read8th Mar 201514 comments


Personal Blog

One of the problems the LW, EA, CFAR X-risk community has been faced with recently discussed on Slate Star Codex is the absorption of people interested in researching, volunteering, helping, participating in the community. A problem worth subdividing into how to get new people into the social community, which is addressed on the link above, and separate problem, absorbing their skills, ability, and willingness to volunteer, to which this post is dedicated: 

What should specific person Smith do to help in the project of preventing X-risk, improving the world, saving lives? We assume here Smith will not be a donor - in which case the response would be "donate" -  joined the community not long ago and has a skill set X.

Soon this problem will become worse due to influx of more people brought in by the soon to be published books by MacAskill, Yudkowsky and Singer coming out. There will be more people wanting to do something, and able to do some sorts of projects, but who are not being allocated any specific project that matches their skill set and values.

Now is a good time to solve it. I was talking about this problem today with Stephen Frey and we considered it would be a good idea to have a list of specific technical or research projects that can be broken down into smaller chunks for people to pick up and do. A Getting Things Done list for researchers and technology designers. Preferably those would be tractable projects that can be done in fewer than three months. There are some lists of open problems in AI and Superintelligence control, but not for many X-risks or other problems that some of the community frequently considers important.

So I decided to make a compilation of the questions and problems we already have listed here, and then ask someone (Oliver Habryka or a volunteer in the comment section here) to transform the compiled set into a standardized format.

A tentative category list

Area: X-risk, AI, Anti-aging, Cryonics, Rationality, IA, Self-Improvement, Differential Technological Development, Strategy, Civilizational Inadequacy, etc... describes what you have to value/disvalue in order for this project to match your values.

Project: description of which actions need to be taken in 3 month period for this project to be considered complete.

Context: if part of a larger project, which is it, and how will it connect to other parts. Also justification for that project.

Notes: any relevant constraints that may play a role, time-sensitivity, costs, number of people, location, etc...

For example at Luke's list of Superintelligence research questions, the first one:

  1. How strongly does IQ predict rationality, metacognition, and philosophical sophistication, especially in the far right tail of the IQ distribution? Relevant to the interaction of intelligence amplification and FAI chances. See the project guide here.

Would be rendered as

Area: FAI ; Project:  Read Rationality and the Reflective Mind, by Keith Stanovich, to become familiar with the model of algorithmic and reflective minds. For this project, investigating metacognition means investigating the reflective mind. Find ways to test Stanovich’s predictions and answer the questions in the previous section. Design the study to give participants tests which high a IQ should help with and tests which a high IQ should not help with. This step will involve searching through Rationality and the Reflective Mind, and then directly contacting Stanovich to ask which tests he has not yet conducted. Context: this is the first of two part sub-study investigating IQ and metacognition, and needs being followed by conducting a new study investigating the correlation. These parts are complimentary with the study of IQ and philosophical success, and are relevant to assess the impact that intelligence augmentation will have in our likelihood of generating Friendly Artificial Intelligence. Notes: needs to be conducted by someone with a researcher affiliation and capacity to conduct a study on human subjects later, six month commitment, some science writing experience.

Edit: Here is a file where to start compiling projects - thanks Stephen!

This is the idea.To gather a comprehensive list of research or technical questions for the areas above, transform them into projects that can be more easily parsed and assigned than their currently scattered counterparts and make the list available to those who want to work on them. This post is the first step in collection, so if there are lists anywhere of projects, or research questions that may be relevant for any of the areas cited above, please post a link to these at the comments - special kudos if you already post it in the format above. Also let me know if you would like to volunteer in this. If you remember any question or specific project but don't see it in any list or on the comments, post it. When we create a standardized list for people to look through it will be separated by area, so people can visualize only projects related to what they value.


Lists of ideas and projects:

Superintelligence Strategic List - Muelhauser

Mechanisms of Aging - Ben Best

Cryonics Strategy Space - Froolow

Ideas and projects:

Go to Mars - Musk

Make it easy for people within the community to move to US, UK.

Preserve Brains

Find moral enhancers that improve global cooperation as well as intra-group cooperation

Open Borders





14 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 10:27 AM
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If I can introduce a problem domain that doesn't get a lot of play in these communities but (I think) should:

End-of-life healthcare in the US seems like a huge problem (in terms of cost, honored preferences, and quality of life for many people) that's relatively tractable for its size. The balance probably falls in favor of making things happen rather than researching technical questions, but I'm hoping it still belongs here.

There's a recent IOM report that covers the presently bleak state of affairs and potential ways forward pretty thoroughly. One major problem is that doctors don't know their patients' care preferences, resulting in a bias towards acute care over palliative care, which in turn leads to unpleasant (and expensive) final years. There are a lot of different levers in actual care practices, advanced care planning, professional education/development, insurance policies, and public education. I might start with the key findings and recommendations (PDF) and think about where to go from there. There's also Atul Gawande's recent book Being Mortal, which I've yet to read but people seem excited about. Maybe look at what organizations like MyDirectives and Goals of Care are doing.

This domain probably has a relative advantage in belief- or value-alignment for people who think widely available anti-aging is far in the future or undesirable, although I'm tempted to argue that in a world with normalized life extension, the norms surrounding end-of-life care become even more important. The problem might also be unusually salient from some utilitarian perspectives. And while I've never been sure what civilizational inadequacy means, people interested in it might be easier to sell on fixing end-of-life care.

I can hardly agree more that end of life care is a major problem in the US. At age 25 I actually just got a living will and durable power of attorney document set up in the unlikely case of incapacitation after seeing within my own family just how important the latter document was to making sure that the medical system actually behaves in your interest when you can't direct it rather than acting out strange motions that just cause pain, and inferring that the former would also be quite useful in the case of particularly severe unexpected issues.

Breakdowns of larger questions or projects present in any of the lists above into smaller chunks within the format also much appreciated.

Example: Area: Cryonics Project: Scan 2mm by to 2mm voxel of a vitrified brain of someone who did not want to be cryopreserved, slicing it in slices at least 100nm thin, and using current technology see to what extent an axonal projection brainmap of this area could be generated in comparison to a non vitrified brain which has been through a different or no process post-mortem. Notes: Needs research approval, funds, at least two people etc... etc...

Would be an example of breakdown of "Preserve Brains", already delivered in the suggested format.

Wouldn't you want to try that on animals first?

That's just an example.

[-][anonymous]7y 3

Extend female fertility, postpone menopause etc. It is the technological solution to the social effects of The Pill, which gave the choice to women to not have kids (without resorting to celibacy), extending the possibility of the choice to have kids later into life, in the fities, sixties is IMHO the logical way to revert some of its effects (such as smart people not reproducing their genes enough). Do you want a higher IQ population, an eugenic effect without threating anyone's liberty? Help smart women have more kids by giving them more time to make this choice. For people worrying about human genes / IQ this is IMHO a very good idea.

Why do you expect that extending the child-bearing age will eugenically improve IQ? In other words, why do you think that there will be more high-IQ old mothers than low-IQ old mothers?

Why do you expect that extending the child-bearing age will eugenically improve IQ? In other words, why do you think that there will be more high-IQ old mothers than low-IQ old mothers?

Part of that could be expecting current trends to continue--that is, higher IQ women are more likely to attempt to have children later in life, and because fertility is lower at higher ages, they end up having fewer children overall. If people stop having children because they have enough, rather than because they are biologically unable to have more, this should have at least a counter-dysgenic effect, though not necessarily a eugenic one.

If people stop having children because they have enough, rather than because they are biologically unable to have more, this should have at least a counter-dysgenic effect

Unless high-IQ women stop because they had enough and low-IQ women stop because they are biologically unable to have any more -- in which case the effect will be dysgenic.

[-][anonymous]7y 0

I expect children have a diminishing marginal utility. Enough is enough, when all your free time and money is used up by them, even less intelligent people tend to stop. I think.

I expect that in vitro selection for IQ is an easier problem to solve and will have greater impact on the population's IQ.

The creation of better resources for online communication and collaboration. There is so much that can be done here.

Google wave was fantastic it was a shame it was killed. Rizzoma improved this concept by adding todos and the ability to tag people, but unfortunately their interface was still clunky and had performance issues.

Stackoverflow revolutionised the question and answer model for programming, but open source clones appear to be far inferior, and so creating one of these sites is subject to a single gatekeeper.

The mailing list and forum models have had long periods of stagnation. Recently, and Discourse demonstrated that there was value in modernising these tools. This demonstrates that it is worth taking another look at these tools to see what can be done with them.