Online Optimal Philanthropy Meeting

by theduffman1 min read28th Oct 20128 comments


Personal Blog

Update: The meeting will occur at 1.30pm Australian Eastern Daylights Savings time on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 in Australia (Monday evening in the Americas) on Google+ Hangouts.

Topics will include how to make near mode progress on far mode problems, the potential for cascades, cycles and recursive loops eg AI and idea propagation to dominate effective altruistic concern. Also, theories and plans can be proposed by all participants.


Why meet online?

Lots of us want to improve the world. By donating, performing rationality training, inspiring one and other and so on. 

We're all in a state of limited information regarding how to best help. In hotspots for effective altruism like San Francisco and Oxford, effective altruists (EAs) are able to get high quality feedback on their ideas. But elsewhere, constructive,  creative input is of limited supply.

Face-to-face meetups have so far been organised by The High Impact NetworkGiving What We Can and these clearly allow members to complement one and others' knowledge, skills and resources (time, funding, etc), while boosting each others' determination.

One would expect online meetups to offer qualitatively similar benefits. The comparative advantage of online EA meetups could be:

1. helping experienced EAs to share the most up-to-date information and ideas quickly between geographically disparate meetups.

2. to inspire otherwise isolated EAs

3. to explore the utility of online video and other technology for spreading EA knowledge and skills.


Sounds good. How can I help?

I have written a draft task-list including an agenda here. I encourage you to email me for access before the meetup itself.

I have created a Whenisgood time chart here. Please use it to indicate when you are available to meet. 



At 1.30pm Melbourne Australian time on Google+ Hangouts. Do add me to your circles and expect an invite.


See you then.

- Theduffman | THINK Melbourne organiser | former Felicifia admin

8 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 11:47 AM
New Comment

Thanks for setting this up! (It feels like about the right length of time has passed since the last one, so thanks for taking the initiative).

A general comment on the agenda: I feel like it's too broad. Discussion of "Utility of EA organisations", "rationality" or "x-risk" could each easily fill a meeting - I'd prefer we pick just one of them and list some subtopics on the agenda. That way we'll come with a better idea of what we're going to be talking about and hopefully avoid just rehashing what we already know.

You're right. I changed X-risk to 'critique nick's four classes', cut 'rationality' and postponed the discussion of utility of EA organisations.

If we're focusing on Nick's four classes, can he write up a more in depth description of them and post them here, so that we can think about them in more detail.

Good point. I've contacted him. I suppose we should discuss it at a later date instead.

I suggest as an alternative topic of discussion - identifying cascades, cycles, insights and recursive loops that might be available to altruistic actions. An abstract but important issue.

"Cascades are when one development leads the way to another - for example, once you discover gravity, you might find it easier to understand a coiled spring.

Cycles are feedback loops where a process's output becomes its input on the next round. As the classic example of a fission chain reaction illustrates, a cycle whose underlying processes are continuous, may show qualitative changes of surface behavior - a threshold of criticality - the difference between each neutron leading to the emission of 0.9994 additional neutrons versus each neutron leading to the emission of 1.0006 additional neutrons. k is the effective neutron multiplication factor and I will use it metaphorically.

Insights are items of knowledge that tremendously decrease the cost of solving a wide range of problems - for example, once you have the calculus insight, a whole range of physics problems become a whole lot easier to solve. Insights let you fly through, or teleport through, the solution space, rather than searching it by hand - that is, "insight" represents knowledge about the structure of the search space itself. and finally,

Recursion is the sort of thing that happens when you hand the AI the object-level problem of "redesign your own cognitive algorithms".

What concerns me is whether this will lead to specific, new knowledge or concrete actions. I feel like we talk a lot about big ideas in a vague sense and small ideas in a concrete sense. I'd like to be able to talk about big ideas more concretely (though if need be, breaking them down into smaller chunks).

I don't actually have a recommendation right now (although I plan on talking with a few local people tonight and hopefully generate ideas). But I think as many people as possible should come to this online meetup with a concrete list of things to talk about - last time we covered a few new ideas but the discussion was sort of meandering. I think pre-planned mini-presentations would help a lot.

I have a recommendation: set the focus of the discussion to be "how do we make near-mode progress on far-mode problems?"

Just to prime you on the sort of things I'd expect to come up:

  • "discussion of abstract concepts". Many of us feel we already do too much of this, comparatively speaking.
  • "identify measurable goods produced by orgs like SI or FHI". We can't directly measure xrisk, but we can measure things like papers produced or awareness-generating media coverage.
  • "get expert opinion on the value of these goods" and see how wide the spread of opinion is.
  • "build good relationships with experts" , try and find out what's really going on inside their minds and where the core disagreements come from.
  • "build a consensus on guidelines for rational debate"

Just to be clear, those points aren't a suggested agenda for a meeting but rather they're an example of what I'd expect to come out of a meeting - a list of points that a researcher could conceivably start working on tomorrow, and which (while they don't directly address the main issues) would seem to be aimed at directly tackling relevant stuff.

Alexander Berger from GiveWell has written back to me regarding individuals funding GW, so I'll bring that up in the meeting.

Could you edit this page to say that it will be on Tuesday, November 6, 2012 in Australia? (Monday evening in the Americas)

EDIT: Thanks!