80,000 hours

up:: Effective Altruism

80,000 hours starter guide notes

  • How pressing are the problems you would focus on?
    • Important (scale)
    • Neglected
    • Tractable: How much inpact per unit of effort? (solvability)

Rather than “any bit helps”, it’s identifying “what helps a lot”? Opportunity cost.

People hit peak productivity in their 40s-60s

  1. Making the world better —e.g. helping others.
  2. Acting rightly —e.g. respecting the rights of others and not doing wrong.
  3. Being virtuous —e.g. being honest, kind, and wise.

These correspond to consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics, respectively.

Utilitarianism is mostly about consequentialism.

What those folks propose is a much weaker utilitarianism though. The main point is one of scope: It is better to help 100 people than 1 person.

From a biblical standpoint, utilitarianism is probably preferable over hedonism.

Extending the ‘Golden Rule’ to future generations, animals and potentially sentient digital beings.

References Pareto Principle: Some programs are way more effective with less costs than others.

The UK’s National Health agency is willing to spend over 100. That’s 300x more effective. A career at AMF does as much good as 300 career ins the Health Agency.

This means that one individuals choice can make a significant difference.

Believing Effective Altruism presupposes two things: It is good to do good & it is better to help more people than fewer.

Life in the future is likely to be a lot better than now. Let’s not risk that. We’re glad the Romans didn’t let us go extinct.

  • Global R& D $ 1.5 trillion
  • Luxury goods $ 1.3 trillion
  • US social welfare $ 900 billion
  • Climate change > $ 300 billion
  • To the global poor > $ 250 billion
  • Nuclear security $ 1-10 billion
  • Extreme pandemic prevention $ 1 billion
  • AI safety research $ 10 million
RiskAt least 1 billion Human deadextinction
Number killed by molecular nanotech weapons10%
Total killed by superintelligent AI.5%5%
Total killed in all wars (including civil wars).30%4%
Number killed in the single biggest engineered pandemic10%2%
Total killed in all nuclear wars.10%1%
Number killed in the single biggest nanotech accident.1%0.5%
Number killed in the single biggest natural pandemic5%0.05%
Total killed in all acts of nuclear terrorism.1%0.03%
Overall risk of extinction prior to 2100n/ a19%

Since the poll was done by risk researchers, there might be some bias. Still, it gives an idea of which risks are highest. Comparing that with the list above, it’s easy to pick out which ones are important and neglected.

  • Targeted efforts to reduce
  • Broad efforts to improve
    • Institutional decision making
    • International coordination

Most extinction risks would also be very harmful to the current generation. So regardless of eschatological certainty, it is worth preventing.

Aim high

  1. Make a list of longer-term career paths you could aim towards.
  2. Think about how much positive impact you’d have if each path goes really well (what we call an ‘upside scenario’).
  3. Think about what will happen if the path goes badly. Modify or eliminate any options that might have a big negative impact — either on your life or on the world.
  4. Then, to choose between the remaining paths, seriously consider pursuing the one with the best outcome in the upside scenario.

Upside scenario: Top 5% or top 10% of options.

Expected value: A 10% chance of saving 200 lives is better than a 90% chance of saving 10.

Aim high while having a backup plan.

Better to pursue paths that could be amazing but that you’re also unsure about: informational capital (or so).

Career stages

  • Explore promising long-term roles. (Age 18-24)
  • Invest by betting on a long-term path, aiming high (‘seek upsides’) and building relevant career capital. (Age 25-35)
  • Deploy using expertise to find solutions in the world’s most pressing problems. (Age 36 and up)

“Most important century”

Boils down to two reasons

  1. Individuals have what used to be king-like wealth
  2. Pivotal transformative technological changes