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Cornelius comments on Modelling the Good Food Institute - Oxford Prioritisation Project - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: Cornelius  (EA Profile) 19 May 2017 08:09:36PM *  3 points [-]

We have found this exceptionally difficult due to the diversity of GFI’s activities and the particularly unclear counterfactuals.

Perhaps I am not understanding but isn't it possible to simplify your model by honing in on one particular thing GFI is doing and pretending that a donation goes towards only that? Oxfam's impact is notoriously difficult to model (too big, too many counterfactuals) but as soon as you only look at their disaster management programs (where they've done RCTs to showcase effectiveness) then suddenly we have far better cost-effectiveness assurance. This approach wouldn't grant a cost-effectiveness figure for all of GFI, but for one of their initiatives at least. Doing this should also drastically simplify your counterfactuals.

I've read the full report on GFI by ACE. Both it and this post suggest to me that a broad capture-everything approach is being undertaken by both ACE and OPP. I don't understand. Why do I not see a systematic list of all of GFIs projects and activities both on ACE's website and here and then an incremental systematic review of each one in isolation? I realize I am likely sounding like an obnoxious physicist encountering a new subject so do note that I am just confused. This is far from my area of expertise.

However, this approach is a bit silly because it does not model the acceleration of research: If there are no other donors in the field, then our donation is futile because £10,000 will not fund the entire effort required.

Could you explain this more clearly to me please? With some stats as an example it'll likely be much clearer. Looking at the development of the Impossible Burger seems a fair phenomena to base GFI's model on, at least for now and at least insofar as it is being used to model a GFI donation's counterfactual impact in supporting similar products GFI is trying to push to market. I don't understand why the approach is silly because $10,000 wouldn't support the entire effort and that this is somehow tied to acceleration of research.

Regarding acceleration dynamics then, isn't it best to just model based on the most pessimistic conservative curve? It makes sense to me to think this would be the diminishing returns one. This also falls in line with what I know about clean meat. If we eventually do need (might as well assume we do for sake of being conservative) to simulate all elements of meat we'll also have to go beyond merely the scaffolding and growth medium problem and also include an artificial blood circulation system for the meat being grown. No such system yet exists and it seems reasonable to suspect that the closer we want to simulate meat precisely the more our scientific problems rise exponentially. So a diminishing returns curve is expected from GFI's impact - at least insofar as its work on clean meat is concerned.

Comment author: AshwinAcharya 20 May 2017 10:27:38PM *  2 points [-]

However, this approach is a bit silly because it does not model the acceleration of research: If there are no other donors in the field, then our donation is futile because £10,000 will not fund the entire effort required.

Could you explain this more clearly to me please? With some stats as an example it'll likely be much clearer. Looking at the development of the Impossible Burger seems a fair phenomena to base GFI's model on, at least for now and at least insofar as it is being used to model a GFI donation's counterfactual impact in supporting similar products GFI is trying to push to market. I don't understand why the approach is silly because $10,000 wouldn't support the entire effort and that this is somehow tied to acceleration of research.

There are two ways donations to GFI could be beneficial: speeding up a paradigm-change that would have happened anyway, and increasing the odds that the change happens at all. I think it's not unreasonable to focus on the former, since there aren't fundamental barriers to developing vat meat and there are some long-term drivers for it (energy/land efficiency, demand).

However, in that case, it helps to have some kind of model for the dynamics of the process. Say you think it'll take $100 million and 10 years to develop affordable vat burgers; $1million now probably represents more than .1 year of speedup, since investors will pile on as the technology gets closer to being viable. But how much does it represent? (And, also, how much is that worth?) Plus, in practice we might want to decide between different methods and target meats, but then we need to have a decent sense of the responses for each of those.

I agree that this is possible. I'd say the way to go is generating a few possible development paths (paired $/time and progress/$ curves) based on historical tech's development and domain-experts' prognostications, and then looking at marginal effects for each path.

Not having looked into this more, it seems doable but not-straightforward. Note that the Impossible Burger isn't a great model for full-on synthetic meat. Their burgers are mostly plant-based, and they use yeast to synthesize hemoglobin, a single protein--something that's very much within the purview of existing biotech. This contrasts with New Harvest and Memphis Meats' efforts synthesizing muscle fibers to make ground beef, to say nothing of the eventual goal of synthesizing large-scale muscle structure to replicate steak, etc.

And we have a lot less to go on there. Mark Post at Maastricht University made a $325,000 burger in 2013. Memphis Meats claimed to be making meat at $40,000/kg in 2016.* Mark Post also claims scaling up his current methods could get to ~$80/kg (~$10/burger) in a few years. That's still about an order of magnitude off from the mainstream, and I think you'd need someone unbiased with domain expertise to give you a better sense of how much tougher that would be.

*Note- according to Sentience Politics' report on vat meat. I haven't listened to the interview yet.