Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 04 February 2017 06:09:32PM 6 points [-]

I'm glad you're thinking about this. Investing is an important issue and I believe there's room for more discussion of the topic.

[I]t is commonly accepted by now that altruists should generally be less financially risk averse than other people. This implies that we shouldn't worry too much about diversification, but only about expected value.

False. By diversifying, you can increase your risk at any given level of return, which also means you can increase your return at any given level of risk. (These are dual optimization problems).) You should also be concerned about correlation with other altruistic investors, and most investors put way too much money in their home country (so mostly the US and UK).

I don't know that you are claiming this, but you sort of imply it, so to be clear: you should not believe that US stocks have higher expected returns than any other country. If anything, you should believe that the US market will perform worse than most other countries because it's substantially more expensive. Right now the US has a CAPE ratio of 26, versus 21 for non-US developed markets and 14 for emerging markets. CAPE ratio strongly predicts 10-year future market returns.

On the covariance-with-charities issue: I'm doubtful that this consideration matters enough to substantially change how you should invest. If your investments can perform 2 percentage points better by investing in emerging markets rather than developed markets (which they probably can), I would expect this to outweigh any benefits from increased covariance. I would need to see some sort of quantitative analysis to be convinced otherwise.

I'm also not convinced that we should actually want to increase covariance rather than decreasing it. By increasing covariance you increase expected value by expanding the tails, but I don't believe we should be risk-neutral at a global scale because marginal money put into helping the world has diminishing utility.

Similar concerns apply to investing in companies that are correlated with AI development. AI companies tend to be growth stocks, which underperform the market in the long run compared to value stocks.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 24 December 2016 08:38:08PM 13 points [-]

I'm glad that you write this sort of thing. 80K is one of the few organizations that I see writing "why you should donate to us" articles. I believe more organizations should do this because they generally know more about their own accomplishments than anyone else. I wouldn't take an organization's arguments as seriously as a third party's because they're necessarily biased toward themselves, but they can still provide a useful service to potential donors by presenting the strongest arguments in favor of donating to them.

I have written before about why I'm not convinced that I should donate to 80K (see the comments on the linked comment thread). I have essentially the same concerns that I did then. Since you're giving more elaborate arguments than before, I can respond in more detail about why I'm still not convinced.

My fundamental concern with 80K is that the evidence it its favor is very weak. My favorite meta-charity is REG because it has a straightforward causal chain of impact, and it raises a lot of money for charities that I believe do much more good in expectation than GiveWell top charities. 80K can claim the latter to some extent but cannot claim the former.

Below I give a few of the concerns I have with 80K, and what could convince me to donate.

Highly indirect impact. A lot of 80K's claims to impact rely on long chains such that your actual effect is pretty indirect. For example, the claim that an IASPC is worth £7500 via getting people to sign the GWWC pledge relies on assuming:

  • These people would not have signed the pledge without 80K.
  • These people would not have done something similarly or more valuable otherwise.
  • The GWWC pledge is as valuable as GWWC claims it is.

I haven't seen compelling evidence that any of these is true, and they all have to be true for 80K to have the impact here that it claims to have.

Problems with counterfactuals.

When someone switches from (e.g.) earning to give to direct work, 80K adds this to its impact stats. When someone else switches from direct work to earning to give, 80K also adds this to its impact stats. The only way these can both be good is if 80K is moving people toward their comparative advantages, which is a much harder claim to justify. I would like to see more effort on 80K's part to figure out whether its plan changes are actually causing people to do more good.

Questionable marketing tactics.

This is somewhat less of a concern, but I might as well bring it up here. 80K uses very aggressive marketing tactics (invasive browser popups, repeated asks to sign up for things, frequent emails) that I find abrasive. 80K justifies these by claiming that it increases sign-ups, and I'm sure it does, but these metrics don't account for the cost of turning people off.

By comparison, GiveWell does essentially no marketing but has still attracted more attention than any other EA organization, and it has among the best reputations of any EA org. It attracts donors by producing great content rather than by cajoling people to subscribe to its newsletter. For most orgs I don't believe this would work because most orgs just aren't capable of producing valuable content, but like GiveWell, 80K produces plenty of good content.

Perhaps 80K's current marketing tactics are a good idea on balance, but we have no way of knowing. 80K's metrics can only observe the value its marketing produces and not the value it destroys. It may be possible to get better evidence on this; I haven't really thought about it.

Past vs. future impact.

80K has made a bunch of claims about its historical impact. I'm skeptical that the impact has been as big as 80K claims, but I'm also skeptical that the impact will continue to be as big. For example, 80K claims substantial credit for about a half dozen new organizations. Do we have any reason to believe that 80K will cause more organizations to be created, and that they will be as effective as the ones it contributed to in the past? 80K's writeup claims that it will but doesn't give much justification. Similarly, 80K claims that a lot of benefit comes from its articles, but writing new articles has diminishing utility as you start to cover the most important ideas.


In summary, to persuade me to donate to 80K, you need to convince me that it has sufficiently high leverage that it does more good than the single best direct-work org, and it has higher leverage than any other meta org. More importantly, you need to find strong evidence that 80K actually has the impact it claims to have, or better demonstrate that the existing evidence is sufficient.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 23 December 2016 04:31:09AM 2 points [-]

I am not donating any money this year, but I did promise GFI that I would donate $25,000 to it early next year. I discussed this with GFI and we agreed that this was about as good as donating the money immediately.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 19 December 2016 12:51:52AM 1 point [-]

This article is long enough that it would be helpful to put a table of contents at the top.

Comment author: Rick 09 December 2016 05:00:02PM 0 points [-]

So, this may be an unpopular opinion, but I for one am quite glad that these discussions are being down-voted.

When we consider entertaining these discussions, we can take a consequentialist viewpoint and run a simple cost/benefit analysis to determine if entertaining the discussions is a good idea, such as the following: Benefits = (tractability: chance entertaining discussion will lead to changes in EA thinking) * (impact: amount of marginal good that will occur if change in EA thinking occurs) * (maybe an uncertainty discount, depending on your preference) + (improved reach: benefits of bringing in new EAs who are amicable to these arguments) + (value externalities: benefits that arise from fomenting a culture of openness to new ideas among EAs) Costs = (decreased reach: harms of causing EAs not amicable to these arguments to become disenchanted with EA) + (reputational risk: harms that would arise if people started saying "EAs seem to be amenable to alt-right discussions", which in turn would further scuttle our already struggling efforts to diversity the EA movement and repaint ourselves in a better light)

People pushing the above arguments clearly think that the potential impacts of integrating these thoughts into EA are very very high (e.g., a lot more conservative people could join EA, we'd avert WWIII or something, etc.), even if they admit that the tractabillity is quite low, hence why they are pushing so strongly.

However, I, and many other EAs, believe very strongly that the costs (reputation risk + harming our ability to reach more potential EAs) are higher than the potential benefits. I'd also say that, for many of us, the estimated sign on "amount of marginal good that will occur if change in EA thinking occurs" associated with the above arguments is actually negative, for a variety of reasons.

Now, the people arguing for these arguments will most likely say "but what about intellectual diversity and freedom of speech!" To which I retort A) freedom of speech and the ideals of liberty do not mean that I have to spend my time entertaining your thoughts or that I need to write 10 pages explaining why, exactly, I think you are mistaken, and B) as a consequentialist, I am a fan of pushing and supporting equal intellectual diversity as a vehicle for good, and in this case I very strongly think that entertaining this particular form of intellectual diversity will cause much more harm than good. I do think that we need to push for more intellectual diversity in the EA movement, but there are much better ways to do this than entertain this sort of discussion.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 10 December 2016 05:07:05AM 5 points [-]

I don't believe people should vote on posts based on whether they believe the posts do net benefit or net harm. That's what a naive utilitarian approach would suggest, but I don't think we should take a naive utilitarian approach. Instead we should vote based on how meaningfully the post contributes, even if we believe the conclusion is wrong.

I disagree with your claim that we should censor "bad" opinions and I believe this sort of behavior damages healthy discourse in the long run. I'm not downvoting your comment because that would go against my beliefs about how people ought to vote on things. Actually I'm upvoting it because you're saying something relatively novel and it made me think about things in a way I hadn't before.

I do think that we need to push for more intellectual diversity in the EA movement, but there are much better ways to do this than entertain this sort of discussion.

I'd be interested in knowing what ways you think would be better.

Comment author: Owen_Cotton-Barratt 09 December 2016 03:20:52PM 5 points [-]

Thanks for the write-up. I'm excited about people presenting well thought-through cases for the value of different domains.

I want to push back a bit against the claim that the problem is time-sensitive. If we needed to directly specify what we valued to a powerful AI, then it would be crucial that we had a good answer to that by the time we had such an AI. But an alternative to directly specifying what it is that we value is to specify the process for working out what to value (something in the direction of CEV). If we can do this, then we can pass the intellectual work of this research off to the hypothesised AI. And this strategy looks generally very desirable for various robustness reasons.

Putting this together, I think that there is a high probability that consciousness research is not time-critical. This is enough to make me discount its value by perhaps one-to-two orders of magnitude. However, it could remain high-value even given such a discount.

(I agree that in the long run it's important. I haven't looked into your work beyond this post, so I don't (yet) have much of a direct view of how tractable the problem is to your approach. At least I don't see problems in principle.)

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 09 December 2016 04:04:09PM 4 points [-]

This is enough to make me discount its value by perhaps one-to-two orders of magnitude.

So you'd put the probability of CEV working at between 90 and 99 percent? 90% seems plausible to me if a little high; 99% seems way too high.

But I have to give you a lot of credit for saying "the possibility of CEV discounts how valuable this is" instead of "this doesn't matter because CEV will solve it"; many people say the latter, implicitly assuming that CEV has a near-100% probability of working.

Comment author: HenryMaine 09 December 2016 09:09:59AM *  6 points [-]

I cited Breitbart, Daily Express, and Sputnik for quotes from intelligence chiefs. Is there any reason to believe that they would fabricate quotes from public figures?

My article quotes a variety of sources, including perfectly mainstream sources like Reuters, CBS, local Swedish news, and Vanity Fair. I included a link with a large amount of stats on Muslim integration, including Pew Opinion polls and official government reports of crime rates and sexual violence. I also included video footage from 60 Minutes.

Are these sources "unreliable" too? They paint exactly the same picture of Europe as the links from the mainstream sources. For example, I cited a Breitbart article on an attempt to sneak grenades and automatic weapons into Sweden. How do we evaluate this claim? We can look at one of the other links I provided: a Reuters article about Italian police catching a van with 800 shotguns coming from Turkey.

If we are in a world with 800 shotgun shipments was caught (Reuters claim), then this sounds like the same world where a shipment of grenades and automatic weapons was caught (Breitbart claim).

Rather than being unreliable, the general thrust of the alternative media's reporting on the migrant crisis is consistent with mainstream sources. However, these events mostly do not get amplified by the most prestigious blue tribe bubble: NYT, Atlantic, etc... And the ethnic strife, crime, and terrorism in Europe isn't accurately reflected in the opinion pages within the bubble.

To drive this point home, I will bring up a couple examples where the ethnic strife in Europe got so bad that the prestige media was forced to report on it.

Here is a headline from the New York Times on the Rotherham scandal: 1,400 Children in Rotherham, England, Were Sexually Abused, Report Says.

Some quotes from the article:

LONDON — A report released on Tuesday on accusations of widespread sexual abuse in the northern England city of Rotherham found that about 1,400 minors — some as young as 11 years old — were beaten, raped and trafficked from 1997 to 2013 as the local authorities ignored a series of red flags.

The vast majority of perpetrators have been identified as South Asian and most victims were young white girls, adding to the complexity of the case. Some officials appeared to believe that social workers pointing to a pattern of sexual exploitation were exaggerating, while others reportedly worried about being accused of racism if they spoke out. The report accused officials of ignoring “a politically inconvenient truth” in turning a blind eye to men of Pakistani heritage grooming vulnerable white girls for sex.

Here is the report the NYT is talking about, which was commissioned by the city of Rotherham (due to allegations that the city had known about the child sexual abuse and was covering it up). This report has some startling revelations:

In just over a third of cases, children affected by sexual exploitation were previously known to services because of child protection and neglect. It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated. There were examples of children who had been doused in petrol and threatened with being set alight, threatened with guns, made to witness brutally violent rapes and threatened they would be next if they told anyone. Girls as young as 11 were raped by large numbers of male perpetrators.

So, in addition to large weapons shipments into Europe, we now have poor girls getting doused with gasoline and gang-raped. Let me pause for a second and note how insane this would have sounded 5-10 years ago. And yet, here it is in the New York Times. This only scratches the surface of the ethnic tensions that currently exist in Europe.

Rotherham is not an isolated incident. The Cologne gropings were also so big (estimated 1,200 victims and 2,000 perpetrators) that the media had to report on it.

The establishment media admits that mass sexual assault towards women by Muslim immigrants is happening, and admits that terrorist attacks happen like Charlie Hebdo, Paris, but then drops the ball, and no sensible policy fixes are allowed to happen. Mass migration continues because politicians want it, and the media is in bed with them (consider which political parties the media supports, and which political parties the migrants will vote for).

The alternative media is at the forefront of accurate reporting on the migrant crisis, which can be verified through video footage, government crime statistics, and mainstream media agreeing with them on some of the most egregious events (when the event cannot be covered up).

If we are in a world where mass sexual assault is happening, and coverups are happening, and the mainstream admits it, then all of the other claims of alternative media and right-wing media (e.g. Muslim no-go zones, Muslim morality patrols, Sharia Law) suddenly seem much more credible, even if mainstream media denies those claims.

A world where thousands of girls are getting sexually assaulted by Muslim immigrants (admitted by mainstream media), and a world where Muslim no-go zones exist (denied by most mainstream media but verified by video), sound like the same sort of world: they both involve a violent clash of cultures with very different values. Rotherham and Cologne are sufficient to "crack" the multiculturalist narrative that such highly different cultures can integrate safely, and that anyone who disagrees is some sort of racist, right-wing xenophobe. Once that narrative is broken, then other examples of ethnic conflict gain credibility, and it is irresponsible to attempt to baldly dismiss them.

Establishment media—the "reliable sources" who claimed a 90% chance of Hillary winning—faces a crisis of trust. When the mainstream media refuse to honestly discuss reality, when it instead demonizes dissenters, then it's no surprise that people turn towards alternative media, fueling events like Brexit and Trump's election.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 09 December 2016 03:43:37PM *  7 points [-]

I'm sorry you're getting downvoted--I'm glad that you're providing a different perspective from the usual political opinions we see on the EA Forum.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 09 December 2016 03:38:31PM 6 points [-]

The concerns about US/Russian relations appear particularly important, and it's something that most people seem to overlook. It's plausible to me that a Trump administration has lower risk of causing an extinction-level event than a Clinton administration, and I've never heard a compelling argument for why other concerns matter more.

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 05 November 2016 03:16:09AM *  1 point [-]

I am willing to take bets on the following proposition:

By the end of 2021, at least one restaurant regularly serves cultured animal tissue for human consumption.

I may accept alternative propositions as well.

Caveat: I have spoken to some of the people involved in clean meat work which may have given me access to information that is not available to the general public.

(Edit: Changed bet wording.)

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 08 December 2016 10:04:36PM 1 point [-]

Nick Beckstead and I have agreed to bet $1000 at even odds on the proposition

By the end of 2021, at least one restaurant regularly serves cultured animal tissue for human consumption.

Comment author: RyanCarey 08 December 2016 12:03:00AM *  0 points [-]

If you had the right financial accounts, you might just short something, because that's very high variance and anticorrelated with other donors. edit: actually as Michael points out, it has the same variance (though it has more extreme downside risks)

Comment author: MichaelDickens  (EA Profile) 08 December 2016 03:41:26AM 1 point [-]

Going short on an asset has the same variance as going long, but with opposite expected value (actually slightly lower because of borrowing costs).

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