• Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact

  • Future People and Giving

    October 7th, 2011
    giving  [html]
    In talking to someone on Wednesday about what my goals and values were, they asked whether I valued the happiness of future people, or just current people. For example, if we could somehow make one hundred future children be born happier or healthier, is that equivalent to one hundred children now having the same gains? What seemed strange to me is that he seemed to think this was a question without a clear answer. But how is it different to help someone currently living far away that I will never meet than someone who won't be born for a decade who I will also never meet?

    There are practical issues with knowing whether I'm actually making a difference. Helping people in the future is riskier and harder to tell when you're doing well. Similarly, if you help people now, they may then go on to help others, doing more good the sooner they can start. I see these as practical reasons to do work now, however, not an issue of values. If a giant asteroid were 90% likely to hit earth in the next decade, I would spend money on helping some people be more likely survive long enough to reestablish humanity, even if that were nowhere near the most cost effective way to make current people happy.

    Which gets us into the question of existential risk. There are things that could end humanity. Nuclear war, asteroid impact, nanotechnology, major climate change, epidemics, and biowarfare, among others. Perhaps I could do more good trying to avert one of these very bad outcomes than by giving to effective charities trying to help people now.

    Evaluation for an existential risk organization is very difficult. If my charity administers vaccines, you can determine how effective it is by comparing some of the following metrics with a control group:

    • The number of people vaccinated
    • The number of people getting the disease
    • Self reported happiness
    • School drop out rates
    • Employment rates
    • Income

    What is a metric I can use to evaluate a charity that claims to be working to limit the risk of nanotechnology? How do I know if they are effective? Most charities are not effective, even with the best intentions, because it's really hard to do a good job without the feedback of the market. This makes me skeptical of charities like the SIAI that are trying to reduce a very unpredictable future risk.

    While I do think an effective charity working on limiting an existential risk might do more good for my dollar than village reach, I'm not sure there is one.

    Comment via: google plus, facebook

    Recent posts on blogs I like:

    What should we do about network-effect monopolies?

    Many large companies today are software monopolies that give their product away for free to get monopoly status, then do horrible things. Can we do anything about this?

    via benkuhn.net July 5, 2020

    More on the Deutschlandtakt

    The Deutschlandtakt plans are out now. They cover investment through 2040, but even beforehand, there’s a plan for something like a national integrated timetable by 2030, with trains connecting the major cities every 30 minutes rather than hourly. But the…

    via Pedestrian Observations July 1, 2020

    How do cars fare in crash tests they're not specifically optimized for?

    Any time you have a benchmark that gets taken seriously, some people will start gaming the benchmark. Some famous examples in computing are the CPU benchmark specfp and video game benchmarks. With specfp, Sun managed to increase its score on 179.art (a su…

    via Posts on Dan Luu June 30, 2020

    more     (via openring)


  • Posts
  • RSS
  • ◂◂RSS
  • Contact