Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Modest Credit Where Credit Is Due File

A rare somewhat good editorial board piece in the WaPo.
Finally, there is the issue of where philanthropic focus should fall. Mr. Bankman-Fried was a supporter of the “longtermist” movement within the effective-altruism community. This group argues that existential risks to future humans — things such as superintelligent AI, pathogenic threat or nuclear catastrophe — are more important to counter than near-term risks such as global poverty or climate change. According to the numbers, longtermists say, it’s more valuable to prevent the loss of millions of lives in the future than to save one life today, so giving should be radically reoriented to counter the long-term threats they identify — with an undue sense of certainty — instead of helping people alive now. This is an arid conception of giving that flatters the fascinations of its adherents while excusing them from facing suffering in the here and now.
Thought the piece goes on to link approvingly to some Effective Altruism forum posts, who haven't adjusted their fascinations one bit, but are instead just mad their rich patron was a con man and the money is gone. 

In a way the "undue sense of certainty" isn't even the issue. If you don't discount the future, then conceptually you're just ranking equivalent infinities arbitrarily. This isn't just a math point, it's an area where grasping the math makes you understand the concept. The undue certainty just accentuates the silliness of the whole project. 

A billion humans alive from now until the year infinity sums up to the same number as 10 humans alive from now until the year infinity.  As does 10 billion humans living in misery versus luxury. Only have to keep one of their beloved shrimp alive in perpetuity (shrimp welfare is an odd obsession of theirs). 

An infinity of answers to the question "how do we maximize future welfare."

The problem, as defined, is gibberish, with the only implied priority being  eliminating extinction events.  They imagine this is what they are doing, but I don't think our boy Sam (or any of these ridiculous weirdos) has any specific expertise in extinction event management.