This page is for fellows currently participating in the Easter Term In-Depth Fellowship. To learn more about the In-Depth Fellowship or express interest in joining future programmes, go here.
Links for current fellows:
This week will focus on outlining how the Fellowship will work, answering any questions you have, and setting intentions for the Fellowship.
Making big decisions about our career choices, cause prioritisation, donations or political actions is really hard. Deciding the global allocation of resources, and how to cooperate across countries on governing emerging technologies and ending poverty is even harder. These difficulties don’t have to be terminal or lead to decision-paralysis. One approach in such situations is to develop a toolkit of techniques and heuristics to improve our judgement and understanding of the world, helping us decide how to act.
In the previous week, we focused on improving the accuracy of our judgement in the face of empirical uncertainty. This week, we’ll be thinking about how we can make decisions given our uncertainty about what we should assign moral value to and what kinds of ethical systems we should use.
Millions of pounds annually are diverted to GiveWell top-rated charities, predominantly focusing on global health and development. The impact of these charities are largely determined according to metrics such as QALYs, DALYs, and WALYs. Founders Pledge recommends climate change charities according to how many tonnes of CO2e they avert per dollar, as well as using the scale, neglectedness and tractability framework to determine which category of interventions to focus on. Animal Charity Evaluators used to use animals spared per dollar until 2019, at which point they moved to a more qualitative approach. Countless other organisations use similar metrics to prioritise their allocation of resources. But what do these metrics necessarily represent, how are they computed, and what are their limitations and assumptions?
The view that one of, if not the, most important determinants of the value of our actions today is how those actions affect the very long-run future has taken off in the Effective Altruism community, with far-ranging implications for our cause prioritisation and giving decisions, and raising further questions such as whether we’re living at the hinge of history.
Existential risks (x-risks) are those that threaten the entire future of humanity. The occurrence of an x-risk would clearly be extremely morally bad in the short-term, as it would cause tremendous suffering and potentially the death of everyone alive today. But, of course, the arguments for favouring work on reducing x-risks are enormously strengthened if one takes a longtermist approach. In this case, the moral cost of an x-risk would be astronomical, as it would entail the loss of all possible future generations and their achievements.
Last week, we investigated mitigating existential risk as one method of potentially increasing the value of the longterm future. This week, we want to focus on other ways in which we might be able to positively influence the trajectory of the future. One way in which we might contribute to this end is through promoting positive values. Other methods through which we might improve the longterm future could include promoting sustainable economic growth, creating altruistic, competent and influential institutions, researching global priorities, reducing wealth inequality, or by shaping the order in which different technologies might be developed. In this week, we’ll be talking about some of these different strategies and considering how tractable they might actually be.
We wrap up the fellowship by considering further steps and making plans on this basis.