Your June 2020 EA Newsletter    
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This has been an unusually difficult year. And for many of our readers, the last few weeks have been especially trying. We hope that some of the resources we’ve shared here ⁠— whether on COVID, U.S. justice reform, or other global issues ⁠— can help you find a way to make a difference.

As always, you can reply directly to this email with questions or feedback; we read every message.

— The EA Newsletter Team

News and updates from the world of effective altruism

One expert's recommendations on criminal justice reform

As a Program Officer for Open Philanthropy, Chloe Cockburn has spent the last five years looking for promising ways to reduce incarceration rates. 

In the wake of mass protests throughout the United States (and elsewhere), she has compiled a list of high-impact organizations working on criminal justice reform and racial equity, with different recommendations depending on the donor’s goals — from electing progressive prosecutors to funding movement-building in specific regions.

For more on how Open Philanthropy approaches this area in general, see their strategy document.

COVID donation strategies from the EA community

Overall, while we do not suggest that EAs redirect their giving away from effective charities they already support, especially in the global health arena, we do feel there are strong reasons for EAs to consider additional, COVID-specific giving.”

A group of EA community members recently joined forces to figure out where they should donate personal funds to reduce the global suffering caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The result: an EA Forum post outlining their strategy and recommendations, plus a database with dozens of reports on charities the group has looked into. This is some of the most useful writing we’ve seen from an EA perspective on opportunities for individuals to mitigate the impact of COVID-19.

Contending with the indirect impacts of coronavirus

“[The ongoing economic crisis] could push an additional 8 percent of our planet’s population into poverty — some 500 million people. That would effectively wipe out three decades of economic development.”

As the world struggles to contend with COVID-19, we are only beginning to understand the secondary damage caused by the virus. In an article for Future Perfect, Sigal Samuel highlights some of these consequences — from missed immunizations and cancelled clinical trials to a reversal of recent progress in reducing global poverty. 

Samuel concludes that, even when a single problem dominates the global conversation, “we’d do well to adopt a wider-angle view on human suffering” — that is, to avoid losing sight of older problems exacerbated by new conditions.

New breakthroughs in AI language modeling

Last year, we reported on the development of GPT-2, an AI system that set a new standard for high-quality text generation. Recently, the team behind GPT-2 published a paper on a new version of the system — GPT-3 — which demonstrates impressive new capabilities. 

The paper focused mainly on “few-shot learning”: Given a few examples of a task (e.g. translation from French to English), GPT-3 often does very well at performing the task with novel data, even without task-specific training.

Another notable result: Given a set of brief news articles, some written by people and others by GPT-3, human subjects were able to identify the AI-generated articles only 52% of the time. In some contexts, the system is nearly indistinguishable from human authors. 

This points to potential risks if similar systems become widespread. To quote from the paper: 

“Any socially harmful activity that relies on generating text could be augmented by powerful language models. Examples include misinformation, spam, phishing, abuse of legal and governmental processes, fraudulent academic essay writing, and social engineering. Many of these applications [are bottlenecked by the need for humans to] write sufficiently high-quality text. Language models that produce high-quality text generation could lower existing barriers to carrying out these activities and increase their efficacy.”

AI systems are likely to play a big role in how our civilization develops in the future; many people in EA view shaping and regulating these systems as critical to safeguarding human interests. For additional perspective on GPT-3, see the Alignment Newsletter and this post from Scott Alexander.
What motivates effective altruism?

The Centre for Effective Altruism (which helps to run this newsletter) recently curated a series of articles — some new, some classic — on some of the core ideas of EA:

This collection explores some of the ideas that motivate people to do as much good as they can, and how they apply across the causes and concerns of the EA movement.”

CEA is actively seeking feedback on whether these articles serve as a good introduction to effective altruism; if you read them, consider sharing your thoughts afterward!

In other news:

Timeless Classic

Ideas that have shaped the way we think about doing good

In the midst of a pandemic, we’re sharing a story about another disease that humanity was forced to confront — a story with a happy ending.

That story is Jai Dhyani’s “500 Million, But Not A Single One More.” We won’t spoil what it’s about, but we’ll share the beginning:

“We will never know their names.

"The first victim could not have been recorded, for there was no written language to record it. They were someone’s daughter, or son, and someone’s friend, and they were loved by those around them. And they were in pain, covered in rashes, confused, scared, not knowing why this was happening to them or what they could do about it — victims of a mad, inhuman god. There was nothing to be done — humanity was not strong enough, not aware enough, not knowledgeable enough, to fight back against a monster that could not be seen.

"It was in Ancient Egypt, where it attacked slave and pharaoh alike. In Rome, it effortlessly decimated armies. It killed in Syria. It killed in Moscow.  In India, five million dead. It killed a thousand Europeans every day in the 18th century. It killed more than fifty million Native Americans. From the Peloponnesian War to the Civil War, it slew more soldiers and civilians than any weapon, any soldier, any army.


"In China, in the 10th century, humanity began to fight back.”


Opportunities to work on some of the world's most pressing problems

80,000 Hours’ Job Board features more than 500 positions. 

If you’re interested in policy or global development, you may also want to check Tom Wein’s list of social purpose job boards.

If you want to hear about new positions as they arise (or post a position yourself), check out the EA Job Postings group on Facebook.

Effective Giving UK Open Philanthropy GiveWell Animal Charity Evaluators The Good Food Institute Fish Welfare Initiative Ought

Other featured roles

We’ve highlighted a selection of roles from 80,000 Hours which cover a range of cause areas, job types, and experience levels.

Research Assistant, Harvard University, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs (Boston)

Editor in Chief and Head of Content, Apolitical (London) 

Writer/Editor, Partnership on AI (San Francisco or remote) (apply by 30 June)

Project Coordinator, Future of Life Institute (remote)

Scientist, Genome Editing, Mammoth Biosciences (San Francisco) 

Research Assistant, Global Health Data Analysis, Center for Global Development (Washington, DC)

Director of Product, GiveDirectly (New York City) 

Intern, Data & Operations, IDinsight (remote)


Books, events, community projects, and more!

The EA community offers many online events during this time of worldwide lockdown: You can also look up your local EA group to attend events they may be running.

Nominate an unsung hero for FLI’s annual award

The Future of Life Institute (FLI) is seeking nominations for the Future of Life Award, a $50,000 prize given to an individual who, without receiving much recognition at the time, has helped make today dramatically better than it may otherwise have been.”

If your nominee wins the award, you’ll receive a $3000 cash prize from FLI as a token of their appreciation; you’ll also get money if you recruit someone who nominates a winner (or recruit someone who recruits someone who nominates a winner, and so on).

FLI's advice for finding nominees:

“Do you know someone who may know someone who’s worked in nuclear command-and-control or high-security biolabs and may know about a close call when someone averted disaster? Or someone who behind the scenes averted a war, massacre, pandemic or new type of arms race?”
Organizational Updates

You can see updates from a wide range of EA-aligned organizations on the EA Forum. (Organizations submit updates, which we edit for clarity.)

We hope you found this edition useful!

If you’ve taken action because of the Newsletter and haven’t taken our impact survey, please do — it helps us improve future editions.

(Actions we'd love to hear about include donating to charity, applying to a job, or joining a community group.)

Finally, if you have feedback for us, positive or negative, let us know!

Aaron, Heidi, Michal, Pascal, and Sören
– The Effective Altruism Newsletter Team

The Effective Altruism Newsletter is a joint project between the Centre for Effective Altruism, the Effective Altruism Hub, and Rethink Charity.
Click here to access the full EA Newsletter archive
A community project of the Centre for Effective Altruism, a registered charity in England and Wales (Charity Number 1149828) – Centre for Effective Altruism, Littlegate House, St Ebbes Street, Oxford
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