As a philosopher, journalist and co-founder of non-profits, I aim to help address so called crucial questions. A question is crucial if, depending on how we answer it, it drastically affects our decision-making and the direction our lives and society take. I am currently writing a book aiming to shed light on such questions: What are the ethical and political priorities of our time? How can we make the maximum amount of progress on them with our limited resources?
Suppose you’re carrying $500 in your pocket while walking past a pond where a child is drowning. Do you walk in to save the child, sacrificing the money? If you judge saving a life more important than $500 worth of additional luxury goods, you’ll save the child. – But is omitting to donate $500 to demonstrably life-saving charity different from not saving the child?
We would not confine and mass-kill dogs for our consumption. But pigs are beings at least as sentient and intelligent as dogs: They answer to their names, are able to learn many commands and use mirrors. That also makes them more intelligent than some humans. – What’s the difference there?
Suppose your brain was copied into a non-biological, digital substrate, with the copy possessing the same kind of subjective awareness. Do you think this new version of you has moral weight? These scientists do, and they believe we are well on our way to creating vast amounts of artificial minds. – If there is even a slight chance that they are right, shouldn’t we be alarmed?
These are just three examples of crucial questions. We can’t avoid them, and getting them wrong could be disastrous, which is why critical, evidence-based thinking is vital. In order to help address crucial questions in theory and practice, I co-founded the Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF), whose projects are described below. EAF was founded in 2013 and I served as its president until December 2016. I have since stopped working for EAF in order to be able to focus on research and co-found additional projects aimed at effective suffering reduction.
The Effective Altruism Foundation (EAF) is a think-and-do-tank aiming to tackle the most pressing ethical issues in a scientifically grounded way. Effective altruism is the foundation’s core concept: Our resources – time and money – are limited. How can we use them to prevent the most suffering and save the most lives? More fundamentally, which arguments do or don’t speak in favor of investing a lot of resources into altruistic endeavours in the first place? EAF pursues these questions based on research in philosophy, cognitive and social psychology, and economics.
Sentience Politics is a project aiming to do politics for all sentient beings. “Sentience” means the ability to have conscious experiences or feelings – especially feelings of pain and pleasure, suffering and happiness. This ability is characteristic of both humans and non-human animals alike. It is the most basic reason why we benefit from legal rights, and are harmed in their absence. Sentience is therefore politically crucial – or it would be, in a more rational and compassionate world. Animal farming confines and kills about 100 billion land animals each year and is thus among the largest sources of suffering on our planet. It also contributes to global instability by being a top cause of climate change, and is linked to world hunger and public health issues. Political activism should prioritize interventions that don’t come with systemic downside risks, that are comparatively neglected (diminishing marginal returns of activist resources), and that can help solve multiple global problems at once.
Raising for Effective Giving (REG) is a meta-charity for professional poker players, traders and entrepreneurs interested in maximizing their positive impact on the world. Members pledge to donate a substantial fraction of their earnings to cost-effective charities. REG uses science and rational decision-making to find the interventions that can be expected to help the greatest number of individuals to the greatest extent. Research in health economics has shown that charities’ direct impact may differ by a factor of up to 100. REG promotes the idea of effective giving in the worlds of professional poker, finance, entrepreneurship and beyond. The rationality skills used to maximize expected monetary value transfer well to maximizing the expected life-saving impact of charitable donations.
The Foundational Research Institute (FRI) is a group of scholars working to explore crucial considerations for reducing violence and suffering in humanity’s future, drawing on insights from computer science and mathematics, physics, philosophy, sociology and other fields. Due to the possibility of space colonization and artificial superintelligence, future suffering could be vast. FRI’s work is guided by the moral view that the avoidance of intense suffering and dystopian scenarios should take moral priority (suffering-focused ethics), particularly given that the risks of astronomical suffering (s-risks) are very real.