Research Paper

Risks of Astronomical Future Suffering

Space colonization would likely increase rather than decrease total suffering. Because many people care nonetheless about humanity’s spread into the cosmos, we should reduce risks of astronomical future suffering without opposing others’ spacefaring dreams. In general, we recommend to focus on making sure that an intergalactic future will be good if it happens rather than making sure there will be such a future.

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Research Paper

How the Simulation Argument Dampens Future Fanaticism

The simulation argument suggests a non-trivial chance that most of the copies of ourselves are instantiated in relatively short-lived ancestor simulations run by superintelligent civilizations. If so, when we act to help others in the short run, our good deeds are duplicated many times over. This reasoning dramatically upshifts the relative importance of short-term helping over focusing on the far future.

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Essay

Artificial Intelligence and Its Implications for Future Suffering

Artificial intelligence (AI) will likely transform the world later this century. Whether uncontrolled or controlled AIs would create more suffering in expectation is a question to explore further. Regardless, the field of AI safety and policy seems to be a very important space where altruists can make a positive-sum impact along many dimensions.

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Research Paper

Gains from Trade through Compromise

When agents of differing values compete, they may often find it mutually advantageous to compromise rather than continuing to engage in zero-sum conflicts. Potential ways of encouraging cooperation include promoting democracy, tolerance and (moral) trade. Because a future without compromise could be many times worse than a future with it, advancing compromise seems an important undertaking.

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Research Paper

Differential Intellectual Progress as a Positive-Sum Project

Fast technological development carries a risk of creating extremely powerful tools, especially AI, before society has a chance to figure out how best to use those tools in positive ways for many value systems. Suffering reducers may want to help mitigate the arms race for AI so that AI developers take fewer risks and have more time to plan for […]

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Research Paper

International Cooperation vs. AI Arms Race

There's a decent chance that governments will be the first to build artificial general intelligence (AI). International hostility, especially an AI arms race, could exacerbate risk-taking, hostile motivations, and errors of judgment when creating AI. If so, then international cooperation could be an important factor to consider when evaluating the flow-through effects of charities.

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Research Paper

Do Artificial Reinforcement-Learning Agents Matter Morally?

Artificial reinforcement learning (RL), a widely used training method in computer science, has striking parallels to reward and punishment learning in biological brains. Plausible theories of consciousness imply a non-zero probability that RL agents qualify as sentient and deserve our moral consideration, especially as AI research advances and RL agents become more sophisticated.

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Research Paper

The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering

The number of wild animals vastly exceeds that of animals on factory farms. Therefore, animal advocates should consider focusing their efforts to raise concern about the suffering that occurs in nature. In theory, engineering more humane ecological systems might be valuable. In practice, however, it seems more effective to promote the meme of caring about wild animals to other activists, academics and other sympathetic groups.

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Essay

Hedonistic vs. Preference Utilitarianism

It's a classic debate among utilitarians: Should we care about an organism's happiness and suffering (hedonic wellbeing), or should we ultimately value fulfilling what it wants, whatever that may be (preferences)? This article discusses various intuitions on both sides and explores a hybrid view that gives greater weight to the hedonic subsystems of brains than to other overriding subsystems.

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Essay

Dealing with Moral Multiplicity

The ethical views we hold depend significantly on the network structures of our brains: which ideas are associated with which valences and how strongly. These feelings and weights are shaped by our genetic predispositions, cultural circumstances, and life experiences. Had you developed differently, your moral views would have been different. It's up to us whether we want to update based […]

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Essay

Should We Base Moral Judgments on Intentions or Outcomes?

Different ethical intuitions place different weight on the importance of intentions vs. outcomes in evaluating our actions. One might think that consequentialists would favor the outcome-based approach, and indeed, judging based on outcomes is sometimes the best way to optimize performance. However, in other circumstances – e.g., when you have strong prior knowledge or when you can't afford multiple trial-and-error […]

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Essay

Reasons to Be Nice to Other Value Systems

Several arguments support the heuristic that we should help groups holding different value systems from our own when doing so is cheap, unless those groups prove uncooperative to our values. This is true even if we don't directly care at all about other groups' value systems. Exactly how nice to be depends on the particulars of the situation.

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Essay

How Would Catastrophic Risks Affect Prospects for Compromise?

Global catastrophic risks – such as biotech disasters or nuclear war – would cause major damage in the short run, but their effects on the long-run trajectory that humanity takes are also significant. In particular, to the extent these disasters increase risks of war, they seem likely to precipitate AI arms races between nations and worsen prospects for compromise.

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Essay

Charity Cost-Effectiveness in an Uncertain World

Evaluating the effectiveness of our actions, or even just whether they're beneficial or harmful, is very difficult. One way to deal with uncertainty is to focus on actions that likely have positive effects across many scenarios. This approach often amounts to meta-level activities like promoting positive-sum institutions, reflectiveness, and effective altruism in general.

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Essay

Against Wishful Thinking

Some people hold more hopeful beliefs about the world than justified. These include the feeling that life for wild animals isn't so bad and the expectation that humanity's future will reduce more suffering than it creates. By feeding these dreams, optimistic visions of suffering reduction may in fact cause net harm. We should explore ways of increasing empathy that also expose the true extent of suffering in the world.

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Essay

A Dialogue on Suffering Subroutines

This piece presents a hypothetical dialogue that explains why instrumental computational processes of a future superintelligence might evoke moral concern. Generally, agent-like components might emerge in many places, including the computing processes of a future civilization. Whether and how much these subroutines matter are questions for future generations to figure out, but it's good to keep an open mind to the possibility that our intuitions about what suffering is may change dramatically.

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Research Paper

The Eliminativist Approach to Consciousness

This essay explains my version of an eliminativist approach to understanding consciousness. It suggests that we stop thinking in terms of "conscious" and "unconscious" and instead look at physical systems for what they are and what they can do. This perspective dissolves some biases in our usual perspective and shows us that the world is not composed of conscious minds […]

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Essay

Flavors of Computation Are Flavors of Consciousness

If we don't understand why we're conscious, how come we're so sure that extremely simple minds are not? I propose to think of consciousness as intrinsic to computation, although different types of computation may have very different types of consciousness – some so alien that we can't imagine them. Since all physical processes are computations, this view amounts to a […]

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Research Paper

Possible Ways to Promote Compromise

Compromise has the potential to jointly benefit many different individuals, organizations, countries, and value systems. This article enumerates ideas for how to encourage compromise, drawn from political science, international relations, moral psychology, game theory, sociology, and ethics.

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Essay

Education Matters for Altruism

Learning is an extremely important activity for altruists. Learning can seem ineffective in the short run, but used properly, it can pay off more than most financial or single-domain-focused investments. It's important for young activists not to neglect learning in order to just "do more to help now."

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We conduct foundational research on how to best reduce suffering. Our goal is to identify cooperative and effective strategies to reduce risks of dystopian futures.

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