Altruists Should Prioritize Artificial Intelligence

We can expect smarter-than-human artificial intelligence (AI) to be better than humans at self-preservation and goal preservation. If we want our actions to have an influence on the very long-term future, we should consider focusing on outcomes with AI.

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The Case for Suffering-Focused Ethics

“Suffering-focused ethics” is an umbrella term for moral views that place primary or particular importance on the prevention of suffering. Most views that fall into this category are pluralistic in that they hold that other things beside suffering reduction also matter morally. To illustrate the diversity within suffering-focused ethics as well as to present a convincing case for it, this article will introduce four separate motivating intuitions.

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Reducing Risks of Astronomical Suffering:
A Neglected Priority

Will we go extinct, or will we succeed in building a flourishing utopia? Discussions about the future trajectory of humanity often center around these two possibilities, which tends to ignore that survival does not always imply utopian outcomes, or that outcomes where humans go extinct could differ tremendously in how much suffering they contain.

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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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How Feasible Is the Rapid Development of Artificial Superintelligence?

Two crucial questions in discussions about the risks of artificial superintelligence are: 1) How much more powerful could an AI become relative to humans, and 2) how easily could superhuman capability be acquired? To answer these questions, this article reviews the literature on human expertise and intelligence and discusses its relevance for AI.

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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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Value Lexicality

An example of value lexicality is that an outcome with both torture and happiness is bad, regardless of the amount of happiness. Value lexicality is important partly because it can lead to suffering-focused ethics. Key topics that this essay explains include strong versus weak lexicality, value aggregation, views on large numbers and sequence arguments.

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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 […]

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The 'Asymmetry' and Extinction Thought Experiments

Someone who wants to do good is faced with the question how to prioritize preventing badness vs. bringing about more individuals with good lives. A relevant idea is the ‘Asymmetry,’ which roughly says that it is bad to bring into existence individuals with bad lives but not good to add individuals with good lives. One […]

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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 […]

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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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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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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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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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Identifying Plausible Paths to Impact and their Strategic Implications

FRI’s research seeks to identify the best intervention(s) for suffering reducers to work on. Rather than continuing our research indefinitely, we will eventually have to focus our efforts on an intervention directly targeted at improving the world. This report outlines plausible candidates for FRI’s “path to impact” and distills some advice on how current movement building efforts can best prepare for them.

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A Lower Bound on the Importance of Promoting Cooperation

This article suggests a lower-bound Fermi calculation for the cost-effectiveness of promoting cooperation. The purpose of this exercise is to make our thinking more concrete about how cooperation might reduce suffering and to make its potential more tangible.

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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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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, […]

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How Could an Empty World Be Better than a Populated One?

Leslie (1998) writes that when “discussing whether the universe was created by a benevolent deity, philosophers regularly point out that our world might be considered an ethical disaster, something of negative value, because of all the misery it contains." This essay surveys different ways in which ethical views may come to conclude that a world’s value is overall negative.

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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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Bibliography of Suffering-Focused Views

A good bibliography encourages others to conduct research and write papers in the field. Thus, creating an up-to-date bibliography on suffering-focused views seems an important undertaking. This subpage of our open research questions page contains examples of sources to include in such a bibliography.

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