Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June Links

I guess this is a pretty good description of why I signed the giving what we can pledge
The active ingredient in effective altruism was always supposed to be making it harder to trick yourself into feeling like you’re helping unless you actually are. - this was part of how I interpreted Eliezer’s post The Unit Of Caring. Money is something that definitely helps a quantifiable amount, and giving away money isn’t much fun, so by limiting your contributions to money you have sort of a commitment mechanism so that you know you’re actually helping instead of just signaling helping.
A very good data visualization of the cost of World War II.

There was this big competition for robots trying to complete an obstacle course and do various tasks.  But what people were really interested in was all the robots falling down trying to complete it.

Remember how I was all excited about HP using memristors for their big new project?  Well it turns out they won't be using them after all.  I'm glad the systems level work is being done but clearly this technology isn't as ready as I thought it was.

Boston has a pretty cool mass transit system by at least two metrics.

Selenium Boondocks goes over some of their best posts from their first 10 years of blogging.

Neural networks have been making a bith of a resurgence these last few years.  In terms of processing visual data Google has done some work on showing what they're looking for.  Some of those images are really trippy.

Remember Dune in Calvin and Hobbes?  Here's Game of Thrones mashed up with Peanuts.

Here's an interview with a former policeman in Baltimore on what he thinks the problems in the force are.  This sort of makes me think the move, long ago, to put police in cars to keep them isolated from their communities was a bad idea.  I won't say that enforcing laws on communities that think they're unjust (part of the original motivation) is always a bad idea btu I think the cost was badly underestimated.

People have been doing research on certificate of needs that are required to build new hospitals and it doesn't look good for the poor or really anybody else.  Back in the 1970s there was a common idea that "dog eat dog" competition between companies made capitalism less efficient than socialism and that we needed to prevent competition in order to lower healthcare prices.  This sounds really weird nowadays for good reason but most of the laws designed to lower healthcare costs by preventing competition between hospitals are still on the books.


  1. I feel like "limiting your contributions to money" is a weird interpretation of effective altruism. For most people, I assume, the amount of money you can sustainably make isn't linear in the amount of time spent working, so it's not like spending time on other kinds of activism necessarily represents giving less money. And things like political activism can sometimes have very large impacts that wouldn't have been efficient or practical to try to achieve with just money.

    I also think, based on my social interactions, one of the problems facing effective altruism is a perception that effective altruists view giving money as the only meaningful social contribution, do so in a non-progressive way, and think that their utility function is obviously the right one. Being dismissive towards what other people value if nothing else makes it hard to convince those people to give to effective charities maybe in addition to what they're already doing, and the impression "I donate money so it doesn't matter if I work for a company that makes the world worse or if I'm a dick to people around me" doesn't seem helpful. I'm definitely bothered by the Giving What You Can's FAQ giving an out for students and the unemployed but still expects employed people below the poverty line to donate 10% of gross income. And people that for whatever reason care about particular issues can get turned off by implication that they're a bad person for, say, donating to help the environment rather than putting all their money towards malaria.

    Certainly, committing to giving money to effective charities is something I'm very committed to and is a movement I'm behind. But I don't feel like treating it like the be all/end all is optimal.

  2. Some of those are good criticisms but I think that some of those get too close to the heart of the idea of effective altruism. PETA might get more members by giving up on vegetarianism but that wouldn't be better for achieving the member's goals. Likewise the idea that "He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense" is pretty central to the idea of effective altruism and giving that up would be giving up too much.


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