- Raising for Effective Giving (REG)
- Sentience Politics (Sentience)
- Effective Altruism Switzerland (EACH)
- Foundational Research Institute (FRI)
- Poverty Initiative
- Compassionate Bioethics
- Rationality Project
- Artificial Intelligence
- Global Cooperation
- Great Ape Project (GAP)
Raising for Effective Giving (REG) is a meta charity for poker players interested in having a positive impact on the world by donating a substantial fraction of their winnings to the most effective charities. “Cost-effective giving” means using science and rational decision-making to find the aid interventions that can be expected to help the greatest number of people to the greatest extent. Research in health economics has shown that charities’ direct impact may differ by a factor of 100 or even 1000. The goal of REG is to promote the idea of effective giving in the poker community and beyond. Many poker players recognize that the rationality skills used for maximizing expected game success in poker transfer to the area of maximizing the expected impact of charitable donations – which imperative results from the ethical premise of all lives counting equally.
July 4, 2014, Las Vegas, REG launch dinner
Sentience Politics (Sentience) 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 many non-human animals alike. It is the most basic reason why we benefit from legal rights, and are harmed in their absence. Unlike, for example, higher cognitive abilities which some humans lack and which therefore don’t justify basic rights, sentience also unites all humans. Sentience is therefore politically crucial. Sentience Politics’ main goal is changing decision-architectures and structures that are causing comparatively huge amounts of unnecessary suffering. Because of its annual confinement and killing of more than 50 billion land animals (= ~1 billion weekly), the livestock industry may be the biggest easily removable source of suffering on our planet. Additionally, it contributes to global instability by being among the very top causes of climate change, and is connected to world hunger and public health issues. Rational, i.e. maximally goal-tracking politics prioritizes interventions that result in positive consequences for as many areas as possible (ultimately: sentient beings), and it tends to favor interventions that are comparatively neglected (due to diminishing marginal utility of activist resources). We are currently running political initiatives for more veg options in public canteens in Switzerland’s direct democracy and aim to promote the public discourse on animal rights, ecological resource efficency and rational politics in the process. Another focus consists in promoting effective donation whose ethical relevance is systematically underrated.
Effective Altruism Switzerland (EACH) is a society and network of people committed to improving the world as much as possible. We use evidence-based approaches to work out the most effective ways to do so, placing special emphasis on the comparatively neglected topic of ethical career choice: What to do with the 80,000 hours we spend working in our lifetime in order to help the most sentient beings that otherwise would not have been helped (counterfactual reasoning)? For instance, it turns out that doctors may not save any lives (that otherwise would not have been saved), while bankers may be able to save hundreds or even thousands of lives on net – depending on how they spend their income. EACH is contributing to building a movement of effective altruists and providing a platform for them to share and, importantly, criticize and thus improve their ideas.
March 20, 2013, St. Gallen University, presentation on effective altruism
The Foundational Research Institute (FRI) is a group of international scholars working to explore crucial considerations on how to most effectively reduce future suffering, with a focus on preventing dystopian scenarios. Arguably, shaping the far future is of overwhelming ethical importance: The succession of generations implies that most individuals whose lives are affected by our decisions live in the far future. Founded in 2013, FRI serves as a platform to share perspectives on shaping future trajectories in positive directions, drawing from fields as diverse as mathematics, neuroscience, economics, international relations, psychology, and philosophy. We aim to hire researchers directly to explore new insights and coordinate with outside academics.
Given that we’re the richest generation to ever have walked the earth, and the fact that about one billion people are still living in absolute poverty and suffer from permanent undernourishment, there’s a strong case for the political priority of 1) increasing development aid from a very low 0.5% of GDP to at least 2% (UN minimum standard: 0.7%), 2) focussing development aid on the demonstrably most cost-effective interventions (discovered through RCTs), and 3) reducing illicit financial flows – they may be removing several times as much money from poor countries as development aid puts in. The GBS Poverty Initiative launches these claims publicly and politically.
This project aims to advance the public dialogue about bio-ethical questions. Their stakes often involve great amounts of involuntary suffering, which makes them an opportunity for ethical impact and supports their political priority. Examples are the debates about embryonic stem cell research, pre-implant genetic diagnosis, organ donation, the right to assisted dying, animal testing and alternative methods, psychoactive drugs, physical and mental enhancement technologies as well as cyborgs (who already exist) and their rights.
This project aims to improve our (and especially future societal decision-makers’) capacity to choose and achieve their practical goals, i.e. to avoid all the cognitive biases that tend to impair our decision-making and thus the extent of our goal achievement. In the midterm, we aim to introduce a school subject for critical, rational thinking which conveys the findings on biases and how to avoid them gained by cognitive psychology.
There have recently been a number of publications on the technological possibility of artificial intelligence vastly superior than human intelligence. Nick Bostrom, director of Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute, has laid the foundations for further research and strategic discussion with his book “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies.” In Stuart Armstrong’s words: «What happens when machines become smarter than humans? [Which they are already in some domains.] The power of an artificial intelligence (AI) comes from its intelligence, not physical strength and laser guns. Humans steer the future not because we’re the strongest or the fastest but because we’re the smartest. When machines become smarter than humans, we’ll be handing them the steering wheel.” Can we succeed in programming machines to pursue stable ethical goals? What, exactly, are they, i.e. how are they defined mathematically? These questions arise in many domains already. Artificial superintelligence may well be the invention with the biggest impact on the (far) future and is therefore a priority candidate as well.
This project aims to increase awareness of the ethical importance of international politics relative to domestic politics. Given the distribution of resources of current political powers, the overwhelming priority of national politics seems widely accepted. However, from a non-discriminatory ethical perspective according to which the rights of people (incidentally) born abroad count equally as the rights of nationals, this prioritization is hardly justified. Stable and cooperative international political institutions are crucial for the well-being of the present generation and especially of the generations to come. Gains from trade through compromise (as opposed to conflict) should be recognised and pursued, dangerous arms races avoided – especially as regards emerging technologies in the bio-, nano- and AI domains.
Projects by GBS Germany
Great Ape Project (GAP)
The Great Ape Project of GBS Germany demands certain basic rights for the great apes, i.e. for the first non-human beings in history: the right to life, freedom and physical integrity. Research in past decades has shown that chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans are cognitively very similar to us – much more similar than our traditional, religious assumptions about the “special status” of man in the cosmos have suggested. In the light of our evolutionary relationship – humans are haplorhines – this isn’t surprising at all.
The theory of evolution is fundamental for our understanding of the world, our position in it as well as of our past and future. However, it is – despite a keen interest of children at this age in evolutionary questions (dinosaurs, formation of fossils, origin of humankind, origin of life, etc.) – poorly covered in elementary school. Evokids aims to change that.