While charitable organizations are potentially quite valuable, I suspect
that many of them are simply repeating whatever works at generating more
contributions, without accomplishing any altruistic purposes,
much in the way that governments, and corporations in industries with little
competition tend to become harmful bureaucracies.
See the paper He Who Pays The
Piper Must Know The Tune and my review of the book
Power and Prosperity for
more arguments that led me to this belief.
To try to avoid perpetuating this problem, I try to focus on organizations
whose results I can evaluate, but I'm still concerned about the subjective
nature of my evaluations, and am trying to look for better metrics, hopefully
something approaching the objectivity of the accounting system used to measure
Also, I try to focus on organizations that are small enough that they don't
develop much of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy.
Here are the charities in which I have some hope (listed roughly in order of decreasing average (not marginal!) value of donations):
- The Center for Applied Rationality helps people minimize the harm caused by their biases. It might have a more important effect on existential risks than organizations that focus more directly on those risks, e.g. by influencing the rationality of a broad group of startup founders who wouldn't be influenced by "ordinary" existential risk organizations. This could be unusually important if that includes startups that create the first AGIs.
I have clear but hard-to-communicate evidence that they're helping people, but little idea of how to quantify that value.
They have been mildly constrained by funding, and their ambitions for expansion suggest that funding constraints may become more important in a few years.
- The Future of Humanity Institute is focused on minimizing existential risks. Astronomical Waste: The Opportunity Cost of Delayed Technological Development is a good explanation of why this is important. FHI seems to have been highly influential (via the book Superintelligence) at persuading mainstream academics and businessmen to worry about AGI. As of late 2015, they appear to have gotten enough large grants that they have little immediate need for donations from ordinary people.
- AI Impacts
Researches ideas related to AGI risks that other organizations are likely to avoid.
My current impression is that they're not constrained by funding right now, but I ought to pay attention to whether they develop a need for more funding soon.
- GiveWell rates some of the most transparent charities according to how many dollars they need to save one life. This seems to be a better criterion than any of the others I'm aware of, and I am giving a small fraction of my charitable contributions to the charities GiveWell rates highest.
See On Fudge Factors for a skeptical view.
is at least superficially doing important tasks by providing grants to numerous people and organizations to research AGI risks. This approach is potentially better than MIRI's because it can promote more diversity of approaches. But FLI's apparent desire to be relatively mainstream seems to water down whatever focus it might have had on existential risks.
Promotes the idea of Effective Altruism. There's a modest chance that donating to them will be more effective at getting money to the charities listed above than direct donations to those charities would be.
- The Brain Preservation Foundation
Supports research into better ways to preserve brain tissue. It might produce some important progress towards mind uploading or alternatives to cryonics. My best guess is that existing brain preservation techniques are good enough that progress in those areas is mostly constrained by other problems. But reducing preservation costs will help. [I'm being less altruistic in supporting this cause than in supporting existential risk reduction; if I were young I'd feel less urgency about brain preservation.]
- MAPS funds clinical trials of therapy assisted by psychedelic drugs that drug companies avoid due to lack of patentability. I see modest chances that a little more money will result in many people getting access to good therapy for anxiety and trauma.
- Electronic Frontier Foundation
Defending freedom in cyberspace. If you're unfamiliar with the arguments
it makes, you shouldn't assume you're informed enough to vote in the U.S.
- Methuselah Mouse Prize
I donated to the Methuselah Mouse Prize from 2003 through about 2008. There's
no longer a simple way to specifically donate to the prize, and with the
prize fund at $1.4 million [in late 2015], additional donations seem likely
to have less impact on the prize's prestige than was the case a decade earlier.
I stopped donating for those reasons and because the charities listed above
seem more important.
I'm leaving some prior comments about why I supported them here:
Dedicated to curing aging. Unlike most requests for health oriented research
money, this is an information prize. It doesn't require the donor to have
the expertise to distinguish in advance whether the research is promising
(since even researchers have trouble knowing whether their research is
valuable, it's unlikely that many donors are able to make even an educated
guess at that). Instead, all a donor has to evaluate is whether the results
it rewards are connected to something medically desirable. And a cure for
aging would certainly be one of the more important medical advances that
I can imagine, as it should reduce deaths from heart attacks and cancer to
roughly the rates seen in 20 or 30 year olds.
See the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence web page for some serious discussion about the possibility of curing aging.
- Foresight Institute
Educating the world about the benefits and risks of accelerating technological change, particularly molecular nanotechnology.
Last updated 2015-12-06.