Sierra Orr

The readings that seemed to resonate with me the most were from the second week of the fellowship, where we began to talk about where our morality seems to stem from. Morality is concept that we continued to talk about throughout our sessions, but these readings are what really made me stop and think about why I was coming to the answers that I had and why my moral compass pointed a certain way. Accompanying the readings on morality was the article on “The Biology of Suffering”. I really appreciated this text because put perspectives on things around us that we take for granted or ignore because we are so focused on what is happening within our own lives.

Josh Greene’s idea of “point and shoot morality” helps to break down when it is appropriate to judge things solely in the realm of whether it is morally “good” or “bad”. At times, it is important to just trust our intuition and go with our gut instead of waiting to process where we are going to place the situation to fit onto our scale of morality. Before learning about this concept, I thought about situations in a way where if I wasn’t an active participant, then technically if something “bad” happens, the blame could not be placed on me. But upon further reflection, I realized that even choosing to not become an active participant, is still making a choice and denying the situation the help that you could have given. I think that understanding this is really important because it ties into how people view giving donations of any kind to charities around the world. They may think that they won’t be able to help with what they give, so why give anything at all? With that mindset, nothing would get done.

In “The Biology of Suffering”, they talk about the several ways that the concept of suffering can be broken down. There is the biological aspect as well as the experience of suffering, which many people believe to be the line between how suffering that occurs within organisms can be categorized. There is a distinction between the biological side and the conscious understanding of suffering, and while the lack of one does not detract from the other, I think that prioritizing the acknowledgment of the conscious understanding of suffering is important. The ability to empathize with those that are suffering is what allows us to want to reach out and help them and work to lessen their suffering.

Julia Kim

Julia Senior Pic.jpg

Effective altruism is intended to be a method in which people use their resources in the wisest manner to accomplish the most good in the world. However, there are counterarguments that question the morality, potential inequalities, and effectiveness of effective altruism. Regarding morality, some consider it unjust to donate and give more to one cause than another. According to a version of effective altruism, both situations should be carefully studied, and advice can be given in order to demonstrate how to benefit each situation. Thus, there would not be any injustice. In another version of effective altruism, all possible consequences should be studied, and advice would be given in order to maximize potential benefits. In this scenario, effective altruists use a scientific approach to benefit others, but since it is based on consequences, it is subject to change. No special consideration is given to any one case. Also, one can use their resources in any manner, however, effective altruists try to maximize benefits out of limited resources. Regarding equality, effective altruists understand that their allocation of resources can create resentment, domination, and erosion of public goods, however, inequality can create new opportunities to do more good. Helping those with less resources can have a hundred times the benefit of helping those with more resources. Although equality is a good concept, and hopefully one day we may all be equals in all opportunities, some people need more resources than others. Thus, equity could be a better option to assist others and balance the tables. Effectiveness considers the amount of resources that organizations already have. If an organization already has a large sum of money from donors, then giving more to that organization may not benefit as many people and causes. Giving more to organizations with too much could make funds available for other purposes. In order to avoid this situation, funds could be shifted to other organizations. One can also argue that effective altruism is merely speculative and considers possibilities in the future. Thus, effective altruism may not be very effective. However, if we consider every effort that the world makes to help various causes, could the same not be said about these efforts? In that case, how would anyone know how to help, and if that is the case, then who would help those that need assistance? While effective altruism may not be perfect, nothing is, and considering the possibilities of what could maximize benefits is better than offering money to causes that do not help as much or doing nothing.

Annie Gomez

Artificial Intelligence

In today’s high tech industrialization, the focus remains to create and produce the next

best iphone or roomba. Now more than ever, the time spent generating an invention and

assessing its impact can be short. Within less than two decades since 2000 the humanity’s

progress equals that of the entire 20th century. Development is constantly created back in the

worklabs as great leaps towards the smartest technology are made, that is artificial intelligence.

According to Don Brandeis, it is estimated that by 2020 a $1000 computer will have the same

processing power as the human brain. Later, by 2030 a personal laptop will be equal to a

thousand human brains. Technology is becoming more sophisticated by day, enabled to

filter,sort, and make decisions at a global scale. Warfare, policing ,and healthcare are becoming

increasingly automated causing much of society to rely on artificial intelligence. Our reliance on

technology today is a great reason to look into the moral grounds of AI. Unfortunately, to

humanity’s disadvantage AI lacks emotions, in other terms it has no moral compass . AI can

become a threat for global security in the near future. For this reason ethical issues on AI like

unemployment and security have surfaced.

The underlying ethical issues in Artificial Intelligence are centered on how

self-determining machines are bound to alter the way people work and live. Certainly, deciding

what jobs humans should assume as automated jobs take over is an issue. Perhaps, what follows

is cognitive labour or some other non-laborious activities that will benefit society in different

ways. Thanks to technology the quality of human life is much better than it was just ten years

ago,but what about in the future? With fewer humans needed in the workforce how will humans

provide for themselves? The future seems to hold a widening wealth-gap seems with most

AI-companies and their founders retaining most of the wealth.

Another worrying ethical issue is establishing AI security from future disasters. evil

turning robots might just belong in Hollywood movies for now, but not unimaginable.

Supercomputers have to capability to do incredible things like building skyscraper as well as

eradicating entire countries. In the end, clear and bounded instructions are are what will prevent

computer from turning malicious appliances. On that same note, the idea on whether AI will one

day dominate over humans is serious matter. After all, autonomous machines do not have

switches. In my opinion the best way to avoid this from happening is to implement certain

human dependency in all machines like driverless aircraft.

To what extent AI will affect humans is still uncertain however, the time to act is now

to protect humanity from unintended consequences.

Vanessa YiRan Li

As a college freshman, the Arete fellowship has allowed me to explore careers that can

positively and effectively make a difference. I have not previously been exposed to many career

paths in the past. Hence, my perception of what I can do was very limited. In fact, my

perception was tainted by the stereotypes associated with careers. Writers will remain poor.

Artist will not be recognized. Mathematicians are insane. Engineers are nerds. I was entangled

by the myths about careers that I was merely searching for something I will be good at.

Throughout the fellowship, I have come to see my career trajectory not only as a choice I am

passionate about but as an opportunity to make a difference in the world

Careers can contribute to the world around us in many ways. How do we asses the impacts of

a career? The most apparent mode of change is through direct impact. Organizations that

allow individuals to directly work with need are highly effective. These careers allow individuals

to gain public platforms as well as to influence budgets. For many college graduates, building a

career capital is also impactful. While building a career capital can entail many career paths, it

provides the opportunity to network and gain skills that can be applied and utilized later. An

impactful career is thus one that combines the two or contributes to one of the areas.

As a prospective STEM major, I would like to explore high impact careers in science. Research

is a highly impactful as it creates a ripple effect. A small advancement in a field could save

millions of life in the future. It is a play with the concept of time. As described in the Effective

Altruism Forum, advancing research by even 40 seconds would save a life. Hence, the value of

scientific research is immense. Research is in fact ranked as one of the most impactful careers.

Almost half of all published research is completed by a small group of individual. Hence,

passion and perseverance is key to making any career impactful.

While effective altruism appears to be logic, it is truly a mean to express compassion for the

world around us. By crunching numbers and debasing, I have begun to question how can I

make use of my passion and set of knowledge to be impactful. I sincerely hope to continue my

understanding of effective altruism as well as to be a part of this community throughout my

years if college and beyond.

Hannah Whellan

One topic that really interested me when learning more about Effective Altruism was the idea that our biases can get in the way of doing the most good. What pointed this out to me in the clearest way was the train problem. This problem asks you a series of questions about if you would rather pull a lever to cause a train to kill one person, or let the train run over five people, and other variations of this question. The point of asking these uncomfortable questions is to get you to start thinking about helping people that you don’t have a connection to or even see in your daily life.

Do you have an obligation to help those who live halfway across the world? Why should you donate to a charity that has no effect on your community? Can you trust your gut instincts? These are all questions that came into my head after participating in this train problem set. I wanted to understand more about why I should be so keen to stop looking around my own community for charities to donate to and start looking around the whole world for where my donation will go the farthest.

This separation of emotion and reason was extremely difficult for me to initially grasp. For the example of animal suffering: why should I care about factory farming when there are people who do not have access to clean water, or are homeless in my own neighborhood. This dilemma was so hard for me to understand until I started thinking about it in Effective Altruism terms. The EA community is trying to turn people toward doing the most with their donation whether that be their time or money. For factory farming, it is an extremely neglected issue where funding is severely limited and the number of volunteers working toward a solution is considered understaffed compared to the scale of the issue.

By focusing more resources on this issue, a greater impact can be made than donating to issues that already have an incredible amount of funding or issues where your dollar will not go the same length. Other examples of helping extremely cost effective organizations are projects focusing on undeveloped countries where your dollar is more meaningful. Organizations that distribute malaria nets, help deworm children, and provide medicine to children in Africa are all charities where your funding can do more good if you gave the homeless person on the street a dollar. While this may be uncomfortable to think about at first, because you see the homeless person suffering and you don’t see children across the world suffering, with EA principles, it is about helping the world as a whole become a better place and helping the most amount of people in order to make a difference.

Emma Plante

In the past nine weeks as a fellow for the MIT Effective Altruism Club’s Arete Fellowship, I’ve been given a crash course in the movement known as Effective Altruism. I initially applied to the fellowship because it sounded like it had something to do with moral philosophy - an interest of mine - and I wanted to get involved as a first year at Wellesley College. After I was accepted, however, I did some research into the movement. It was then, and after a few weeks of the program, that I started to feel a bit wary about Effective Altruism.

At this point, I was mostly looking at the surface of the movement. Essentially, it emphasizes trying to be effectively altruistic (as the name implies). Being effective, however, includes setting aside personal biases, and passing up the opportunities to help groups deemed less effective or important to the future of humanity.

In high school, I was a member of Key Club, a community service organization. One of my region’s preferred charities is called Camp Sunshine. It’s a summer camp in Sebago, Maine that is specifically equipped to give terminally ill children and their families the positive experience of participating in a summer camp, and it also helps families who had lost children grieve in bereavement sessions. I attended a bereavement session last November, and volunteered my time as a caretaker for young children as their parents attended counseling sessions. While I was there, another volunteer from my school made the point that the money being donated to keep Camp Sunshine running would do much more in cancer research. This now strikes me as something that EA might posit. However, I personally think that more “frivolous” charities have value. We cannot just donate all of our money to research to cure and prevent disease, because like it or not, people will still live with and die from this disease as we work toward curing it, and those people (or in this case children) are allowed to have fun and live their lives as normally as possible through organizations such as Camp Sunshine. Though, I might have some personal biases about this.

This specific example aside, Effective Altruism has opened my eyes to topics I had not normally considered as possible threats to humanity or as problems to be solved. I rarely considered artificial intelligence, the impacts of having children, or the far future in general. I also appreciated applying the theories of consequentialism and deontology, which I was already familiar with, to the issues at hand.

In conclusion, I am not going to be a diehard Effective Altruist. However, I find the movement to be well-meaning, and I think that if it grows in numbers (with myself likely to be included in the future) it will make a big difference in the world. Its logic and emphasis on the most pressing and solvable issues facing the international community will lead to the eradication of diseases and the preservation of many quality life years. Additionally, humanity could become prepared for global catastrophes and problems that may arise in the future. This organization is intelligent and intentional about doing good, and I find that admirable and inspiring.

Cathy Yang

If you were told that you could live your life in a near-perfect manner, would you believe it?

The logical answer is no. As Susan Wolf points out, living life as a “moral saint” is not the good kind of life to live. A “better” person doesn’t mean being “morally better” since for every good action, another more “morally good” initiative can be taken. This does not mean that humans should stop caring about their values. It is simply important to distinguish a boundary between being morally perfect and being human. After all, mankind is innately selfish. This selfishness is part of human nature but can be put into doing greater good. By channeling these innate behavioral patterns into methods of fostering productive relationships, the human species advances. While this appears obvious, parochialism and egocentrism flood society, contaminating values. Disagreements arise over the basis of moral foundation. What is right vs. wrong divides groups, resulting in a broken, inefficient world. Yet, pareto efficiency suggests that the correct allocation of resources, time, and effort, results in an incredibly efficient population with upper limits impossible to define. If society advanced as one, humanity will only get stronger till it reaches a point of the unachievable.

So how can we achieve that point? In order to cooperate, a basis moral foundation must be set. There are two main routes: a religious, metaphysical route or a logic-based, scientific route. Many religions offer a unified way of thinking among all believers. However, the logic-based scientific route offers no definitive, correct answer. Sam Harris attempts to connect philosophy and science, stating that moral values are merely facts about the wellbeing of the conscious mind. The question then arises as to how much you trust your consciousness. The human mind is powerful yet deceptive. Josh Greene elegantly explains the manual vs. automatic mode of the brain. The manual mode is our logical, more intellectual viewpoint, whereas the automatic mode is our emotional reactions, separating us from machines and other animals. Yet, in many cases, our brain leads us to automatic mode, where when dealing with complex problems, we tend to preach statements based on how we feel rather than the logic behind it. The power of emotion over many of our choices is something that makes us human, but also vulnerable to error. For example, a conundrum known as “valuation by prototype” points out that when presented with something tragic, we often treat the problem with the same weight even though the quantity of the stimulus increases. Logic tells us one thing, yet emotion tells us another. Which one do we follow?

Uniting humanity under a common cause has been a goal not only for effective altruists, but for numerous social justice movements throughout history. As technology advances and we grow closer to answering impossible questions, it is important to have a moral foundation to fall back upon as we advance into an unknown. As values are put to the test through the choices we need to make, the question becomes harder: how will you define your values?

Xafsa Aden

Effective altruism is built on the basis that we have a higher socioeconomic standing and

can afford to give money, time, and energy away. This was clearly illustrated in one of the first

articles we read titled “Introduction to Effective Altruism” which says “ If you earn the typical

income in the U.S., and donate 10% of your earnings each year to the Against Malaria

Foundation, you will probably save dozens of lives over your lifetime.” This is just one example

of how giving money away could be a form of effective altruism, and the article goes on to give

other examples like working directly in cause areas. As undergraduate students participating in

this fellowship, the career section and readings relate to us the most. This allows us to start

considering career paths now that will work with our talents and help us be efficient effective

altruists. The website 80,000 Hours estimates that on average, we will spend 80,000 hours of our

lives on our career. It outlines different career paths that can have a social impact in a way that

you can tailor to your own talents and interests. The four main approaches are earning to give,

advocacy, research, and direct work but in this short essay, I will be focusing on the earning to

give approach.

This approach is particularly interesting because as we all know money makes the world

go round. I think this approach would be most effective in fighting global poverty. This is proven

by one of GiveWell's top charities, GiveDirectly, which sends money directly to poor families in

East Africa. Economic security translates into food security, education and the chance to earn

more. Another organization that proves this is Akhuwat , a microfinance non-profit that gives

interest-free loans to entrepreneurs in Pakistan and after the loans are paid back, it’s then paid

forward to another person. These are both organizations that are constrained by funding and

would benefit from donations. However, this approach doesn’t benefit organizations that are

constrained by talent which can be a huge drawback when working on a cause area like X-risks.

There are some extreme example of this approach like Bill Gates, who earned a lot and is

now giving a lot away, and Jeff Kaufman and Julia Wise, who give half of their salaries away.

Nevertheless, anyone who can afford to give money away, whatever the amount, should give it

away because it can have a huge impact on the livelihood of those less fortunate than us.