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The Precipice

The Precipice by Toby Ord is a great birdseye view of the biggest challenges that we humans face in the future. Challenges that have the possibility of extinguishing our potential, threats that may make us go extinct. As could be predicted, these threats are currently mostly man-made.

I found this review by Scott Alexander very good. Do read it if you want to get a good overview of the whole book.

Also see this review by Theron Pummer on Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

The biggest things that stood out to me were:

  • Risk from AI is one of the largest (1 in 10 change in next 100 years)
    • I can agree on that point, but also think that there are some very good arguments that we will create benevolent AI or at least AI that has ‘good’ goals and that we can manage that
    • See Human Compatible for more about AI
  • Engineered pandemics seem very relevant at this moment (1 in 30)
    • Killing everyone would seem difficult, but it could break down society by killing 99% (or even 70% I would guess)
    • The knowledge seems difficult to get, but maybe would only be used one time
    • Can we even prevent/cure something like this (here my knowledge is lacking most)
  • Unforeseen anthropogenic (man-made) risks (1 in 30)
    • At every step Toby Ord understands the ‘unknown unknowns’ and also here accounts for them
  • There is 5/6 chance that we will make it through the next 100 years
    • But making the 1/6 smaller (to 1/6,1) may be very valuable and we’re not doing enough at this moment
  • The future potential of us humans is so vast (exploring the galaxy, making more art, discovering new things about nature, etc)
    • In the last chapter Toby Ord does a great job of making you want to see the bright future that we need to protect

The Life You Can Save

The Life You Can Save by Peter Singer is an awesome book that will spark your interest in doing good, help you know where to donate, and discusses honestly what objections you might have to it.

Download the book for free!

Also as an audiobook!

Here are some random notes:

“The argument that we ought to be doing more to save the lives of people living in extreme poverty presupposes that we can do it, and at a moderate cost. But can we? If so, to which organizations should we donate? It’s a question all donors should ask themselves, yet only 38% of U.S. donors do any research at all, and only 9% compare different nonprofits.”

Please visit givewell.org too compare charities!

We also have had an enormous impact. Irradication of smallpox, getting millions (if not billions) out of poverty, having few mothers and children die. See Gapminder (website) or Factfulness (book).

On the whole, we’re all giving very little. “Aid over that period was about 0.3% or 30 cents of every $100 earned.” And only a small percentage of that was going to effective charities.

“To get some perspective on this: in 2017, worldwide net official development assistance and aid was approximately $170 billion, while in the same year, consumers spent $532 billion on cosmetics.”

Of that 0.3%, much was also political and defense-related spending. E.g. “Afghanistan topped the list of recipients of U.S. aid, receiving $1.3 billionAfghanistan is undoubtedly a very poor country, but so is Ethiopia, and Ethiopia has three times as many people as Afghanistan

One big question that I want to answer myself is ‘How much should I give?

I think that giving effectively will lead to more happiness (or prevent more suffering) than much of the money I earn would bring if I spend it on myself or my immediate surroundings.

Peter Singer defines it as your ‘fair share’ and offers different views on how to approach this.

Ok, I can keep on reading the book (I have it open as a .pdf (again for free to download)) but I should be making some rules for myself.

I will put them in this post that focusses on my financial situation. Go read it here.

Some basic points:

  • Save money by not spending it on things that won’t make myself happy in the first place
    • This includes spending on coffee at the train station regularly
    • But still doing this at the start of a vacation or other irregular moments
  • Figure out how much to keep/save to live comfortably
  • And how much to save/have to pay off student debts
  • Find out how to donate most effectively (via holding?)
    • Find out if that circumvents the 10% max donation limit
    • Or that I should do that by making a contract with AMF
  • Discuss this with Lotte, but should be alright since what I intend to keep is already enough

De Verborgen Impact

The Hidden Impact (De Verborgen Impact – Dutch) by Babette Porcelijn is a book about our impact on the world. What we consume, what we use, what we have to be careful with.

We as Western consumers have much more impact than we think. Not only in our daily activities in and around the house or weekly at the gas pump but mostly on the other side of the world, by making and transporting the things we buy and use daily. We as consumers ultimately pay for that hidden impact and we keep the system in position. This book shows you how it is, so you can exert a positive influence.

I read this book over the summer and left myself a note to make a summary. Here it is.

  • Much of the impact we have on the world is hidden. We usually don’t see the production of our products and when thinking of sustainability many only consider what is right in front of us.
  • On average, buying stuff and eating meat have the largest (hidden + visible) impact.
  • Flying also has a large impact and by flying multiple times a year, it might even be your biggest contributor.
  • Compensating can sometimes be good, but prevention is almost always better!

See more about this (and a cool tool on how to calculate your impact) on https://babetteporcelijn.com/en/

And https://babetteporcelijn.com/wp-content/downloads/CE_Delft_Top_10_milieubelasting.pdf