A Plausible Effective Altruism Academy
Update: I posted this idea on the EA Forums where it was well-received but deservingly shot down. While it could be a desirable experiment down the road, there are probably more cost-effective and reliable ways for EA to invest in its own right now, such as ensuring the EA hotel stays well-funded.
BLUF:Effective Altruism may be able to do a lot more good by investing ingrowing itself more. Here, I lay down a plausible way for EA to do that.
Why do we need an EA Academy?
Effective Altruism encapsulates some of the most powerful, impactfulideas in the world. It seems that when people focus single-mindedly onanswering this question with no preconceived conclusions to justify,remarkable ideas are birthed and great work takes place. The bottom line is: the world probably needs a lot more effective altruists.
The problem, in my mind, is that EA is not growing fast enough.Surely, many people like myself are exposed to EA’s ideas and want topursue them further, but are too bound up in their everyday lives todive deeply into them. They want to find a way in which they candrastically increase their impact, but between school, work, traditional obligations, and just not being around other effective altruists, theystruggle to figure out how to fully realize their impact.
I believe it is time for EA to begin experimenting with investingmore heavily in growing its own. It’s time we start doing more to helppeople pro-actively become effective altruists. We need an EA Academywhere people of all walks of life can come together, study ideasessential for making a high impact, build life-long friendships withother EAs, and become fully integrated with the movement.
What would the school be like?
I am thinking the school could last 1-12 months, but perhaps 3-months for people who want to fully dive into the ideas surrounding EA and who want a much deeper knowledge of its principles. I’m thinking the first60 days should include an introduction to EA, Bayesian inferencing,cognitive biases, moral uncertainty, utilitarianism, causeprioritization, charity evaluation, progress made so far, and more.Then, students will spend 30 days on application to a cause area such as hastening ethical human genetic engineering.
I think all ages (16-40+) should, in principle, be admittable whichwill allow a lot of diversity in the classroom. Admission criteriashould involve: SAT scores/ standardized tests predictive of g-factorand performance, an essay on their desire to come to the school, andperhaps an interview over Skype.
I believe one could get an initial grant from the Good Ventures orthe Open Philanthropy Project. The school could then be sustained by aLambda school-style deal (Income Share Agreement): If you get employedoutside EA, you owe 10% of your salary for 2 years once you make over$50,000. If you work for a think tank or inside EA, the cost is waived.
A million dollar grant could fund this for the first 2 years withsalary for 2 instructors and food+housing for 8 rotations of 18students. That’s 144 new EA’s ready to take on the world. I think themovement could get the money back in impact by the ideas and impactgenerated by 144 new members, who will then have the knowledge andability to influence others to take up EA.
Two instructors at $80k each per year= $320k.$500 stipend per month for a total of 144 students: $500 * 3 * 144= $216k.The rest of the money shall go towards paying off the student housingmortgage. If the project fails, the house can be sold and the profitgiven back to the granter.
Funding beyond 2 years: Suppose half (72) students go into working in the private sector. Suppose 60 of them make over $50k. Suppose theaverage income of these 60 is $65,000. $65k * 10% * 2= $13k * 60= $780k. This is enough fund the school considering we put down massive fundsearly on the mortgage for student housing.
I think there are enough people out there interested in finding acause and a community that we could get hundreds of applications within a few months to fill the first 144 slots. I could imagine many university students being willing to take a gap semester for this, as well aspromising students out of high school who could class up in the spring.If the Effective Altruism community was inclined to hire people whograduate from the Academy, that may only bolster applications.
18 new effective altruism-minded people ready to take on the worldevery 3 months. Additionally, we get 144 person months of research done. 12+ years of research from people new to the field and with fresh minds is not a bad deal itself for $1 million. Additionally, these people are now well-equipped to spread the ideas of effective altruism; they areready to convince their friends to adjust where they donate to and toconvince their friends and family to take up higher-impact careers.Additionally, in each class of 18 people, there will undoubtedly be adevelopment of several long-term friendships where people continue tospread high-impact ideas and hold each other accountable for doing good.
Worst Case Scenario
The worst case scenario is that the project gets approved, theproject manager ends up hiring ineffective, uninspiring instructors whoteach an uninspiring curriculum, and we don’t measure results andstudent feedback enough to change instructors and/or shut down theproject early. This can easily be prevented by extensively interviewingthose instructors who are interested, and only running the project onceone finds the right people.
Worst Realistic Case Scenario
18n people end up studying high impact ideas for 2 monthseach and attempt research for 1 month, and decide EA isn’t for them.Even if this is the case, the time studying important ideas should still have been time well spent that ultimately increases their economicoutput. Additionally, due to the Lambda-style contract, most of theinvestment can be recovered.
Highly Plausible Scenario
The grant is approved. The person in charge of the project becomes an instructor and finds another. 200+ people interested in effective altruism apply for this program which is set to begin ~6 months out. The two instructors begin sorting through applications and decide on the first 36-72 people. They also begin shopping for housing for the Academy and build up an extensive, detailed curriculum in their free time. 45 days out, they begin getting paid by the grant so they can move (the academy probably needs to be in a relatively cheap city/suburb) and prep full time. The students fly or drive in the day(s) before classes start, settle in, and then the instruction begins. The days are full of discussion, reading and writing assignments, and are focused around molding one into a high-impact person. After 1-7 days, individuals sign an Income Share Agreement if they would like to remain in the course. About 6-12 hours each day are demanded of people’s time, with the weekends less structured and demanding. The instructors ensure students are able to get one on one time with them in order to clarify their ideas. After 2 months of work under a focused curriculum, the students begin working on their own projects and doing their own research. Theinstructors are there to guide them. Towards the end, students could even fill out a broad application and the instructors could work with the EA community to match interested, high performing students with EA jobs.
What do you think of this idea? Is it necessary and viable?