Blogposts and other

Online essays

A proposed adjustment to the astronomical waste argument, 27 May 2013. This is an in-house dispute among people who believe that what matters most about what happens today is how we affect civilization's very long-run potential. I argue that the right conclusion of the astronomical waste argument is "make path-dependent aspects of the long-term future go as well as possible," rather than "minimize existential risk."

Common sense as a prior, 11 August 2013. I defend the principle, "Believe what you think a broad coalition of trustworthy people would believe if they were trying to have accurate views and they had access to your evidence," and offer some practical guidelines for following it. It's my take on the question, "How should the views of others inform my own opinions?"

A long-run perspective on strategic cause selection and philanthropy (with Carl Shulman), 5 November 2013. These are some introductory thoughts on strategic cause selection and philanthropy from a perspective that strongly prioritizes future generations.

Improving disaster shelters to increase the chances of recovery from a global catastrophe, 19 February 2014. This is a shallow investigation of the extent to which building disaster shelters or other refuges could increase the chances of recovery from a global catastrophe.

Will we eventually be able to colonize other stars? Notes from a preliminary review, 22 June 2014. This is a quick-and-dirty review of the question of whether we'll ever be able to colonize other stars. I investigated it because of its relevance to existential risk and the long-term future more generally.

A relatively atheoretical perspective on astronomical waste, 5 August 2014. It is commonly objected that the “long-run” perspective on effective altruism rests on esoteric assumptions from moral philosophy that are highly debatable. I describe and briefly defend a simple moral assumption that delivers conclusions similar to--but not identical with--standard arguments for the importance of helping civilization realize its long-term potential.

The long-term significance of reducing global catastrophic risks, 13 August 2015. This essay argues that, for global catastrophic risks other than AI, the total risk (in terms of failing to reach a substantial fraction of humanity’s long-run potential) from events that could kill a substantial fraction of the world’s population is at least in the same ballpark as the total risk to the future of humanity from potential outright extinction events. Therefore, when it comes to risks such as pandemics, nuclear weapons, geoengineering, or geomagnetic storms, there is no clear case for focusing on preventing potential outright extinction events to the exclusion of preventing other global catastrophic risks (pace some views held in part of the effective altruism community).

Differential technological development: Some early thinking, 30 September 2015. This is a hard-to-summarize discussion of how faster progress toward advanced AI may increase or decrease global catastrophic risk. It features a very simplified model using survey data from a conference at the Future of Humanity Institute. The model's weaknesses are explained.

Update on Investigating Neglected Goals in Biological Research, 30 November 2017. This post gives an update on Open Philanthropy's strategic cause selection in biological research.

Short blogposts

My daily reflection routine, 18 August 2013. My process for thinking about what went well during my day, where I can improve, and what I want out of life.

Preventing human extinction, 19 August 2013, with Peter Singer and Matt Wage. This is a non-technical introduction to the idea that very long-run outcomes for humanity are very practically relevant, and that decreasing the risk of human extinction is an important consideration when trying to optimize for very long-run outcomes.

Review of studies says you can decrease motivated cognition through self-affirmation, 23 October 2013. The key finding is that in a number of different experiments, simple "self-affirmations" (such as writing about relationships with your friends or something else that makes you feel good about yourself) make people more open to changing their mind in cases where changing their mind would be damaging to their self-image. I haven't reviewed any of these studies personally, but the idea makes some sense and sounds pretty easy to try.

Thoughts on my experience working at GiveWell, 4 November 2013. In this post, I offer some thoughts on my experience working at GiveWell in the summer of 2012. I’ve had a number of different people ask me about this, and I think many people interested in effective altruism are curious about working there. So I thought I would explain my views in detail so that others who are thinking about working there have more information.

My presentations and conversations with me

How to compare broad and targeted attempts to shape the far future, 13 July 2013. This is a presentation I gave at the 2013 Centre for Effective Altruism Weekend Away. It contains some of my preliminary thoughts on whether it is better to try to change very long-run outcomes by focusing on specific pivotal challenges and opportunities that humanity will face or whether it is better to try to change very long-run outcomes by focusing on enhancing humanity's capacity to deal with a broad range of possible future challenges and opportunities.

Nick Beckstead on the importance of the far future, 17 July 2013. This is an interview with Luke Muehlhauser about my PhD thesis, in which I argue that how much expected good we accomplish largely reduces to our actions' expected effects on the general trajectory along which civilization develops in the very long run.

On the overwhelming importance of shaping the far future (audio), 28 August 2013. This is an online lecture on some of the ideas from my dissertation. It was hosted by the Global Catastrophic Risk Institute. The notes for the presentation are here. There is a lot of material here that is uncertain and I'm still thinking through the issues, but I thought some people might enjoy the audio and notes.

How can a long-run perspective help with strategic cause selection?, 9 July 2014. This was a talk at the Good Done Right conference on effective altruism at Oxford in 2014. The first part of this talk covers the more empirical side of the argument in my dissertation for the conclusion that how much expected good we accomplish is almost entirely a function of our expected effects on how well our civilization realizes its long-term potential. The second part reviews and critiques an argument that maximizing the rate of innovation or economic growth is what matters most from this perspective, and the idea that preventing extreme global catastrophes is what matters most from this perspective.

How Open Phil investigates philanthropic causes, EA Global 2015.

Talk on EA community building, EA Global 2017.

80,000 Hours Podcast Episode with Rob Wiblin, 11 October 2017. 

Interview with Rob Wiblin, EA Global 2018. Inside baseball on effective altruism and longtermism.

Existential Risks - Fundamentals, Overview and Intervention Points, World Universities Debating Championship (WUDC) Distinguished Lecture Series, late 2020. This is a lengthy (about 80 min) introduction to existential risks, plus a 15-minute Q&A., aimed at a general audience.

Towards Balanced Longtermism - A talk for the Stanford Existential Risks Initiative, posted online in June 2021. The talk tries to develop a version of longtermism that (i) maintains reducing existential risk as the key issue of our time, (ii) adopts a strict stance against evil actions done in the name of promoting longtermism, and (iii) asks a lot of the current generation in terms of reducing existential risk, but avoids the most extreme levels of demandingness. Notes here


An Intuitive Explanation of Harsanyi's Aggregation Theorem. These are notes from a class I taught in 2010 or so, which explain Harsanyi's aggregation theorem. I think this is single best argument for fixed-population-utilitarianism. The note walks through the math at an intuitive level and then briefly discusses the practical significance of the theorem.

Performance review for 80,000 Hours, 26 May 2013. [OBSOLETE. See 80,000 Hours' most recent self-evaluation for more up-to-date thinking.] This document is a performance review of 80,000 Hours covering February 2011 to May 2013. It focuses on 80,000 Hours' monitoring and evaluation and 80,000 Hours' output in terms of key performance metrics (members recruited, “significant career changes,” and donations registered on the website). See my spreadsheet analysis that accompanies the document here

Performance review for Giving What We Can, 16 May 2013. [OBSOLETE.] This document is a performance review of Giving What We Can covering January 2011 to May 2013. It focuses on GWWC's monitoring and evaluation and GWWC's output in terms of key performance metrics (members recruited and donations to top charities reported by members). See my spreadsheet analysis that accompanies the document here, and a guide to the spreadsheet calculation here.

Management consulting career profile (archive), ~October 2014. I spent ~25 hours making this for 80,000 Hours.