We make grants to promising projects and individuals through our fund, the Effective Altruism Foundation Fund (EAF Fund). You may donate to this fund or apply for funding yourself.
The fund’s mission is to support research and policy efforts to prevent technological risks facing our civilization. The potentially transformative nature of artificial intelligence poses a particular challenge that we want to address. We want to prevent a situation similar to the advent of nuclear weapons, in which careful reflection on the serious implications of this technology took a back seat during the wartime arms race. As our technological power grows, future inventions may cause harm on an even larger scale—unless we act early and deliberately.
Priority areas: decision theory and bargaining, specific AI alignment approaches, fail-safe architectures, macrostrategy research, AI governance, as well as social science research on conflicts and moral circle expansion.
If you would like to learn more about the fund’s mission:
- Launching the EAF Fund
- S-risks: Why they are the worst existential risks, and how to prevent them
- Cause prioritization for downside-focused value systems
Lukas Gloor is responsible for prioritization at the Effective Altruism Foundation, and coordinates our research with other organizations. He conceptualized worst-case AI safety, and helped coin and establish the term s-risks. Currently, his main research focus is on better understanding how different AI alignment approaches affect worst-case outcomes.
Brian Tomasik has written prolifically and comprehensively about ethics, animal welfare, artificial intelligence, and the long-term future from a suffering-focused perspective. His ideas have been very influential in the effective altruism movement, and he helped found the Foundational Research Institute, a project of the Effective Altruism Foundation, which he still advises. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 2009, where he studied computer science, mathematics, statistics, and economics.
Jonas Vollmer is the Co-Executive Director of the Effective Altruism Foundation where he is responsible for setting the strategic direction, management, as well as communications with the effective altruism community. He holds degrees in medicine and economics with a focus on health economics and development economics. He previously served on the boards of several charities, is an advisor to the EA Long-term Future Fund, and played a key part in establishing the effective altruism movement in continental Europe.
- Grant decisions are made by a simple majority of the fund managers.
- Recipients may be charitable organizations, academic institutions, or individuals.1
- Grants are made every six to twelve months. We invest funds that we are not going to allocate soon.2
- Grant size: $50,083
- Payout date: January 13, 2020
We made a grant of €45,000 ($50,083 at the time of conversion) to allow Kaj Sotala to continue his independent research on multi-agent models of mind and their implications for cooperation, rationality, and the nature of suffering and human values. Sotala intends to expand his existing LessWrong sequence on the topic and to pursue academic publications and conference presentations.
With this grant, we intend to support Sotala’s research in general, rather than his current work in particular. We observe Sotala to be a capable, value-aligned researcher who, among other things, co-authored “Superintelligence as a Cause or Cure for Risks of Astronomical Suffering,” a seminal paper on s-risks. We also believe that Sotala’s work on multi-agent models of mind has been received positively by the LessWrong community (in terms of comments, upvotes, and direct feedback). We perceive the plans to pursue academic publications to be particularly valuable. That said, while some of the current work relates to cooperation and the nature of suffering, we believe it is only indirectly relevant to s-risks and longtermism.
Sotala is a former staff member of the Effective Altruism Foundation. Because he has been pursuing a line of research distinct from EAF’s research priorities, we believe it is more suitable to support his work through an EAF Fund grant rather than employment.
- Grant size: $81,503
- Payout date: October 8, 2019
We made a grant of £66,000 ($81,503 at the time of conversion) to Dr. Arif Ahmed to free him from his teaching duties for a year. Ahmed is a University Reader in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge. His previous work includes the book Evidence, Decision and Causality and an academic conference entitled “Self-prediction in Decision Theory and Artificial Intelligence,” with contributions from technical AI safety researchers. This teaching buy-out will allow Ahmed to research evidential decision theory (EDT) further and, among other things, write another academic book on the topic.
We see this grant as a contribution to foundational research that could ultimately become relevant to AI strategy and technical AI safety research. As described by Soares and Fallenstein (2015, p. 5; 2017) and the “Acausal reasoning” section of EAF’s research agenda, advancing our understanding of non-causal reasoning and the decision theory of Newcomblike problems could enable further research on ensuring more cooperative outcomes in the competition among advanced AI systems. We also see value in raising awareness of the ways in which causal reasoning falls short, especially in the context of academic philosophy, where non-causal decision theory is not yet established.
Due to the foundational nature and philosophical orientation of this research, we remain uncertain as to whether the grant will achieve its intended goal and the supported work will become applicable to AI safety research. That said, we believe that Ahmed has an excellent track record and is exceptionally well-suited to carry out this type of research, especially considering that much work in the area has been non-academic thus far. In addition to the above, we also think that it is valuable for the EAF Fund (and effective altruist grantmakers, in general) to develop experience with academic grantmaking.
- Grant size: $63,456
- Payout date: October 8, 2019
Tobias Pulver applied for a two-year scholarship of CHF 63,000 ($63,456 at the time of conversion) to pursue a Master’s degree in Comparative and International Studies at ETH Zurich. This is a political science degree that allows focusing on international relations, security policy, and technology policy. The majority of this grant will be used to cover living costs in Zurich.
We see this grant as an investment in Pulver’s career in AI policy research and implementation. We are impressed by Pulver’s altruistic commitment and interest in reducing s-risks, his academic track record, his strategic approach to his career choice, and his admission to a highly competitive Master’s program at a top university. Pulver recently pursued an independent research project to explore his fit for AI policy research, which we thought was sound. He intends to keep engaging with EA-inspired AI governance research by applying to relevant fellowships at EA organizations.
Pulver is a former staff member of the Effective Altruism Foundation who decided to transition into AI governance due to personal fit considerations. Two out of three fund managers have worked with Pulver before and therefore have high confidence in the above assessment (and the third fund manager was also in favor). After thinking carefully about the potential downsides of a conflict of interest, we believe these are outweighed by the benefits of detailed knowledge in this particular case. To reduce the risk of favoring grantees we already know, our fund managers are investing time and resources to get to know many potential grantees.
- Grant size: $39,200
- Payout date: September 6, 2019
As part of the EAF Fund’s first open application round, the Wild Animal Initiative (WAI) applied for a grant to carry out a research project to develop a long-termist approach to wild-animal welfare, to be carried out by various members of their research team.
We have a generally favorable view of WAI as an organization, though we did not conduct a thorough evaluation. Their research proposal prominently mentioned various considerations that explore the relationship between long-termism and wild-animal welfare research, but those considerations were not yet well developed. We also thought that some of their expectations regarding the impact of their project were too optimistic. That said, we are excited to see more research into the tractability, reversibility, and resilience of wild-animal welfare interventions.
We do not believe that research on wild-animal welfare contributes to the EAF Fund’s main priorities, but we think it might help improve concern for suffering prevention. While we might not make any further grants in the area of wild-animal welfare, we decided in favor of this grant due, in part, to the currently large amount of funding available.
Note that WAI was created through a merger that involved a largely independent project previously housed at EAF.
- Grant size: $20,000
- Payout date:
As part of the EAF Fund’s first open application round, Miles Tidmarsh, Vasily Kuznetsov, Paolo Bova, and Jonas Emanuel Müller applied for a grant to carry out a research project that aims to explore the possibility of cooperation in defusing races to build powerful technologies such as artificial intelligence, extending the Racing to the Precipice model using an agent-based modeling methodology.
We decided to fund only a fraction of the requested grant amount ($20,000 instead of $75,000) and see this grant primarily as an investment in the grantees’ careers, learning, and exploration of further research projects, rather than as supporting the research project they submitted.
When investigating this grant, we sought the opinions of internal and external advisors. Many liked the general research direction and perceived the team to be competent. One person who reviewed their project in more detail reached a tentative negative conclusion and emphasized that the project team might benefit from more research experience. Another evaluator was tentatively skeptical that agent-based models can be applied usefully to AI races at this point. They recommended that the grantees look more into ensuring that the research will have a connection to real-world problems. We also observed that the team repeatedly sought external input, but did not seem to engage with critical feedback as productively as other grantees.
That said, we have been impressed by Jonas Emanuel Müller’s strong long-term commitment to effective altruism (in particular, his successful earning-to-give career and attempt to transition into direct work), his drive to understand the literature on AI strategy and s-risks, and his unusual awareness of the potential risks of accidental harm.
For these reasons, we decided to make a smaller grant than requested and encouraged the grantees to consider different lines of research. We think this grant has low downside risk and could potentially result in valuable future research projects. Some of our fund managers also think we might be wrong with our pessimistic assessment, generally like to support a diverse range of approaches and perspectives, and think that this grant might enable a valuable learning experience even if the grantees decide to continue their current project without incorporating our suggestions.
- Grant size: $12,147
- Payout date: September 6, 2019
As part of the EAF Fund’s first open application round, Jaime Sevilla applied for a grant of £10,000 ($12,147 at the time of conversion) to develop and analyze a decision-making model in order to determine under which conditions actions are time-sensitive. Among other things, he aims to refine the option value argument for extinction risk reduction.
We think it is probably very difficult to produce significant new insights through such foundational research. We think that applying standard models to analyze the specific scenarios outlined in the research proposal might turn out to be valuable, though we also do not think that doing so is a priority for reducing s-risks.
We also see this grant as an investment in Sevilla’s career as a researcher. We were impressed by a paper draft on the relevance of quantum computing to AI alignment that Sevilla is co-authoring and might have decided against this grant otherwise. We think it is unlikely that Sevilla will make s-risks a primary focus of his research, but we hope that he might make sporadic contributions to the EAF Fund’s research priorities.
- Grant size: $5,000
- Payout date: September 9, 2019
As part of the EAF Fund’s first open application round, Riley Harris applied for travel and conference funding to attend summer school programs and conferences abroad. Harris is a talented Master’s student at the University of Adelaide interested in pursuing an academic career in economics.
We see this grant as an investment in Harris’s potential academic career. His current interest is in game theory and behavioral economics, with potential applications in AI governance.
While we have been somewhat impressed by Harris’s academic track record and interest in effective altruism and AI risk, one fund manager felt unsure about his ability to get quickly up to speed with the research on s-risk, pursue outstanding original research, and convey his thinking clearly. We hope that this grant will help Harris determine whether an economics PhD is a good personal fit for him.
- Grant size: $27,450
- Payout date: November 27, 2018
We made a grant to Daniel Kokotajlo to free him from his teaching duties for a year. He is currently pursuing a PhD in philosophy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The grant will double the hours he can dedicate to his research. His work will focus mainly on improving our understanding of acausal interactions between AI systems. We want to learn more about whether such acausal interactions are possible and what they imply for the prioritization of effective altruists. We believe this area of research is currently neglected because only a handful of people have done scholarly work on this topic, and many questions are still unexplored. We were impressed by Kokotajlo’s previous work and his research proposals and therefore believe that he has the skills required to make progress on these questions.
- Grant size: $26,000
- Payout date: September 18, 2018
We made a grant to Rethink Priorities for implementing a survey designed to study the population-ethical views of the effective altruism community. More common knowledge about values within the effective altruism community will make moral cooperation easier. There is also a chance that a more open discussion of fundamental values will lead some members of the community to adjust their prioritization in a way they endorse. The grant allows Rethink Priorities to contract David Moss. He has experience running and analyzing the SHIC survey and the 2015 Effective Altruism Survey. We have reason to believe that the project will be well executed. It is unlikely that this survey would have been funded by anybody else.
Rethink Priorities will also use part of the grant to conduct a representative survey on attitudes towards reducing the suffering of animals in the wild. While we do not think this is as valuable as their descriptive ethics project, the gathered information will likely still result in important strategic insights for a cause area we are very sympathetic towards. This survey will also be led by David Moss, in collaboration with academics at Cornell University.
Donating to this fund
Our fund helps you give more effectively with minimal time investment. It works similarly to a mutual fund, but the fund managers aim to maximize the impact of your donations instead of your investment returns. They use the pooled donations to make grants to recipients whose work will contribute most to the mission of the fund. Giving through a fund can increase the impact of your donation in several ways:
Unique opportunities. Some funding opportunities, such as academic grants, are simply not open to most individual donors, unless they pool their contributions in a fund or donor lottery.
Economies of scale. Finding the best funding opportunities is difficult and time consuming, since there are a lot of different considerations and relevant research. A fund allows many donors with limited time to delegate the relevant work to the fund managers. They in turn can invest significant amounts of time in order to identify the best recipients for many people at once, making the process far more efficient.
Expert judgment. The fund managers have built up knowledge in the relevant domains and consult with technical experts where appropriate. They have thought about the long-term effects of different philanthropic interventions for years. Using expert judgment might be particularly important in this domain since unlike for other cause areas, no charity evaluator such as GiveWell exists yet for selecting organizations dedicated to improving the long-term future.3
You should give to this fund in particular if:
- you value future lives as much as current ones, and you expect most individuals to exist in the long-term future;
- you think there is a significant chance that advanced artificial intelligence will shape the future in profound ways and cause harm on an unprecedented scale;
- you believe there are actions we can take right now to mitigate these risks;
- you are particularly concerned about worst-case scenarios and s-risks.
Donors from Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands can donate to this fund using the form below. Donors from the US and the UK can donate to this fund via the EA Funds Platform.