[ExI] Consequentialist world improvement

Anders Sandberg anders at aleph.se
Sun Oct 7 11:13:53 UTC 2012

On 07/10/2012 06:48, BillK wrote:
> I don't know your source for the above stats, but one big problem is 
> that it is not helpful to use total world stats. Every country has 
> different stats. e.g. traffic death and injury rates are far worse in 
> India than first world countries. Similar differences for other causes 
> of death. And causes of death are consequential. You hint at this when 
> you mention weakening people. e.g. war death stats. Ex-soldiers have a 
> much higher suicide rate than the general population and many are 
> injured as well. So targeting a seemingly less important cause of 
> death might well produce improvements further up the chain. 

Yup. You can complicate the analysis by analysing the causal chains more 
deeply - ageing is behind a lot of apparently unrelated deaths (like 
fall accidents), and reducing wars will not just stop direct killing but 
later suicide plus free a lot of resources for other good uses.

But the key point is that if you have a certain set of resources you 
should try to apply it to have maximal impact. Local tailoring is no 
doubt important, but *where* you act can be chosen: it is easier to save 
1000 lives in sub-Saharan Africa than in the UK. This again goes against 
the grain of how people like to think, since they tend to prefer to help 
people similar to them. But if you actually just treat a life saved as a 
life saved, then it is smarter to use your resources where the 
elasticity is biggest.

> And, of course, as you fix one cause of death, that will be shifted to 
> an increase in other causes of death. i.e. all the people that would 
> have died in car accidents now die of heart disease instead.

You can think of it as maximizing QUALYs (QUality Adjusted Life Years) 
rather than saving lives.

Finding a permanent solution to mortality would be extremely powerful by 
this form of accounting. If (say) uploading comes about each individual 
will now have a more or less guaranteed QUALY per year forever rather 
than just for 80 years. There are deep issues here about discounting 
(how much is a QUALY 1000 years into the future worth?) and whether it 
matters if it is the current or different people enjoying them (pure 
QUALY counting doesn't care).

Anders Sandberg,
Future of Humanity Institute
Oxford Martin School
Faculty of Philosophy
Oxford University

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