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Episodes

#43 - Daniel Ellsberg on the institutional insanity that maintains nuclear doomsday machines

9/25/2018
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In Stanley Kubrick’s iconic film Dr. Strangelove, the American president is informed that the Soviet Union has created a secret deterrence system which will automatically wipe out humanity upon detection of a single nuclear explosion in Russia. With US bombs heading towards the USSR and unable to be recalled, Dr Strangelove points out that “the whole point of this Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret – why didn’t you tell the world, eh?” The Soviet ambassador replies that it...

Duration:02:44:01

#42 - Dr Amanda Askell on moral empathy, the value of information & the ethics of infinity

9/11/2018
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Consider two familiar moments at a family reunion. Our host, Uncle Bill, takes pride in his barbecuing skills. But his niece Becky says that she now refuses to eat meat. A groan goes round the table; the family mostly think of this as an annoying picky preference. But if seriously considered as a moral position, as they might if instead Becky were avoiding meat on religious grounds, it would usually receive a very different reaction. An hour later Bill expresses a strong objection to...

Duration:02:46:28

#41 - David Roodman on incarceration, geomagnetic storms, & becoming a world-class researcher

8/28/2018
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With 698 inmates per 100,000 citizens, the U.S. is by far the leader among large wealthy nations in incarceration. But what effect does imprisonment actually have on crime? According to David Roodman, Senior Advisor to the Open Philanthropy Project, the marginal effect is zero. * 80,000 HOURS IMPACT SURVEY - Let me know how this show has helped you with your career. * ROB'S AUDIOBOOK RECOMMENDATIONS This stunning rebuke to the American criminal justice system comes from the man Holden...

Duration:02:18:00

#40 - Katja Grace on forecasting future technology & how much we should trust expert predictions

8/21/2018
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Experts believe that artificial intelligence will be better than humans at driving trucks by 2027, working in retail by 2031, writing bestselling books by 2049, and working as surgeons by 2053. But how seriously should we take these predictions? Katja Grace, lead author of ‘When Will AI Exceed Human Performance?’, thinks we should treat such guesses as only weak evidence. But she also says there might be much better ways to forecast transformative technology, and that anticipating such...

Duration:02:10:58

#19 - Samantha Pitts-Kiefer on working next to the White House trying to prevent nuclear war

2/14/2018
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Rogue elements within a state’s security forces enrich dozens of kilograms of uranium. It’s then assembled into a crude nuclear bomb. The bomb is transported on a civilian aircraft to Washington D.C, and loaded onto a delivery truck. The truck is driven by an American citizen midway between the White House and the Capitol Building. The driver casually steps out of the vehicle, and detonates the weapon. There are more than 80,000 instant deaths. There are also at least 100,000 seriously...

Duration:01:04:29

#19 - Samantha Pitts-Kiefer On Being A Washington Lobbyist Against Nuclear War

2/14/2018
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Rogue elements within a state’s security forces enrich dozens of kilograms of uranium. It’s then assembled into a crude nuclear bomb. The bomb is transported on a civilian aircraft to Washington D.C, and loaded onto a delivery truck. The truck is driven by an American citizen midway between the White House and the Capitol Building. The driver casually steps out of the vehicle, and detonates the weapon. There are more than 80,000 instant deaths. There are also at least 100,000 seriously...

Duration:01:04:29

#18 - Ofir Reich on using data science to end poverty & the spurious action-inaction distinction

1/31/2018
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Ofir Reich started out doing math in the military, before spending 8 years in tech startups - but then made a sharp turn to become a data scientist focussed on helping the global poor. At UC Berkeley’s Center for Effective Global Action he helps prevent tax evasion by identifying fake companies in India, enable Afghanistan to pay its teachers electronically, and raise yields for Ethiopian farmers by messaging them when local conditions make it ideal to apply fertiliser. Or at least that’s...

Duration:01:18:48

#17 - Prof Will MacAskill on moral uncertainty, utilitarianism & how to avoid being a moral monster

1/19/2018
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Immanuel Kant is a profoundly influential figure in modern philosophy, and was one of the earliest proponents for universal democracy and international cooperation. He also thought that women have no place in civil society, that it was okay to kill illegitimate children, and that there was a ranking in the moral worth of different races. Throughout history we’ve consistently believed, as common sense, truly horrifying things by today’s standards. According to University of Oxford...

Duration:01:52:13

#17 - Prof Will MacAskill On Moral Uncertainty, Utilitarianism & How To Avoid Being A Moral Monster

1/19/2018
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Immanuel Kant is a profoundly influential figure in modern philosophy, and was one of the earliest proponents for universal democracy and international cooperation. He [also thought](https://schwitzsplinters.blogspot.com/2010/03/kant-on-killing-bastards-on.html) that women have no place in civil society, that it was okay to kill illegitimate children, and that there was a ranking in the moral worth of different races. Throughout history we’ve consistently believed, as common sense, truly...

Duration:01:52:13

#16 - Dr Hutchinson on global priorities research & shaping the ideas of intellectuals

12/22/2017
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In the 40s and 50s neoliberalism was a fringe movement within economics. But by the 80s it had become a dominant school of thought in public policy, and achieved major policy changes across the English speaking world. How did this happen? In part because its leaders invested heavily in training academics to study and develop their ideas. Whether you think neoliberalism was good or bad, its history demonstrates the impact building a strong intellectual base within universities can...

Duration:00:55:00

#15 - Prof Tetlock on how chimps beat Berkeley undergrads and when it’s wise to defer to the wise

11/20/2017
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Prof Philip Tetlock is a social science legend. Over forty years he has researched whose predictions we can trust, whose we can’t and why - and developed methods that allow all of us to be better at predicting the future. After the Iraq WMDs fiasco, the US intelligence services hired him to figure out how to ensure they’d never screw up that badly again. The result of that work – Superforecasting – was a media sensation in 2015. Full transcript, brief summary, apply for coaching and...

Duration:01:23:59

#15 - Prof Tetlock On How Chimps Beat Berkeley Undergrads And When It’s Wise To Defer To The Wise

11/20/2017
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Prof Philip Tetlock is a social science legend. Over forty years he has researched whose predictions we can trust, whose we can’t and why - and developed methods that allow all of us to be better at predicting the future. His insights have received huge attention from the intelligence community and media. Tetlock’s Good Judgement Project found forecasting methods so accurate they beat all-comers in open competition, including thousands of people in the intelligence services with access to...

Duration:01:30:07

#14 - Sharon Nunez & Jose Valle on going undercover to expose animal abuse

11/13/2017
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What if you knew that ducks were being killed with pitchforks? Rabbits dumped alive into containers? Or pigs being strangled with forklifts? Would you be willing to go undercover to expose the crime? That’s a real question that confronts volunteers at Animal Equality (AE). In this episode we speak to Sharon Nunez and Jose Valle, who founded AE in 2006 and then grew it into a multi-million dollar international animal rights organisation. They’ve been chosen as one of the most effective...

Duration:01:25:56

#14 - Sharon Nuñez & Jose Valle On Going Undercover To Expose Animal Abuse

11/13/2017
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What if you knew that ducks were being killed with pitchforks? Rabbits dumped alive into containers? Or pigs being strangled with forklifts? Would you be willing to go undercover to expose the crime? That’s a real question that confronts volunteers at Animal Equality (AE). In this episode we speak to Sharon Nunez and Jose Valle, who founded AE in 2006 and then grew it into a multi-million dollar international animal rights organisation. They’ve been chosen as one of the most effective...

Duration:01:26:05

#13 - Claire Walsh on testing which policies work & how to get governments to listen to the results

10/31/2017
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In both rich and poor countries, government policy is often based on no evidence at all and many programs don’t work. This has particularly harsh effects on the global poor - in some countries governments only spend $100 on each citizen a year so they can’t afford to waste a single dollar. Enter MIT’s Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). Since 2003 they’ve conducted experiments to figure out what policies actually help recipients, and then tried to get them implemented by governments and...

Duration:00:52:26

#12 - Dr Cameron works to stop you dying in a pandemic. Here’s what keeps her up at night.

10/25/2017
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“When you're in the middle of a crisis and you have to ask for money, you're already too late.” That’s Dr Beth Cameron, who leads Global Biological Policy and Programs at the Nuclear Threat Initiative. Beth should know. She has years of experience preparing for and fighting the diseases of our nightmares, on the White House Ebola Taskforce, in the National Security Council staff, and as the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical and Biological Defense Programs. Summary, list...

Duration:01:45:15

#11 - Dr Spencer Greenberg on speeding up social science 10-fold & why plenty of startups cause harm

10/17/2017
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Do most meat eaters think it’s wrong to hurt animals? Do Americans think climate change is likely to cause human extinction? What is the best, state-of-the-art therapy for depression? How can we make academics more intellectually honest, so we can actually trust their findings? How can we speed up social science research ten-fold? Do most startups improve the world, or make it worse? If you’re interested in these question, this interview is for you. Click for a full transcript, links...

Duration:01:29:17

#11 - Spencer Greenberg on speeding up social science 10-fold & why plenty of startups cause harm

10/17/2017
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Do most meat eaters think it’s wrong to hurt animals? Do Americans think climate change is likely to cause human extinction? What is the best, state-of-the-art therapy for depression? How can we make academics more intellectually honest, so we can actually trust their findings? How can we speed up social science research ten-fold? Do most startups improve the world, or make it worse? If you’re interested in these question, this interview is for you. A scientist, entrepreneur, writer and...

Duration:01:22:25

#10 - Dr Nick Beckstead on how to spend billions of dollars preventing human extinction

10/11/2017
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What if you were in a position to give away billions of dollars to improve the world? What would you do with it? This is the problem facing Program Officers at the Open Philanthropy Project - people like Dr Nick Beckstead. Following a PhD in philosophy, Nick works to figure out where money can do the most good. He’s been involved in major grants in a wide range of areas, including ending factory farming through technological innovation, safeguarding the world from advances in biotechnology...

Duration:01:51:47

#10 - Dr Nick Beckstead On How To Spend Billions Of Dollars To Prevent Human Extinction

10/11/2017
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What if you were in a position to give away billions of dollars to make the world better? What would you do with it? This is the problem confronting Program Officers at the Open Philanthropy Project, people like Dr Nick Beckstead. Following a PhD in philosophy, Nick now works to figure out where money can do the most good. He’s been involved in major grants across a range of programmes, including ending factory farming through technological innovation, safeguarding the world from advances...

Duration:01:51:47