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Crossposted from Twitter.

As the year comes to an end, we want to highlight and celebrate some of the incredible achievements from in and around the effective altruism ecosystem this year.

 

1. A new malaria vaccine

The World Health Organization recommended its second-ever malaria vaccine this year: R21/Matrix-M, designed to protect babies and young children from malaria. The drug’s recently concluded Phase III trial, which was co-funded by Open Philanthropy, found that the vaccine was between 68-75% effective at targeting the disease, which kills around 600,000 people (mainly children) each year.

The work didn’t stop there, though. Following advocacy from many people — including Zacharia Kafuko of 1 Day Sooner — the WHO quickly prequalified the vaccine, laying the groundwork for an expedited deployment and potentially saving hundreds of thousands of children’s lives. 1 Day Sooner is now working to raise money to expedite the deployment further.

 

2. The Supreme Court upholds an animal welfare law

In 2018, Californians voted for Proposition 12 — a bill that banned intensive cage confinement and the sale of animal products from animals in intensive confinement. The meat industry challenged the law for being unconstitutional — but in May of this year, the US Supreme Court upheld Prop 12, a decision that will improve the lives of millions of animals who would otherwise be kept in cruel and inhumane conditions.

Organizations such as The Humane League — one of Animal Charity Evaluators’ top charities — are a major part of this victory; their tireless campaigning is part of what made Prop 12 happen.

Watch a panel discussion featuring The Humane League at EAG London 2023 here.

 

3. AI safety goes mainstream

2023 was the year AI safety went mainstream. After years of work from people in and around effective altruism, this year saw hundreds of high-profile AI experts — including two Turing Award winners — say that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority”.

That was followed by a flurry of activity from policymakers, including a US Executive Order, an international AI Safety Summit, the establishment of the UK Frontier AI Taskforce, and a deal on the EU AI Act — which, thanks to the efforts of campaigners, is now going to regulate foundation models that pose a systemic risk to society.

Important progress was made in technical AI safety, too, including work on adversarial robustnessmechanistic interpretability, and lie detection.

Watch a talk from EAG Boston 2023 on technical AI safety here.

 

4. Results from the world’s largest UBI study

Since 2018, GiveDirectly — an organization that distributes direct cash transfers to those in need — has been running the world’s largest universal basic income experiment in rural Kenya.

In September, researchers led by MIT economist Taveneet Suri and Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee, published their latest analysis of the data — finding that giving people money as a lump sum leads to better results than dispersing it via monthly payments. Long-term UBI was also found to be highly effective and didn’t discourage work. The results could have significant implications for how governments disburse cash aid.

Watch GiveDirectly’s talk at EAGx Nordics 2023.

 

5. Cultivated meat approved for sale in US

After years of work from organizations like the Good Food Institute, in June 2023 the USDA finally approved cultivated meat for sale in the US.

The watershed moment made the US the second country (after Singapore) to legalize the product, which could have significant impacts on animal welfare by reducing the number of animals that need to be raised and killed for meat.

Watch the Good Food Institute’s Bruce Friedrich talk about alternative proteins at EAG London 2023 here.

 

6. A potentially dangerous virus-hunting programme was shut down

In 2021, USAID launched a $125 million dollar program to hunt down viruses that might cause a future pandemic. Biosecurity experts such as MIT’s Kevin Esvelt and Andrew Weber of the Council on Strategic Risks, however, were immediately concerned: such virus hunting could end up bringing new viruses back to society and causing outbreaks, or give bad actors the blueprints to develop new deadly pathogens. 

After pressure from these experts and others, USAID cancelled the program this year — reducing the likelihood of a catastrophic pandemic accidentally occurring in the future.

Watch Kevin Esvelt’s talk at EAG Boston 2023 here.
 

7. And much, much more.

More happened in and around the effective altruism ecosystem this year than we could possibly cover in a post/thread like this! The above is just a brief overview of some of the incredibly impactful work that’s been done. We didn’t touch on Charity Entrepreneurship’s incredible new charities, working on everything from protecting babies from syphilis to combating antimicrobial resistance; or how animal welfare activists successfully persuaded Jollibee to commit to only using eggs from cage-free hens. There wasn’t time to discuss the Lead Exposure Elimination Project’s incredible success in Malawi, where its work appears to have significantly cut the levels of toxic lead in paint. And we’ve not even mentioned the continued growth of the EA ecosystem, including hundreds of new people signing the Giving What We Can pledge to give away 10% of their income to effective charities.

We want to finish by thanking everyone — both those mentioned in this post and the many thousands of those not mentioned — for their incredible work to make the world a better place. Collectively, the effective altruism ecosystem continues to save the lives of both humans and animals, support those suffering from diseases or struggling with poverty, and build a safer future for all of us. Thank you for your work, and we look forward to an even more impactful 2024.

Thanks to Emma Richter for her help on this post.

Comments8
Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:17 AM

Thanks Shakeel! This is an excellent post. There are so many big wins in the EA community that it can be hard to see the big picture and keep them all in mind. We all strive to see the big picture, but sometimes even for us, the latest drama can quickly drive the big successes from our memory. So big picture summaries like this are very useful.

Indeed, summaries of the whole period of EA achievements, or summaries that include setbacks as well as wins would also be good.

I wonder which of these things would have happened (in a similar way) without any EA contribution, and how much longer it would have taken until they would have happened. (In MacAskill's sense: how contingent were these events?) I don't have great answers, but it's an important question to keep in mind. 

If someone has time, I’d love to see a more comprehensive version of this post, even with quick bullet points!

This is by no means a comprehensive list—and some of these relate to points Shakeel already raised—but here’s a list of more wins from 2023, some more meta than others:

  • New Incentives hit 2 million infants served by their program. As of January 3, 2024, they’re now at 2,585,587 enrolled in total. Their 2023 enrollment exceeded all their previous years combined.
  • Giving What We Can launched a new pledge option for those with significant wealth to give away 10% of their total wealth, not just their income. They also launched effective giving groups in many communities.
  • Three charities were recognized and recommended by ACE for the first time, based on impact potential, cost-effectiveness, room for more funding, and organizational health: Legal Impact for ChickensNew Roots Institute; and Shrimp Welfare Project. (Faunalytics, The Humane League, and Wild Animal Initiative all retained their status as Recommended Charities after being re-evaluated this year.)
  • The recent Donation Election on the Forum raised $34,856, $12,847.75 going to Rethink Priorities, $11,351.11 to the Charity Entrepreneurship: Incubated Charities Fund, and $10,657.07 to the Animal Welfare Fund (EA Funds) after voting from 341 Forum users.
  • Bill Gates recommended GiveWell!
  • The Humane League “pushed the companies falling behind on their commitments to follow through on their promise” and “held 36 companies with global cage-free commitments accountable to reporting progress on their pledges.” Notably, 39.4% of the US egg-laying flock are free from cages, "(over ~120 million hens, up from ~5% when THL began this work in 2014.” (Source: Forum post from THL)
  • Against Malaria Foundation received its millionth donation in 2023. As of November 2023, their team is in the middle of a nine-month period to distribute 90 million nets to protect 160 million people in Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, South Sudan, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. “The impact of these nets is expected to be, ± 20%, 40,000 deaths prevented, 20 million cases of malaria averted and a US$2.2 billion improvement in local economy (12x the funds applied).” (Source: Forum post from AMF)
  • Open Philanthropy added a new cause area to their Global Health and Wellbeing portfolio: Global Public Health Policy
  • Vox’s Future Perfect 50 recognized several people related to the EA ecosystem and the valuable work they contribute.

Again, these are just some additional wins! I would love to hear from others about the work they appreciated from the past year or wins you’ve seen in your areas of work or interest.

(Edit note, Jan 4: I previously said AMF had already distributed 90 million nets. @tobytrem pointed out they are in fact part way through distributing these nets.)

I'm curating this post. I'm doing this both because this post is valuable in itself, and because I would love to see more comments which:
1) Add to the list of EA wins (even small things/ debatable things are valuable to raise)
2) Question and discuss the counterfactual impact of EA/ specific interventions on the outcomes Shakeel describes above. This recent quick take from joshcmorrison about the difficulties of evaluating advocacy work, and the comment below from Jakob Lohmar are a good place to start thinking about this. 

This was a really great read. Thank you for sharing!

Executive summary: The effective altruism community had numerous impactful achievements in 2023, including a new malaria vaccine, upholding an animal welfare law, progress on AI safety going mainstream, results from a large UBI experiment, approval of cultivated meat, and shutting down a potentially dangerous virus-hunting program.

Key points:

  1. A new malaria vaccine was recommended by the WHO and deployment was expedited via advocacy, which could save hundreds of thousands of lives.
  2. The Supreme Court upheld a California animal welfare law that will improve the lives of millions of animals.
  3. AI safety went mainstream with hundreds of experts calling it a priority, new government initiatives, and progress on technical issues.
  4. The world's largest UBI experiment found lump sums are better than monthly payments and long-term UBI works well.
  5. Cultivated meat was approved for sale in the US, which could reduce animal suffering.
  6. A dangerous virus-hunting program was shut down, reducing pandemic risk.

 

This comment was auto-generated by the EA Forum Team. Feel free to point out issues with this summary by replying to the comment, and contact us if you have feedback.

These are great milestones!!! This is a reflection of the kind of things we are pushing in EA and I am glad that we have made remarkable progress so far.

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