Holden Karnofsky is the co-CEO of Open Philanthropy and co-founder of GiveWell. He is also the author of one of the most interesting blogs on the internet, Cold Takes.
* Are we living in the most important century?
* Does he regret OpenPhil’s 30 million dollar grant to OpenAI in 2016?
* How does he think about AI, progress, digital people, & ethics?
Watch on YouTube. Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast platform. Read the full transcript here.
(0:00:00) - Intro
(0:00:58) - The Most Important Century
(0:06:44) - The Weirdness of Our Time
(0:21:20) - The Industrial Revolution
(0:35:40) - AI Success Scenario
(0:52:36) - Competition, Innovation , & AGI Bottlenecks
(1:00:14) - Lock-in & Weak Points
(1:06:04) - Predicting the Future
(1:20:40) - Choosing Which Problem To Solve
(1:26:56) - $30M OpenAI Investment
(1:30:22) - Future Proof Ethics
(1:37:28) - Integrity vs Utilitarianism
(1:40:46) - Bayesian Mindset & Governance
(1:46:56) - Career Advice
Dwarkesh Patel All right, today I have the pleasure of speaking with Holden Karnofsky who is the co-CEO of Open Philanthropy. In my opinion, Holden is one of the most interesting intellectuals alive. Holden, welcome to the Lunar Society.
Thanks for having me.
The Most Important Century
Let's start off by talking about The Most Important Century thesis. Do you want to explain what this is for the audience?
My story is that I originally co-founded an organization called GiveWell that helps people decide where to give as effectively as possible. While I’m no longer as active as I once was there, I'm on its board. It's a website called GiveWell.org that makes good recommendations about where to give to charity to help a lot of people. As we were working at GiveWell, we met Cari Tuna and Dustin Moskovitz. Dustin is the co-founder of Facebook and Asana and we started a project that became Open Philanthropy to try to help them give away their large fortune and help as many people as possible. So I've spent my career looking for ways to do as much good as possible with a dollar, an hour, or basically whatever resources you have (especially with money).
I've developed this professional specialization in looking for ideas that are underappreciated, underrated, and tremendously important because a lot of the time that's where I think you can find what you might call an “outsized return on investment.” There are opportunities to spend money and get an enormous impact because you're doing something very important that’s being ignored by others. So it's through that kind of professional specialization that I've actively looked for interesting ideas that are not getting enough attention. Then I encountered the Effective Altruist Community, which is a community of people basically built around the idea of doing as much good as you can. It's through that community that I encountered the idea of the most important century.
It's not my idea at all, I reached this conclusion with the help and input of a lot of people. The basic idea is that if we developed the right kind of AI systems this century (and that looks reasonably likely), this could make this century the most important of all time for humanity. So now let’s talk about the basic mechanics of why that might be or how you might think about that. One thing is that if you look back at all of economic history ( the rate at which the world economy has grown), you see acceleration. You see that it's growing a lot faster today than it ever was. One theory of why that might be or one way of thinking about it through the lens of basic economic growth theory is that in normal circumstances, you can imagine a feedback loop where you have people coming up with ideas, and then the ideas lead to greater productivity and more resources.
When you have more resources, you can also have more people, and then those peopl