Center for Reducing Suffering

Alistair Webster
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Support score: 202OrganizationExistential and suffering risksAI safety

Our mission is to reduce severe suffering, taking all sentient beings into account. We develop ethical views that give priority to suffering, and research how to best reduce suffering. Our top priority is to avoid worst-case futures.

The Center for Reducing Suffering (CRS) is a research center that works to create a future with less suffering, with a focus on reducing the most intense suffering.

Values

We believe suffering matters equally regardless of who experiences it, which implies that we should consider the suffering of all sentient beings in our efforts. This includes wild animals, and possibly also invertebrates or even artificial beings.

We also believe suffering matters equally regardless of when it is experienced. Consequently, since we think the long-term future contains the vast majority of sentient beings in expectation, our focus is primarily on reducing suffering in the long-term future.

Main priority

Our main priority with respect to the long-term future is to avoid outcomes with astronomical amounts of intense suffering (i.e. to reduce s-risks). This is because we aim to reduce suffering as much as we can in expectation. Given the scale and severity of s-risks, as well as how likely they seem, we believe s-risk reduction should be a top priority.

This focus on preventing very bad outcomes in the long-term future carries significant implications:

Cooperation

First, it highlights the importance of taking a cooperative approach. Such an approach is generally beneficial in efforts to reduce suffering, yet it is especially important for the endeavor of avoiding worst-case outcomes, not least since escalating conflicts are a plausible mechanism for how very bad futures might come about. Virtually everyone can agree that such outcomes are worth avoiding. As a result, we have much to gain by cooperating with those who share this aim, even if avoiding worst-case outcomes is not their main priority.

Being prudent

The question of how we can best prevent future suffering is bound to entail great uncertainty, as the potential ways in which bad outcomes might materialize in the long-term future are many and difficult to predict. Similarly numerous are the courses of action we may pursue, and the long-term consequences of these respective actions are also difficult to predict.

One upshot of this uncertainty is that we should be careful that our efforts to reduce suffering do not end up causing more harm than they prevent.

Open-ended research

More generally, the significant uncertainty that faces us implies that we should pursue extensive research on how we can best avoid outcomes with astronomical amounts of suffering. Such a research endeavor faces many pitfalls, including overconfidence about what we should ideally focus on. More than that, psychological research also suggests that we are likely to prematurely narrow in on a single focus area to the irrational exclusion of others.

For example, in one study where participants were presented with two competing hypotheses, people tended to wholly ignore the less plausible hypothesis when making predictions and further inferences, even as they acknowledged that the less plausible hypothesis deserved some weight. This finding is highly relevant for the endeavor of reducing suffering, as we here find countless hypotheses (about optimal paths to impact, say) that deserve some weight, yet which we may be inclined to ignore in our decisions. We must be careful to avoid this ‘most salient hypothesis bias’.

Given these pitfalls, it is crucial that we pursue a truly open-ended research program that remains humble and honest about the extent of our uncertainty, and which seeks to explore a broad range of future risks.

Our work

In line with the above, CRS pursues work focused on reducing risks of astronomical suffering in cooperative ways. More specifically, we work to promote research on essentially two fronts:

  • To develop ethical views that give special priority to the reduction of suffering (i.e. suffering-focused ethics).
  • To clarify what our priorities should be at a practical level so as to best reduce suffering, especially to reduce s-risks.

In pursuing such research, we aim to catalyze a larger research program on these issues, and to help others do important work in this area. (Our Strategic Plan contains more details on why we believe that our research program is critical in achieving our mission.)

[This project was created by the GiveWiki team. Please visit the website of the organization for more information on their work.]

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