Win a Scott Aaronson Speculation Grant!

Exciting news, everyone! Jaan Tallinn, who many of you might recognize as a co-creator of Skype, tech enthusiast, and philanthropist, graciously invited me, along with a bunch of other nerds, to join the new Speculation Grants program of the Survival and Flourishing Fund (SFF). In plain language, that means that Jaan is giving me $200,000 to distribute to charitable organizations in any way I see fit—though ideally, my choices will have something to do with the survival and flourishing of our planet and civilization.

(If all goes well, this blog post will actually lead to a lot more than just $200,000 in donations, because it will inspire applications to SFF that can then be funded by other “Speculators” or by SFF’s usual process.)

Thinking about how to handle the responsibility of this amazing and unexpected gift, I decided that I couldn’t possibly improve on what Scott Alexander did with his personal grants program on Astral Codex Ten. Thus: I hereby invite the readers of Shtetl-Optimized to pitch registered charities (which might or might not be their own)—especially, charities that are relatively small, unknown, and unappreciated, yet that would resonate strongly with someone who thinks the way I do. Feel free to renominate (i.e., bring back to my attention) charities that were mentioned when I asked a similar question after winning $250,000 from the ACM Prize in Computing.

If you’re interested, there’s a two-step process this time:

Step 1 is to make your pitch to me, either by a comment on this post or by email to me, depending on whether you’d prefer the pitch to be public or private. Let’s set a deadline for this step of Thursday, January 27, 2022 (i.e., one week from now). Your pitch can be extremely short, like 1 paragraph, although I might ask you followup questions. After January 27, I’ll then take one of two actions in response: I’ll either

(a) commit a specified portion of my $200,000 to your charity, if the charity formally applies to SFF, and if the charity isn’t excluded for some unexpected reason (5 sexual harassment lawsuits against its founders or whatever), and if one of my fellow “Speculators” doesn’t fund your charity before I do … or else I’ll

(b) not commit, in which case your charity can still apply for funding from SFF! One of the other Speculators might fund it, or it might be funded by the “ordinary” SFF process.

Step 2, which cannot be skipped, is then to have your charity submit a formal application to SFF. The application form isn’t too bad. But if the charity isn’t your own, it would help enormously if you at least knew someone at the charity, so you could tell them to apply to SFF. Again, Step 2 can be taken regardless of the outcome of Step 1.

The one big rule is that anything you suggest has to be a registered, tax-exempt charity in either the US or the UK. I won’t be distributing funds myself, but only advising SFF how to do so, and this is SFF’s rule, not mine. So alas, no political advocacy groups and no individuals. Donating to groups outside the US and UK is apparently possible but difficult.

While I’m not putting any restrictions on the scope, let me list a few examples of areas of interest to me.

  • Advanced math and science education at the precollege level: gifted programs, summer camps, online resources, or anything, really, that aims to ensure that the next Ramanujan or von Neumann isn’t lost to the world.
  • Conservation of endangered species.
  • Undervalued approaches to dealing with the climate catastrophe (including new approaches to nuclear energy, geoengineering, and carbon capture and storage … or even, e.g., studies of the effects of rising CO2 on cognition and how to mitigate them).
  • Undervalued approaches to preventing or mitigating future pandemics—basically, anything dirt-cheap that we wish had been done before covid.
  • Almost anything that Scott Alexander might have funded if he’d had more money.
  • Anything that would enrage the SneerClubbers or those who attack me on Twitter, by doing stuff that even they would have to acknowledge makes the world better, but that does so via people, organizations, and means that they despise.

Two examples of areas that I don’t plan to focus on are:

  • AI-risk and other “strongly rationalist-flavored” organizations (these are already well-covered by others at SFF, so that I don’t expect to have an advantage), and
  • quantum computing research (this is already funded by a zillion government agencies, companies, and venture capitalists).

Anyway, thanks so much to Jaan and to SFF for giving me this incredible opportunity, and I look forward to seeing what y’all come up with!

Note: Any other philanthropists who read this blog, and who’d like to add to the amount, are more than welcome to do so!

58 Responses to “Win a Scott Aaronson Speculation Grant!”

  1. Michael Says:

    I’m a big fan of https://www.givedirectly.org/. Essentially they identify people in need in developing nations and simply give them money. They are consistently rated highly by independent charity-review organizations like GiveWell (https://www.givewell.org/charities/give-directly). They have proven to be extremely effective and efficient, which appeals to the utilitarians and the effective altruists. But their basic model respects the autonomy and human dignity of the people trying to help by letting them decide how best to use the resources. They have run some fairly rigorous studies on these sorts of Universal Basic Income programs and found that most of the potential concerns potential donors may have are not really issues in reality.

  2. Kalinda Vathupola Says:

    Not a pitch, but the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative sounds right up your alley [1]. It’s a relatively new organization that perhaps others can vouch for. Tallinn, however, is already on the board. It’s nice to see a recent event lifting your spirits : ^ )

    [1] – https://existence.org/

  3. Gustavo Ramires Says:

    Well, I have a project I don’t know where to start. I’m not super good at organizing things. I work slowly and am not very productive. And I am not desperate for money (personally).

    Still, I have a (actually, several) project I believe in: they are several connected projects, but the main need is for Formalizing Ethics. It’s that simple: create organizations, or societies, etc. to create a quasi-formal and quasi-universal basis for ethics — think a foundation to ethics analogous to ZFC as a foundation for mathematics. I think designing literally everything else in the world would be such much easier and more humane if we could agree on something as simple as that. (imagine a more comprehensive and authoritative version of the declaration of human rights)

  4. Scott Says:

    Gustavo Ramires #3: Setting aside the practical issue that you’d need a registered charitable foundation, I fear that (alas) any attempt to formalize ethics like ZFC formalizes math is doomed to smash against fundamental ethical disagreements, with pro-life vs. pro-choice being just one obvious example. You might even call the difficulty (wait for it)…
    .
    .
    .
    the independence of the Axiom of Choice! 😀

  5. Omitoj Says:

    After reading “Conservation of endangered species”, I can’t help but ask: is Jaan Tallinn still into cryptocurrencies? They have a direct impact on the habitats of many species, due to their CO2 emissions. Wouldn’t the message be clearer and more coherent if that item was removed from the list?

  6. Tu Says:

    Scott,

    As I believed I implored you to do the last time you were giving away money, why not use the money to invest in my quantum computing startup that specializes in solving NP-hard problems in polynomial time by trying all solutions in parallel?

    Surely the world will be better off with the billions you will earn from this investment in a short period of time.

    In addition, I will give you an NFT of the fact that you wanted to give the money to charity, which you can then sell for god-knows-how-much and use the proceeds charitably.

  7. Gustavo Ramires Says:

    Scott: When I imagine a more enlightened version of a civilization of the future, I think near-certainly they have a well established, near universal basis for ethics. I entertain the idea there might be multiple compatible systems (i.e. able to live harmoniously).

    The idea is to go much deeper than that. A question like that (how should we value life) should be a theorem, not an axiom. Clearly, the basis of all ethics and all meaning lies in consciousness and conscious experience, in existence of generalized minds. You can sort of build up from there. You can define consciousness near-formally, then you can give a sketch of what a good experience looks like. I personally believe in universality: the whole of existence in anyone’s future lightcone (without much jargon, ‘everyone that exists or will exist’) is the basis of ethical value. This emerges formally from the inability to distinguish one experience from the next… if experience is the basis of value, how could we discriminate between them?

    Each axiom is justifiable through thought experiments and what I call ‘explosive philosophy’, which is essentially applying something like the principle of explosion to ethical considerations. For example, you can show that a strictly darwinian basis for ethics (where we should simply value what succeeds in a generalized evolutionary setting) leads to dystopia and collapse of existence in several plausible scenarios.

    So something like: (very rough sketch)

    (1) Universal conscious experience is the prime value;

    (2) Experience can be evaluated from the richness, breadth and depth;

    (3) (Corollary) We should act to sustain experience of all lifeforms as much as we can.

    Part of the dream is also instituting or promoting some kind of universal ethics education; government reforms; some universal way of measuring progress of all forms of government and institutions. I want to take plausible deniability out of human rights violations with a solid, near-undeniable basis for ethics — I want the fiercest (rational) opponent to ultimately concede on such points.

  8. Alex Altair Says:

    This recommendation is re: “Advanced math and science education at the precollege level”.

    I attended the Maine School of Science and Mathematics (MSSM) and it absolutely changed the trajectory of my life, and that of many of my classmates. Maine is not exactly filled with STEM opportunities; MSSM provides Maine students a launching point. It’s is a boarding school, and its remoteness turns out to strongly filter for students who deeply care about learning. This means that your classmates are exceptional, and it also leads to a tight-knit community. For me, MSSM was the college experience before college. My senior year, I was able to take linear algebra, differential equations, and multivariable calculus. Very few high schools in Maine would offer this opportunity!

    And re: “anything that aims to ensure that the next Ramanujan or von Neumann isn’t lost to the world”, one of my classmates demonstrated enough ability that they decided to create a more advanced class just for him. He then went to MIT.

    Given how small they are (~130 students), I think a tiny donation could go a long way. They recently raised sent a newsletter in which they adorably announced their excitement that they exceeded their fundraising goal of $12k. https://www.mssm.org/

  9. Kant Says:

    My vote is for biochar, for carbon sequestering and prevention of forest fires. Also, research into obesity prevention, which is the health crisis of our generation!

  10. Scott Says:

    Omitoj #5: Yes, Jaan is involved with cryptocurrencies (although they’ve never been his main interest AFAIK). And yes, I share your concerns about the environmental impacts of existing cryptocurrencies. In fact, speaking of which, mitigating those impacts would be one research direction I’d potentially be interested to fund!

    Having said that, neither Jaan nor SFF put any restrictions on how I can spend the $200k, besides what was mentioned in the post. So I see nothing “unclear” or “incoherent” about spending this generous bequest on whatever strikes me as aiding the “survival and flourishing” of stuff that I care about … which might indeed include the conservation of endangered species.

  11. Scott Says:

    Tu #6:

      why not use the money to invest in my quantum computing startup that specializes in solving NP-hard problems in polynomial time by trying all solutions in parallel?

    Alas, that doesn’t sound to me like a tax-exempt charity! 😀

  12. Scott Says:

    Alex Altair #8: Thank you for that exceedingly tempting pitch!

  13. Anon Says:

    What format do you need for the proposal 10 pt or 12 pt? What are the requirements on Facilities and Equipment, Broader Impact, EDI values, COA, C and P?

    I am only half-joking :).

    Very nice initiative Scott!

  14. Scott Says:

    Anon #13: Yeah, when I momentarily felt guilty about the few paragraphs of rules in this post, I reminded myself how laughably trivial they are compared to the rules of a normal granting agency. 🙂

  15. Gustavo Ramires Says:

    Scott: it seems my post was not entirely in the spirit of this thread, so I apologize for that (if anyone has any recommendations for me, please feel free!).

    I’ve read a little of what Alex wrote, and I think if we can learn anything from the past is that sometimes exceptional individuals concentrate around a few magical places. Anything we can do to foster them is probably a win! (Also, thank you for your kindness!)

  16. DR Says:

    My husband is a first generation college graduate in his family, from Mumbai India. His parents valued education deeply, but they did not know what books or magazines to buy the children. Despite very limited means, they subscribed to whatever magazines they knew to. One such magazine had a hard math puzzle every week. He got hooked to this and it indirectly prepared him.for the IIT JEE. Despite only studying for it directly for a year, he did extremely well.

    He now takes this experience of doing hard math puzzles to any interested young children 6th grade and older. The 6th grade limit is just to screen for attention span and maturity. He doesn’t mind if they are not good at math yet. They have to be interested in this opportunity though.

    He is very methodical and you can wake him up at 3 am and he will tell you which child got what concept wrong on which day!

    This takes him several hours a week, that he enjoys immensely. He is naturally gifted in both math and a coach-like mindset.

    I don’t see what he would do with funding, but I just wanted to mention it here. If you know a child who could use this, let me know! He currently has 3 students, middle and high school. He helps them prepare for popular math competitions like AMC10, just to set them clearly defined goals.

    He does this for free, via zoom. He is trying to build this to a critical mass of students, so they can collaborate and have friendly competition. I thought readers of this comment might send interested kids along.

    So far, this has grown organically, and it is to share the joy of math problem solving.

  17. Marisa Debowsky Says:

    I’ll definitely send you an email next week on behalf of Canada/USA Mathcamp! 🙂 Just putting a note here in the comments to say that’s in the works. I’m also happy to talk with you about the ecosystem of math & science pre-college enrichment programs more broadly if that would be helpful.

  18. Scott Says:

    Marisa Debowsky #17: Great, I’ll look out for that! I’ve donated to Mathcamp before and would be glad for another opportunity.

  19. Wally Graeber Says:

    Hi Scott,

    The Southern Heights Food Forest in Lincoln, Nebraska would love to utilize your generous offer for funding to advance our 2 acre food forest site in establishing an oak savanna that grows at faster rates alongside guilds of fruit and nut bearing tree species. We are a 501c3 that works with both kids and their families to inspire more people to plant native, edible plants in the local ecosystem to attract/feed wildlife and humans.

    Would love to continue the conversation if desired! Thanks so much, Wally

  20. asdf Says:

    My first thought was the Free Software Foundation, which is ridiculously low-budget in relation to its influence, and whose founder was cancelled in a particularly obnoxious way. But, while idk about other FSF staff, I am sure that RMS would refuse to fill in the online grant application, because of the non-free Javascript in the Google Docs page. Would a paper submission (print out and fill in the pdf) suffice?

    Edgier possible recipients would include Sci-hub (Alexandra Elkabyan) and Libgen. At least the first of these came up last time, though.

  21. Scott Says:

    asdf #20: Can either Sci-Hub or Libgen be supported via tax-deductible donations to a registered charity in the US or the UK?

  22. Ted Says:

    I would echo Michael #1’s suggestion of GiveDirectly, and I would also suggest GiveWell (www.givewell.org) or another charity evaluator whose approach resonates with you. The impact of any donation to a well-regarded charity evaluator could get magnified many times over, if that donation gives the evaluator the resources to improve their recommendations for charities that many subsequent people then base their choice of donations on. So your donation could improve the flow of a much larger stream of subsequent donations. (Plus, as someone who has studied Godel’s theorem, the notion of meta-charitable donation might appeal to you.) However, I would suggest avoiding any charity evaluators whose primary criterion is the charity’s overhead rate. I consider this to be a useless statistic; there are probably just as many charities whose overhead rates are suboptimally low as suboptimally high. GiveWell (and similar evaluators) take a much more thoughtful and nuanced approach to their evaluation.

    If you’re interested in reducing factory-farmed animal suffering, then this column has thoughtful suggestions for several good options: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/12/16/opinion/factory-farming-animals.html. It includes several charities promoting scientific research into artificial meat substitutes, which might appeal to you as a scientist.

    Finally, for enraging SneerClubbers, you may want to consider the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education: https://www.thefire.org/. They are strong defenders of free speech and the open exchange of ideas on college campuses.

  23. Karsten Says:

    Well if you manage to get a tax refund for a donation to scihub you’ve definitely found a bug in the US tax code. Next do the DMCA.

  24. asdf Says:

    Scott, sci-hub and libgen are both in Russia and sci-hub accepts only bitcoin donations (don’t know about libgen). So no US registration I’m sure. On another topic:

    Here is a project I think someone should do, that might take $10K or so. I have some willingness to pursue it at least as far as a prelimnary study, but I don’t think I’m the best person for it so I’d prefer that someone else took it on.

    Basically it’s becoming more and more accepted that Covid is an airborne virus (see covidisairborne.org for lots of info) and that you get a lot more protection from high-filtration masks such as N95’s, than from cloth or surgical masks.

    Unfortunately a lot of N95’s are fake and don’t filter well at all, so before trusting a mask, you really need to see test results. Ok fine, there are people out there testing masks and posting the results (I’ll give some links below). That is still scary though: just because one batch of masks from vendor X tests good doesn’t mean the product won’t be crapified later, yet still sold with the same model number. What you really want is to test the masks yourself, or (next best) have test gear available at the clinic and retailer level.

    So the project is to make a mask testing setup that costs less than say $500 to reproduce, preferably a lot less. Then all the plans and code can be published, kits or assembled units could be sold, etc. I’ve done some info gathering that I’m happy to share with anyone who wants it, but my basic idea is to start with a PM2.5 laser air quality test module, in the hope that the 2.5 micron particles it detects are a usable proxy for smaller particles like viruses. This module costs $50 or so. Then use pneumatic stuff and nebulizers made from vape gear to make a salt spray, and try to reproduce the setup in Joel Ramirez’s 2015 PhD thesis where he tested N95 masks.

    Links:

  25. 1. Hacker news thread by a mask vendor who bought and tested every mask on Amazon.
  26. 2. Aaron Collins: google docs spreadsheet with results of different mask tests; test methodology video (23 minutes, very good). He has trouble knowing the true size distribution of his salt particles though.
  27. asdf Says:

    Texas Childrens’ Hospital and Baylor College apparently spent about $7 million developing Cobrevax (patent-free Covid vaccine making a lot of news), funded by individual philanthropists since none of the usual funders were willing to support it. I guess that’s not in the SFF’s target range but otherwise was interesting.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/jan/15/corbevax-covid-vaccine-texas-scientists

  28. alyosha Says:

    Scott — thanks for being an inspiration, as usual. I will watch the thread and keep brewing the charities question…

    Scott #10: Re “the environmental impacts of existing cryptocurrencies”, the mitigation of which being “one research direction I’d potentially be interested to fund”: Pardon me if you already know this, but the problem is the use of computationally intensive
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof_of_work
    by many cryptos, most harmfully by bitcoin. But there are already alternatives. This serves as a very short intro and has links to other schemes:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consensus_(computer_science)#Permissionless_consensus_protocols
    One prominent case in point is Ethereum soon moving from proof of work to proof of stake.

    Half-tangent: this is one of *many* reasons why it isn’t a good bet to “””invest””” in bitcoin: There is a significant risk that proof of work currencies will be prohibited in jurisdictions that see that as one means of combating global warming (and BTW i support that prohibition for that reason), and if those jurisdictions are large/numerous enough, maybe the already hollow arguments for the valuation of bitcoin will finally collapse and thence its valuation.

  29. Luboš Motl Says:

    You should donate the money to the Institute of [former Czech president] Václav Klaus (www dot institutvk dot cz) because it obeys all the conditions and no one else does.

    1. They have a math training, mostly from the economics degrees and econometrics experience

    2. They are saving endangered species, namely the people who have some common sense, decency, and traditional values

    3. They solve the climate catastrophe by an undervalued approach, namely by saying the truth about it – the truth that it is just hogwash which is rigorously proven in numerous publications of the institute

    4. While the Covid troubles have been damn real, the reaction was vastly worse than the original disease, and the institute also solves this bigger problem by explaining the truth about it.

    I can get you in touch with the institute.

  30. Triceratops Says:

    Lubos, unfortunately I don’t think your suggestion meets Scott’s criteria!

    Thank you for bringing this institute to my attention though. I’m always looking for new rabbit holes online, and boy does this one go deep.

  31. Bernard Manson Says:

    Dear Scott,

    May I apply for a Speculation Grant for Number Champions.

    We are a relatively new (2018) but fast growing charity helping primary (= elementary in the USA) school children with maths in the UK.

    Our ambition is (i) to grow to support children in every every primary school in the UK and (ii) to change the culture towards maths so that it is cool, even to 6 year olds.

    So far we don’t think we have found Ramunjan, but when we scale…

  32. Matt Says:

    Completely offtopic, useless and nevertheless not to be held back:
    I don’t know for whom/what this money is best used, but I know very well for whom/what not: who in their right mind says: “no one else is suitable”.
    Sure, I know that was crystal clear=stupid Lubos rhetoric and Pilsner beer hasn’t been what it used to be for a long time. As a former president said: sad.

  33. Scott Says:

    Bernard Manson #29: Thanks, I’ll consider that comment to be your application!

  34. Jalex Stark Says:

    This is probably redundant with some things that Marisa could tell you about the advanced education space, but:

    Roughly speaking, Bridge to Enter Advanced Mathematics (beammath.org) teaches math to underserved NYC middle-schoolers, and then supports them through high school to ensure they have good college opportunities. The goal is *not* to guide people into academia or to sift for Ramanujans per se, but a positive fraction of the students *do* have the technical skills to e.g. produce original math research. I’m confident that the counterfactual impact on the lives of the individual students is quite large, though we’re always struggling to come up with good metrics.

    I could introduce you to the BEAM executives and/or ask them to fill out an application. I think (but am not super sure) that all of their currently running programs (summer camps, year-round classes and advising) have pretty stable funding. (They get a lot of money via individual contributions from quant finance folks.) I think the marginal dollar allocated to BEAM goes towards their national effort to create something like a “math enrichment summer camp in a box”. The idea is to run many programs through local educators with remote support from the BEAM fulltime staff. For anyone interested in non-monetary contribution, they maybe sort of want to hire a software engineer. I think they’d be excited to talk to a mission-aligned candidate.

    Again, Marisa can tell you much more, but I think the marginal dollar to Mathcamp goes towards subsidizing tuition for students. (BEAM is already free for students, of course.)

    Personally, I’ve worked summer-length fulltime positions at both BEAM and Canada/USA Mathcamp, and give them about half as much money as I give to, uh, “strongly rationalist-flavored causes.” Both orgs have highly capable executive teams and a culture of constant improvement. (The people on these teams are also quite mathematically sharp, with a surprising number of PhDs from elite math departments.) I probably couldn’t have attended Mathcamp as a student without aid. Without my experience as a student at camp, I probably would have written 0 quantum computing papers.

  35. Scott Says:

    Lubos #27 (yes, I know I’m missing the little boomerang above the s in your name, but I’m on my phone): Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll know not to donate a cent to the institute you mentioned, if it indeed takes the positions you indicated about climate change and covid. I beg your indulgence on this, as I simply can’t help myself—being, as you well know, deranged far-left feces with an IQ of 80.

  36. DR Says:

    Another thought, is to fund gifted math students who are not challenged by school math, for the Art of Problem Solving classes. In some cities, these are in-person. It is a great organization.

    It doesn’t work for kids not gifted in math, however. A teacher at a school or a well-designed questionnaire might help you identify deserving kids who will take advantage of this.

  37. Roland Halpern Says:

    Every time we try to submit the application we get the message: Cannot contact reCAPTCHA. Check your connection and try again. We have tried several times and we know the web connections is good.

  38. Lilac Says:

    @ Jalex Stark

    Thanks for sharing, Jalex. Daniel Zaharopol is transforming kids’ lives. I forget sometimes how it can be at first. And how a good experience, good people, good vibes, around some maths… it can lead to people reading more and changing life paths to be sure. Technical skills is the right framing. I trust that you are honestly evaluating your own counterfactual; the effect size of a camp really can be huge.

  39. M2 Says:

    Whew! I can’t wait until you get to read my proposal about using quantum computers to run NP complete algorithms in polynomial time and thereby solving AI risk!

  40. someone Says:

    Software Freedom Conservancy is a charity supporting the Free Software and Open Source community and fighting for the rights of people to control the software running on the devices they use.

    https://sfconservancy.org/

  41. Keith McLaren Says:

    Hi Scott,
    Just a huge long shot. I’m an anti-smoker, which means I don’t smoke and abhor people smoking around me. I don’t mind if they smoke it’s just if they abstend from inhaling into my private place while they are doing it.
    As such I am on a mission to get, initially Edinburgh, to introduce non-smoking streets down town.
    I have no charity as such but could use some cash to help me say lobby politicians and anti-smoking charities to further my cause.
    I go to Japan a lot, as my wife is Japanese, and it’s a blessing there to have clean air in their inner cities.
    Anyway that’s my shout sir.
    And keep up the diverse and entertaining blog.

  42. Roland Halpern Says:

    Animal shelters, rescues and sanctuaries are important, and much needed, but they only focus on the symptoms of animal abuse, cruelty and neglect. Colorado Voters for Animals focuses on the root cause by helping pass laws that strengthen (or create) penalties for harming animals, whether it be farm, companion or wildlife. Studies show an undeniable link between animal cruelty and cruelty to humans. When we have laws that empower judges to order mandatory mental health treatment programs as part of sentencing future cruelty can be prevented.

  43. Effectiveness Says:

    @Ronald Halpern,

    Are there any studies demonstrating the effectiveness of those treatment programs as a remedy for animal cruelty? If not, organizing them would make a wonderful set of grant proposals.

  44. A Ray Says:

    I’m curious if you’d be interested in funding non-traditional mathematics research organizations?

    The specific one I have in mind right now is Topos https://topos.institute/ (no affiliation, I think they’ve got some interesting ideas, and I’m eager to see more non-traditional successes)

  45. Scott Says:

    A Ray #42: I’d consider it, but I’d want a strong argument for why category theory, and the other interests of Topos Institute folks, are the best way to have a positive impact on the world! And also to know about their success, or lack thereof, in getting funding from elsewhere.

  46. Martin S. Says:

    Dear Scott,
    first of all, support of teaching science-oriented subjects before colleges is definitively a good thing! Or anything that explains to pupils and their parents that science is not a bad colonialism thing.

    Besides that, I would suggest some organization that helps to avoid money deflecting. While I know mostly about European organizations, it seems that some of them have connections to US-based organizations: OCCRP, ICIJ.
    It might be somewhat dangerous though, of course.

  47. matt Says:

    It is perhaps too mainstream a charity for your purposes, but I think the Solar Electric Light Fund is a very interesting idea.

  48. Sean Richardson Says:

    I’m very excited about the Sentience Institute (https://sentienceinstitute.org), a think tank researching the expansion of humanity’s moral circle. Many historical atrocities have been facilitated by the exclusion of certain human groups from legal, political, and social norms, and one of the greatest tragedies of the modern world, 100 billion animals on factory farms, occurs because we still exclude most nonhuman animals.

    I think the long-term flourishing of humanity hinges on this sort of moral progress, especially if digital persons (https://www.cold-takes.com/how-digital-people-could-change-the-world/) come to outnumber biological persons. My understanding is also that Sentience Institute is very funding-constrained and has several talented researchers they would hire if they had more funding.

  49. asdf Says:

    Sean #46 I figure any organization big enough to deal with the bureaucracy of getting charitable tax exemption is already more mainstream than is ideal. If that’s the constraint though, then fine, the donations still help.

  50. Eitan Bachmat Says:

    ArXiv

  51. Ajit R. Jadhav Says:

    Hi Scott,

    Thanks. I didn’t know about Jaan Tallinn. (This is a fact.) Good to get to know about him. (I read the Wiki.)

    Ummm… might as well…

    Hi Jaan,

    Would you be interested in providing some funding to my personal research on the foundations of QM? If yes, please drop a comment here or write me an email, and we can take it forward. Scott perhaps might be able to recollect some of the related bits I’ve mentioned, but since you in all probability wouldn’t know, let me mention a little about my research here.

    So far, I’ve developed (i) a new approach to the *non-relativistic* QM of *many* electron systems, (ii) simulated the simplest *non-trivial* problem, viz., of calculating the bonding energy of the two *interacting* electrons in the helium atom — and the numerical results are such that any good computational scientist / engineer would, with his knowledge of the techniques used, call them as approximate / crude but definitely encouraging (with some other ideas in the pipeline to improve the result), (iii) arrived at a conceptual-level explanation of the measurement problem (though simulation for it is impracticable even using supercomputers).

    I didn’t publish the results because I didn’t know what all too include in the paper and what all to leave out. A sounding out with physicists would have helped. But physicists from leading Indian universities or institutions abroad have not come back to show willingness to provide me with some informal feedback.

    What needs to be done in future are items like: (i) development of a special relativistic description, by extending or suitably generalizing this (successful) approach, and (ii) a description of photons. Also other items as they occur to me.

    Please give it a thought. If interested, please get in touch with me. [Scott, feel free to share my email ID with Jaan, if he asks for it.] However, please keep one thing in the mind. Even if I receive funding, I wouldn’t accept any one’s supervision — not even an indirect one. Not for this project. Collaboration might perhaps be OK; sounding out is perfectly fine. But no supervision, no reporting. Those are my terms. If interested, please let me know yours.

    Best,
    –Ajit

  52. Long Term Charities: Apply for SFF Funding | Don't Worry About the Vase Says:

    […] immediate gratification in the form of a speculation grant. A number of people, including myself and also Scott Aaronson, have been given $200k budgets to give out as we see fit. He’s inviting quick pitches for this. […]

  53. Hauke Hillebrandt Says:

    You could top up these grants:

    lets-fund.org/better-science

    lets-fund.org/clean-energy

    Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions!

  54. Jan Says:

    I’d like to pitch once more for The Nature Conservancy (https://www.nature.org, not to be confused with the publisher https://www.nature.com). (They are a registered charity in both the US and the UK.) The industrial revolution has brought fantastic prosperity for people in industrial nations, but the exploitation of nature, just purely quantitatively in terms of how many acres of natural wilderness have been “consumed”, has been taken for granted for so long that we are now facing a huge crisis in biodiversity. Obviously this crisis is linked to the climate crisis, and indirectly also to the corona crisis (human civilisation breaching into natural habitat, thereby increasing the chances that viruses transfer to humans, not proven for covid specifically, but that this risk is increasing in general, I believe, is acknowledged by experts). To summarize in one sentence: the natural environment is also *our* environment. As long as there was plenty, we failed to appreciate that. Now we need to conserve what is left, and moreover steer our technological development into co-existence with nature.

  55. Dan Zaharopol Says:

    A couple of people have already generously mentioned BEAM here, and I’m just confirming that we’d be happy to go through the application process. We’re focused on supporting students who are under-challenged in school but whose families don’t have the resources to pursue outside enrichment, so I think we’re a good fit. We focus both on academics and access to more advanced work, and on developing a community of like-minded people from similar backgrounds to our students (low-income, generally Black and Latino).

    FWIW, I think the value to an organization like ours comes more in spreading the word and the validation than in the money itself; part of your value add here is likely your blog!

    SFF seems to be quite focused on a rapid grant process, and that’s less relevant to us; we’re not immediately cash starved (but more money == serving more kids long term). So long as that focus from SFF isn’t a requirement, this would certainly help us out.

  56. Danica Says:

    This podcast about child porn and trafficking horrified me, and it’s been so exacerbated by internet technology and COVID has made things even worse, with people stuck at home all the time: https://wakingup.libsyn.com/213-the-worst-epidemic (Sam Harris interviewing a New York Times Reporter).

    I believe that ending as much childhood trauma as we can will be a big step towards making the world a better place. So organizations such as Thorn (https://www.thorn.org/), IWF (https://www.iwf.org.uk/), and so on (https://polarisproject.org, https://anniecannons.org, https://www.missingkids.org/) are ones I would put forth. Happy to get in touch with any that are especially appealing regarding the SFF application process and assist.

    Some are trying to use machine learning and AI to improve finding and stopping porn content creation (a non negligible number of people are seeking out content involving having sex with actual babies!) and trafficking, and some support victims through e.g. teaching them to code to make them less financially vulnerable and therefore susceptible.

    Thanks!

  57. EB Says:

    Emergence Benefactors (EB: https://ebenefactors.org/) is a 501(c)(3) charity established in 2021, striving to reduce global suffering and promote long-term human flourishing through an in-depth understanding of emergent (spiritual, mystical, energetic, psychedelic, and related) phenomena.

    We are designed to support the roadmap of the Emergent Phenomenology Research Consortium (EPRC: https://theeprc.org/) and its allied entities. This way, we fund and support methodologically rigorous, ontologically agnostic research on emergent experiences, practices, and their effects. We aim to promote the culturally-sensitive incorporation of this scientific and clinical knowledge into global, evidence-based knowledge bases. Last but not least, we draw insights from rationalist and effective altruism frameworks.

    EB’s Board and team of contractors ensure a diverse range of professional skills and talents. Dr. Daniel M. Ingram (CV: https://tinyurl.com/dringram), the self-funded Acting CEO and Board Chair of EB, has over 37 years of professional and personal experience with emergent phenomena.

    We welcome both unrestricted donations and those intended to support specific projects and activities. We would also appreciate valuable feedback from Scott Aaronson and/or his readers on how to make this project the best it can be!

    The EPRC Whitepaper contains all the detailed information:
    https://hypernotes.zenkit.com/i/UFIY1UO1cp/84TWK0BwQlq/?v=M6pP_Tb7W6

    For inquiries:
    daniel.ingram at ebenefactors.org

  58. Richard Bowdon Says:

    As Executive Director of the Summer Science Program (SSP) (summerscience.org), I hereby apply for a Speculation Grant of $13,000, specifically to fund the purchase of 13 chemostats. These will be used for research in directed evolution by high school students at our new program in genomics and bioinformatics at Purdue University, this summer and subsequent summers. Details are on the website.

    As Marisa noted in #17 above, there is an “ecosystem of math & science pre-college enrichment programs” that transform of the lives of talented adolescents. Mathcamp is one, SSP is another. Our teens arrive as “really good students” who can follow directions, calculate, and regurgitate facts, and leave as high-energy creative collaborators, with the confidence to seek challenges first in college, then in their careers. Founded in 1959, this summer we’ll operate six residential programs on five college campuses in four states. We’re the only summer program operated and largely funded by its own alumni. (I am SSP ‘74.)

    Glad one of our alumni pointed me here last night, just in time. I’m happy to answer any questions. We’ll apply for an SFF grant.

  59. Rich Peterson Says:

    This is not quite on topic as far as applying for a grant from Scott Aaronson, unless someone thinks of a clever way to adapt my proposal. But it is related! One thing Scott and others here are concerned about is Amazon and their monopolistic actions and their bad treatment of employees. I’d like to suggest (you might already have suggested it but so what) a concerted and persistent effort among Scott’s readers to patronize other bookstores like Powell’s, Better World, etc besides amazon for used books over new books and Kindle It will cost more and there will be less availability. But the availability can improve if stores like Powells see that getting more tech books is worth doing because of the persistence of Scott’s readers, and growth beyond.
    There are lots of used math books that I buy from private sellers thru amazon that I can’t find separately on the internet, maybe because i’m web-inept or because of a contract the sellers have with amazon.(would that possibly be an antitrust violation )? There might be one online already, but that just means to me that it should be linked here and become part of the concerted, conscious, regularly discussed movement here.)Either way I’m sure a list of private sellers could be found by some of the computer wizards here.
    I suppose a lot of this depends on if many here even look at old math books or computer science or physics books, rather than new books or just kindle . But in that case, a persistent effort by many people here to get as many books as possible thru BookNook could gradually yield results in the same way ad persistent patronage of Powells would But it’s not as much worth one’s while unless it is known that a lot of others will participate.

  60. Shtetl-Optimized » Blog Archive » Scott Aaronson Speculation Grant WINNERS! Says:

    […] weeks ago, I announced on this blog that, thanks to the remarkable generosity of Jaan Tallinn, and the Speculation Grants […]

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