ACX Grants: Project Updates
How are grantees doing after one year?
Thanks to everyone who got ACX Grants (see original grants here) and sent me a one-year update.
Below are short summaries of the updates everyone sent. If for some reason you want one of the full updates, which are longer and more technical, let me know and I‘ll see if I have permission to send them to you. I’ve also included each grantee’s assessment on a scale of 1-10 for how well they’re doing, where 5/10 is “about as well as expected”. A few grantees are asking for extra help - I’ve included those requests in italics at the end of the relevant updates, and I’ve collected all of them together below.
1: Discover Molecular Targets Of Antibiotics (8/10)
Pedro Silva planned to use in silico screening to identify the biochemical targets of seven promising natural antibiotics, which could potentially help develop better versions of them. He says he's finished most of the simulations and determined the 5-20 most stable complexes for each antibiotic. Once he finishes this, he can start additional simulations on the best complexes to obtain better estimates of their stability and construct hypotheses on which of these is most involved in the antibiotic's efficacy.
2: Ballot Proposition For Approval Voting In Seattle (?/10)
They have asked me not to discuss their progress until after the November election.
3: Software To Validate New FDA Drug Trial Designs (10/10)
Michael Sklar and Confirm Solutions have gotten further funding from FTX and now have 2-3 people working full-time on the project. They are building new statistical techniques and software to help regulators quickly assess designs for clinical trials. Here is a recent conference poster on the methods. They have written proof-of-concept code and are writing a white paper to show regulators and pharma companies. They also claim to have developed software that has "sped up their simulations for some standard Bayesian trial designs by a factor of about 1 million." They are looking for more employees and collaborators; if you’re interested, contact email@example.com
4: Alice Evans’ Research On “The Great Gender Divergence” (?/10)
Dr. Evans has done over four months of research in Morocco, Italy, India, and Turkey. You can find some of her most recent thoughts at her blog here. Her book is still on track to be published from Princeton Press, more details tbd.
5: Develop Safer Immunosuppressants (7/10)
Trevor Klee planned to continue his work to develop a safer slow-release form of cyclosporine. He realized this would be too expensive to do in humans in the current funding environment, and has pivoted to getting his medication approved for a feline autoimmune disease as both a proof-of-concept and as a cheaper, faster way to start making revenue. He recently raised $100,000 in crowdfunding (in addition to getting $200,000 from angel investors to run a feline trial, which will finish in January. He still anticipates eventually moving back to humans. Trevor wants to talk to bloggers or writers who might be interested in covering his work.
6: Promote Economically Literate Climate Policy In US States (4/10)
Yoram Bauman and Climate 24x7 have written a policy paper about their ideas. They were able to get a bill in front of the Nebraska Legislature, but it died in committee. They have a promising measure in Utah, and an off chance of getting something rolling in Pennsylvania. Overall they report frustration, as many of the legislators they worked with have been voted out or term-limited. If you are a legislator or activist interested in helping with this project - especially in Utah, Pennsylvania, or South Dakota - please contact Yoram at firstname.lastname@example.org.
7: Repository / Search Engine For Forecasting Questions (8/10)
Nuno Sempere at metaforecast.org was able to hire a developer to “make the backend significantly better and add a bunch of functionality” - you can see a longer list of updates here. The developer has since left for other forecasting-related work and the project is moving more slowly.
8: Help [Anonymous] Interview For A Professorship (8/10)
[Anonymous] was a grad student who wanted to interview for professorships at top schools where he might work on AI safety in an academic environment. The grant was to help make it financially easier for him to go on a long round of interviews [Anonymous] successfully got a job offer from a top school, and will be going there and researching AI safety.
9: Mobile Slaughterhouses To Prevent African Swine Fever (7/10)
African Swine Fever spreads in Uganda by farmers selling their pigs rather than reporting suspected outbreaks of the disease; Delia Grace and Tom Randolph want to introduce mobile slaughterhouses that will help bring a disease under control a disease devastating for Ugandan pig farmers. The project has since gotten preliminary approval from Ugandan officials and they are working on the technical reports and epidemiological models that could get them to the next stage. They report they will eventually need more funding from a large donor interested in slightly unconventional livestock disease control interventions - contact email@example.com if interested.
10: Hazard Labeling For Endocrine Disruptors (8/10)
Nell Watson reports that “we were able to charm the IEEE into hosting our standards development process, start to finish! The standard development project is now formally registered as IEEE 3173. Our first Working Group meeting to develop the formal standard will be on November 18th 2022 at 16:00 UK time.”
11: Develop Oxfendazole As A New Deworming Medication (10/10)
The Oxfendazole Development Group has received a further $1.6 million from Open Philanthropy. They have completed several studies on metabolites and drug interactions, and are working on more. It is still early in the approval process but they are optimistic. They are looking for further funding to better characterize the physical/chemical properties of oxfendazole; contact here if you are able to help.
12: Biosecurity And Existential Safety Lobbying In Australia (?/10)
Nathan Ashby, Austen Erickson, and Susan Pennings have founded the Institute For Effective Policy. They’re currently working on getting an amendment to the $4.5 billion Emergency Response Fund Amendment (Disaster Ready Fund) Bill to include funding for longer-term risks, as well as helping build a broader and more unified Australian EA policy community. As a result of their work highlighting long term catastrophic risks, the government has invited their group to participate in a national summit on risk resilience
13: A Gel That Can Heal The Brain After Strokes (7/10)
Tatiana Segura’s lab at Duke is working on brain repair technologies that can regrow brain tissue and promote recovery injury. They report that they continue to explore these ideas not following currently FDA approved approaches, but rather new treatment modalities to expand what can be done with patients with brain injuries. One of these approaches is to locally deliver biomaterials (think biocompatible plastics) loaded with extracellular vesicles (these are small sheddings from cells) that contain brain-repair-related factors in mice, as well as worked on some other promising avenues. Dr. Segura writes that “I always need better staff support. So, there is anyone that is not a scientist but would like to be around science that would be very welcomed” - contact firstname.lastname@example.org
14: Survey To Understand Public Attitudes Around Human Challenge Trials (5/10)
1DaySooner has developed their battery of questions and analysis pipeline. They just received IRB approval to conduct the full survey.
15: Rapid Replications Of New Psychology Papers (6/10)
Spencer Greenberg and his ClearerThinking.org org want to attempt to replicate psychology papers shortly after they are published in the most prestigious journals to help improve scientific incentives. They say they’ve finished their first three replications and are working on launching the site (at which point those first three will become publicly available and they’ll keep working on others). ETA two months or so.
16: Research Neural Representation Of Precision Weighting (1/10)
Nils Krauss planned to research how the brain expressed precision, a concept probably relevant to understanding both normal function and mental illness. He says it took too long to finish his PhD and he hasn’t started on this yet, but he still intends to.
17: Crowdfight - A Platform To Create Scientific Collaborations (4/10)
Crowdfight continues to work on its platform. They have hired a project manager and are trying to decrease their response time and the workload on their volunteers. They say that the main bottlenecks are interest from scientists and more funding. If you are interested in helping fund this project, please get in touch with them.
18: David Bahry Re-Orienting And Doing Further Research Before A PhD (6/10)
David was able to do the rockfish research he was interested in, which is available as a pre-print here, and finished two other publications, a presentation, and his masters thesis. He is in discussion with labs where he could potentially do his PhD.
19: A Wiki On Forecasting (4/10)
Nikos Bosse reports that the wiki exists - you can find it at https://forecasting.wiki/. He says that he has stalled in the past few months as he pursues other projects, but that it has an active community and he is hoping to get back to it soon.
20: Microbes From Beetles That Can Digest Plastics (5/10)
Lucas J. Kirschman is working with beetles that (thanks to unusual gut microbes) can digest otherwise undigestable “forever” plastics; he wants to evolve the beetles and microbes to be better at this. He writes “I have hired a graduate student who is using the project as her MS thesis. We have three lines of beetles (control, +polystyrene, and +polyethylene) in a climate-controlled room and we’ve constructed a tiered breeding system that allow us to distinctly separate our generations, it’s similar to the system described here. The parental generation bred successfully, and we are raising the first filial generation, which should begin pupating by the time this published to the website. We have removed the guts from the P and F1 generation for 16S sequencing of the microbiota. Before the end of November 2022, we will choose subsamples from each treatment in the F1 generation, compare their metabolisms when we give them only plastics to eat for a week, and then attempt to isolate gut microbes that can survive in vitro using plastic as their only carbon source.”
21: Support For ALLFED’s Disaster Modeling (?/10)
They have asked me not to discuss their progress yet.
22: Creating Intelligent Tutoring Systems (5/10)
This team has found that their original plan for the software probably wouldn’t work, and have been backing up and trying to figure out how to regroup. They report that “we still have high hopes for delivering on everything in the initial grant proposal, but on a greatly prolonged timeline.” They are concerned about whether large language models will obsolete their product, and interested in talking to anyone who thinks they can predict LLM’s near-future performance - if this is you, contact James Koppel.
23: Start A Biosecurity Center At Stanford (10/10)
Allison Berke has hired three graduate research assistants who are now preparing manuscripts on their work, including “areas of overlap and potential for improvements in current gene synthesis screening algorithms”, “the capabilities of using AI-enabled protein tools to design toxins and viral sequences with enhanced sensitivity and specificity for known binding targets”, and “the current capabilities of biosensors for wastewater screening and continuous remote monitoring of genetically-engineered sequences and novel viruses”. She has gotten an additional FTX grant to put on a “biosecurity bootcamp for legislative staff, to be held at Stanford in summer 2023”.
24: In Vitro Gametogenesis Startup (9/10)
Jeff Hsu says that his startup, Ivy Natal, has identified genes involved in meiosis and developed techniques to activate these genes with CRISPR. The next steps are to test the process to see if it induces meiosis and causes recombination events, and to test transfer of post-meiotic DNA to a donor egg.
25: Sue Factory Farms That Are Illegally Abusing Chickens (8/10)
Legal Impact For Chickens has since raised $800,000 (more than 10x their original ACX grant), is now a two-employee organization, and has filed its first lawsuit, Smith v. Vachris, which has received coverage in Washington Post, FOX Business, etc (if we rely on coverage in FOX to call out abusive chicken farmers, is that the FOX guarding the henhouse?) They are looking to hire another litigator, see ad here.
26: M’s CRISPR Spellchecking Project (?/10)
The team continue not to want me to release details on this, sorry.
27: Open Source Vaccines (6/10)
Alex Hoekstra of RaDVaC says that now that there are many COVID vaccines available, they are focusing on making RNA/LNP vaccines more accessible, both by bringing relevant technologies into the public domain and bringing down the material and logistic costs. They have published several open-source intranasal vaccines for Omicron variants and been working on animal challenge trials.
28: Platform For Psychiatric Drug Screening (4/10)
Beny Falkovich is preparing for a test of known psychiatric drugs to see if his system can observe them working. He hopes to be ready in 5-8 months. He says things are going slowly but that he has another few years until he graduates (plus a potential postdoc year) so there is “plenty of time”.
29: Citizen Surveillance Of Pathogens In Drinking Water (8/10)
Siddhartha Roy reports: "We spent 3-4 months developing methodologies and protocols for citizen sampling of opportunistic pathogens in premise plumbing. See exemplar sampling instructions and YouTube video here. We piloted them in two homes in SC and VA, where residents were afflicted by Legionnaire’s Disease and acanthamoeba keratitis, an eye infection. The results showed that by the time we made measurements, the pathogens were not present in the water, if they were there in the first place, possibly because the residents took some remedial measures. We hope that in the future, faster deployment of the methods will help us to better prove cause and effect, and detect the health risk if it is present." They are interested in more funding for future partnerships with citizens.
30: Writing Forecasting Questions For EA Organizations (6/10)
Nathan Young has since gotten much larger grants to do much more exciting forecasting work, particularly a platform for generating forecasting questions. With my approval, he’s put my grant on the back burner while he works on other things, but he still hopes to get some questions up on Manifold or Metaculus sometime.
31: Mass Appraisal Models To Promote A Georgist Land Value Tax (8/10)
Lars Doucet and Will Jarvis have assembled a team of experts and started building a model. They’ve incorporated as Geo Land Solutions and plan to fundraise soon. His broader campaign of Georgist activism has also been successful (see eg his new book Land Is A Big Deal) and he reports interest from Norwegian, Canadian, and US politicians.
32: A Robotic System For Automating Cell Culture Media Testing (7/10)
Michael Todhunter says that he has finished the step of the project the ACX grant was supposed to fund - automated liquid handling - and continues working on other stages. You can learn more about his progress on his website. He might be getting some grants soon to help with these, but he continues looking for other sources of funding; email email@example.com.
33: SD’s Neutrino Research (5/10)
SD says his neutrino thesis is going well, and he is applying for graduate programs in neutrino physics.
34: User-Created Prediction Markets (9/10)
Manifold Markets wanted to create a new prediction market platform where anyone could post questions. They’ve since pivoted to play money and raised $2.4 million in grants and seed funding, with about 10,000 different markets and 300 daily average users. I and many of my friends visit their site daily or at least weekly, and I often link them on Mantic Mondays. They have deals going with the Salem Center at University of Texas, Clearer Thinking, and various EA groups.
35: Further S’s Political Career (?/10)
They have asked me not to discuss their progress until after the November election.
36: Seeds Of Science, A Journal Of Non-Traditional Research (6/10)
The journal exists and can be found here. Erik is working on it fuller-time and has a part-time assistant. They are excited about some upcoming articles and alternative distribution channels. They continue to look for more funding; if interested, contact Info@TheSeedsofScience.org
37: Good Science Project, Working To Improve Federal Science Funding (?/10)
The Good Science Project officially launched back in April, and has brought on a Senior Fellow (Betsy Ogburn of Johns Hopkins, with an interest in clinical trial quality and infrastructure) and Eric Gilliam (formerly working for Steve Levitt, with an interest in progress studies and the creation of effective scientific institutions). They have published many articles on science reform, most recently including a Health Affairs piece arguing for an NIH Center of Innovation, and are advising ARPA-H (the new “DARPA for health”) on meta-science issues. Staffers at the White House and Congress regularly ask for their input. You can read their Substack here.
38: Advising Developing Countries On How To Grow Their Economies (6/10)
The Growth Teams . . . team has raised another $130K and started working with the Rwanda Development Board. They’ve held a workshop to help the Board develop investment cases for high-priority sectors, and are working side-by-side with them to proactively build an investment pipeline and unblock constraints for the IT sector. They continue to look for more funding.
39: Help Luca De Leo Get Started In AI Safety Research (8/10)
This one was an ACXG+ Grant, funded by an anonymous outside funder and not listed in the original announcement. Luca reports that “I'm 90% sure that filling in that form for ACX is the most pivotal thing I'll ever do” and that he was able to get started in AI safety research and now has an internship at an AI charity incubator. He is currently working remotely and would be like to know if anyone has advice about getting a US visa from Argentina; if you know how to help, contact me and I’ll refer you to him.
40: Typist For Saharon Shelah (7/10)
This was another ACXG+ Grant, funded by an anonymous outside funder and not listed in the original announcement. Saharon is a prolific and influential Israeli mathematician, but many of his discoveries are hand-written in an unpublishable format. This grant funded a typist to help make his results suitable for publication. According to this page, they have made fourteen new preprints available (of which one has already been published in a journal) and they have thirty more in the pipeline.
Summary Of Everyone Looking For Further Help:
Trevor Klee wants to talk to bloggers or reporters interested in covering his work to develop better immunosuppressants; contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mobile slaughterhouses to prevent African Swine Fever continues to look for more funding. Contact email@example.com.
Tatiana Segura’s stroke recovery lab is looking for staff support - if you want to help, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Luca is looking for help getting a US visa from Argentina - if you can help, contact me at email@example.com and I’ll put you in touch with him.
Legal Impact For Chickens is hiring another litigator - if interested, see their job ad.
Crowdfight - a platform for scientific collaborations continues to look for more funding. If interested, get in touch with them at their webpage.
Michael Sklar’s project to speed up drug trial design is looking for more employees interested in drug trial design and statistics - contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Oxfendazole Development Group is looking for more funding; contact them here if interested.
Siddhartha Roy’s citizen surveillance for pathogens in drinking water is seeking more funding. Contact email@example.com if interested.
Yoram Bauman’s Climate 24x7 is looking for state legislators and activists to support their work on pocketbook-friendly carbon taxes. People in Pennsylvania and South Dakota might be especially useful. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Seeds of Science is looking for more funding; contact them at Info@TheSeedsofScience.org
James Koppel’s intelligent tutoring system project is looking for information on the future of large language models. If you know this, please
tell me where to investcontact him at https://www.jameskoppel.com/
Michael Todhunter’s automated cell culture system continues to look for more funding. Read more and find his contact details here.
Probably I should be treating these updates as useful data to improve my grant-making skills for next round.
In practice I’m not sure what I learned from reading them. Most projects take a long time and don’t have anything decisive to report yet. It’s been fascinating getting to see the different speeds at which projects move in different fields/cultures. I’m not blaming anyone; I’ve tried to do projects within academia before, I know it’s an unavoidably terrible experience, and by all accounts it sounds like politics is even worse. I appreciate everyone who found a field where they could move lightning-fast, and also everyone who is still slogging through all the approvals and stakeholder meetings their field requires. Better you than me!
The average project rated their progress at 6.5/10, where 5 was “meets expectations” (this average includes some private projects I didn’t fully list here). So either people systematically underestimated their chances when applying, or they’re systematically inflating their progress now to look good, or things systematically went better than expected.
One thing that may systematically have gone better than expected: just after my grants program, the rationalist/effective altruist community got a sudden influx of money as FTX Future Fund experimented with new ways to spend their billions of dollars. Several of the projects I gave grants to later got much bigger grants from FXTFF (plus one from Open Philanthropy) - I hope that my work signal-boosting and validating them was able to contribute to that in some way. This may have been the most important result of this grants program, since it moved more money than I did!
Several people told me that the exposure they got from my blog was as important as the money, which surprised me - I didn’t do a very good job giving people exposure and I wasn’t optimizing for that. Still, several places got employees or expert consultants out of it. Thanks to all of you who must have been going over my original grants announcement with a fine-toothed comb looking for projects to proactively reach out to and support.
ACX Grantees Discord
Several people reminded me that I had said I was going to create some group for grantees to talk to each other if for some reason they wanted to do that. Eleven months later, I’ve finally completed this ten-minute task and created the ACX Grantees Discord. If you’re a grantee, you should have already received an invitation; if not, email me at email@example.com.
By default I’m keeping this semi-private from randos, but if you’re someone with a good reason to want to be there - a potential funder, a charity analyst, or an expert in some relevant field - let me know and I’ll send you the invite too.
Depending on how various impact-market-related people do, I’ll probably have a second round of ACX Grants sometime between now and mid-2023.