ACX Grants Results 2024
Thanks to everyone who participated in ACX Grants, whether as an applicant, an evaluator, or a funder.
The best part of ACX Grants is telling the winners they won, which I’ll do in a moment. The worst part of ACX Grants is telling the non-winners they didn’t win. If I wasn’t able to give you a grant, it doesn’t mean I hate your project. Sometimes I couldn’t find the right evaluator to confirm that you were legit. Sometimes I sent your project to foundations or VCs who I thought it would be a better match for, or wanted to leave it as a test case for the impact market. Most of the time, I just didn’t have enough money1, and I spent what I had according to my own imperfect priorities.
(In particular, I wasn’t able to fully evaluate several AI alignment grants and had to pass on them; if this is you, consider applying to OpenAI’s Superalignment Fast Grants before February 18.)
If your name is below, you should have received an email with further information. If you didn’t, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, and include the phrase “this is a genuine non-spam message” in the text. Unless my email specifically mentioned you as an exception, Manifund will be handling payments and you’ll hear from them soon.
This year’s winners are:
John Lohier and Hugo Smith, $13,000 to work on lead-acid battery recycling in Nigeria. Lead poisoning harms child health, lowers IQ, and reduces global GDP by up to trillions of dollars each year. One major source of contamination is informal shoddy recycling of lead batteries in developing countries. John and Hugo are economics students at U Chicago; with help from contacts at their university and the broader EA ecosystem, they hope to go to Nigeria and research the economic levers (eg subsidies and buybacks) that would shift battery recycling into the formal sector.
Elaine Perlman, $50,000, to lobby for changes in the laws around kidney donation. I discussed this further in part VIII here: there’s a severe shortage of organs, and the easiest way to solve it is to let the government give people tax breaks for organ donation. Elaine works with the Coalition To Modify NOTA, a group of doctors, donors, recipients, and others who are fighting to turn this into law via the End Kidney Deaths Act.
Marcin Kowrygo, $50,000, for the Far Out Initiative. Recently a woman in Scotland was found to be incapable of experiencing any physical or psychological suffering2. Scientists sequenced her genome and found a rare mutation affecting the FAAH-OUT pseudogene, which regulates levels of pain-related neurotransmitters. Marcin and his team are working on pharmacologic and genetic interventions that can imitate her condition. If they succeed, they hope to promote them as painkillers, splice them into farm animals to produce cruelty-free meat, or just give them to everyone all the time and end all suffering in the world forever. They are extremely serious about this.
1DaySooner, $100,000, to advocate for a specialized pandemic response team at the FDA. Although I complain about how long it took the FDA to approve the COVID vaccine, everything is relative, and they were able to approve it much faster than their usual process. This exhausted employees and created a backlog of other non-COVID tasks, and might not be possible even for another pandemic, let alone normal operations. 1DaySooner wants the government to fund an effort to make the FDA capable of Operation Warp Speed-style efforts in more situations, and maybe apply its lessons to everyday decisions. You can read more about their work here and here, and donate here.
Alex Touissaint, $20,000, to build anti-mosquito drones. Inspired by military drones and bats, Alex’s plan uses sonar to locate mosquitos, then zip over and grind them in its propellers. You can read more about the sonar here. I originally thought this was cool but couldn’t possibly work at large enough scale to make a difference against mosquito-borne diseases. But Alex claims that in theory you could clear a city block in ten minutes using a $300 drone. Our evaluators didn’t know enough about drones to fully assess these calculations, but the fight against mosquito-borne disease needs fresh ideas, and this one is nothing if not ambitious. Deployment will be a whole separate problem, but I’m hoping that if the prototype works then we can get the relevant experts interested.
Cillian Crosson, $32,000, for Tarbell Voices. The Tarbell Fellowship helps early career journalists cover high-impact topics; this grant will be primarily focused on their AI program. If you are (or would like to be) an early career journalist working on AI, check them out!
Blueprint Biosecurity, $25,000, to continue their research into germicidal far-UV-C - ie ultraviolet lightbulbs that kill airborne germs. If this worked, you could sit in a room with lots of people who had COVID and not get it yourself, because the lights would zap the virus before it could reach your nasal passages; in the best-case scenario, this is a fully general solution to all respiratory pandemics. Other teams have already established that the UV light kills germs, so the remaining challenge is to ensure it’s safe for humans. Jacob’s project addresses one of the remaining safety issues: UV creates ozone, which is good in the ozone layer but bad in breathable air. Blueprint plans to test various ozone scrubbers to see if they can remove the problem.
Robert Yaman, $100,000, for Innovate Animal Ag, which seeks “technological solutions to animal welfare challenges”. For example, farmers who raise egg-laying chickens don’t want males, so they currently kill 6 billion male chicks per year. “In ovo3 sexing technology” lets them read sex from eggs directly, so they can throw away the male eggs instead of killing chicks in a horrible grinding machine after they’re born. If this works, we’ll finally achieve mankind’s age-old dream of being able to count your chickens before they hatch! But also:
In-ovo sexing is just the beginning - we have a list of 45 other potentially impactful technologies that we would like to support, including on-farm hatching, high-expansion nitrogen foam, aquatic animal stunning machines, and fertility-based pest controls. We aim to inspire a new techno-optimism for animal welfare to bring our husbandry practices in line with our values.
Jordan Braunstein and Tetra Jones, $34,000 to work on assurance contracts. These are the general case of what Kickstarter does - coordinate people who all agree to do something if enough other people agree to make it worth their while. They want to branch out from Kickstarter’s funding-focused model into different forms of contract - for example, compacts for political action (eg Free State Project), dominant assurance contracts that incentivize people to overcome transaction costs, and “contigently anonymous” contracts where people can hide their identity until a certain threshold gets reached. Jordan and Tetra applied separately to start their own platforms, but have agreed to to work together on spartacus.app; you can contact them here if you want to help or participate in testing. I’m aware that another site, EnsureDone, is already trying something similar4. I’m funding Spartacus as a backup, but I like Ensure too and they should feel free to contact me if I can help in any way.
Joel Tan, $100,000, for the Center For Exploratory Altruism Research. They’re involved in cause prioritization, research, and support for various global development charities. We were most excited about their work trying to stem the tide of hyper-processed foods in the developing world - for example, campaigns to reduce levels of sodium and trans fat.
Mark Webb, $5,000, to study land reform. You might know Mark better as ACX commenter sclmlw, and you might remember land reform from my review of How Asia Works as a key part of the process by which countries move up the development ladder. There are a few organizations working on lobbying for land reform on a political level. Mark wants to try something different and just buy land directly. This would be very expensive to do at scale, but I talked to Mark and he has a pretty well-thought-out plan to start small, prove the concept, and gradually court bigger and bigger funders. I am honestly a little skeptical, but Mark has put a lot of thought into this project, and it’s not like anyone else’s land reform ideas are working very quickly, so I’ve agreed to grant a starting $5,000 to help him get started.
Greg Sadler, $65,000, for policy advocacy in Australia. Last ACX Grants, we funded Nathan Ashby to do this. Nathan and his team were able to get some significant victories, influencing government policy on pandemic preparedness, charitable tax deductions, and AI safety. This time around, he recommends his colleague Greg Sadler at Good Ancestors to continue his work. You can read more about their agenda here.
Kurtis Lockhart, $100,000, to help build a campus for the African School of Economics in Fumba, Zanzibar. We talked recently about the difficulty of using charity to accelerate market development in lower-income countries, so I was delighted to come across such a perfect opportunity. I’m especially excited about being able to do this in Fumba, the Charter Cities Institute’s “flagship new cities project” in Africa.
HealthLearn, $25,000, for an online training program for healthcare workers in developing countries. This is one of those blindly-follow-the-evidence grants: GiveWell says that training health care workers is one of the most effective interventions known, and HealthLearn hopes to be able to do it at scale. You can support HealthLearn by donating or volunteering your expertise in growing consumer-facing tech products; check out their blog to learn more.
Anthony Maxin and Lynn McGrath, $60,000, for smartphone pupillometry. The pupil exam is an important tool for diagnosing neurological conditions like stroke, traumatic brain injury, and dementia. In the traditional exam, a healthcare provider shines a light at your eye and watches to see if the pupil contracts appropriately. But this is a pretty fuzzy test and people sometimes get it wrong or miss slight abnormalities. There are high-tech pupil-contraction-measuring machines, but they’re finicky and expensive and lots of hospitals don’t have them. This team wants to measure the pupillary reaction to light on smartphones, no additional hardware required. If it works, it will help get a whole range of conditions diagnosed faster and more accurately.
Mike Saint-Antoine, $1,000, for biology tutorial videos. You might remember Mike from his review of Viral, which was a finalist in the ACX Book Review contest, or from his excellent blog on (mostly) prediction markets. But in his day job, he’s a computational biologist, and his other other hobby is making videos teaching people to do computational biology with Python, R, Matlab, etc. I’m usually skeptical of video-related grant proposals. But our bio evaluators were very impressed with his work, and I’m happy to make this token grant to help him get some better technology and give him a signal-boost. Check out his YouTube channel here.
Chris Lakin and Evan Miyazono, $40,000, to support participants at the Conceptual Boundaries Workshop working on AI safety. The workshop is already funded, but they plan to use the money to fund further promising research by workshop participants. I mostly wanted to avoid AI alignment funding in this round, but our evaluators liked them, and if they can regrant ACX money to promising alignment projects, then I don’t have to figure out which ones those are myself.
Esben Kran, $59,000, for Apart Research, another group that incubates and facilitates AI alignment researchers. After this I’m sticking to my rule against AI alignment projects, honest.
Spencer Orenstein, $1,500, to write a primer on how to achieve political change. I asked for one of those here (part 8), and I know some other people are also working on this. But Spencer seems like a great candidate - he’s a former staffer in the US House of Representatives with 13 years of policy experience and has won various policy-related awards - and I’m excited to see what he has to say.
Samuel Celarek, $20,000, to research IVF clinic success rates, with the ultimate goal of creating a company that ranks the best IVF clinics. Evaluator opinion was split on this one: is this really an effective charitable cause? I funded it anyway for three reasons. First, the team came very heavily recommended. Second, this grant has a chance of causing a few dozen to a few thousand extra well-loved developed-world children to exist; I’m not exactly a total-utilitarian pronatalist but I can abstractly bargain with them. Third, this grant could improve the IVF ecosystem, and getting lots of people to use IVF is a prerequisite to high-impact reproductive technologies like polygenic screening.
Alexander Putilin and Andrew X Stewart, $32,500, to try to replicate a study showing that brain wave synchronization can significantly speed learning rates and improve focus. I asked someone to work on this in this post, and Alexander and Andrew were the ones who stepped up. Their team also plans to investigate other uses of EEG, including speeding progress in vipassana meditation (like an insight equivalent to Jhourney).
Celene Nightingale, $1,000, to advocate for the repeal of the Interstate Runaway Compact, a law used to arrest runaway minors and force them back to potentially abusive families. This might not be maximally effective altruism, but I got some friends to chip in enough money to fund this one as a birthday present for a mutual friend who feels strongly about this. Happy birthday, Charlie!
Çağrı Mutaf, $15,000, to work on animal rights in Turkiye. The 680 million farmed fish in Turkiye, like farmed fish everywhere, live in terrible conditions - for example, some farms kill the fish by leaving them to die slowly of asphyxiation over half an hour. Çağrı and his team have already secured better conditions for 40 million Turkish fish, and plan to continue their work by securing welfare guarantees from more aquaculture and seafood companies.
Joseph Caissie, $100,000, to advocate for Georgism. This is a followup to last year’s grant to Lars Doucet and Will Jarvis, who were able to build a land value assessment startup that got funding from Sam Altman and went on to influence local and state government policy. Lars and Will have asked me to help fund the next step in their plan: giving Joseph (currently the State Assessor of Alaska) enough money to quit his job and join the neo-Georgist project full-time.
EN, $60,000, to study phage therapy. Bacteriophages are viruses that infect bacteria. For decades, people have wondered whether you could use them to kill infectious bacterial strains. There have been some small-scale successes, especially in Eastern Europe, but overall these remain neglected. Dr. N and his team work on phage therapy as a potential solution to growing antibiotic resistance. Their current projects include trials of phages to fight typhoid and diabetic wound infections.
Tugrul Irmak, $80,000, to continue his work creating artificial kidneys. You can read the story of what led Tugrul into this area here. He and his colleagues at University Medical Centre Utrecht and Delft University of Technology are building a “hybrid route of artificial blood filtration membranes and kidney cells seeded on artificial membranes”. This money will help his team hire another post-doc.
Joshua Morgan, $8,000, for work adding tardigrade genes to human cells. Tardigrades (aka water-bears) are near-microscopic little animals known for being impervious to almost everything - they can survive temperatures near absolute zero, extremely high doses of radiation, the crushing pressure at the bottom of the ocean, and even the void of outer space. Professor Morgan and his lab at UC Riverside want to add some of the relevant genes to human stem cells. They say that they hope to create hardier cell lines for research and therapeutic purposes (for example, to strengthen graft tissue after surgery) and our bio evaluators were very impressed by the possibilities here. But if all of this is secretly a plan to create invincible supermen, I’m happy to give them the grant for that too.
S, $7,000, to produce materials on forecasting for governments. S is a strategic advisor for a European government, and wants to write manuals and run workshops for EU policy-makers on how to integrate forecasting platforms like Metaculus and prediction markets into their decision-making.
Andrew Luskin, $25,000, to develop a system for low-cost single-cell imaging. Biologists sometimes want to watch cells while an animal is still alive, to see how they operate in their natural context. This is currently expensive and inconvenient (for both researchers and animals). Dr. Luskin and his colleagues want to use fiber optics to create a more affordable alternative. Our biology evaluators were excited by this one and thought it had many promising applications.
Gene Smith5, $20,000, to create an open-source polygenic predictor for educational attainment and intelligence. You upload your 23andMe results, it tells your your (predicted) IQ. Technology hasn’t advanced to the point where this will be any good - even if everything goes perfectly, the number it gives you will have only the most tenuous connection to your actual IQ (and everyone on Gene’s team agrees with this claim). I’m funding it anyway. Partly this is because there are some things you can use even a very bad IQ predictor for, like studies that aggregate a lot of people’s genetic information. Partly it’s because people are already using closed-source IQ predictors for various things, and I think (ceteris paribus) anything closed source should be open source on general principles. But partly it’s because after this technology gets good, there’s going to be a big debate over whether the public should be allowed to access it, and I intend to win that fight before it starts.
Duncan Purvis, $30,000, for work on improving flu vaccines. Previous vaccines have included four strains of flu, but one strain recently died out. The World Health Organization, which coordinates flu vaccines, is planning to downgrade to a three-strain vaccine. But Duncan thinks there’s room to improve resistance to future pandemics by reserving the extra slot in vaccines for potentially dangerous influenza A strains. He plans to attend conferences, publish papers, and otherwise build a coalition to make this happen.
Chris Mimm, $20,000, to develop a scenario analysis platform for developing-world agricultural programs. Chris envisions this as doing for agricultural aid what Remix did for transportation, helping administrators plan interventions to aid areas in crisis and eventually make them self-sufficient.
C, $10,000, to further his political career. As usual, the first way I’ll help further his political career is not naming him here or giving any further details.
And this is just the first step! Our partners at Manifund are taking it from here. For now, you can go to their ACX Grants page to get more information on the funded grants, see which ones want more money, and donate if you’re interested. You can also discuss the specifics of proposals in the comments section there.
But in a few weeks, they’ll also be adding the grants we didn’t fund to an impact market. You can buy “impact shares”, which will go up or down in value depending on how the project does (for legal reasons, your profits will go to charity). We have five potential buyers lined up: three sub-granters in the EA Funds program (Long-Term Future Fund, Animal Welfare Fund, and Effective Altruism Infrastructure Fund), the Survival and Flourishing Fund, and next year’s ACX Grants. I’ll tell you more about this when it happens.
I’ve also passed all the projects that gave me permission and seem relevant to various other funders like foundations, wealthy people, and venture capitalists. Some of them might get still get back to me later, so stay alert.
Thanks to everyone who supported ACX Grants, including:
Manifund, a charitable spinoff of Manifold Markets, which will handle getting everyone their money and run the upcoming impact market. Thanks especially to Austin Chen, Rachel Weinberg, and Saul Munn.
Our overall evaluators: Misha Gurevich, Clara Collier.
Our biology evaluators: Samira Nedungadi, Ruth Hook, Oberon Dixon-Luinenburg, ACX commenter Metacelsus, and some people who prefer to stay anonymous.
Our global health and development evaluator, Andrew Martin.
Our animal welfare evaluator, Kieran Greig
Our other evaluators. I sent small lists of 1-5 grants to a few dozen people who were very helpful but who I’m not going to list individually.
Our funders: Brayden McLean, Anton Makiievskyi, James Grugett, Calvin French-Owen, Tom Tseng, Richard Barnes, ACX commenter “thecommexokid”, and some people who prefer to stay anonymous or haven’t responded to my email asking for permission to publicly credit them. If you want credit later, let me know and I’ll edit you in and/or thank you on an Open Thread. I feel bad including these names in the same font as everyone else, because some of them donated hundreds of thousands of dollars, and obviously having money is the most important part of a grants program. Once again, thank you so much.
Various sources of encouragement, advice, and inspiration, including Oliver Habryka, Tyler Cowen, and Jaan Tallinn.
If I forgot you, please let me know and I’ll edit you in.
I’ll post progress reports from these grantees (and some of last round’s) sometime later this year or early next.
The next ACX Grants round will be either January 2025 or January 2026 - depending on my schedule, the economy, and the level of interest.
In some cases, people said they didn’t want money and just wanted the prestige and networking opportunities that come from being an ACX Grantee (warning: these may not really exist). In cases like these, I tried to only make the grant if I would have made it if they had asked for money; otherwise I should trivially approve all of these, and then I would be undercutting the value of the signal.
There’s a long history of studying patients with various pain insensitivity syndromes. Many of them die after getting injuries that they don’t catch in time; for example, they might accidentally brush against a candle, light themselves on fire, and not notice until they look down and see the flames. Ms. Cameron is especially interesting because she’s in her seventies, very healthy, and by all accounts has lived a pretty normal life (she does report that she “often burns her arms on the oven”, but seems to catch it faster than people with other variants of her condition). I’ve seen some suggestion that she has something like pain asymbolia, where she still perceives pain but doesn’t find it unpleasant. Maybe she burns her arms because low levels of asymbolic pain aren’t attention-grabbing enough to immediately catch her attention if she’s distracted - but she manages to stay overall alive and healthy because higher levels of pain can grab her attention even without associated unpleasant qualia. This is the sort of thing Marcin’s team will be considering as they try to understand her condition better.
One thing I learned while researching this grant was that the word “ovo” looks like a chicken.
Here I’m leaning heavily into my experience funding Manifold last time around. The lesson I’m currently taking away from that is that having multiple platforms working on an important problem is less like splitting the party, and more like buying multiple lottery tickets for getting the exact right combination factors that lets something become successful. I hope I’m not over-updating on one dramatic event here, but I’m still very new to grant-making and I don’t have that many data points to learn from!
Not his real name.