I've been having a bit of a back-and-forth with a friend about what appears to be a charisma problem with the SIAI, and was hoping you lovely folks had thoughts on the matter. My friend was going through the Eliezer Q&A videos, specifically Question #7, "What's your advice for Less Wrong readers who want to help save the human race?" He typed up a transcript for Eliezer's answer, and went on to say:
Now, I freely admit that he is talking extemporaneously. That he
maybe is giving point-by-point details, interpreting the question as a
laundry-list request of job opportunities, and that criticizing with a
call for brevity is easy as a response rather than a first try, but
HOLY SHIT, COME ON! REALLY!? [...]
All that aside, here's how a, ahem, human, might respond quickly and
clearly to the question:
Doing what you like and are most efficient at (for money) is the best
way to get resources to us if you support our cause. Make money at
those things and send it to us if think we're worth it.
He went on to mention that he really likes Eliezer's writings, and that his issue rests with the verbal skills of SIAI's leadership, not with the quality of their works.
On the one hand, it would be extremely beneficial for them to get some kind of propaganda minister. On the other, I think that would signal to nerds like us that they are corrupt money-whores. If that is the case, they are stuck being stilted nerds if they want to attract brains, and if they want money, they're stuck watering down their fan base with Dan Brown readers or something.
I also suggested a couple possible (though rather outlandish) ways to make an organization wildly popular. Specifically, to hire a marketing researcher like Frank Luntz to figure out what talking points would win the hearts and minds of the greatest number of people, or alternately to get major brand loyalties by having a cult figure like Steve Jobs representing the SIAI. Of course, I am stating this much more eloquently than I did in the email.
His reply deserves full posting here (with his permission, of course):
I disagree with your proposition that getting a competent marketing
firm involved would suddenly create a contradistinction with the
From everything I've seen/read, these people are nothing if not fully
aware of the compartmentalized world we live in. That this enterprise
requires a particular something upon another something with these
other bits running in the background. Hell, in a grossly simplistic
interpretation, accomplishing this nested complexity is the whole of
What I would say, however, is that the idea that these people are even
aware of any sort of nerd brand loyalty is entirely off-base. I don't
think these folks operate with that realization in mind. I think if
you even brought up the concept, they'd look at you askew in the same
way as telling [mutual acquaintance] he was a geek. "But...I'm...what? I'm
No, I think the fact that they haven't invested in marketing may be
mainly due to money woes, but more likely revealing a fatal flaw in
their infrastructure, in that their intricate understanding of what
they need to do ultimately fails to absorb themselves in the mix.
Failing to see their own operation as needing the societal locomotive
powers to get the final job done.
If that fear is true, we're in an awful spot indeed. Needing to be
rescued by people ignorant of how to rescue themselves.
Let's hope it's the money woes, then. Or...hmm...maybe a vacuum to be
met by someone who believes in the cause and also possesses mild
wordcraft? What fancy!
The question is now open. Does SIAI have a PR problem? If so, is it due to finances, lack of talent, or something else? Is there an Eternal September issue with watering down the brand (would you support the SIAI if they started investing heavily in advertising campaigns, or would you get a bit suspicious?)? Should they pay Frank Luntz to figure out what transhumanism terms work best with your average family? My friend and I are dying to know.