EDIT: This post no longer reflects my current attitude. I'm now signed up as a volunteer for SIAI and will help them with the website and/or whatever else needs doing. Add a comment or contact me if you're curious as to what my attitude was or why it changed.
What I've learnt: People want something more specific
What I've also learnt: Not to commit to donating money to an organization without carefully reading their website first
Imagine you are a prospective SIAI donor. You've learnt about AI and its risks, about how hardly anyone takes these risks seriously, about how people are fundamentally not mentally equipped to handle issues of existential risk in a sane way. You've looked around and seen that the SIAI is the only (or one of just a few) organizations that appear to realise this and want to do anything about it.
So you go to their website. What are you looking for? You're looking for a reason not to give money to them.
The Singularity Institute exists to carry out the mission of the Singularity-aware – to accelerate the arrival of the Singularity in order to hasten its human benefits; ...
This seems a somewhat gung-ho attitude which is not consistent with the message on the rest of the site. And this isn't just my misreading or quoting out of context - apparently that page is very out of date and no longer represents the worldview of the more mature, grown up SIAI.
But people reading the site don't know that. And remember, they're looking for reasons not to give - for reasons to retreat back to their comfort zone where everything's basically OK and the SIAI are just a bunch of weirdos.
The fact that an organization dedicated to shaping the future of humanity can't keep their website up to date would seem to be one of those reasons.
So, if you really believe the SIAI to be the most effective charity right now, you should help them by offering to fix their website for them - in order to help attract more donors.
Some possible objections and counter-objections:
1. If Giles thinks fixing the SIAI's website is so important, he'd already be doing it himself.
Essentially this boils down to the fact that you probably trust the SIAI a lot more than I do. So for me the community-building effort is the higher priority.
2. If the website was so important, the SIAI would already have fixed it. Better just to give them money and they'll spend it on fixing the website when it's optimal to do so.
This assumes that the SIAI behaves in a perfectly rational way. It also ignores the fact that people are going to look at their accounts and try to find evidence that they are actually engaging in saving-the-world type activities. If all they do is "fix our own website and make ourselves look good" then no-one's going to take them seriously. By donating your time to improve their website, you keep that activity off the balance sheet.
3. There are so many more important factors keeping people away from donating to the SIAI. Surely better to address those first?
Maybe - but they need to be fixed one at a time. And I believe the website to be a single point of failure - even people who are otherwise really keen might be put off by a single strange-sounding sentence appearing on the website.
I don't think the website needs a big overhaul or a massive amount of new information. It just needs a little thought as to people's questions and concerns. Other than the page I mentioned, possible concerns might be:
- All of the issues that arose in the GiveWell interview
- A recognition of the non-strawman criticisms of the SIAI and how they are being addressed
- An answer to the only-game-in-town question: if we recognise that the SIAI is the only organization seriously addressing these issues but aren't sure of its effectiveness, are we better off giving now or waiting for a more effective organization to come along?