Dominic Cummings: "we’re hiring data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos"

by ESRogs4 min read3rd Jan 202057 comments

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Dominic Cummings (discussed previously on LW, most recently here) is a Senior Advisor to the new UK PM, Boris Johnson. He also seems to be essentially a rationalist (at least in terms of what ideas he's paying attention to).

He has posted today that his team is hiring "data scientists, project managers, policy experts, assorted weirdos". Perhaps some LW readers should apply.

Extensive quotes below:


‘This is possibly the single largest design flaw contributing to the bad Nash equilibrium in which … many governments are stuck. Every individual high-functioning competent person knows they can’t make much difference by being one more face in that crowd.’ Eliezer Yudkowsky, AI expert, LessWrong etc.

[...]

Now there is a confluence of: a) Brexit requires many large changes in policy and in the structure of decision-making, b) some people in government are prepared to take risks to change things a lot, and c) a new government with a significant majority and little need to worry about short-term unpopularity while trying to make rapid progress with long-term problems.

There is a huge amount of low hanging fruit — trillion dollar bills lying on the street — in the intersection of:

  • the selection, education and training of people for high performance
  • the frontiers of the science of prediction
  • data science, AI and cognitive technologies (e.g Seeing Rooms, ‘authoring tools designed for arguing from evidence’, Tetlock/IARPA prediction tournaments that could easily be extended to consider ‘clusters’ of issues around themes like Brexit to improve policy and project management)
  • communication (e.g Cialdini)
  • decision-making institutions at the apex of government.

We want to hire an unusual set of people with different skills and backgrounds to work in Downing Street with the best officials, some as spads and perhaps some as officials. If you are already an official and you read this blog and think you fit one of these categories, get in touch.

The categories are roughly:

  • Data scientists and software developers
  • Economists
  • Policy experts
  • Project managers
  • Communication experts
  • Junior researchers one of whom will also be my personal assistant
  • Weirdos and misfits with odd skills

[...]

A. Unusual mathematicians, physicists, computer scientists, data scientists

You must have exceptional academic qualifications from one of the world’s best universities or have done something that demonstrates equivalent (or greater) talents and skills. You do not need a PhD — as Alan Kay said, we are also interested in graduate students as ‘world-class researchers who don’t have PhDs yet’.

[...]

A few examples of papers that you will be considering:

  • [...]
  • The papers on computational rationality below.
  • The work of Judea Pearl, the leading scholar of causation who has transformed the field. 

[...]

B. Unusual software developers

We are looking for great software developers who would love to work on these ideas, build tools and work with some great people. You should also look at some of Victor’s technical talks on programming languages and the history of computing.

You will be working with data scientists, designers and others.

C. Unusual economists

We are looking to hire some recent graduates in economics. You should a) have an outstanding record at a great university, b) understand conventional economic theories, c) be interested in arguments on the edge of the field — for example, work by physicists on ‘agent-based models’ or by the hedge fund Bridgewater on the failures/limitations of conventional macro theories/prediction, and d) have very strong maths and be interested in working with mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists.

[...]

The sort of conversation you might have is discussing these two papers in Science (2015): Computational rationality: A converging paradigm for intelligence in brains, minds, and machines, Gershman et al and Economic reasoning and artificial intelligence, Parkes & Wellman

You will see in these papers an intersection of:

  • von Neumann’s foundation of game theory and ‘expected utility’,
  • mainstream economic theories,
  • modern theories about auctions,
  • theoretical computer science (including problems like the complexity of probabilistic inference in Bayesian networks, which is in the NP–hard complexity class),
  • ideas on ‘computational rationality’ and meta-reasoning from AI, cognitive science and so on.

If these sort of things are interesting, then you will find this project interesting.

It’s a bonus if you can code but it isn’t necessary.

D. Great project managers.

If you think you are one of the a small group of people in the world who are truly GREAT at project management, then we want to talk to you.

[...]

It is extremely interesting that the lessons of Manhattan (1940s), ICBMs (1950s) and Apollo (1960s) remain absolutely cutting edge because it is so hard to apply them and almost nobody has managed to do it. The Pentagon systematically de-programmed itself from more effective approaches to less effective approaches from the mid-1960s, in the name of ‘efficiency’. Is this just another way of saying that people like General Groves and George Mueller are rarer than Fields Medallists?

[...]

E. Junior researchers

In many aspects of government, as in the tech world and investing, brains and temperament smash experience and seniority out of the park.

We want to hire some VERY clever young people either straight out of university or recently out with with extreme curiosity and capacity for hard work.

[...]

F. Communications

In SW1 communication is generally treated as almost synonymous with ‘talking to the lobby’. This is partly why so much punditry is ‘narrative from noise’.

With no election for years and huge changes in the digital world, there is a chance and a need to do things very differently.

[...]

G. Policy experts

One of the problems with the civil service is the way in which people are shuffled such that they either do not acquire expertise or they are moved out of areas they really know to do something else. One Friday, X is in charge of special needs education, the next week X is in charge of budgets.

[...]

If you want to work in the policy unit or a department and you really know your subject so that you could confidently argue about it with world-class experts, get in touch.

[...]

G. Super-talented weirdos

People in SW1 talk a lot about ‘diversity’ but they rarely mean ‘true cognitive diversity’. They are usually babbling about ‘gender identity diversity blah blah’. What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity.

We need some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hell hole, weirdos from William Gibson novels like that girl hired by Bigend as a brand ‘diviner’ who feels sick at the sight of Tommy Hilfiger or that Chinese-Cuban free runner from a crime family hired by the KGB. If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers and spread fake news about fake news.

By definition I don’t really know what I’m looking for but I want people around No10 to be on the lookout for such people.

We need to figure out how to use such people better without asking them to conform to the horrors of ‘Human Resources’ (which also obviously need a bonfire).

*

[...]

As Paul Graham and Peter Thiel say, most ideas that seem bad are bad but great ideas also seem at first like bad ideas — otherwise someone would have already done them. Incentives and culture push people in normal government systems away from encouraging ‘ideas that seem bad’. Part of the point of a small, odd No10 team is to find and exploit, without worrying about media noise, what Andy Grove called ‘very high leverage ideas’ and these will almost inevitably seem bad to most.

I will post some random things over the next few weeks and see what bounces back — it is all upside, there’s no downside if you don’t mind a bit of noise and it’s a fast cheap way to find good ideas…


H/T ioannes_shade

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Have you considered cross-posting this to the EA forum?

Looks like he's getting some pushback:

Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, will not be allowed to bypass Whitehall’s usual recruitment processes when recruiting “weirdos” and “misfits” for Downing Street jobs, No 10 has said.
Cummings has been criticised by employment lawyers and unions after posting a rambling 2,900-word blogpost calling for people with “odd skills” to circumvent the usual rules in applying for jobs as special advisers and officials in government.
[...]
The prime minister’s spokesman insisted the post was aimed only at seeking “expressions of interest” and that civil servants would still be appointed within the usual tight procedures of the civil service.

From the full text:

I don’t want confident public school bluffers.

*cough* Boris Johnson *cough*. But if that's what you have to work with...

[-][anonymous]1y 6

Can someone from the UK translate this quote into Americanese? I don’t understand what connotation “public school” has here.

A "school" in Britain provides primary or secondary education (tertiary is "a university", you wouldn't find a UK person saying "Cambridge is a good school"). A "public school" in Britain is a secondary school where the parents pay a fee for their kids to attend. Confusingly, if you also describe it as a private school, people will know what you mean. ISTR the name arises because in the Olden Days if you were properly posh you'd have a personal tutor, so shared (but fee paying) schools were "public". In the UK, what Americans call a public school is typically referred to as a state school.

As well as just having more money for teachers, books and equipment, a major advantage public schools offer is connections (since your school's alumni basically are the British establishment) and confidence, which may or may not be proportional to ability. Since Oxbridge applicants are interviewed, confidence can affect who gets in there (although these days they're aware of it and try to level the playing field), and so the cycle continues. Cummings is saying he doesn't want the archtypical public schoolboy who can quote a bit of Latin but doesn't really know anything (which is odd given who he works for, but so it goes).

Ok, so I guess Americans might use “prep school” here.

Yeah, places like Philips Andover is your best translation I think.

[-][anonymous]1y 4

I assume you mean “fee paying.”

So “public school” (UK) = “private school” (USA)?

Gotcha. You can see why it was confusing for me—I read it with the exact opposite meaning.

I think Cummings thinks Boris works for him, to be honest.

In the UK, we have state schools and private schools. The seven 'public schools' are elite independent private schools. In Victorian times, before state education existed, the public schools were those open to all members of the public wherever they lived, whereas most schools were only open to church members or local residents. The public schools were granted independence from the church and crown by an act of parliament, which enabled them to develop to what they are today.

[-][anonymous]1y 4

Right, so if I understand correctly "public schools" in the UK occupy a similar status position as the Ivy League schools in the USA, albeit at the level of secondary education (high school) instead of university.

Yes. The fees are typically £40k per year. They are said to be capable of getting a below average intelligence pupil into Oxford/Cambridge through extensive tutoring and support. Boris Johnson is a case in point.

Johnson was perhaps below average in his application to his studies, but it would be a mistake to think he is/was a below average intelligence pupil.

[-][anonymous]1y 2

There are similarly priced secondary schools in the USA if you want to get your kids into Yale, Harvard, Stanford, etc.

Or you just bribe the admissions officer, apparently.

I assume you mean “fee paying.”

Argh, I mistyped "fee" as "free". Fixed.

So “public school” (UK) = “private school” (USA)?

Yes, though I'm not sure whether the USA has the similar phenomenon of a few private schools providing so much of the ruling establishment figures or whether there's a similar "private school bluffer" / Upper Class Twit archetype there.

[-][anonymous]1y 2

Not as strong, but it exists. It's mostly through the alumni networks of the Ivy League schools. See, for example: George W. Bush. A couple of fancy private schools feed into Ivy League schools, whose alumni networks (and elite fraternities) feed into prestigious law schools, business schools, or certain industries like investment banking and politics.

Could this be the thing that will finally push the San Francisco's Schelling point away from SF?

I assume you meant to say something like "the rationalist's Schelling point"? Or maybe "the Effective Altruism Schelling point?". Since presumably it is very hard to change "San Fancisco's Schelling point" to anything else but somewhere in San Francisco. 

Yes.

I mean, all of them. Thank you for asking.

It's probably not a coincidence that those two you mentioned and many other Schelling points are currently in San Francisco, is it? Though I'm not there, I don't know what other specific groups this applies to.

I was actually thinking of Patrick Collinson's advice to travel to SF. He called it the "Global Weird HQ". And of one of the Samo Burja's short videos that I unfortunately can't find right now.

I don't think this is nearly enough to move it. The inertia behind these hubs is astounding. SF has been the "Global Weird HQ" since, what, the 60s or 70s? And I really, really don't think a culture of optimistic, power-seeking weirdness would thrive in the contemporary UK.

I don't like that schelling point is used to mean "coordination point" here when it's supposed to mean "common point without coordination"

I don't quite understand this objection (which seems similar to other objections I've seen to uses of the term).

We've all exchanged information in the past. If you think of a Schelling point as the point we'd coordinate on with no further exchange of information, then I think the above kind of usage is valid.

Isn't meeting up at the information desk in Grand Central Station at noon (if you know you're meeting someone during the day in Manhattan, but you haven't agreed upon where) supposed to be the canonical example of a Schelling point?

But arriving at that point didn't involve zero coordination. There's a bunch of information we all have to know, and there are a bunch of specific reasons why that would be the place to meet. We all had to know that Grand Central exists. That it's prominent. That it's a convenient point for getting to lots of other parts of New York City. And people certainly had to coordinate to build Grand Central in the first place.

Similarly, there are a bunch of reasons why the SF Bay Area is the rationalist hub. And some people have put in effort to attract others here. But if you're a rationalist who wants to get to meet a bunch of other rationalists in person, then does anybody have to coordinate with anyone else to get you to make a trip to SF? It seems like at this point, it's become the default place for rationalists to meet, just as Grand Central would be the default place to meet up with someone in NYC.

Am I missing something?

If you think of a Schelling point as the point we'd coordinate on with no further exchange of information,

The problem I have with this definition is that it makes Schelling point a fairly useless term. I think of Schelling points as the the things that result without specific coordination, but only common background knowledge.

But arriving at that point didn't involve zero coordination. There's a bunch of information we all have to know, and there are a bunch of specific reasons why that would be the place to meet. We all had to know that Grand Central exists. That it's prominent. That it's a convenient point for getting to lots of other parts of New York City. And people certainly had to coordinate to build Grand Central in the first place.

Exactly this type of background knowledge that's separate from the game/decision being made.

I think of Schelling points as the the things that result without specific coordination, but only common background knowledge.

Yes, but specific coordination today can create the common background knowledge for tomorrow.

Yes. And schelling points refer to the latter (IE, coordination that was done in the long time past that creates common knowledge), and not the former (coordination around this specific decision point)

Similarly, I've seen people complain when someone said at a CFAR alumni reunion, "I declare the Schelling location for xyz activity to be abc place."

I find this to be a perfectly valid (if tongue-in-cheek) usage of the term. Sure, that location wasn't the Schelling point for that activity before, but the act of declaring it to be makes it so!

Once that statement has been made and everyone has heard it, no further coordination is required for that location to be the default location for that activity. It is the Schelling point from now on.

I've heard this type of speech named "enactive" (to go along with the more common denotative aka descriptive, normative aka prescriptive, imperative).

But Schelling's whole point was about how it's virtually impossible to separate those two things.

I think Schelling's point about schelling points was about cultural background in the absence of coordination.

Eliezer tweet about this here.

Similarly to Eliezer, I am impressed to see someone who "speaks our tribe's language" to be in a position of political power, but also confused why their list of achievements contains (or consists entirely of) Brexit.

To me it seems like the original strategy behind Brexit referendum was simply "let's make a referendum that will lose, but it will give us power to convert any future complaints into political points by saying 'we told you'". And when the referendum succeeded, it became obvious that no one actually expected this outcome, and people tasked with handling the success are mostly trying to run away and hide, wait for a miracle, or delegate the responsibility to someone else. (Because now it puts them into the position where any future complaints will generate political points for their opponents. And future complaints are inevitable, always.)

I expect that as soon as Brexit is resolved in either way -- i.e. when the decision about staying or leaving is definitely made, and the blame for it is definitely assigned -- the situation will revert to politics as usual.

[-][anonymous]1y 23

I'm not sure that was Dominic Cummings' strategy? AFAICT Dominic Cummings is/was a regular here on LessWrong, from perhaps as far back as the OvercomingBias days, though I don't know his account handle. Look at his blog post which quotes Eliezer Yudkowsky first, and is chalk-full of LessWrong-defined non-standard vocabulary and phrasing. He's not (just) advertising to rationalists, that's how he always communicates.

My understanding is that he was, at minimum, a long-time lurker here who some point he decided, pretty much on his own, that the UK leaving the EU was objectively the best outcome for "reasons".. and then used all the tricks in the rationalist dark-arts book to make it happen. He was successful at winning, and radically changed the course of a major country.

We talk a big talk about instrumental rationality, about rationalist superpowers... but application has been a bit of a mixed bag to be honest. And yet here's a rationalist who upturned global politics singlehandedly, and credits LessWrong with his success.

I would suggest setting aside ALL feelings about Brexit from your mind (politics is the mind-killer) and studying from an objective viewpoint what Dominic Cummings has done. There is something in the process there that ought to be emulated, even if you disagree with the instrumental outcome.

There is something in the process there that ought to be emulated, even if you disagree with the instrumental outcome.

I see your point, but the outcome is important, if you want to improve things, not just become famous for changing them.

[-][anonymous]1y 6

Isn’t it a commonly held belief here that the ability to achieve goals (rationality) is orthogonal from the content of those goals (morality)?

Burning down a building is easier than constructing it.

People are celebrating Dominic Cummings for changing the building. I'd like to wait until it turns out what specific kind of change it was.

In the meanwhile, I accept the argument that even burning down the building requires more skills and agency than merely talking about the building. In this way, Dominic Cummings has already risen above the level of the rationalist plebs. But how high, that still remains to be seen.

[-][anonymous]1y 24

Don't confuse the consequences of the outcome with the things that had to be achieved to accomplish it. He got a national referendum on the ballot and got it to pass, despite the establishment (political parties, media, and businesses) being uniformly against it. This is not comparable to burning down a building. Rather it was a precision campaign to identify what it would take to convince a majority of the voting population to adopt a radical political agenda.

Change "Brexit" to "basic income," "universal single-payer healthcare," "tuition-free higher education," "carbon-free emissions" or whatever your preferred legislative objective would be, and the difficulty and techniques would be the same. It was a large accomplishment worth studying.

It's not obvious to me that either the difficulty or the techniques would be the same for those other objectives as for Brexit. A canny political operative uses techniques appropriate for specific goals, after all.

If your goal is simply to get the UK out of the EU, for whatever reason and in whatever fashion, and if you don't mind what harm you do to society in the process, then "all" you need to do is to stir up hatred and suspicion and fear around the EU and what it does and those who like it, and find some slogans that appeal without requiring much actual thought, and so forth. Standard-issue populism.

But let's suppose you want universal basic income and you want it because you think it will help people and make society better. Then:

  • The "stir up fear and hatred" template doesn't work so well, because what you're doing isn't a thing that can readily be seen as fighting against a shared enemy.
  • The "stir up fear and hatred" template may be a really bad idea even if it works, because it may do more damage to society than the reform you're aiming for does good.
  • The details of what you do and how you do it may matter a lot: some versions of universal basic income might bankrupt the country, some might fail to do enough to solve the problems UBI is meant to solve, some might be politically unacceptable, etc. So you need to sell it in a way that lets a carefully designed version of UBI be what ends up happening.

The available evidence does not suggest (to me) that Cummings has a very specific version of Brexit in mind, or that he is sufficiently concerned for the welfare of the UK's society and the individuals within it to be troubled by considerations of societal harm done by the measures he's taken, or of whether he's ending up with a variety of Brexit that's net beneficial.

I would have preferred to say the foregoing without the last paragraph, which is kinda object-level political. But it's essential to the point. When Viliam says it's easier to burn a building down than construct it, I think he is saying something similar: if, as it seems may be the case, Cummings doesn't actually care whether he does a lot of harm to a lot of people, then he has selected an easier task than would be faced by someone trying to bring about major reforms without harming a lot of people, and the methods he's chosen are not necessarily ones that those who care about not harming a lot of people should emulate.

Yep. Looking around me, getting Slovakia out of EU would be relatively easier task than making it adopt UBI, for the reasons you mentioned (plus one you didn't: availability of foreign helpers).

How clear is it that he specifically got all those things to happen? There were definitely other people involved, after all. Cummings's own account of what happened no doubt ascribes as much agency as possible to Cummings himself, but there are possible explanations for that other than its being true.

Isn’t it a commonly held belief here that the ability to achieve goals (rationality) is orthogonal from the content of those goals (morality)?

That would imply that means are always morally neutral, which is not the case.

[-][anonymous]1y 2

It's a direct consequence of utilitarian morality.

What moral impact is there for means, other than their total consequences?

Maybe utilitarianism is wrong. If means involve rights violations, maybe they are not justified by their consequences.

[-][anonymous]1y 4

You're not applying it correctly. Rights violations are among the consequences. They're summed as part of the utilitarian equation.

This conversation sounds like TAG uses utilitarianism to mean classic utilitarianism, where pains and pleasures are the only consequences that we care about (and rights violations are not), and like you are using it to refer to decision-theoretic utilitarianism, where the consequences can include rights violations as well.

[-][anonymous]1y 2

I object that there is any real difference between the two. Classic utilitarianism is "count up all the good, subtract all the bad." That's exactly how I would describe decision-theoretic utilitarianism. Now the original proponents of utilitarianism also didn't give much negative weight to rights violations, but that's a complaint against their utility function, not utilitarianism per se.

But regardless, I think you did identify and elucidate better than I did the core disagreement here. I hope it's resolved for TAG.

It sounds like "decision theoretic utilitarianism" was something invented here.

I think hybrid approaches to ethics have more to offer than purist approaches..and also that it is assists communication to label them as such.

Edit:

Actually , it's worse than that. As Smiffnoy correctly states, maximising your personal utility without regard to anybody else isn't an ethical theory at all, so it continues the confusion to label it as such.

[-][anonymous]1y 2
Actually , it's worse than that. As Smiffnoy correctly states, maximising your personal utility without regard to anybody else isn't an ethical theory at all, so it continues the confusion to label it as such.

That only describes a solipsist or sociopath's utility function. All things being equal, I would like for you to be happy, strange person on the Internet who is reading this. Maximizing my own utility function means preferring outcomes where everyone is happy, because I value those outcomes.

Also Smiffnoy seems to ignore or be ignorant of game theory and Nash equilibria, which shows that under the right conditions purely selfish people acting rationally ought to cooperate to create outcomes that are the best achievable for everyone. (Which far from being an ivory tower theory, it describes modern capitalist society in a nutshell.)

.. under the right condition..

There's your problem. We don't say that two things are the same if they happen to coincide under exceptional circumstances, we say they are the same if they coincide under every possible circumstance.

Ethical utilitarianism and utility based decision theory don't coincide when someone is only a little more altruistic than a sociopath. Utilitarianism is notorious for being very demanding, so having a personal UF that coincides with the aggregate used by utilitarianism requires Ghandi level altruism., and is therefore improbable.

Likewise, decision theory can imply a CC equilibrium, but does not do so in every case.

Rights violations are among the consequences

Consequences for whom? If I violate your rights, that's not a consequence for me. That's one of the ways in which ethical utilitarianism separates from personal decision theory.

[-][anonymous]1y 4
Consequences for whom?

I don't understand the question. "For whom" doesn't matter. If I take an action, the world that results as a consequence has an entity who feels their rights are violated. When I sum over the utility of that world, that rights violation is a negative term, if I'm the kind of person cares about people's rights (which I am, but is a *separate* issue).

For "the ends don't justify the means" to mean something, it implies that there is something of intrinsic negative morality in the actions I take, even if the results are identical. I argue that this is nonsense--if there was any real, non-deontological difference you could point to, then that would be part of the utility calculation.

an entity who feels their rights are violated.

If I feel that I have a right to a swimming pool, does your failure to buy me a swimming pool mean that a right has been violated?

For whom” doesn’t matter.

It matters because your ethical/decision theory will give different results depending on whose utilities you are taking into account.

If I take an action, the world that results as a consequence has an entity who feels their rights are violated. When I sum over the utility of that world, that rights violation is a negative term, if I’m the kind of person cares about people’s rights (which I am, but is a separate issue).

It's the heart of the issue. If you don't care about their rights, but they do, then you will violate their rights.

If there is some objective notion of the negative utility that comes from a rights violation, you will violate their their rights unless your personal UF happens to be exactly aligned with the objective value.

For “the ends don’t justify the means” to mean something, it implies that there is something of intrinsic negative morality in the actions I take, even if the results are identical

You can't calculate what the ultimate results are. You have to use heuristics. That's why there is a real paradox about the trolley problem. The local (necessarily) calculation says, that killing the fat man saves lives, the heuristic says "dont kill people"

Utilitarianism uses a version of global utility that is based on summing individual utilities.

If you could show that some notion of rights emerges from summation of individual utility, that would be a remarkable result, effectively resolving the Trolley problem.

OTOH, there is a loose sense in which rules have some kind of distributed utility, but if that not based on summation of individual utilities, you are talking about something that isn't utilitarianism, as usually defined.

And yet here's a rationalist who upturned global politics singlehandedly, and credits LessWrong with his success.

Source? I've googled his name and LessWrong, but can't find him saying anything about it.

also confused why their list of achievements contains (or consists entirely of) Brexit

He also had a hand in keeping Britain on the pound instead of the euro, back in 1999-2002.

To me it seems like the original strategy behind Brexit referendum was simply "let's make a referendum that will lose, but it will give us power to convert any future complaints into political points by saying 'we told you'".

My understanding is that this was David Cameron's strategy. But others, like Daniel Hannan and Dominic Cummings, actually wanted the UK out of the EU.

In Cummings' case, his (stated) reason was that he thought the UK government was in need of major reform, and the best odds for reforming it seemed to require first withdrawing from the EU. (See the section in this blog post labeled, "Why do it?")

The charitable case is that Dominic Cummings pushed for Brexit because he realized that real, meaningful civil service reform would not be possible as long as the UK had to be fully aligned with EU rules and regulation. Brexit gives the UK room to maneuver in that regard while simultaneously stunning the existing political establishment into shocked inactivity, giving people like Dominic Cummings room to run and accomplish what they need to accomplish before things revert to politics as usual.

Edit:

From what I've read, the UK's civil service is far less responsive to the winds of politics than the US's. This has both good and bad aspects. The good aspect is that while ministers can come and go, the day-to-day functioning of the government carries on largely unchanged from administration to administration. The bad is that, because the civil service is so professionalized, it's nigh impossible to change the mindset of the average civil-service professional without some kind of radical change. Brexit is that change, and the hope is that by inserting rationalist-aligned people into key positions in the civil service, Dominic can meaningfully alter the way that government functions in a way that can't easily be undone by the whims of the voters at the next election. Whether this is a good thing or not, of course, remains to be seen.