When I worked a FAANG research job, my experience was that it was socially punishable to bring up AI alignment research in just about any context, with exceptions as it was relevant to the team's immediate mission, for example robustness on the scale required for medical decisions (a much smaller scale than AGI ruin, but a notably larger scale, in the sense of errors being costly, than most deep learning systems in production use at the time).
I find that in some social spaces, Rationality/EA-adjacent ones in particular, it's seen as distracting, rude, and low status to emphasize a hobby horse social justice issue at the expense of whatever else is being discussed. This is straightforward when "whatever else is being discussed" is AI alignment, which the inside view privileges roughly as "more important than everything else, with vague exceptions when the mental health of high-value people who might otherwise do productive work on the topic is at stake."
On a medical research team, I took a little too long to realize that I'd implicitly bought into a shared vision of what's important. We were going to save lives! We weren't going to cure cancer–everyone falls for that trap, aiming too high. We're working on the ground, saving real people, on real timescales. Computer vision can solve the disagreement-among-experts problem in all sorts of medical classification problems, and we're here to fight that fight and win.
So you've gathered a team of AI researchers, some expert, some early-career, to finally take a powerful stab at the alignment problem. A new angle, or more funding, or the right people in the room, whatever belief of comparative advantage you have that inspires hope beyond death with dignity. And you have someone on your team who deeply cares about a complicated social issue you don't understand. Maybe this is their deepest mission, and they see this early-engineer position at your new research org as a stepping stone toward the fairness and accessibility team at Brain that's doing the real work. They do their best to contribute in the team's terms of what's valuable, and they censor themselves constantly, waiting for the right moment to make the pivotal observation that there's not a single cis woman in the room, or that the work we're doing here may be building a future that's even more hostile toward people with developmental disabilities, or this adversarial training scheme has some alarming implications when you consider that the system could learn race as a feature even if we exclude it from the dataset, or something.
I think this is a fair analogue to my situation, and I expect more broadly among people already doing AI research toward a goal other than alignment. It's
- Distracting: We have something else we're working on, and that is a deep question, and you probably could push hard enough on me to nerd snipe me with it if I don't put up barriers.
- Rude: It implies that the work we're doing here, which we all care deeply about (right?) is problematic for reasons well outside our models of who we are and what we're responsible for, and challenging that necessitates a bunch of complicated shadow work.
- Low status: Wait, are you one of those LessWrong people? I bet you're anti-woke and think James Damore shouldn't have been fired, huh? And you're so wound up in your privilege bubble that you think this AGI alarmism is more important than the struggles of real underprivileged people who we know actually exist, here, now? Got it.
I'm being slightly unfair in implying that these are literally interactions I had with real people in the industry. This is more representative of my experiences online and in other spaces with less of a backdrop of professional courtesy. At [FAANG company] these interactions were subtler.
This story is meant to provide answers to your questions 1 and 2. As far as question 3 and making a change, I'm bullish on narratives, aesthetics, anthropology and the like as genuine interventions upstream of AI safety. We're in a social equilibrium where only certain sorts of people can move into AI safety without seriously disrupting the means by which their social needs are met. There are many wonderful people in that set, but it is relatively quite small compared to the set of people who, if they were convinced to genuinely try, could contribute meaningfully.
I would guess this doesn't appear to qualify for bonus points for being reasonably low-hanging. I come from an odd place though: personally sufficiently traumatized by my experiences in AI research that in practical terms contributing there is more or less off limits for me for the time being, yet compelled by AGI ruin narratives and experienced with substantial relevant technical background. So at least for me, this is the way forward.