Lightcone recently decided to close down a big project we'd been running for the last 1.5 years: An office space in Berkeley for people working on x-risk/EA/rationalist things that we opened August 2021.
We haven't written much about why, but I and Ben had written some messages on the internal office slack to explain some of our reasoning, which we've copy-pasted below. (They are from Jan 26th). I might write a longer retrospective sometime, but these messages seemed easy to share, and it seemed good to have something I can more easily refer to publicly.
Below is a graph of weekly unique keycard-visitors to the office in 2022.
The x-axis is each week (skipping the first 3), and the y-axis is the number of unique visitors-with-keycards.
Members could bring in guests, which happened quite a bit and isn't measured in the keycard data below, so I think the total number of people who came by the offices is 30-50% higher.
The offices opened in August 2021. Including guests, parties, and all the time not shown in the graphs, I'd estimate around 200-300 more people visited, so in total around 500-600 people used the offices.
The offices cost $70k/month on rent , and around $35k/month on food and drink, and ~$5k/month on contractor time for the office. It also costs core Lightcone staff time which I'd guess at around $75k/year.
Closing the Lightcone Offices @channel
Hello there everyone,
Sadly, I'm here to write that we've decided to close down the Lightcone Offices by the end of March. While we initially intended to transplant the office to the Rose Garden Inn, Oliver has decided (and I am on the same page about this decision) to make a clean break going forward to allow us to step back and renegotiate our relationship to the entire EA/longtermist ecosystem, as well as change what products and services we build.
Below I'll give context on the decision and other details, but the main practical information is that the office will no longer be open after Friday March 24th. (There will be a goodbye party on that day.)
I asked Oli to briefly state his reasoning for this decision, here's what he says:
An explicit part of my impact model for the Lightcone Offices has been that its value was substantially dependent on the existing EA/AI Alignment/Rationality ecosystem being roughly on track to solve the world's most important problems, and that while there are issues, pouring gas into this existing engine, and ironing out its bugs and problems, is one of the most valuable things to do in the world.
I had been doubting this assumption of our strategy for a while, even before FTX. Over the past year (with a substantial boost by the FTX collapse) my actual trust in this ecosystem and interest in pouring gas into this existing engine has greatly declined, and I now stand before what I have helped built with great doubts about whether it all will be or has been good for the world.
I respect many of the people working here, and I am glad about the overall effect of Lightcone on this ecosystem we have built, and am excited about many of the individuals in the space, and probably in many, maybe even most, future worlds I will come back with new conviction to invest and build out this community that I have been building infrastructure for for almost a full decade. But right now, I think both me and the rest of Lightcone need some space to reconsider our relationship to this whole ecosystem, and I currently assign enough probability that building things in the space is harmful for the world that I can't really justify the level of effort and energy and money that Lightcone has been investing into doing things that pretty indiscriminately grow and accelerate the things around us.
(To Oli's points I'll add to this that it's also an ongoing cost in terms of time, effort, stress, and in terms of a lack of organizational focus on the other ideas and projects we'd like to pursue.)
Oli, myself, and the rest of the Lightcone team will be available to discuss more about this in the channel #closing-office-reasoning where I invite any and all of you who wish to to discuss this with me, the rest of the lightcone team, and each other.
In the last few weeks I sat down and interviewed people leading the 3 orgs whose primary office is here (FAR, AI Impacts, and Encultured) and 13 other individual contributors. I asked about how this would affect them, how we could ease the change, and generally get their feelings about how the ecosystem is working out.
These conversations lasted on average 45 mins each, and it was very interesting to hear people's thoughts about this, and also their suggestions about other things Lightcone could work on.
These conversations also left me feeling more hopeful about building related community-infrastructure in the future, as I learned of a number of positive effects that I wasn't aware of. These conversations all felt pretty real, I respect all the people involved more, and I hope to talk to many more of you at length before we close.
From the check-ins I've done with people, this seems to me to be enough time to not disrupt any SERI MATS mentorships, and to give the orgs here a comfortable enough amount of time to make new plans, but if this does put you in a tight spot, please talk to us and we'll see how we can help.
The campus team (me, Oli, Jacob, Rafe) will be in the office for lunch tomorrow (Friday at 1pm) to discuss any and all of this with you. We'd like to know how this is affecting you, and I'd really like to know about costs this has for you that I'm not aware of. Please feel free (and encouraged) to just chat with us in your lightcone channels (or in any of the public office channels too).
Otherwise, a few notes:
- The Lighthouse system is going away when the leases end. Lighthouse 1 has closed, and Lighthouse 2 will continue to be open for a few more months.
- If you would like to start renting your room yourself from WeWork, I can introduce you to our point of contact, who I think would be glad to continue to rent the offices. Offices cost between $1k and $6k a month depending on how many desks are in them.
- Here's a form to give the Lightcone team anonymous feedback about this decision (or anything). [Link removed from LW post.]
- To talk with people about future plans starting now and after the offices close, whether to propose plans or just to let others know what you'll be doing, I've made the #future-plans channel and added you all to it.
It's been a thrilling experience to work alongside and get to know so many people dedicated to preventing an existential catastrophe, and I've made many new friends working here, thank you, but I think me and the Lightcone Team need space to reflect and to build something better if Earth is going to have a shot at aligning the AGIs we build.
Oliver's 1st message in #Closing-Office-Reasoning
(In response to a question on the Slack saying "I was hoping you could elaborate more on the idea that building the space may be net harmful.")
I think FTX is the obvious way in which current community-building can be bad, though in my model of the world FTX, while somewhat of outlier in scope, doesn't feel like a particularly huge outlier in terms of the underlying generators. Indeed it feels not that far from par for the course of the broader ecosystems relationship to honesty, aggressively pursuing plans justified by naive consequentialism, and more broadly having a somewhat deceptive relationship to the world.
Though again, I really don't feel confident about the details here and am doing a bunch of broad orienting.
I've also written some EA Forum and LessWrong comments that point to more specific things that I am worried will have or have had a negative effect on the world:
My guess is RLHF research has been pushing on a commercialization bottleneck and had a pretty large counterfactual effect on AI investment, causing a huge uptick in investment into AI and potentially an arms race between Microsoft and Google towards AGI: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/vwu4kegAEZTBtpT6p/thoughts-on-the-impact-of-rlhf-research?commentId=HHBFYow2gCB3qjk2i
Thoughts on how responsible EA was for the FTX fraud: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/Koe2HwCQtq9ZBPwAS/quadratic-reciprocity-s-shortform?commentId=9c3srk6vkQuLHRkc6
Tendencies towards pretty mindkilly PR-stuff in the EA community: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/ALzE9JixLLEexTKSq/cea-statement-on-nick-bostrom-s-email?commentId=vYbburTEchHZv7mn4
I feel quite worried that the alignment plan of Anthropic currently basically boils down to "we are the good guys, and by doing a lot of capabilities research we will have a seat at the table when AI gets really dangerous, and then we will just be better/more-careful/more-reasonable than the existing people, and that will somehow make the difference between AI going well and going badly". That plan isn't inherently doomed, but man does it rely on trusting Anthropic's leadership, and I genuinely only have marginally better ability to distinguish the moral character of Anthropic's leadership from the moral character of FTX's leadership, and in the absence of that trust the only thing we are doing with Anthropic is adding another player to an AI arms race.
More broadly, I think AI Alignment ideas/the EA community/the rationality community played a pretty substantial role in the founding of the three leading AGI labs (Deepmind, OpenAI, Anthropic), and man, I sure would feel better about a world where none of these would exist, though I also feel quite uncertain here. But it does sure feel like we had a quite large counterfactual effect on AI timelines.
Before the whole FTX collapse, I also wrote this long list of reasons for why I feel quite doomy about stuff (posted in replies, to not spam everything).
Oliver's 2nd message
(Originally written October 2022) I've recently been feeling a bunch of doom around a bunch of different things, and an associated lack of direction for both myself and Lightcone.
Here is a list of things that I currently believe that try to somehow elicit my current feelings about the world and the AI Alignment community.
- In most worlds RLHF, especially if widely distributed and used, seems to make the world a bunch worse from a safety perspective (by making unaligned systems appear aligned at lower capabilities levels, meaning people are less likely to take alignment problems seriously, and by leading to new products that will cause lots of money to go into AI research, as well as giving a strong incentive towards deception at higher capability levels)
- It's a bad idea to train models directly on the internet, since the internet as an environment makes supervision much harder, strongly encourages agency, has strong convergent goals around deception, and also gives rise to a bunch of economic applications that will cause more money to go into AI
- The EA and AI Alignment community should probably try to delay AI development somehow, and this will likely include getting into conflict with a bunch of AI capabilities organizations, but it's worth the cost
- I don't currently see a way to make AIs very useful for doing additional AI Alignment research, and don't expect any of the current approaches for that to work (like ELK, or trying to imitate humans by doing more predictive modeling of human behavior and then hoping they turn out to be useful), but it sure would be great if we found a way to do this (but like, I don't think we currently know how to do this)
- I am quite worried that it's going to be very easy to fool large groups of humans, and that AI is quite close to seeming very aligned and sympathetic to executives at AI companies, as well as many AI alignment researchers (and definitely large parts of the public). I don't think this will be the result of human modeling, but just the result of pushing the AI into patterns of speech/behaior that we associate with being less threatening and being more trustworthy. In some sense this isn't a catastrophic risk because this kind of deception doesn't cause the AI to dispower the humans, but I do expect it to make actually getting the research to stop or to spend lots of resources on alignment a lot harder later on.
- I do sure feel like a lot of AI alignment research is very suspiciously indistinguishable from capabilities research, and I think this is probably for the obvious bad reasons instead of this being an inherent property of these domains (the obvious bad reason being that it's politically advantageous to brand your research as AI Alignment research and capabilities research simultaneously, since that gives you more social credibility, especially from the EA crowd which has a surprisingly strong talent pool and is also just socially close to a lot of top AI capabilities people)
- I think a really substantial fraction of people who are doing "AI Alignment research" are instead acting with the primary aim of "make AI Alignment seem legit". These are not the same goal, a lot of good people can tell and this makes them feel kind of deceived, and also this creates very messy dynamics within the field where people have strong opinions about what the secondary effects of research are, because that's the primary thing they are interested in, instead of asking whether the research points towards useful true things for actually aligning the AI.
- More broadly, I think one of the primary effects of talking about AI Alignment has been to make more people get really hyped about AGI, and be interested in racing towards AGI. Generally knowing about AGI-Risk does not seem to have made people more hesitant towards racing and slow down, but instead caused them to accelerate progress towards AGI, which seems bad on the margin since I think humanity's chances of survival do go up a good amount with more time.
- It also appears that people who are concerned about AGI risk have been responsible for a very substantial fraction of progress towards AGI, suggesting that there is a substantial counterfactual impact here, and that people who think about AGI all day are substantially better at making progress towards AGI than the average AI researcher (though this could also be explained by other attributes like general intelligence or openness to weird ideas that EA and AI Alignment selects for, though I think that's somewhat less likely)
- A lot of people in AI Alignment I've talked to have found it pretty hard to have clear thoughts in the current social environment, and many of them have reported that getting out of Berkeley, or getting social distance from the core of the community has made them produce better thoughts. I don't really know whether the increased productivity here is born out by evidence, but really a lot of people that I considered promising contributors a few years ago are now experiencing a pretty active urge to stay away from the current social milieu.
- I think all of these considerations in-aggregate make me worried that a lot of current work in AI Alignment field-building and EA-community building is net-negative for the world, and that a lot of my work over the past few years has been bad for the world (most prominently transforming LessWrong into something that looks a lot more respectable in a way that I am worried might have shrunk the overton window of what can be discussed there by a lot, and having generally contributed to a bunch of these dynamics).
- Exercising some genre-saviness, I also think a bunch of this is driven by just a more generic "I feel alienated by my social environment changing and becoming more professionalized and this is robbing it of a lot of the things I liked about it". I feel like when people feel this feeling they often are holding on to some antiquated way of being that really isn't well-adapted to their current environment, and they often come up with fancy rationalizations for why they like the way things used to be.
- I also feel confused about how to relate to the stronger equivocation of ML-skills with AI Alignment skills. I don't personally have much of a problem with learning a bunch of ML, and generally engage a good amount with the ML literature (not enough to be an active ML researcher, but enough to follow along almost any conversation between researchers), but I do also feel a bit of a sense of being personally threatened, and other people I like and respect being threatened, in this shift towards requiring advanced cutting-edge ML knowledge in order to feel like you are allowed to contribute to the field. I do feel a bit like my social environment is being subsumed by and is adopting the status hierarchy of the ML community in a way that does not make me trust what is going on (I don't particularly like the status hierarchy and incentive landscape of the ML community, which seems quite well-optimized to cause human extinction)
- I also feel like the EA community is being very aggressive about recruitment in a way that locally in the Bay Area has displaced a lot of the rationality community, and I think this is broadly bad, both for me personally and also because I just think the rationality community had more of the right components to think sanely about AI Alignment, many of which I feel like are getting lost
- I also feel like with Lightcone and Constellation coming into existence, and there being a lot more money and status around, the inner circle dynamics around EA and longtermism and the Bay Area community have gotten a lot worse, and despite being a person who I think generally is pretty in the loop with stuff, have found myself being worried and stressed about being excluded from some important community function, or some important inner circle. I am quite worried that me founding the Lightcone Offices was quite bad in this respect, by overall enshrining some kind of social hierarchy that wasn't very grounded in things I actually care about (I also personally felt a very strong social pressure to exclude interesting but socially slightly awkward people from being in Lightcone that I ended up giving into, and I think this was probably a terrible mistake and really exacerbated the dynamics here)
- I think some of the best shots we have for actually making humanity not go extinct (slowing down AI progress, pivotal acts, intelligence enhancement, etc.) feel like they have a really hard time being considered in the current overton window of the EA and AI Alignment community, and I feel like people being unable to consider plans in these spaces both makes them broadly less sane, but also just like prevents work from happening in these areas.
- I get a lot of messages these days about people wanting me to moderate or censor various forms of discussion on LessWrong that I think seem pretty innocuous to me, and the generators of this usually seem to be reputation related. E.g. recently I've had multiple pretty influential people ping me to delete or threaten moderation action against the authors of posts and comments talking about: How OpenAI doesn't seem to take AI Alignment very seriously, why gene drives against Malaria seem like a good idea, why working on intelligence enhancement is a good idea. In all of these cases the person asking me to moderate did not leave any comment of their own trying to argue for their position, before asking me to censor the content. I find this pretty stressful, and also like, most of the relevant ideas feel like stuff that people would have just felt comfortable discussing openly on LW 7 years ago or so (not like, everyone, but there wouldn't have been so much of a chilling effect so that nobody brings up these topics).
Ben's 1st message in #Closing-Office-Reasoning
Note from Ben: I have lightly edited this because I wrote it very quickly at the time
(I drafted this earlier today and didn't give it much of a second pass, forgive me if it's imprecise or poorly written.)
Here are some of the reasons I'd like to move away from providing offices as we have done so far.
- Having two locations comes with a large cost. To track how a space is functioning, what problems people are running into, how the culture changes, what improvements could be made, I think I need to be there at least 20% of my time each week (and ideally ~50%), and that’s a big travel cost to the focus of the lightcone team.
- Offices are a high-commitment abstraction for which it is hard to iterate. In trying to improve a culture, I might try to help people start more new projects, or gain additional concepts that help them understand the world, or improve the standards arguments are held to, or something else. But there's relatively little space for a lot of experimentation and negotiation in an office space — you’ve mostly made a commitment to offer a basic resource and then to get out of people's way.
- The “enculturation to investment” ratio was very lopsided. For example, with SERI MATS, many people came for 2.5 months, for whom I think a better selection mechanism would have been something shaped like a 4-day AIRCS-style workshop to better get to know them and think with them, and then pick a smaller number of the best people from that to invest further into. If I came up with an idea right now for what abstraction I'd prefer, it'd be something like an ongoing festival with lots of events and workshops and retreats for different audiences and different sorts of goals, with perhaps a small office for independent alignment researchers, rather than an office space that has a medium-size set of people you're committed to supporting long-term.
- People did not do much to invest in each other in the office. I think this in part because the office does not capture other parts of people’s lives (e.g. socializing), but also I think most people just didn’t bring their whole spirit to this in some ways, and I’m not really sure why. I think people did not have great aspirations for themselves or each other. I did not feel here that folks had a strong common-spirit — that they thought each other could grow to be world-class people who changed the course of history, and did not wish to invest in each other in that way. (There were some exceptions to note, such as Alex Mennen’s Math Talks, John Wentworth's Framing Practica, and some of the ways that people in the Shard Theory teams worked together with the hope of doing something incredible, which both felt like people were really investing into communal resources and other people.) I think a common way to know whether people are bringing their spirit to something is whether they create art about it — songs, in-jokes, stories, etc. Soon after the start I felt nobody was going to really bring themselves so fully to the space, even though we hoped that people would. I think there were few new projects from collaborations in the space, other than between people who already had a long history.
And regarding the broader ecosystem:
- Some of the primary projects getting resources from this ecosystem do not seem built using the principles and values (e.g. integrity, truth-seeking, x-risk reduction) that I care about — such as FTX, OpenAI, Anthropic, CEA, Will MacAskill's career as a public intellectual — and those that do seem to have closed down or been unsupported (such as FHI, MIRI, CFAR). Insofar as these are the primary projects who will reap the benefits of the resources that Lightcone invests into this ecosystem, I would like to change course.
- The moral maze nature of the EA/longtermist ecosystem has increased substantially over the last two years, and the simulacra level of its discourse has notably risen too. There are many more careerist EAs working here and at events, it’s more professionalized and about networking. Many new EAs are here not because they have a deep-seated passion for doing what’s right and using math to get the answers, but because they’re looking for an interesting, well-paying job in a place with nice nerds. Or are just noticing that there’s a lot of resources being handed out in a very high-trust way. One of the people I interviewed at the office said they often could not tell whether a newcomer was expressing genuine interest in some research, or was trying to figure out “how the system of reward” worked so they could play it better, because the types of questions in both cases seemed so similar. [Added to LW post: I also remember someone joining the offices to collaborate on a project, who explained that in their work they were looking for "The next Eliezer Yudkowsky or Paul Christiano". When I asked what aspects of Eliezer they wanted to replicate, they said they didn't really know much about Eliezer but it was something that a colleague of theirs said a lot.] It also seems to me that the simulacra level of writing on the EA Forum is increasing, whereby language is increasingly used primarily to signal affiliation and policy-preferences rather than to explain how reality works. I am here in substantial part because of people (like Eliezer Yudkowsky and Scott Alexander) honestly trying to explain how the world works in their online writing and doing a damn good job of it, and I feel like there is much less of that today in the EA/longtermist ecosystem. This makes the ecosystem much harder to direct, to orient within, and makes it much harder to trust that resources intended for a given purpose will not be redirected by the various internal forces that grow against the intentions of the system.
- The alignment field that we're supporting seems to me to have pretty little innovation and pretty bad politics. I am irritated by the extent to which discussion is commonly framed around a Paul/Eliezer dichotomy, even while the primary person taking orders of magnitudes more funding and staff talent (Dario Amodei) has barely explicated his views on the topic and appears (from a distance) to have disastrously optimistic views about how easy alignment will be and how important it is to stay competitive with state of the art models. [Added to LW post: I also generally dislike the dynamics of fake-expertise and fake-knowledge I sometimes see around the EA/x-risk/alignment places.
- I recall at EAG in Oxford a year or two ago, people were encouraged to "list their areas of expertise" on their profile, and one person who works in this ecosystem listed (amongst many things) "Biorisk" even though I knew the person had only been part of this ecosystem for <1 year and their background was in a different field.
- It also seems to me like people who show any intelligent thought or get any respect in the alignment field quickly get elevated to "great researchers that new people should learn from" even though I think that there's less than a dozen people who've produced really great work, and mostly people should think pretty independently about this stuff.
- I similarly feel pretty worried by how (quite earnest) EAs describe people or projects as "high impact" when I'm pretty sure that if they reflected on their beliefs, they honestly wouldn't know the sign of the person or project they were talking about, or estimate it as close-to-zero.]
How does this relate to the office?
A lot of the boundary around who is invited to the offices has been determined by:
- People whose x-risk reduction work the Lightcone team respects or is actively excited about
- People and organizations in good standing in the EA/longtermist ecosystem (e.g. whose research is widely read, who has major funding from OpenPhil/FTX, who have organizations that have caused a lot to happen, etc) and the people working and affiliated with them
- Not-people who we think would (sadly) be very repellent to many people to work in the space (e.g. lacking basic social skills, or who many people find scary for some reason) or who we think have violated important norms (e.g. lying, sexual assault, etc).
The 2nd element has really dominated a lot of my choices here in the last 12 months, and (as I wrote above) this is a boundary that is increasingly filled with people who I don't believe are here because they care about ethics, who I am not aware have done any great work, who I am not aware of having strong or reflective epistemologies. Even while massive amounts of resources are being poured into the EA/longtermist ecosystem, I'd like to have a far more discerning boundary around the resources I create.
The office rent cost about 1.5x what it needed to be. We started in a WeWork because we were prototyping whether people even wanted an office, and wanted to get started quickly (the office was up and running in 3 weeks instead of going through the slower process of signing a 12-24 month lease). Then we were in a state for about a year of figuring out where to move to long-term, often wanting to preserve the flexibility of being able to move out within 2 months.
This doesn't feel right to me, off the top of my head, it does seem like most of the field is just trying to make progress. For most of those that aren't, it feels like they are pretty explicit about not trying to solve alignment, and also I'm excited about most of the projects. I'd guess like 10-20% of the field are in the "make alignment seem legit" camp. My rough categorization:
Make alignment progress:
... (read more)
- Anthropic Interp
- ARC Theory
- Most independent researchers that I can think of (e.g. John, Vanessa, Steven Byrnes, the MATS people I know)
- Some of the safety teams at OpenAI
This list seems partially right, though I would basically put all of Deepmind in the "make legit" category (I think they are genuinely well-intentioned about this, but I've had long disagreements with e.g. Rohin about this in the past). As a concrete example of this, whose effects I actually quite like, think of the specification gaming list. I think the second list is missing a bunch of names and instances, in-particular a lot of people in different parts of academia, and a lot of people who are less core "AINotKillEveryonism" flavored.
Like, let's take "Anthropic Capabilities" for example, which is what the majority of people at Anthropic work on. Why are they working on it?
They are working on it partially because this gives Anthropic access to state of the art models to do alignment research on, but I think in even greater parts they are doing it because this gives them a seat at the table with the other AI capabilities orgs and makes their work seem legitimate to them, which enables them to both be involved in shaping how AI develops, and have influence over these other orgs.
I think this goal isn't crazy, but I do get a sense that the overall strategy for Anthropic i... (read more)
(I realize this is straying pretty far from the intent of this post, so feel free to delete this comment)
I totally agree that a non-trivial portion of DeepMind's work (and especially my work) is in the "make legit" category, and I stand by that as a good thing to do, but putting all of it there seems pretty wild. Going off of a list I previously wrote about DeepMind work (this comment):... (read more)
I mean, I think my models here come literally from conversations with you, where I am pretty sure you have said things like (paraphrased) "basically all the work I do at Deepmind and the work of most other people I work with at Deepmind is about 'trying to demonstrate the difficulty of the problem' and 'convincing other people at Deepmind the problem is real'".
In as much as you are now claiming that is only 10%-20% of the work, that would be extremely surprising to me and I do think would really be in pretty direct contradiction with other things we have talked about.
Like, yes, of course if you want to do field-building and want to get people to think AI Alignment is real, you will also do some alignment research. But I am talking about the balance of motivations, not the total balance of work. My sense is most of the motivation for people at the Deepmind teams comes from people thinking about how to get other people at Deepmind to take AI Alignment seriously. I think that's a potentially valuable goal, but indeed it is also the kind of goal that often gets represented as someone just trying to make direct progress on the problem.
Hmm, this is surprising. Some claims I might have made that could have led to this misunderstanding, in order of plausibility:
... (read more)
- [While I was working on goal misgeneralization] "Basically all the work that I'm doing is about convincing other people that the problem is real". I might have also said something like "and most people I work with" intending to talk about my collaborators on goal misgeneralization rather than the entire DeepMind safety team(s); for at least some of the time that I was working on goal misgeneralization I was an individual contributor so that would have been a reasonable interpretation.
- "Most of my past work hasn't made progress on the problem" -- this would be referring to papers that I started working on before believing that scaled up deep learning could lead to AGI without additional insights, which I think ended up solving the wrong problem because I had a wrong model of what the problem was. (But I wouldn't endorse "I did this to make alignment legit", I was in fact trying to solve the problem as I saw it.) (I also did lots of conceptual work that I think did make progress but I have a bad habit of using phrases like "past work" to only mean papers.)
fyi your phrasing here is different from what I initially interpreted "make AI safety seem legit".
like there's maybe a few things someone might mean if they say "they're working on AI Alignment research"
(and of course people can be doing a mixture of the above, or 5th options I didn't lisT)
I interpreted you initially as saying #4, but it sounds like you/Rohin here are talking about #3. There are versions of #3 that are secretly just #4 without much theory-of-change, but, idk, I think Rohin's stated goal here is just pretty reasonable and definitely something I want in my overall AI Alignment Field portfolio. I agree you should avoid accidentally conflating it with #1.
(i.e. this seems related to a form of research-debt, albeit focused on bridging the gap between one field and another, rather than improving intra-field research debt)
...Am I crazy or is this discussion weirdly missing the third option of "They're doing it because they want to build a God-AI and 'beat the other orgs to the punch'"? That is completely distinct from signaling competence to other AGI orgs or getting yourself a "seat at the table" and it seems odd to categorize the majority of Anthropic's aggslr8ing as such.
It seems to me like one (often obscured) reason for the disagreement between Thomas and Habryka is that they are thinking about different groups of people when they define "the field."
To assess the % of "the field" that's doing meaningful work, we'd want to do something like [# of people doing meaningful work]/[total # of people in the field].
Who "counts" in the denominator? Should we count anyone who has received a grant from the LTFF with the word "AI safety" in it? Only the ones who have contributed object-level work? Only the ones who have contributed object-level work that passes some bar? Should we count the Anthropic capabilities folks? Just the EAs who are working there?
My guess is that Thomas was using more narrowly defined denominator (e.g., not counting most people who got LTFF grants and went off to to PhDs without contributing object-level alignment stuff; not counting most Anthropic capabilities researchers who have never-or-minimally engaged with the AIS community) whereas Habryka was using a more broadly defined denominator.
I'm not certain about this, and even if it's true, I don't think it explains the entire effect size. But I wouldn't be surprised if roughly 10-3... (read more)
Can we adopt a norm of calling this Safe.ai? When I see "CAIS", I think of Drexler's "Comprehensive AI Services".
Yeah, all four of those are real things happening, and are exactly the sorts of things I think the post has in mind.
I take "make AI alignment seem legit" to refer to a bunch of actions that are optimized to push public discourse and perceptions around. Here's a list of things that come to my mind:
Each of these things seems like they have a core good thing, but according to me they've all backfired to the extend that they were optimized to avoid the thorny parts of AI x-risk, because this enables rampant goodharting. Specifically I think the effects of avoiding the core stuff have been bad, creating weird cargo cults around alignment research, making it easier for orgs to have fake narratives about how they care about alignment, and etc.
Based on my own retrospective views of how lightcone's office went less-than-optimally, I recently gave some recommendations to someone maybe setting up another alignment research space. (Background: I've been working in the lightcone office since shortly after it opened.) They might be of interest to people mining this post for insights on how to execute similar future spaces. Here they are, lightly edited:
... (read more)
- I recommend selecting for people who want to understand agents, instead of people who want to reduce AI X-risk. When I think about people who bring an attitude of curiosity/exploration to alignment work, the main unifying pattern I notice is that they want to understand agents, as opposed to just avoid doom.
- I recommend selecting for people who are self-improving a lot, and/or want to help others improve a lot. Alex Turner or Nate Soares are good examples of people who score highly on this axis.
- For each of the above, I recommend that you aim for a clear majority (i.e. at least 60-70%) of people in the office to score highly on the relevant metric. So i.e. aim for at least 60-70% of people to be trying to understand agents, and separately at least 60-70% of people be trying to sel
Strong disagree. I think locking in particular paradigms of how to do AI safety research would be quite bad.
I personally benefitted tremendously from the Lightcone offices, especially when I was there over the summer during SERI MATS. Being able to talk to lots of alignment researchers and other aspiring alignment researchers increased my subjective rate of alignment upskilling by >3x relative to before, when I was in an environment without other alignment people.
Thanks so much to the Lightcone team for making the office happen. I’m sad (emotionally, not making a claim here whether it was the right decision or not) to see it go, but really grateful that it existed.
Extremely strong upvote for Oliver's 2nd message.
Also, not as related: kudos for actually materially changing the course of your organization, something which is hard for most organizations, period.
In particular, I wonder if many people who won't read through a post about offices and logistics would notice and find compelling a standalone post with Oliver's 2nd message and Ben's "broader ecosystem" list—analogous to AGI Ruin: A List of Lethalities. I know related points have been made elsewhere, but I think 95-Theses-style lists have a certain punch.
"The EA and rationality communities might be incredibly net negative" is a hell of a take to be buried in a post about closing offices.
Part of the point here is Oli, Ben and the rest of the team are still working through our thoughts/feelings on the subject, didn't feel in a good space to write any kind "here's Our Take™" post. i.e the point here was not meant to do "narrative setting"
But, it seemed important to get the information about our reasoning out there. I felt it was valuable to get some version of this post shipped soon, and this was the version we all felt pretty confident about rushing out the door without angsting about exactly what to say.
(Oli may have a somewhat different frame about what happened and his motivations)
Are there any implications for the future of LessWrong.com the online forum? How is the morale and the economic security of the people responsible for keeping this place running?
I think I might change some things but it seems very unlikely to me I will substantially reduce investment in LessWrong. Funding is scarcer post-FTX, so some things might change a bit, but I do care a lot about LessWrong continuing to get supported, and I also think it's pretty plausible I will substantially ramp up my investment into LW again.
This going to point about 87 degrees off from the main point of the post, so I'm fine with discussing this elsewhere or in DMs or something, but I do wonder how cruxy this is:
I missed the first chunk of your conversation with Dylan at the lurkshop about this, but at the time, it sounded like you suspected "quite large" wasn't 6-48 months, but maybe more than a decade. I could have gotten the wrong impression, but I remember being confused enough that I resolved to hunt you down later to ask (which I promptly forgot to do).
I gather that this isn't the issue, but it does seem load bearing. A model that suggests alignment/EA/rationality influences sped up AGI by >10 years has some pretty heavy implications which are consistent with the other things you've mentioned. If my understanding i... (read more)
I mean, I don't see the argument for more than that. Unless you have some argument for hardware progress stopping, my sense is that things would get cheap enough that someone is going to try the AI stuff that is happening today within a decade.
Thanks for sharing your reasoning, that was very interesting to read! I kind of agree with the worldview outlined in the quoted messages from the "Closing-Office-Reasoning" channel. Something like "unless you go to extreme lengths to cultivate integrity and your ability to reason in truth-tracking ways, you'll become a part of the incentive-gradient landscape around you, which kills all your impact."
Seems like a tough decision to have to decide whether an ecosystem has failed vs. whether it's still better than starting from scratch despite its flaws. (I could imagine that there's an instinct to just not think about it.)
Sometimes we also just get unlucky, though. (I don't think FTX was just bad luck, but e.g., with some of the ways AI stuff played out, I find it hard to tell. Of course, just because I find it hard to tell doesn't mean it's objectively hard to tell. Maybe some things really were stupid also when they happened, not just in hindsight.)
I'm curious if you think there are "good EA orgs" where you think the leadership satisfies the threshold needed to predictably be a force of good in the world (my view is yes!). If yes, do you think that this isn't necessarily enough for ... (read more)
I greatly appreciate this post. I feel like "argh yeah it's really hard to guarantee that actions won't have huge negative consequences, and plenty of popular actions might actually be really bad, and the road to hell is paved with good intentions." With that being said, I have some comments to consider.
That is ~$185k/month and ~$2.22m/year. I won... (read more)
Also see this recent podcast interview with habryka (incl. my transcript of it), which echoes some of what's written here. Unsurprisingly so, when the slack messages were from Jan 26th and the podcast was from <= Feb 5th.
See e.g. this section about the Rationality/AI Alignment/EA ecosystem.
As a LW veteran interested in EA I also perceive a lot of the dynamics you wrote about and they really bother me. Thank you for your hard and thoughtful work.
Thank you for sharing this, I was wondering about your perspective on these topics.
I am really curious about the intended counterfactual of this move. My understanding is that the organizations that were using the office raised funds for a new office in a few weeks (from the same funding pool that funds Lightcone), so their work will continue in a similar way.
Is the main goal to have Lightcone focus more on the Rose Garden Inn? What are your plans there, do you have projects in mind for "slowing down AI progress, pivotal acts, intelligence enhancement, etc."? Anything people can help with?
I'm a little confused: I feel like I read this post already, but I can't find it. Was there a prior deleted version?
You did see part of it before; I posted in Open Thread a month ago with the announcement, but today Ray poked me and Oli to also publish some of the reasoning we wrote in slack.
Seems like a classic case of Goodharting, with lots of misaligned mesaoptimizers taking advantage.
Oliver's second message seems like a truly relevant consideration for our work in the alignment ecosystem. Sometimes, it really does feel like AI X-risk and related concerns created the current situation. Many of the biggest AGI advances might not have been developed counterfactually, and machine learning engineers would just be optimizing another person's clicks.
I am a big fan of "Just don't build AGI" and academic work with AI, simply because it is better at moving slowly (and thereby safely through open discourse and not $10 mil training runs) compared ... (read more)
I disagree with the claims by Habryka and Ben Pace that your impact on AI wasn't positive and massive, and here's why.
My reasons for disagreement with Habryka and Ben Pace on their impact largely derive from me being way more optimistic on AI risk and AI Alignment than I used to be, which implies Habryka and Ben Pace had way more positive impact than they thought.
Some of my reasons why I became more optimistic, such that the chance of AI doom was cut to 1-10% from a prior 80%, come down to the following:
I basically believe that deceptive alignment won't
While I did not literally claim this in advance, I came close enough that I claim the right to say I Told You So.
I think weighted voting helped on average here. Indeed, of all the things that I have worked on LessWrong is the one that feels like it has helped the most, though it's still pretty messy.
I think it should increase your trust in the voting system! Most of the rest of the internet has voting dominated by whatever new users show up whenever a thing gets popular, and this makes it extremely hard to interpret votes in different contexts. E.g. on Reddit the most upvoted things in most subreddits actually often don't have that much to do with the subreddit, they are just the thins that blew up to the frontpage and so got a ton of people voting on it. Weighted voting helps a lot in creating some stability in voting and making things less internet-popularity weighted (it also does some other good things, and has some additional costs, but this is I think one of the biggest ones).
The users of the forum have collectively granted you a more powerful voice through our votes over the years. While there are ways you could use it unethically, using it as intended is a good thing.