Summary: We’re running a free retreat for LessWrong users (lurkers) who aren’t yet working on existential risk mitigation but might be interested, in the hopes of catalyzing some of them into people who are. It’s called the Lurkshop. Apply here by December 1st, ideally sooner! If you refer a friend and we accept them, we’ll give you $100. We cover all costs, including flights. Please apply even if you don't think you have skills that seem directly relevant to reducing x-risk!


Do you read LessWrong?


Are you doing anything about the dire existential warnings you're hearing about? 

(Probably not!)

If you want to be, we're offering an all-expenses paid workshop, Dec 16 (noon) to Dec 18 (10pm) in Berkeley, CA to come meet community members, talk with each other, and otherwise engage with the main plot of the world. If this goes well we might offer more programs like this, so please apply even if the dates don’t work well for you and we might invite you to those future programs!

What? Why?

LessWrong is one of the places in the world where words mean things and people think openly about the hardest problems facing the world, and we'd like to get to know the people who read it a bit better and help them make progress on the world’s problems.

The rationality community mostly exists on online forums. Forums are great, but it’s really hard to replicate some important aspects of in-person conversations.

  • You can have different kinds of interactions and conversations in face-to-face interactions, which are useful for building trust, context, and deeper relationships
    • It’s helpful to be able to have conversations that aren't mostly in public. There's a lot that people want to talk about that's sensitive or personal or private
    • It’s helpful to be able to have long conversations with lots of context that are laser focused on you and your situation
    • You probably can't find a cofounder just by writing LessWrong comments.
  • Forums make the community feel remote and actions feel impossible
    • The rationality community is not some distant mythical group—it’s a bunch of people!
    • Many people quite like you are doing big ambitious risky projects, and seeing that helps people realize they can do those kinds of projects too
    • There really isn’t someone on top of all the important stuff. Come see for yourself how disorganized and incompetent everyone is!

Notably, this retreat probably won’t be a great way to

  • Learn a bunch of deep rationality stuff (or to learn other stuff)
    • We might have some cool talks, but mostly for tone setting, etc.
  • Get you plugged into some kind of exclusive in-group
  • Purely have fun and chill
    • Look, we’re not against fun
    • But the organizers have a mission, and it is to lash you together into an engine of grit and spite, with which we might kill the machine god. 

Um, so what, concretely, will happen?

Update: We've put together a tentative schedule for the workshop; we will adapt it based on what participants find useful.

We will likely run some of the following:

  • Sessions on How To Actually Do Things 
    • How do you go from an idea for a project, to getting funding and setting up a corporation? Which sounds hard, but isn’t?
    • And then how do you make the thing actually happen, which sounds easy, but isn’t?
  • LessWrong post writing day
  • Co-founder speed-dating 
  • Someone Talks You Through How You Could Maybe Do More Useful Things With Your Life
  • Lightning talks
  • One-on-ones
  • Attending winter solstice (ETA: if there's still space)

Who should apply?

If you like the kinds of ideas explored on LessWrong, you should apply. It’s ok if you haven’t read a ton of the material yet, though we suspect this workshop will be most useful for those who have read many of the Sequences already. What we’re looking for in the application is mostly intellectual vibrancy, agency, and the ability to build your own models of the world, more than familiarity with the community. Please apply even if you don't think you have skills that seem directly relevant to reducing x-risk!

Isn’t this a little last-minute?

Yep. But spinning it up immediately seemed better than waiting awhile. If this one goes well, we’ll run more in the future, so even if that is too soon please still fill in the form and select the option to let us know that you’re interested in future events!

Who is running this?

We’re running this with the blessing of and input from the LessWrong team, and many of them will be visiting during the retreat, but it’s not principally organized by them. You can see the organizers here.

ETA: The workshop is funded by the Atlas Fellowship, which is funded by Open Philanthropy. It's a side-hustle of Atlas, outside of the scope and brand of the organization, and run by a subset of our team and some external collaborators. We have a fair amount of experience running different kinds of workshops, and are experimenting with what programs targeted at other demographic and niches might look like.

Apply here by December 1st, ideally sooner!

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41 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 12:10 PM

Update: we sent out decisions to everyone who applied to the upcoming program, which is now Jan 6-8!

The fact that these decisions were so delayed and communication was poor and the program got postponed is all my fault and I would like to apologize. I understand that my being unresponsive created costs for you and makes planning harder. It also eats into a valuable resource of trust that makes people more suspicious of other events and generally makes coordination difficult.

This happened because I didn't set firm enough deadlines or loop my collaborators in enough on the project, and then once I fell a little bit behind because we got more applications than I expected, I grew very averse to evaluating them. That's not to say this was excusable -- this is the kind of mistake that should cause people to trust me less. This is a fairly unprecedented error for me and I wrote down some reflections on why this happened, which I've shared with everyone who applied. I don't think I'll make another mistake of this flavor any time soon.

One thing I'd like to emphasize is this was entirely my mistake -- Jonas and the rest of the people working on the Lurkshop and at Atlas and LessWrong tried to help but I didn't communicate with them well or keep them in the loop.

Again, thank you everyone for your patience and I'm sorry for the hassle I've caused.

I'm excited to see some of you in person soon!

Will you contact both accepted and rejected applicants? If so, when?

Same question - I applied on Nov 22 and haven't heard back

This workshop will be postponed to January, likely to 6–9 Jan. GradientDissenter was planning to give an update to all applicants; I hope they will do so soon. I understand that some of you may have made their plans hoping to be able to participate in the workshop or were otherwise hoping for a fast response, and I apologize for completely missing the deadline, the lack of communication, and the change of plans.

(Why did this happen? Evaluating applications ended up being harder than anticipated, and I failed to jump in and fix things when the workshop planning wasn't progressing as planned, partly because I was on vacation.)

Thank you for the update. I passed this listing on with my endorsement to several people in the DC community who applied and heard nothing back. Having the event fall through like this is discouraging.

In the future I'd urge you to share bad news sooner, it doesn't get better with time.

Thanks for the update. Ya not communicating earlier to help applicants set expectations for an upcoming high-coordination event on a certain date is a pretty large demonstration of poor judgment that generally makes one want to lower expectations on every other aspect. But it’s a good idea/initiative and sometimes smart people make isolated mistakes. Hoping for the best in Jan.

Yeah, I fully agree with this, and am aware of the cost. Apologies once more for not jumping in sooner when I wasn't sure whether applicants had been emailed by my colleague or not.

Any eta on when applicants will receive an update?

Everyone who applied to the upcoming program should have heard back now! (Decisions were sent out shortly after you posted your comment.) People who said they couldn't make the upcoming program but wanted to be considered for future programs we might run haven't been notified, since we don't know what those events will look like yet or if they'll happen.

Where's the budget for this coming from?  Free flights and lodging, plus $100 for referrals seems ... extravagant for the stated agenda and purpose.  Especially on fairly short notice, which just increases my suspicion that this isn't fully described here.  And even more especially with no remote options (even access to talks or material) or publishable support documents.

I have no concrete basis to be worried on anyone's behalf, but seems suspicious in today's funding environment and cult-like accusations for some sub-groups.  It pattern-matches to timeshare sales tactics, or cult recruiting.  I presume it's NOT that, but you might want to publish some more information or open up the content a bit so it's more clearly legitimate.

Hiya! I'm the co-organizer Jonas mentioned.

This is partially an un-conference style event. The point is not that we the staff have something we want to present to the participants; the point is if we get these people together, we think something worthwhile will happen. (My personal prediction is that at least two participants’ lives will majorly shift because of this program.)

Most of the most valuable events I’ve been to had excellent people and ~no scheduled content. For the most valuable events I’ve been to with content, the content wasn’t the thing that provided the majority of the value for me or most other attendees.

I’ve run ~9 other large workshop-type events and many smaller events, and all of them had a lot of content, but the content mostly functioned to set a context for good conversations. I suspect for the demographic of LessWrong readers, having lots of classes won’t be as useful for context-setting, since there’s already a large body of interesting topics that are common knowledge that people can discuss.

All that said, if I have time, I'll share a default/baseline schedule later tonight.

Another point related to the above: if I had content I wanted LessWrong readers to know that was easy to transmit in written form, I'd just post it on LessWrong. I'm trying to make the most of the opportunity have interactions that can't easily happen over the forum (and I think there's a lot of important interactions of that class!).

I just want to say that this didn't raise alarm bells as expensive or weird for me. It is last minute. Arranging things around the holidays sucks. Basically they can either rush to get it done or wait til mid-January at earliest. And, once organizers already know they want to do it, doing it earlier means value of information can be usable sooner too (eg, they can repeat it sooner or put people in contact with opportunities that crop up in January), it most likely makes it worth a good portion of dough to get it done ASAP.

Also, the referrals are basically no expense in the grand scheme. Assume they have 40 attendees and 80% of the attendees are found via referral: that will be $3,200[1]. If the rest of the event is worth doing so last minute, that DEFINITELY is to expand their short notice applicant pool and let readers consider who is well suited. It could say, double the quality of the average accepted person. It's basically the best and most affordable last-minute marketing you can get.

Nothing raised a scammy flag for me. It's what I expect a nontrivial number of last-minute workshops to look like (10%?), and I expect last-minute workshops to be much more common than scams in this community (maybe 30x as common?). I also think only a rare scam will use something like this post (maybe 2% of scammy/net-negative/risky community things will), as there are better and cheaper ways to scam or brainwash people. Crunch those numbers and this post looks to me to be about 150x as likely to be related to a good/legit workshop than a bad one. [2]

That said, I guess it is good to realize how nervous people might be about risk? I'm just surprised if people did find this scammy.

  1. ^

    In a comment, they've clarified they expect about 20 ppl, so actually it would be even less, $1600, but about 40 was my initial estimate

  2. ^

    Rough numbers but yeah I think you have to be really ingratious to the LW community to get odds that are worse than 49:1 here, so def worth applying, and hardly even worth refining the ass-numbers more carefully at that initial estimate of distance between options

I don't know what a good baseline is for expenses-paid workshops is - this is the first I'd seen.  All workshops, and even last-minute workshops is the wrong comparison class - those are all attendee-paid (for travel and expenses, at least).

It really is unusual in my experience to see announcements of expense-paid attendance for this kind of events.  If I'm wrong and they're actually super-common, please link a few examples and I'll update accordingly.  Also, I look forward to posts here after the event, and I will update strongly on those.

Sure. Maybe it is cuz I am more in EA than LW that this is all normal to me. There are frequent retreats and workshops for different career niches and groups including student groups. Plus there are the EAG(x) conferences that, as tidy weekend events people fly in and get lodging reimbursed for, I'd say are comparable to this, and they happen at a scale 10-50x this one which has probably shaped my perception that this one is well within bounds of normal.

Examples: I am checking this on mobile so sorry for formatting and not precise examples. But you can use this link to search for terms "workshop", "retreat", "bootcamp", and "weekend" to get an idea of how popular these weekend retreats have become. I think sharing this looks like a copout on my end, but it is almost better than me giving a few concrete examples because a few concrete examples still doesn't really prove the 30x ratio I mentioned above:

Also, Financially: the norm these days seems to be that weekend workshops are either free or the organizers may request some amount but it is made overt that people are not turned away for lack of ability to pay. This standard is kinda set by EAGs now I guess.

Also, just some personal thoughts as someone who plans EA events/workshops myself (relatively new to it): I think you just want more applicants, eg you don't want to create friction and waste an ask on finances. You want absolute freedom and discretion to filter on the things you deem important and only those things, which will not be willingness to pay in this case. Holds true in many different situations: eg, if you are offering something for beginners/students, you'd lose a substantial number due to lack of ability to pay. While if you are offering something for prestigious or experienced people, they have a lot to compete for their time which probably fits their standard career path better. You can signal respect for this struggle and also signal that you are real (without having to waste a bunch of ops time on a beautiful website and all that stuff that normies usually use to signal) by offering all-expenses covered. If offering to the average Joe who would be happy to pay something and has time, you still filter some people with mandatory charge, because it is laborious enough to attend, and putting in your credit card info is always gonna be the straw that breaks the camel's back for somebody.

I don't think the FTX funding situation changes this. When workshops do happen they will probably keep being mostly all-expenses paid. EA still has billions of funding available via Open Phil and EA Infrastructure Fund still has private donors.

Thanks for the feedback! I’ve edited the post to clarify where the funding is coming from and who is running this.

Regarding the content, one of my co-organizers may leave another comment later. The short version is that we’ll be re-running some of the most popular content from previous workshops, but primarily focus on informal conversations, as participants usually rate that as much more useful than the actual content of the workshop.

When will people who have applied know if they've been accepted?

Glad to see this is happening!

(As an aside, another reason this read like a scam for me is that you use the word "we" over a dozen times, without saying who exactly "we" is (except in a linked Google drive containing only names and no bios/background info).)

This sounds really awesome, and I just applied! If you don’t mind me asking, what percentage of applicants do you expect to accept?

We're pretty unsure what the quality of the applications will be. My 85% CI is that we accept 5-50% of people who just read this post and apply.

I'm not familiar with how these things usually work, and I suspect other lurkers might be in the same boat, so:

  1. What kind of lodging is included? Would attendees just have their own hotel rooms near the venue, or is this more of an 'immersion' thing where everyone's under one roof for a weekend?
  2. How are expenses handled? Are there prepaid services, or would attendees submit expenses after the fact for reimbursement?
  3. About how many people are expected (rough order of magnitude)?
  1. Lodging is on-site. It's at a renovated former sorority house. Everyone should get their own bedroom, and if getting a private bathroom is a crux for doing we can make sure you get that too, though by default bathrooms will be shared.
  2. You'd submit a reimbursement request for expenses. If that poses a challenge, we can work something else out. I expect the only significant expense you'd need reimbursement for to be travel -- we'll provide food and lodging.
  3. I expect 20 people, but it wouldn't surprise me if it turned out to be significantly more or fewer. In general, it will be small.

Thank you, GradientDissenter.  I am pleased and honored that you though to invite me, andin the normal course of events would have jumped at the invitation.  I think I could add some value to the conversation about X-risks.

Unfortunately, I am recovering from major surgery and don't have the physical stamina to do a conference yet. If your event had been scheduled even a month later I think I would be able to give you a different answer.

If you run any future events of this kind I would be very interested in attending.

Thanks Eric! I'll be sure to reach out if/when I run something like this in the future! I hope you recover well.


Would you be willing to consider giving an upfront minimum budget per person instead of asking them to reimburse their expenses later? That includes paying for the plane ticket upfront, which I imagine would be the biggest expense.

Sure, if people prefer getting money up front I'm happy to do that.

Btw I am interested to know why this was initially downvoted to zero. [edit: GradientDissenter] suggested the idea of a Lurkshop to me and I liked the idea of getting to know more LW lurkers in-person. I can already think of three hypotheses as to why the initial two voters disliked the post, but I'd be interested to know which one is true (or if it is some reason I didn't think of), here or in a PM.

I wasn't an initial downvoter (just saw it now), but I am now (I vote for effect, not direction, and I think ~30 is a good target - I'll remove my downvote if it gets much below that).  I put the reasons for my concern in a comment so they can be addressed, which would also cause me to change down- to upvote.

I'm confused about how this is funded. I notice "this sounds like a scam" alarm bells going off in my head (to be clear, I don't assign high probability to this actually being a scam, I'm just noting that that alarm bell is sounding)

It's funded by the Atlas Fellowship, which is funded by Open Philanthropy. It's something of a side-hustle of Atlas (outside of the scope and brand of the organization, and run by a subset of our team and some external collaborators). We have a fair amount of experience running different kinds of workshops, and are experimenting with what programs targeted at other demographic and niches might look like.

Thanks for the feedback! Added to the OP.

I hope you have another one next year or in 2024 if this one is successful, I wanted to apply but the dates are not good for me.

We might if it goes well. If you want to be pinged if we run one, please submit a quick application through our form!

Any chance you will record this? I think the section on getting stuff done would be especially helpful. Makes it semi-easily replicable by people in other places too, like local EA or LW groups.

Do you also mean international flights?

Yes. (Within reason.)

Is this an opportunity for career networking? And is there going to be a digital option?

"Career networking" feels like it encompasses some useful stuff, like hearing about new opportunities, meeting potential co-founders, etc.

It also sounds like it encompasses some bad stuff, like a race to get the most connections and impressing people.

We're going to try and have some of the useful kind of career networking, and to push hard against the strong pressures towards the bad kind of career networking.

There also aren't that many careers out there just waiting for an employee to come slot into a well-defined role that actually makes progress on preventing x-risk or similar, so we're much more excited about helping people carve out their own path, not in connecting them to to employers running hiring rounds.

Is there going to be a digital option?

Unfortunately we're not going to be able to accommodate that. It's fully in-person, since a large part of the point is in-person interactions.

The Google Drive link containing information about the organizations is broken.

Worked for me a few minutes ago (~ 10:45 EST USA).

It didn't work when I tried it again when I received your message, but I tried it again now and it's working.