The last few days have been confusing, chaotic, and stressful. We're still trying to figure out what happened with Sam Altman and OpenAI and what the aftermath will look like.
I have personally noticed my emotions fluctuating more. I have various feelings about the community, about the current state of the world, about the increasingly strong pressures to view the world in terms of factions, about the current state of AIS discourse, and the current state of the AI safety community.
Between now and AGI, there will likely be other periods of high stress, confusion, or uncertainty. I figured it might be a good idea for me to write down some thoughts that I have found helpful or grounding.
If you have noticed feelings of your own, or any strategies that have helped you, I encourage you to share them in the comments.
1. On whether my actions matter. In some worlds, my actions will not matter. Maybe I am too late to meaningfully affect things. Maybe this is true of my friends, allies, and community as well. In the extreme case, at some point we will pass a "point of no return"– the point where my actions and those of my community no longer have any meaningful effect on the world. I can accept this uncertainty, and I can choose to focus on the worlds where my actions still matter.
2. On not having clear end-to-end impact stories. There are not many things that make a meaningful difference, but there are a few. I know of at least one that I was meaningfully part of, and I know of a few others that my friends & allies were part of. Sometimes, these things will not be clear in advance. (Ex: I wrote the initial draft of a sentence that ended up becoming the CAIS statement, but at the time, I did not realize that was going to be a big deal. It felt like an interesting side project, and I certainly didn't have a clear end-to-end impact story for it. Of course, it is valuable to strive for projects that have ex-ante end-to-end impact stories, and it is dangerous to adopt a "well, IDK why this is good, but hopefully it will work out" mentality. But there is something emotionally reassuring about the fact that sometimes you can pursue things with an incomplete understanding of exactly how it is going to work out.)
3. On friendship. I am lucky to have found friends and allies who are trying to make the world a better place. In the set of all possible lives, I have found myself in one where I am regularly in contact with people who are fighting to make the world better and safer. I can strive to absorb some of Alice's relentless drive to solve problems, Bob's ability to speak with integrity and build coalitions, Carol's deep understanding of technical issues, etc.
4. Gratitude to the community. The AI safety community has provided me a lot: knowledge, motivation, thinking skills, friendships, and concrete opportunities to make the world better. I would not be here without the community. When I reflect on this, I feel viscerally grateful to the community.
5. Criticism of the community. The AI safety community has made mistakes and undoubtedly continues to make important mistakes. I can feel grateful for certain parts of the community while speaking out against others. There is no law that says that the "community" must be fully good or fully bad– and indeed, it is neither.
6. On identifying with the EA or AIS community. I do not have to identify with a community or all parts of it. I can find specific people and projects that I choose to contribute to. I can be aware of how the community impacts me, both positively and negatively. I can try to extract its lessons and best practices while being aware of its dangers. I can be grateful for the fact that I have become a more precise communicator, I have new ways of monitoring my uncertainty, and I speak & think more probabilistically. This can coincide with concerns I have about groupthink and ways in which the community may atrophy my ability to think clearly, say what I believe, or take actions in the world. I know I am not alone in many of these feelings.
7. On dying. I may live a short life due to AGI. If that's the case, I want to live a fulfilling and worthwhile life. I can choose to spend my time striving to develop my virtues, find new tools to see the world more clearly, understand and cultivate integrity, identify new ways of expressing kindness and love, and strive to find actions that make the world safer.
8. On living admirably. I find the "death with dignity" frame helpful, though I think it's too defeatist to properly characterize my epistemic state or my emotional state. I better understand it through the lens of "living admirably". Regardless of my P(doom), I can live a life according to my values and strive to improve my character & wisdom. If my efforts and humanity's efforts are to fail, I would like to get closer to a state where I can say, "I really did try very hard to rise to the occasion."
9. On drama and politics. If I pay attention to drama and politics, I should do so intentionally. Drama and politics are attention-grabbing, and attention is a resource I should deploy wisely. Sometimes, it will make sense to pay attention to drama and politics– other times, it will be best to refocus my attention on meaningful work and leisure activities. I can wait until Thursday before I have an opinion about OpenAI.
10. On my own fallibility. I am a fallible human who has been wrong many times before and will be wrong many times in the future. This is not to say that this means that everything will work out, or that my worries about the world are all incorrect. Uncertainty cuts both ways– things could turn out better or worse than I expected. Nonetheless, I find something emotionally comforting about remembering that my judgments about the world are imperfect. It also reminds me that there is much for me to continue working toward.
On strategies that have helped me... I practice noticing my emotions somatically. I conceptualize my "emotional self" as an instrument I practice playing. Improving at the instrument is improving at sensing my emotions and their associations in my mind. This helps me to realize when my thoughts and behavior are being pulled in competing directions. I ask myself "what about x situation is contributing to y feelings." I think you did this well in your post intellectually, but noticing the sensation in me and observing it helps me too.