Over time FHI faced increasing administrative headwinds within the Faculty of Philosophy (the Institute’s organizational home). Starting in 2020, the Faculty imposed a freeze on fundraising and hiring. In late 2023, the Faculty of Philosophy decided that the contracts of the remaining FHI staff would not be renewed. On 16 April 2024, the Institute was closed down.

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Why did FHI get closed down? In the end, because it did not fit in with the surrounding administrative culture. I often described Oxford like a coral reef of calcified institutions built on top of each other, a hard structure that had emerged organically and haphazardly and hence had many little nooks and crannies where colorful fish could hide and thrive. FHI was one such fish but grew too big for its hole. At that point it became either vulnerable to predators, or had to enlarge the hole, upsetting the neighbors. When an organization grows in size or influence, it needs to scale in the right way to function well internally – but it also needs to scale its relationships to the environment to match what it is.


The Daily Nous (a relatively 'popular' academic philosophy blog) managed to get a non-statement out of Oxford:

Oxford University has taken the difficult decision to close the Future of Humanity Institute, a research centre in the Faculty of Philosophy. The Institute has made an important contribution to the study of the future of humanity, for which we would like to thank and recognise the research team. Researchers elsewhere across Oxford University are likely to continue to work on this emerging field.


I would hope that there is a plan to reconstitute FHI as an independent research organization

This is tragic, but seems to have been inevitable for awhile; an institution cannot survive under a parent institution that's so hostile as to ban it from fundraising and hiring.

I took a look at the list of other research centers within Oxford. There seems to be some overlap in scope with the Institute for Ethics in AI. But I don't think they do the same sort of research or do research on the same tier; there are many important concepts and important papers that come to mind having come from FHI (and Nick Bostrom in particular), I can't think of a single idea or paper that affected my thinking that came from IEAI.

Harry let himself be pulled, but as Hermione dragged him away, he said, raising his voice even louder, "It is entirely possible that in a thousand years, the fact that FHI was at Oxford will be the only reason anyone remembers Oxford!"


I would say that the closest to FHI at Oxford right now would probably be Global Priorities Institute (GPI). A lot of these papers would've made just as much sense coming out of FHI. (Might be worth considering how GPI apparently seems to have navigated Oxford better.)


Is this a downstream consequence of the Nick Bostrom comments about race from the 1990s?

I don't believe so. The gossip I've heard leads me to think that it was substantially downstream of attempts to scale the institute by GovAI and Research Scholars program (involving hiring lots of junior people, which the university doesn't like), as well as the university in general being a terrible bureaucracy (e.g. as incompetent and micromanage-y as "remove the plants you bought because the university cannot commit to watering them").


“How many Oxford dons does it take to change a lightbulb?”


I sort of want to flag this interpretation of whatever gossip you heard seems misleading/only telling small part of the story, based on my understanding.

Possible to say anything more about the story?


Hmm okay. That does seem encouraging.

Which all seems very much like university bureaucracy, sadly.

Suddenly more poignant: 


This seems to have come out of nowhere. Was anyone aware of this ahead of time? Why didn't anyone try sharing the news to get prestigious academics, institutions and others to loudly say this is a terrible idea? Or get Kelsey Piper or someone to write a big news article about this? 

I knew this was going on for quite a while (my guess is around a year or two). I think ultimately it was a slow smothering by the university administration and given the adversarialness of that relationship with the university, I don't really think outrage would have really helped that much (though it might have, I don't really understand the university's perspective on this). 

My guess is dragging this out longer would have caused more ongoing friction and would have overall destroyed more time and energy by the really smart and competent people at FHI than they would have benefitted from the institution.

That makes sense.

Did you know they were going to close today? Were you suprised by the news?

My sense is FHI was somewhat accurately modeled as "closed" for a few months. I did not know today would be the date of the official announcement.

The LessWrong Review runs every year to select the posts that have most stood the test of time. This post is not yet eligible for review, but will be at the end of 2025. The top fifty or so posts are featured prominently on the site throughout the year.

Hopefully, the review is better than karma at judging enduring value. If we have accurate prediction markets on the review results, maybe we can have better incentives on LessWrong today. Will this post make the top fifty?