I have been cooped up in suburbia trying to take a break. But not having a routine and being around peers made the days feel monotonous. I was procrastinating writing my Prospect reflection and operations guide, and ended up reading alignment papers and being confused about how to figure out what was important.
Then, I got an message to go to the end of the SERI MATS program presentations. I knew about the evening party beforehand, but now I decided to go since I was more willing to go all the way to Berkeley if it was an all day event. Plus, it would be nice to see the SERI MATS people again and what they did over the summer.
The day before, I did a time-money tradeoff calculation, and I decided I was going to wake up early to take the bus and BART instead of Uber since I'm hesitant to spend money.
Morning came, and I wanted to stay in bed a little longer since my sleep was disturbed. I knew it made sense to pay for the Uber, but I got stressed thinking back and forth. A friend family didn't have anything to do and said he could drive me, and I relented.
Many lane changes and highway exits later, I walked into the venue. There were less people than I expected and I took a seat on the left wing. I felt a little out of place during the first few presentations.
They were pretty technical with a bunch of concepts I didn't learn yet, and it seemed like they were changing this little particular thing to make some result different. During the first few presentations, I was trying to figure out why this thing they did was important, but as we got to later presentations, it got harder and harder to even figure out what was going on, so I decided to write questions to help me understand, but struggling at that too.
I was telling someone how I was taking notes and that I was reading alignment papers at home, and he said he was going to try to solve the problems from scratch without reading a bunch of papers since they may not be relevant. We both agreed that part of the problem was defining and understanding the problem in the first place, and I thought that maybe reading papers to help gather context and exploring research processes would be good too.
My friend and I enjoyed some bitter bok choy during lunch. I was looking forward to his presentation, and I was pleasantly surprised when I understood everything. To be fair, it was about strategy and not very technical, we've already talked a ton, and I read his posts about ranking interpretability tools by bitrate efficiency and airgapping the research environment already.
After the presentations, another friend and I talked about finding things to do to rest and recover from burnout. I said I could take walks. It would be nice to find people to do light triathlon practice and play board games with, but that seems a little hard since I'm in suburbia and I'm moving to Albuquerque next month. She reminded me that doing less work doesn't necessarily mean recovery and I should be chill with running events.
I think most of the stuff in Albuquerque would be thinking about what community building is even for and how to run events well, which I expect I could learn from distilling the ACX event organizers' retreat material. I also need to figure out how to make a hub; if we even want a hub; and what is going on with politics, nuclear, and AI.
I was standing next to the snack bookshelf when someone challenged me to a game of Go, and I enthusiastically said yes. The vibe while we were playing was immaculate: someone was improvising dreamy jazz piano and a circle of people were chatting around a marble-tracing-a-sand-pattern table. We had a tense tactical scrimmage where we were counting liberties to see whose group of stones will live. I'm embarrassingly bad for someone who has been playing Go for more than a decade, and I was very impressed at how good he was from playing for a couple months and I gave him some good post-game feedback.
Go-observer gave Pianoman and I a ride to the party, and I ate a burrito with sour cream. At a EAGSF afterparty, I borrowed the Good Reasons for Bad Feelings book from a house, and now I was on a mission to return it. A guy I was chatting with set a timer for 5 minutes, and I found someone who could give the book back to a person who lived at the house. Mission accomplished.
I got excited to see a friend again, and he showed me a DM where he got hit on from filming a cool video. I asked him if he got this super good feeling that he was super cool in his chest and did fist-pumps. He said he doesn't get hit on often. Lies.
Interpretability-is-net-negative friend and rest-from-burnout friend talk and take notes about interpretability tools for a long while, and I look back and forth at them while sipping a ginger-lime soda.
I don't want to be naively optimistic or pessimistic about how tractable alignment is, and also not talk about alignment all the time. I look around for a cozy conversation that's not AI safety, but I'm not satisfied.
Two friends and I leave the party and we walk to the Lightcone office. It feels nice and breezy walking with people you know. They talk about safety and politics, and I just soak in the feeling. The feeling of walking through the city alone at night versus with friends is very different. I wonder if this is what it's like if I had stayed in college.
We watch some TV, and then my friend helps me lay out a blanket in a little room next to his. The house is in the old rustic wood style I see in Berkeley often, and the little room has some nice windows with a breeze. As I lay there in the night, I think about how 24 hours ago, I was at home away from peers and struggling with papers and what to do, and now I feel nice from being with friends and did something for the day. Huh, I only need one friend to be really uplifted and do stuff together.
The morning sunlight shines through the windows, and we slowly pack his things up. Today is his last day in Berkeley, and probably the same for me. I really want to communicate the feeling I get from all this and try to write some ideas down while I listen to milesmusickid's version of "I Don't Think That I Like Her" very quietly.
We go to Lightcone, eat some leftover pizza, and pack up his suitcase. He just dumps his clothes into the suitcase, and I'm amused by his sloppy mannerisms. It reminds me of a friend who such a rule follower but consistently runs every single day and actually does the problems in his physics book. They get stuff done, meanwhile I'm stubborn with overly high expectations.
He tells me about his travel, we discuss hubs, and reminisce the end of an era.
We push his suitcase to the lobby, order his ride to the airport, and anxiously check his flight. We do this very slowly. His ride comes, we hug, and I wave bittersweetly goodbye. My time with friends and being in EA spaces has come to an end. I'm gonna miss them.
As I walk down to the BART platform, I coincidentally see Pianoman waiting for his train, and we say goodbye. And I feel all the feelings riding my BART back to suburbia.
I wanted to write this post because I want to see more of what it's like to be an EA and it's comforting to me that other people also feel these things. I was inspired by this comment and post from pete and Sam Brown. And as always, the writing style of the chad EA Aaron Swartz. And this personal story by Max Alexander.