Thanks to Kate Woolverton and Richard Ngo for useful conversations, comments, and feedback.
EA and AI safety have invested a lot of resources into building our ability to get coordination and cooperation between big AI labs. So far, however, despite that investment, it doesn’t seem to me like we’ve had that many big coordination “wins” yet. I don’t mean to say that to imply that our efforts have failed, however—the obvious other hypothesis is just that we don’t really have that much to coordinate on right now, other than the very nebulous goal of improving our general coordination/cooperation capabilities.
In my opinion, however, I think that our lack of clear wins is actually a pretty big problem—and not just because I think there are useful things that we can plausibly coordinate on right now, but also because I expect our lack of clear wins now to limit our ability to get the sort of cooperation we need in the future.
In the theory of political capital, it is a fairly well-established fact that “Everybody Loves a Winner.” That is: the more you succeed at leveraging your influence to get things done, the more influence you get in return. This phenomenon is most thoroughly studied in the context of the ability of U.S. presidents’ to get their agendas through Congress—contrary to a naive model that might predict that legislative success uses up a president’s influence, what is actually found is the opposite: legislative success engenders future legislative success, greater presidential approval, and long-term gains for the president’s party.
I think many people who think about the mechanics of leveraging influence don’t really understand this phenomenon and conceptualize their influence as a finite resource to be saved up over time so it can all be spent down when it matters most. But I think that is just not how it works: if people see you successfully leveraging influence to change things, you become seen as a person who has influence, has the ability to change things, can get things done, etc. in a way that gives you more influence in the future, not less.
Of course, you do have to actually succeed to make this work—if you try to spend your influence to make something happen and fail, you get the opposite effect. This suggests the obvious strategy, however, of starting with small but nevertheless clear coordination wins and working our way up towards larger ones—which is exactly the strategy that I think we should be pursuing.