Note: Covid-19 resulted in many people moving and the state of living affairs described below may no longer be accurate.
How did it become a hub?
The Machine Intelligence Research Institute (then the Singularity Institute) moved to the Bay Area in February 2005.1
The charity evaluator GiveWell completed its move from New York to San Francisco in February 2013.2
The effective careers research organization 80,000 Hours announced it was moving to the Bay Area in May 2016, with the move completed by October.3 It was also in the Bay Area for summer 2016.4 Its 2017 review also mentions moving to the Bay Area in 2017.5 In 2019, 80,000 Hours moved from the Bay Area to the UK.
The Center for Applied Rationality's 2017 Impact Report found that "moved to the Bay Area due to CFAR" is one of the strongest predictors for a CFAR participant having an "increase in expected impact".6
Ward Street stuff.
Especially since 2016 or so (possibly earlier?), there has been a considerable amount of debate about whether moving to the Bay Area is good for individuals or the community as a whole.7
Some illustrative quotes for concern about people moving to the Bay Area:
"The reasons for this are not immediately apparent. From the outside, people full of energy and enthusiasm make the pilgrimage to Berkeley, go quiet on social media, and when you finally hear from them six months later they don't seem like the person you once knew. Something is happening to them, although it isn't particularly clear what."8"The theme of the Bay Solstice turned out to be 'Hey guys, so people keep coming to the Bay, running on a dream and a promise of community, but that community is not actually there, there's a tiny number of well-connected people who everyone is trying to get time with, and everyone seems lonely and sad. And we don't even know what to do about this.' "9, 10,11, 12
"It's seemed to me for awhile now that the stuff that people are actually talking about in-person (e.g. at CFAR workshops) has far outstripped the pace of what's publicly available in blog post format and I'm really happy to see progress on that front." 13, 14, 15,16,17
4. Ward Street is quickly becoming the center of the rationalist scene in Berkeley. We’re trying to encourage that so that as many people as possible can live near each other and it can feel like more of a community. I’ll be staying there temporarily when I first get to California, and I know a lot of other people on the street and they’re all pretty interesting. Anyway, there’s a house opening up there as the current residents leave, and we’d like to get rationalist-adjacent people to move in. It’s three bedrooms, one bathroom, and it costs $4100/month total. If interested (either in renting the whole house with friends/family, or in just renting one room and hoping two other people want the same), email jsalvatier[at]gmail[dot]com and he can tell you more / help connect interested parties together."""18, 19, 20,21
"Even if you know nothing else, you know to move to San Francisco or New York and hoping something good happens there, rather than sitting around in some dying small town where you know nothing will ever happen and being curious about anything beyond the town is a cultural transgression. This is a strategy open to all."22
I know meetups causing people to move to the Bay is a controversial topic, but from my perspective, moving to the Bay is one of the best things a person can do in terms of expected impact on the existential risk landscape. It gives people the opportunity to work at aligned organizations, and to be around hundreds of like-minded people, which (in addition to its social benefits) allows people to find collaborators with whom to start new projects and organizations.23
The San Francisco Bay Area is a region in the US state of California. Many members of the rationalist community are located there, as are the Machine Intelligence Research Institute and the Center For Applied Rationality.Rationality.