Blake Borgeson

MIRI board member; Recursion (RXRX) co-founder and board member


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Adversarialness, honesty, attribution; re: how to talk in DC

I love what y'all said about this, found it a pleasure to read, and want to share some of my own thoughts, some echoing things you already said.

Let's not treat society as an adversary, rather let's be collaborators/allies and even leaders, helping and improving society and its truth-seeking processes. That doesn't mean we shouldn't have any private thoughts or plans. It does mean society gets to know who we are, who's behind what, and what we're generally up to and aiming for. Hiding attribution and intentions is IMO a way of playing into the adversarial/polarized/worst parts of our society's way of being and doing, and I agree with Oliver that doing so will likely come back to undermine us and what we care about. If we act like a victim/adversary wrt society, it won't work, including because society will see us that way. Let's instead meet society with the respect we want to see in the world, and ask it to step up and do the same for us. Let's pursue plans and intentions that we're happy standing in and being seen in.

I have only very limited experienced in DC type conversations, but my sense is there are ways of sharing your real thing, while being cooperative, which likely don't lead to dismissal and robustly don't lead to poisoning the well. Here's perhaps the start of one, which could be made more robust with some workshopping: 1) share your polaris (existential stakes) in a way that they could feasibly understand given where they're at; 2) share your proposals and how you see those as aligned with other near-term AI considerations like the ones they might have; 3) actually listen to and respect the opinions of the people you're talking with, and be willing to go into their frame, remembering that it's not your job to convince or persuade them. (Thinking it's your job to convince or persuade them is probably the main/upstream mistake folks make?) Those things seem to me to likely belong in nearly every conversation. Should you include your "mood" that things in fact are very dire? There's not a strategic/correct answer to this, because strategy/correctness is not what mood is for/about. Share your truth in a way that you feel serves mutual understanding. Share your feelings in a way that you feel serves mutual relating.

Update: After a lot more discussion and thinking things over, MIRI has decided against relocating away from the Bay Area, unless a new impetus comes along to move some time in the future.

Mainly, ongoing/propagating strategic updates are behind this decision. We're more uncertain about our strategy overall following our 2020 strategy update (, so we’d rather not pay a big up-front move cost based on a prediction about what we expect MIRI to look like 2 or 5 years from now. Related to the same strategic updates, over the next 12 months or so we plan to experiment with placing less of an emphasis on staff working from our Berkeley base, and expect some staff to live and work from other places. 

Separately, in the background, considerations against our recent favorite places became stronger:

  • Bellingham is far away from big cities, and it seemed increasingly like MIRI would be more isolated there than we wanted. Also, we became more concerned about low light levels during winter months.
  • The area around Peekskill has some of the highest Lyme disease incidence in the US, and it seems possible this is a high enough risk of disability to cause us to want to avoid it. We were still investigating this when we ended our location search.

Who am I? I’m a MIRI board member, and was in recent months leading/coordinating this MIRI relocation decision process, which is now complete. 

Thanks for all the feedback in these comments, in emails, and on Facebook. I (and probably others) read all of it I could find, and it was important input for us.