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TLDR; We got three-month funding from a generous individual funder to launch an AI Safety office in Serbia. We are giving free office space (and, if funding later permits, housing) to AI Safety researchers who are looking for a place to work from. Priority for citizens of countries like Russia and China who can work visa-free from Serbia while being close to Europe. Register interest here or ask questions at my email. We also have a promise of partial funding for our bare-bones request (budget) from an individual donor but are looking for a second individual donor in order to fulfill it (about 30k USD) - reach out to me if this may be you. 

Background:

EA Serbia and AI Safety Serbia groups are small but growing (~30 people in EA Serbia, ~3 people looking to get into AIS research as a career, and ~3 to get into AIS policy). Due to Serbia’s favorable Visa policy towards Russia and China, many foreigners already live here. With lower living costs than many other international hub cities, a vibrant scene, and a favorable time zone and climate, Belgrade has a growing foreigner community.

As we have seen projects such as CEEALAR as important and impressive, we wish to replicate them in Serbia, where they can better serve people who may struggle to get UK visas. We also believe that having the capacity to quickly scale cheap housing for people coming from different countries is a good thing.

We also believe that we should start small, prototype, and then move larger. We have had a unique opportunity to get an office space that is NGO-friendly, has good vibes, and costs only ~550 Euros per month for office space that has three rooms and can fit 8-15 people (depending on how snug they decide to be) with a coffee shop downstairs where another 20 people can spend their time co-working, as the office and the downstairs coffee shop are under the same ownership. This is certainly less luxurious than many other EA/AI co-working places, but we have a high degree of customizability allowed to us, which we can use to make a good office space. If we grow enough, we can also move to a bigger venue, as our needs grow. Certainly, if we knew that more use could be found in an office in Serbia, getting something somewhat further from the center, which includes living and office spaces, would be better, but we do not wish to explore that until we have proof of concept and need.

Operations details (a.k.a. how it works):

The office is currently rented for three months, August-October, so that we can keep the favorable price instead of having to find a different place. The office space has some desks and chairs, but we are looking to acquire full funding and have people voice their needs before acquiring more furniture. The office is usually open during working hours of the coffee shop (10 AM to Midnight, except on weekends when it is 4 PM to Midnight) as they share an entrance, but exceptionally, we can accommodate special requests if someone works better at strange working hours.

Office space is given to those that are working on projects related to AI Safety as a priority, but EA research is also welcome whenever we have spare capacity (which we expect at first).

Unfortunately, we currently do not have a legal entity that can provide visa invitations for those coming from countries that require a visa - for that, we would need to gather funding before starting the process. Still, a Serbian visa is not required for many and is relatively easy to get for most.

We have a reliable real estate agent who is able to get good deals on housing in Belgrade for those that need housing assistance until we get funded and rent a co-living space as well.

For those looking to eat consistently through us, we can arrange affordable cooked meals delivered to the office or your housing (at your expense) - vegetarian or not. If we have enough interest, we can get the chef to prepare vegan food as well.

You may want to come if:

  • You are an AI Safety Researcher/EA researcher looking for a base of operations for a short-medium-long term
  • You are keen to be close to Europe but not in the EU
  • You are looking for a vibrant but affordable city with plenty of things to do, and Eastern European but Westernized culture

Hiring:

Currently, the project is managed by a few volunteers from EA Serbia, myself included. We run the operations of the office, as well as checking applications. As we grow, we would like to have some paid positions and some volunteer ones. We are looking for:

  • Volunteers who wish to be members of the Board of Directors of the project, mostly dealing with strategic decisions and approving participants (impactful role as you empower researchers to develop their research agendas)
  • Project Manager, mostly dealing with day-to-day running of the project, communication with stakeholders (board, funds, participants), as well as checking reports from participants. (0.25 FTE or 0.15 FTE in bare-bones version - salary still enough to live in Serbia, but additional income may be needed for a less frugal lifestyle)

Ideally, we would be hiring after we have all the funding, but if someone is passionate about the role, please reach out to me, and the first order of business can be looking for funding with your help.

Thoughts? Feedback?

For any questions or comments, please write to my email. If you wish to be informed of the full launch, sign up in the interest form and note so. If you wish to come over now, fill in the interest form and send me an email as well so that I make sure to process your request quicker! The post was written in a bit of a rush, so apologies if there are details you would like to see - please reach out if so, or leave a comment below, I’ll try to edit things in.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:46 AM

I just wanted to chime in and say that Serbia doesn't have the best reputation but is actually really nice. I just spent a couple of weeks in Belgrade and it's one of the most underrated places I've been to. 

The most beautiful church I've ever been to in my entire life is there. There are tons of old gorgeous buildings (interspersed with ugly appartment buildings). It feels just as safe as any other European city, including for women. There's a ton of graffiti, but that's about it in terms of crimey-ness. (Don't know the stats. Just know how I felt while I was there).

Not saying it's necessarily the best spot for an AI safety hub (why not Budapest, Prague, or Lisbon, if you're optimizing for cheap and European time zones?), but wanted to help fight against the reputation of Serbia. Belgrade is gorgeous and interesting and would highly recommend people living there for a few months. 

Thanks for the lovely words Kat, happy to hear you had a great time! Next time you're around, ping EA Serbia, we make for great guides :) As for why Serbia, visa policy is really the main considerations - Budapest, Prague and Lisbon are all equally unattainable to many weaker passport holders (something often underappreciated as our movement is mostly from the West). Serbia has the unique advantage of being visa free (sometimes for unlimited time!) for the west and many countries in the east.

Oh smart! Yeah, visas are a big issue for most people. 

Bravo! 🙌