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As a result of a crowdfunding campaign a couple of years ago, I printed 21k copies of HPMOR. 11k of those went to the crowdfunding participants. I need ideas for how to use the ones that are left with the most impact.

Over the last few weeks, I've sent 400 copies to winners of IMO, IOI, and other international and Russian olympiads in math, computer science, biology, etc. (and also bought and sent copies of Human Compatible in Russian to about 250 of them who requested it as well). Over the next month, we'll get the media[1] to post about the opportunity for winners of certain olympiads to get free books. I estimate that we can get maybe twice as many (800-1000) impressive students to fill out a form for getting HPMOR and get maybe up to 30k people who follow the same media to read HPMOR online if everything goes well (uncertain estimates, from the previous experience).

[EDIT June 2023: 1.2k winners of olympiads and 600 public libraries have received copies from us so far.)

The theory of change behind sending the books to winners of olympiads is that people with high potential read HPMOR and share it with friends, get some EA-adjacent mindset and values from it, and then get introduced to EA in emails about 80k Hours (which is being translated into Russian[2]) and other EA and cause-specific content, and start participating in the EA community and get more into specific cause areas that interest them. The anecdotal evidence is that most of the Russian EAs, many of whom now work full-time at EA orgs or as independent researchers, got into EA after reading HPMOR and then the LW sequences.

  • It's mostly impossible to give the books for donations to EA charities because Russians can't transfer money to EA charities due to sanctions.
  • Delivering the copies costs around $5-10 in Russia and $40-100 outside Russia.
  • There are some other ideas[3], but nothing that lets us spend thousands of books effectively, so we need more.

So, any ideas on how to spend 8-9k of HPMOR copies in Russian?

  1. ^

    HPMOR has endorsements from a bunch of Russians important to different audiences. That includes some of the most famous science communicators, computer science professors, literature critics, a person training the Moscow team for math competitions, etc.; currently, there are news media and popular science resources with millions of followers managed by people who've read HPMOR or heard of it in a positive way and who I can talk to. After the war started, some of them were banned, but that doesn't affect the millions of followers they have on, e.g., Telegram. 

  2. ^

    Initially, we planned first to translate and print 80k and then give HPMOR to people together with copies of 80k, but there's now time pressure due to uncertainty over the future legal status of HPMOR in Russia. Recently, a law came into effect that prohibited all sorts of mentions of LGBTQ in books, and it's not obvious whether HPMOR is at risk, so it's better to spend a lot of books now.

  3. ^

    E.g., there's the Yandex School of Data Analysis, one of the top places for students in Russia to get into machine learning; we hope to be able to get them to give hundreds of copies of HPMOR to students who've completed a machine learning course and give us their emails. That might result in more people familiar with the alignment problem in positions where they can help prevent an AI arms race started by Russia.




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Donating books to city/school libraries seems like the most scalable way to donate thousands of books in an impactful way, especially over the long term since more people can read each copy

Thanks for the comment!

We’re already doing public libraries who fill out a form; donating to random libraries doesn’t seem like a good idea- not that many people will read them if HPMOR can be requested but librarians don’t actively recommended it, and it’s not obvious it’s worth even the shipping cost, there are probably better ways to spend the books.

There are some issues with school libraries, but yeah, doing those as well

Are there a lot of EA student/university groups (or city-based meetup groups) in Russia? You could send maybe 20 copies to each local EA group, so they can have something to hand out to interested local members.

Alternatively, set up a booth at a Harry Potter convention/meetup (if such things exist)?? Harry Potter fans will be much less influential on world affairs compared to math geniuses. But they will be much more likely to read the book!

[Are kids graduating high school today likely to have read Harry Potter? Or is it mostly people in their 30s (ie, they were children while the books were coming out) who have the highest likelihood of being familiar with the series? Maybe you should target your recipients by age.]

You're targeting math students and computer scientists, presumably because they are relevant to AI safety research (plus the preexisting knowledge of HPMOR in those fields, and the fact that people with nerdy/futurist personalities are a natural fit for the book). Consider expanding your search to other fields that are relevant for 80,000 Hours career paths:

  • Microbiologists and materials scientists who might be able to contribute to pandemic defense or advocate against bioweapons development

  • Nuclear scientists or aerospace engineers? Although my impression is that, while these people might work on important military technology, they don't have much influence over how it is developed or ultimately used. But these people would be a good personality fit for HPMOR, and might have the same relationship to nuclear and great-power-conflict risks that computer science whiz kids have to AI risk.

  • Are there some reliable routes that people take in Russia to positions of political/military/strategic influence? For instance, in the USA, I might try to target "all political science & law graduates of Ivy league schools", while in China, this might be "all Tsinghua graduates who are members of the CCP". These people probably aren't a natural fit for HPMOR's nerdy appeal, but it might be worth considering anyways.

Thanks for the lots of ideas!

The target audience is unlikely to have issues with the books being about Harry Potter; most of them should've seen the movies or read the books[1]. The age might be important because of, e.g., willingness to read weird fanfiction, but I don't think it's important because of the prior familiarity with the original Harry Potter.

We're also targeting winners of national and international olympiads in economics, biology, physics, and chemistry. But I don't think we'll have any localized cause-specific materials except for AI Alignm... (read more)

You don't state whether the condition is that the book must get distributed inside Russia, but I think your comment about the shipping costs outside of Russia means that you are interested in international reach as well. 

I think some of the things you might do:

1) do all the steps you already did for in-country distribution (maths Olympiad winners etc) in the countries of ex-Soviet Union with a large Russian speaking population (Ukraine, Belarus, the Baltics, Georgia, Kazakhstan, other stans). 

2) Approach Russian student societies (or Rationality/EA adjacent) of (whatever selection: Ivy league, Russel group, much broader to take advantage of the large print amount) of universities, particularly with maths/rationality background and offer them the books. Even small and less prominent universities have a substantial number of Russian students/ Russian speaking students - e.g. I know University Comenius Bratislava Maths Physics Faculty has Russian students. 

3) Approach Ukrainian refugee organisations in the EU to see if they have organisations that coordinate Ukrainian high-school students in the countries and see whether they would want to take these books. For a lot of these students this would be a lot easier to read in Russian rather than English and even if an Ukrainian copy exists (I don't know if it does), there are plenty of speakers who use Russian as their first language. 

Suggestion: reminder somewhere here that this is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality

I kind of assumed that people who can answer the question are people already familiar with HPMOR, but I think you’re actually right, thanks!

Probably true but others are curious what this is about.
Dan Elton
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