Tl;dr: Following the example of the EA Hotel, The Berlin Hub will be a co-living and event space hosting people who are interested in contributing to humanity’s long-term future. Features include a visiting scholars program, as well as stipends for selected early-stage researchers and mentors.
We halted work on this project for now. Our post-mortem is in this comment.
Why we think this is needed
A growing number of people want to do longtermist direct work. We have mostly focused on AI alignment when assessing the demand for the hub, but already have several expressions of interest from individuals working on other causes as well.
Despite there being a significant number of people who want to work on alignment in Europe, there is a mainland Europe-shaped hole in the alignment organization landscape. This makes the on-ramp for people aspiring to do direct work challenging: It is hard for individuals to convince funders, find collaborators and mentors, deal with the unusual tax situation that comes with independent research, and sustain motivation to study and work without a knowledgeable and supportive social environment. Our preliminary research leaves us convinced that there would be sufficient demand for this in the AI alignment community alone to warrant starting this project.
What we offer
We aim to enable longtermists to fulfill their potential by converting a full hotel or similar building into a co-living space. We will offer food and accommodation at no or low cost both for long- and short-term guests. In addition, we strive to create an atmosphere and supporting structures that take care of peoples’ basic needs. We plan to help them skill up via mentorship, resources, cohorts, talks, and workshops so that they can successfully take on projects which shift the needle on making the future good. Once things are up and running, we will also welcome individuals who fit our values and culture and decide to live nearby to use our shared spaces, e.g. for co-working.
We strive to become a center for the exchange of ideas instead of cultivating an intellectual monoculture. Our plans for achieving that include contacting potential visiting scholars and offering them an engaged audience, hosting (un)conferences, and setting up exchange programs with adjacent organizations, hubs, and group houses. Once the exchange program is operational, people staying with us could swap places with people from different EA-adjacent projects and communities, granting us helpful memetic exchange.
In addition, we are building partnerships with established researchers. These will help us assess applications, allow us to offer mentorship to the residents we selected, and may provide further room for synergy through the possibility of incubating new research groups and longtermist startups. An excellent example of the kind of project we would be enthusiastic to provide ops and infrastructure support to is Adam Shimi’s proposal to scale conceptual alignment research (which also has a well thought-out argument for why having an on-ramp in the Schengen Area would be valuable). He is considering us as a place to host a future version of this.
Community health is a central focus. Some projects and interventions we are exploring to ensure it include:
- Encouraging interactions with the wider EA Berlin community, e.g. through open-to-public events at the hub
- Setting things up so all residents have an easy way out if they want to leave (e.g. a fund for temporary external accommodation, encouraging everyone to come up with backup plans, and normalizing taking regular time away.)
- Thinking carefully about how to avoid death spirals (and having that as required reading for staff)
- Not focusing the culture heavily on psychological interventions but instead on research and projects, as well as fostering connections with external coaches and therapists
- Having an external person visit to interview people and review how we’re doing at least annually
- Learning from successful projects and people with relevant experience
We are very open to adding suggestions to this list.
We will have a low bar to entry for short-term (<1 month) visits, but will be more selective for long-term residents, especially for free or subsidized living. We will likely rely on a mix of expert advisors and resident voters to decide who gets the free spaces, based on perceived benefit to the applicant, the hub’s goals, and the internal health of the community (details to be determined and open to advice).
Plans for the location
As an MVP, we plan to rent a 15-25 bedroom hotel or similar space in Berlin for 2-3 years, ideally in the Wedding district in proximity to the EA co-working space TEAMWORK. Depending on how well our ongoing hotel search and the first grant application rounds go, we would scale back to one year runtime for the proof of concept, 10-15 bedrooms, and being within one hour travel distance by public transport from TEAMWORK.
Our reasoning behind aiming this high right away instead of building an actually minimal MVP is the following: Several features of the hub need a significant runtime or a significant number of iterations before delivering results telling enough that they can inform our longer-term plans. Some examples of these are:
- Building a community of varying levels of seniority and varying lengths of stay,
- developing a cultural framework for having visiting scholars over,
- setting up exchange programs with other co-living projects,
- creating a nudge for longtermists to settle in the Berlin area long-term.
Whether or not these features work out as we hope is our key uncertainty. The more fundamental proof of concept of whether or not an impact-focused, partially subsidized co-living space like this makes sense has already been successfully delivered by CEEALAR (formerly EA Hotel). Not only has CEEALAR’s hotel successfully been running for almost four years by now. In addition, they were facing significant hurdles we don’t expect to impinge on our own project: They were the first project of its kind, located in a significantly less attractive place, and went through Brexit. But first and foremost: They had to cope with the onset of the COVID pandemic and the ongoing restrictions for travel and socializing for more than half of their runtime. Despite all of that, they managed to maintain an overall functional and supportive community.
Who we are
Founder and CEO: Severin T. Seehrich
Severin T. Seehrich has several years of experience as a community organizer and facilitator. His last major project was to help organize CHERI's 2021 summer research program on global catastrophic risks. For the hub, his responsibilities will include project and team management, fostering and maintaining connections with external researchers and other communities, and designing the hub's program and culture.
Operations Lead: Laura Cerisier
Laura Cerisier has been involved in multiple operations gigs over the past few years and has also gained community management experience at CEEALAR. She will take care of setting up the legal, financial and general admin systems. She will also perform the location search as well as recruit and manage volunteers.
Our technical advisors will help us improve our institutional design with respect to causing people to produce good work, assessing how promising applicants' research abilities are, and giving us feedback on the quality of our technical outputs.
Robert Miles is an AI alignment public communicator with over 100,000 YouTube subscribers. He has a strong network and a reputation for producing accurate and accessible introductory material.
JJ Hepburn is the co-founder and CEO of AI Safety Support, and has a great deal of experience guiding new people into productive roles in AI safety.
Adam Shimi is a leading independent conceptual alignment researcher originally from mainland Europe. He has thought and written extensively about improving the on-ramp for new researchers.
Our community advisors will help us learn how to encourage a vibrant and healthy culture to form.
Sara Ness is the founder and CEO of Authentic Revolution. Her publications - including The Authentic Relating Games Manual, the core text of the Authentic Relating field - have helped seed 100+ communities across the world.
Manuel Allgaier is the director of EA Germany. As their key organizer, he has a thorough overview of Berlin’s EA community. In addition, he brings extensive experience in strategy planning, event organization, leading volunteer teams, and fundraising.
Anne Wissemann is an experienced community builder and life coach based in Berlin. She trained with CFAR, and has a keen interest in community health.
Our organizational advisors share their expertise in bringing projects into existence, so we will be more prepared for the challenges ahead.
Greg Colbourn is the founder of CEEALAR, which is possibly the best long-running example of productive EA co-living at hotel scale.
Dr. Inga Grossmann was a professor of psychology, guided several innovative startups for many years and is working towards shaping mental health as a cause area in EA.
Our funding situation
- 120,000€ seed funding from a private donor
- 40,000€ annual funding loosely committed by another private donor
January-June 2022: Severin stays at CEEALAR to learn from their experience, and has calls with various advisors and people who might want to visit or join. Severin and advisors work on plans and documents and get an estimate of the likely burn rate of the organization. Add an operations manager to the team. Set up legal structure. Create a website. Explore options for securing additional funding for the first year. Build a volunteer team and search for hotels/other buildings in the Berlin area. Connect with people who can help us find people who might be able to contribute. Select initial cohort.
Summer-Autumn 2022: We hope to visit the Bay area to learn from the community there, especially CFAR and Lightcone. Then we will rent a location, set up for initial guests, hire practical ops people (cooking, cleaning).
Late 2022-early 2023: The initial cohort lives in the hub for ~1-3 months (tbd) without us yet adding any new medium- or long-term residents. The initial cohort creates and iterates on norms, policies, and values, and builds a supportive and durable culture that can provide a welcoming space for new guests. We explore how to create an ongoing exchange between the hub and the local EA as well as non-EA community, e.g. through open-to-public events and group excursions.
Early 2023 onwards: The hub is fully operational, adding more and more guests, looking towards creating secondary EU hubs (Canary Islands? Portugal? Prague?) as and when we approach capacity. We set up exchange programs, build connections with relevant groups and individuals, and host visiting scholars.
At least 42 people for just AI alignment research, according to a spreadsheet collected by JJ from AI Safety Support, and 500+ globally in the current AGI Safety Fundamentals course.
So far, we have a “yes” from CEEALAR (formerly “EA Hotel”) and two other potential projects.
While our focus is on AI alignment for now, we are also looking for advisors from other longtermist causes.