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Project summary

AI Safety Camp is a program with a 5-year track record of enabling people to find careers in AI Safety.

We support up-and-coming researchers outside the Bay Area and London hubs.

We are out of funding. To make the 10th edition happen, fund our stipends and salaries.

 

What are this project's goals and how will you achieve them?

AI Safety Camp is a program for inquiring how to work on ensuring future AI is safe, and try concretely working on that in a team.

For the 9th edition of AI Safety Camp we opened applications for 29 projects

We are first to host a special area to support “Pause AI” work. With funding, we can scale from 4 projects for restricting corporate-AI development to 15 projects next edition.

We are excited about our new research lead format, since it combines:

  • Hands-on guidance:  We guide research leads (RLs) to carefully consider and scope their project. Research leads in turn onboard teammates and guide their teammates through the process of doing new research. 
  • Streamlined applications:  Team applications were the most time-intensive portion of running AI Safety Camp. Reviewers were often unsure how to evaluate an applicant’s fit for a project that required specific skills and understandings. RLs usually have a clear sense of who they would want to work with for three months. So we instead guide RLs to prepare project-specific questions and interview their potential teammates.
  • Resource-efficiency:  We are not competing with other programs for scarce mentor time. Instead, we prospect for thoughtful research leads who at some point could become well-recognized researchers. The virtual format also cuts on overhead – instead of sinking funds into venues and plane tickets, the money goes directly to funding people to focus on their work in AI safety. 
  • Flexible hours:  Participants can work remotely from their timezone alongside their degree or day job – to test their fit for an AI Safety career. 

 

How will this funding be used?

We are fundraising to pay for:

  • Salaries for the organisers for the current AISC 
  • Funding future camps (see budget section)


Whether we run the tenth edition, or put AISC indefinitely on hold depends on your donation.

Last June, we had to freeze a year's worth of salary for three staff. Our ops coordinator had to leave, and Linda and Remmelt decided to run one more edition as volunteers.

AISC has previously gotten grants paid for by FTX money. After the FTX collapse, we froze $255K in funds to cover clawback claims. For the current AISC, we have $99K left from SFF that was earmarked for stipends – but nothing for salaries, and nothing for future AISCs.

If we have enough money we might also restart the in-person version of AISC. This decision will also depend on an ongoing external evaluation of AISC, which among other things, is evaluating the difference in impact of the virtual vs in-person AISCs.

By default we’ll decide what to prioritise with the funding we get. But if you want to have a say, we can discuss that. We can earmark your money for whatever you want.


Potential budgets for various versions of AISC

These are example budgets for different possible versions of the virtual AISC. If our funding lands somewhere in between, we’ll do something in between.

Virtual AISC - Budget version 

Software etc $2K
Organiser salaries, 2 ppl, 4 months$56K
Stipends for participants $0
                                                            Total $58K

In the Budget version, the organisers do the minimum job required to get the program started, but no continuous support to AISC teams during their projects and no time for evaluations and improvement for future versions of the program.

Salaries are calculated based on $7K per person per month.

Virtual AISC - Normal version 

Software etc $2K
Organiser salaries, 3 ppl, 6 months $126K
Stipends for participants $185K
                                                            Total $313K

For the non-budget version, we have one more staff and more paid hours per person, which means we can provide more support all-round. 

Stipends estimate based on: $185K = $1.5K/research lead *40 + $1K/team member * 120
Number of research leads (40) and team members (120) are guesses based on how much we think AISC will grow.
 

 

Who is on your team and what's your track record on similar projects?

We have run AI Safety Camp over five years, covering 8 editions, 74 teams, and 251 participants.

We iterated a lot, based on participant feedback. We converged on a research lead format we are excited about. We will carefully scale this format with your support.

As researchers ourselves, we can meet potential research leads where they are at. We can provide useful guidance and feedback in almost every area of AI Safety research.

We are particularly well-positioned to support epistemically diverse bets.
 

Organisers

Remmelt – coordinator of "do not build uncontrollable AI"

  • Remmelt collaborates with an ex-Pentagon engineer and prof. Roman Yampolskiy on fundamental controllability limits. Both researchers are funded by the Survival and Flourishing Fund.
  • Remmelt works with diverse organisers to restrict harmful AI scaling, including:  
    Pause AI, creative professionals, anti-tech-solutionists, product safety experts, and climate change researchers.
  • At AISC, Remmelt wrote a comprehensive outline of the control problem, presented here.
  • Remmelt previously co-founded EA Netherlands and ran national conferences.


Linda - coordinator of "everything else"

  • After completing her physics PhD, Linda interned at MIRI and later joined the Refine fellowship.
  • Linda has a comprehensive understanding of technical AI Safety landscape. An autodidact, she studies the theory of agent foundations, cognitive neuroscience and mechanistic interpretability.
  • Several researchers (eg. at MIRI) noted that Linda picks up on new theoretical arguments surprisingly fast, even where the inferential distance is long.
  • At AISC, Linda co-published RL in Newcomblike Environments, selected for a NeurIPS spotlight presentation.
  • Linda initiated and spearheaded AI Safety Camp, AI Safety Support, and Virtual AI Safety Unconference.

 

Track record

AI Safety Camp is primarily a learning-by-doing training program. People get to try a role and explore directions in AI safety, by collaborating on a concrete project.

Multiple alumni have told us that AI Safety Camp was how they got started in AI Safety.
AISC topped the ‘average usefulness’ list in Daniel Filan’s survey.

Papers that came out of the camp include:

Projects started at AI Safety Camp went on to receive a total of $613K in grants:

AISC 1:  Bounded Rationality team     $30K from Paul
AISC 3:  Modelling Cooperation$24K from CLT, $50K from SFF
$83K from SFF, $83K from SFF
AISC 4:  Survey      $5K from LTTF
AISC 5:  Pessimistic Agents $3K from LTFF
AISC 5:  Multi-Objective Alignment$20K from EV
AISC 6:  LMs as Tools for Alignment$10K from LTFF
AISC 6: Modularity$125K from LTFF
 AISC 7:  AGI Inherent Non-Safety$170K from SFF
AISC 8:  Policy Proposals for High-Risk AI      $10K from NL

Organizations launched out of camp conversations include:

Alumni went on to take positions at:

  • FHI (1 job+4 scholars+2 interns), GovAI (2 jobs), Cooperative AI (1 job), Center on Long-Term Risk (1 job), Future Society (1 job), FLI (1 job), MIRI (1 intern), CHAI (2 interns), DeepMind (1 job+2 interns), OpenAI (1 job), Anthropic (1 contract), Redwood (2 jobs), Conjecture (3 jobs), EleutherAI (1 job), Apart (1 job), Aligned AI (1 job), Leap Labs (1 founder, 1 job), Apollo (2 founders, 4 jobs), Arb (2 founders), AISS (2 founders), AISL (2+ founders), ACS (2 founders), ERO (1 founder), BlueDot (1 founder)

    These are just the positions we know about. Many more are engaged in AI Safety in other ways, eg. as PhD or independent researcher.

For statistics of previous editions, see here. We also recently commissioned Arb Research to run alumni surveys and interviews to carefully evaluate AI Safety Camp's impact.

 

What are the most likely causes and outcomes if this project fails? (premortem)

  • Not receiving minimum funding.
    • There are now fewer funders.
    • The evaluator who evaluated us last round at SFF and LTFF was too busy. 
      His guess, he replied, was that he was not currently super interested in most of the projects we found RLs for, and not super interested in the "do not build uncontrollable AI" area.
    • We look for epistemically diverse bets. We are known for being honest in our critiques when we think individuals or areas of work are mistakenly overlooked. We spent little time though on networking and clarifying our views to funders, which unfortunately led to the current situation.
  • Receiving funding, but not enough to cover an ops staff member.
    • Linda and Remmelt are researchers themselves, and a little worn out from running operations. Funding for a third staff member would make the program more sustainable.
  • Not being selective enough of projects.
    • We want to focus more time on inquiring with potential research leads about their cruxes and evaluating their plans. This round, we were volunteering, so we had to satisfice. We rejected ⅓ of proposals for "do not build uncontrollable AI" and ⅕ of proposals for "everything else".
  • Receiving fewer applicants overall because of competition with new programs.
    • Team applications have been steady though per year (229 for '22; 219 for '23; 222 for '24).
  • Lacking the pipeline to carefully scale up "do not build uncontrollable AI" work.
    • Given Remmelt's connections, we are the best-positioned program to do this.
       

 

What other funding are you or your project getting?

No other funding sources.

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Sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 2:58 AM

AISC 6 was what got me into the field, the research I worked on there is still an influence on what we're doing at Apollo Research now, and three five other people currently at Apollo are alumni of the camp as well. 

I'm also currently not seeing the LTFF grant(s) for the project we started at AISC listed in that table, so I suspect others might be missing as well.

I think the counterfactual impact for me was probably high here. Certainly, no other formal program active then or now I am aware of seems like it could have replaced AISC for onboarding me into AI Safety.

This is good to know! I’m glad that the experience helped you get involved in AI Safety work.

Could you search for the LTFF grant here and provide me the link? I must have missed it in my searches.

(Also, it looks I missed two of the four alumni working at Apollo. Will update!)

I appreciate you sharing this. I’ll add it to our list of anecdotes.

Also welcoming people sharing any setbacks or negative experiences they had. We want to know if people have sucky experiences so we find ways to make it not sucky next time. Hoping to have a more comprehensive sense of this from Arb Research’s survey!

It turns out there are five six AI Safety Camp alumni working at Apollo, including the two co-founders. 

I got to go through alumni's LinkedIn profiles to update our records of post-camp positions.
It's on my to-do list.

Helpful comment from you Lucius in the sheet:

"I think our first follow-up grant was 125k USD. Should be on the LTFF website somewhere. There were subsequent grants also related to the AISC project though. And Apollo Research's interpretability agenda also has some relationship with ideas I developed at AISC."

--> I updated the sheet.

I'm sad to hear that AISC is lacking in funding and somewhat surprised given that it's one of the most visible and well-known AI safety programs. Have you tried applying for grant money from Open Philanthropy since it's the largest AI safety grant-maker?

My current understanding is that OpenPhil is very unlikely to give us money. 

I have read the posts related to your funding situation, and I still haven't fully figured out why OF wouldn't fund you. Would you like to bring light to the reason why, if you know? 

Do you mean OP, as in Open Philanthropy?

Apologies. Yes, I mean Open Philanthropy.  

Three reasons come to mind why OpenPhil has not funded us.

  1. Their grant programs don't match, and we have therefore not applied to them.They have fund individuals making early career decisions, our university-based courses, or programs that selectively support "highly talented" young people, or "high quality nuanced" communication. We don't fit any of those categories.
    1. We did sent in a brief application early 2023 though for a regrant covering our funds from FTX, which was not granted (same happened to at least one other field-building org I'm aware of).
  2. AISC wasn't contacted for bespoke grants – given OpenPhil's fieldbuilding focuses shown above, and focus on technical research, academic programs, and governance organisations for the rest.
    1. Also, even if we engage i with OpenPhil staff, I heard that another AIS field-building organisation had to make concessions and pick research focusses OpenPhil staff like, in order to ensure they get funding from OpenPhil.  Linda and I are not prepared to do that.
  3. I did not improve things by critiquing OpenPhil online for supporting AGI labs. I personally stand by the content of the critiques, but it was also quite in your face, and I can imagine they did not like that. 
    1. Whatever I critique about collaborations between longtermist orgs and AGI labs can be associated back to  AI Safety Camp is  or the area I run at AI Safety Camp. I want to be more mindful how I word my critiques in the future.
       

Does that raise any new questions?

Thanks, we’ll give it a go. Linda is working on sending something in for the “Request for proposals for projects to grow our capacity for reducing global catastrophic risks”

Note though AISC does not really fit OpenPhil’s grant programs because we are not affiliated with a university and because we don’t select heavily on our own conceptions of who are “highly promising young people”.

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