AI Governance Reading Group Guide

by Alex HT 2 min read25th Jun 20202 comments

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If someone wants to learn about AI governance as part of their career exploration, they might have these problems:

  • It can be hard to know what resources to start with;
  • It can be hard to get a broad overview of the field (rather than understanding just eg. the law, or economics approaches);
  • Even if someone works out what they want to read, and it will give a broad overview, it can be hard for them to actually get through all the reading;
  • It can be hard to form your own views and resolve uncertainties by yourself.

EA Oxford has just finished running a reading group on AI governance, and it seems to have been successful at overcoming these problems. This was with low effort from the organisers, and it seems like it could be scalable. This post is for group organisers considering running an AI governance reading group.

Reading List

We used this syllabus put together by Markus Anderljung at the Centre for the Governance of AI, which is split up into nine topics, with 2-3 readings per topic. A lot of the value of the group came from having a syllabus that had a good balance of depth and breadth, and that came from someone with a really good understanding of the field. The list is useful to people interested in both research and implementation, and probably more useful to people interested in research.

Setting up the Group

We advertised the reading group to group members who had been through our In-Depth Fellowship (we run an Intro Fellowship similar to the Arete Fellowship, and then an In-Depth Fellowship). Having a small number of keen, core people made running the group very easy, and I was always happy with the quality of discussion.

We didn't advertise particularly widely because I was new to the content and running the group with core members seemed easier and less risky.

If we run the group again, we're interested in using it as an outreach tool to students in relevant subjects who haven't heard much about EA (and might be more attracted to 'making sure AI is governed well in the long-run' than 'doing the most good we can'). It seems like the tone of advertising and facilitation would be more important in this case as this would be some people's first large exposure to EA, and they could form a negative impression of the movement. It also seems more important for the organiser to have a good understanding of the content in this case, so that EAs don't seem incompetent or overconfident. I'd be excited for other groups to carefully try this.

Running the Group

We went through one topic per week and aimed to do all the non-further reading each week. This was around a two hour commitment. Meeting weekly seemed like a way to have time to do the reading, while also keeping momentum and a good social atmosphere.

While doing the reading each week, we wrote down these things in a shared document:

  • Our most interesting, surprising, or important updates from the reading;
  • Confusions, questions or uncertainties we had about the reading or the topic;
  • Anything we’d wanted to discuss eg. implications of the reading, extensions to the reading, thoughts we’d had over the week.

During the one hour long calls, we summarised each of the pieces from the reading list, then discussed what we'd written down.

The discussion was participant-led, and in general people seemed to be forming their own inside views and were happy to critique the reading.

Results

There've been five attendees including me who've come nearly every week, and around ten different attendees in total. The timing of the group clashed with exam season, and we also advertised a group that met monthly instead of weekly, so it seems like there could have been lots more attendees if we'd pushed for them. Some specific results of the group are that:

  • One person who will be doing the FHI Summer Research Fellowship came every week. They were initially planning to research a question on AI forecasting for the Summer Research Fellowship. They now think they'll do something in that space, but probably work on a different question as a result of the reading group.
  • One person who's a CS DPhil affiliate at FHI came almost every week. They found it useful to get a better understanding of the governance side of things, which they may transition into from work on technical AI safety.
  • The organiser (me), has a better understanding of AI governance problems - which I expect to be useful for explaining cause prioritisation, and giving career guidance.

One of the participants deprioritized AI Governance as a career path as a result of the group, thinking that their personal fit wasn't exceptional (which I see as a success of the group).

After the Group

A subset of the group will keep meeting weekly, with one person each week presenting on a relevant paper. This seems like a good way to dig deeper into the field. I'd also encourage group organisers to talk 1-1 to people who finish the group about career plans and next steps.

Further Reading

80,000 Hours - US AI Policy

AI Governance Career Paths for Europeans (implementation focussed)

Personal Thoughts on Careers in AI Policy and Strategy (research focussed)

80,000 Hours - Guide to Working in AI Policy and Strategy

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