Background

I think there's a strong case for recording more existing EA content as podcasts. The main reason is that this will help more people engage with more content, because there are times when it's much easier to listen to versus read the same writing.

I'm glad to see some recent progress. The Nonlinear Library popped up a couple months ago, which uses text-to-speech software to create an automatically updating repository of audio content. The EA Forum Podcast is also great, especially because genuine spoken word still beats TTS.

Two Opportunities

At some point it would be good to discuss the general theme of geting even more really high-quality readouts of EA content into the world. But this post is about two specific opportunities which seem especially impactful and time-sensitive to me.

The first is the series of conversations MIRI recently released. Most of these are dialogues, and I think there's about 14 hours of content there in total. I expect a lot of people would love to read them, but don't have the time to sit down and trawl through that much text. So it could be really worthwhile if we could produce some (high-quality) readouts in podcast format. It'll be important to distinguish between multiple voices here, so 'table reads' of multiple people would be best (virtual is fine). An 80/20 version could involve recording only the most notable two or three conversations.

The second opportunity is the recent EA Forum creative writing prize. The winners were announced a couple days ago, and they're really excellent. Between the prizes and the 'honorable mentions', there are 15 stories; a small (audio)book's worth. With some care, e.g. tasteful sound effects, these could be turned into a really nice little package; even for folks outside of EA. Again, I think a diversity of voices would make this better than one reader; and different voices for different characters could be a bonus.

End Products

Where could these end up? One idea would be to put these on existing feeds — probably the Nonlinear Library for the MIRI conversations, and the EA Forum Podcast for the fiction (though maybe both feeds for both series).

But if these end up being high enough quality, I think they could end up as their own podcast feeds, perhaps with a bit of branding and a website (e.g.). I think this format of 'effectively an audiobook living in a podcast feed' has been well exemplified by The Life You Can Save and this recording of Rationality: From AI to Zombies.

The creative writing feed could even be extended indefinitely, by adding more entrants from this year's prize, or by putting out a call for more pieces.

What Next?

If either of these projects are going to happen, we'll need a few people with time and interest in recording some of these pieces or parts. We'll also need an audio editor (or perhaps more than one). So if you're interested in either reading or editing, please let me know! You could leave a comment on this post, or message me directly.

I would be happy to project manage this if there's sufficient interest. For example, I could help coordinate who reads what, help send out mics, and set up the podcast feeds.

I think it's very likely that funding would be available for this. Here is Michael Aird in a comment about the creative writing prizes

I'm willing to personally guarantee (say) at least $500 for a mic (if the person doesn't have one already and it costs that much) and $20/hr for up to 5 times as many hours as the cumulative total run time across all the episodes produced, with the guarantee being capped at $1500 total.

I also expect the LTFF might be interested in the MIRI conversations, and the EAIF in the creative writing pieces. One another person has also mentioned they would likely be able to find funding for the MIRI conversations.

I'm throwing this out as a potentially high-impact opportunity, and one which needn't take up a ton of time. But I'm not wedded to it, so I'd also appreciate critical takes! Thanks.

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18 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 1:04 AM
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For the MIRI Conversations, some people have said they'll pay at least some money for this  https://twitter.com/lxrjl/status/1463845239664394240

Thanks for this post!

In case it's useful, here's my quoted comment in full:

If the eventual human-read versions of this creative stuff and/or the MIRI conversations are high quality in my view (see below), I'm willing to personally guarantee (say) at least $500 for a mic (if the person doesn't have one already and it costs that much) and $20/hr for up to 5 times as many hours as the cumulative total run time across all the episodes produced, with the guarantee being capped at $1500 total. 

Fine print:

  • It's also plausible I'd personally provide a larger amount, and I'd guess that a funder like EAIF would provide a grant for this and would do so up to a larger amount (that'd be my preferred starting point, with me as a backup, unless the total amount requested is <$1k in which case I might just provide it right away myself). This is just what I'm willing to personally guarantee right now, without thinking about it further.
    • Note that EAIF has recently made larger grants for projects that are in some sense smaller, e.g. ~$5k for one relatively short and simple video.
  • I haven't checked or thought about how much mics cost; what's a reasonable ratio of hours spent preparing, recording, editing, and publishing to hours of content produced; or what's a reasonable hourly rate. That's among the reasons it's plausible I'd provide a larger amount of compensation, and especially why it's plausible a funder like EAIF would.
  • It's probably best if you contact me before you make these things, and maybe do one quick reading with whatever mic you already have so I can confirm that it seems your final version will be high-quality-as-deemed-by-me.
    • If you haven't done that, it's possible I'll later deem the thing you make insufficiently high quality, which is bad for its impact and also means I probably wouldn't pay up, and that'd also be uncomfortable and awkward.
    • In contrast, if you have done that, I might also provide part of the money in advance or something, if necessary.
  • I'd definitely count as "high-quality" readings as high-quality as Rob Miles' readings of the Alignment Newsletter and the human-read versions of HPMOR and Rationality: A to Z. I'd probably also count somewhat lower-quality readings as high-quality. I wouldn't count something that's only as high-fidelity and engaging as the Nonlinear Library's machine reading as high-quality, since then there's not much point having humans read it.
  • This only applies as a guarantee if the people involved don't already get funding elsewhere and if it doesn't seem more logical for them to get funding elsewhere.
    • Though it's also plausible I'd top up someone's compensation even if they get some funding elsewhere.
  • Although I'm a guest manager on EAIF, I'm writing this in my personal capacity.
  • This doesn't mean I'm confident that a given reader of this comment should spend their time on this.
    • There are many other things I'd also personally guarantee funding for if I thought that would increase the chance that they'd happen and if the topic came up.
    • (E.g., I'd probably prefer if Fin doesn't do this himself unless he'd find it engaging enough to not trade off against "regular work hours", since I think the opportunity cost of Fin's time is quite high)

Michael -- we have a bunch of the infrastructure in place for this, at least an Airtable system and an Anchor-hosted podcast... might be worth linking arms here ... with the EA Forum podcast

Shared airtable

signup to read or edit form

I've listened to a couple episodes of the EA Forum Podcast, and the fact it contains digressions and commentary (by the reader, not just what's in the thing being read) makes it seem much less engaging/useful for me personally, and means I actually prefer Nonlinear Library's machine-read versions when both podcasts have read the same thing. I'd guess that many people would feel the same, though I haven't checked that at all. I'd also guess that that would make the podcast seem more "weird" and less "professional" than if it had no digressions/commentary, which seems problematic from an "early-in-the-funnel outreach" perspective. 

So I personally wouldn't count that approach as "high-quality" for my purposes/to my taste.

In other words, it seems to me much better if these creative pieces and/or the MIRI conversations were:

  1. read without any digressions/commentary
  2. in a feed where everything else either also has no digressions/commentary or is like a clearly marked "special episode" where the digressions/commentary can be quarantined to (so that people can easily opt out of those eps if they're uninterested, and can be confident that in other cases their listening experience will just be straight readings of the content they want)

I'd weakly guess other EAIF people would feel the same, but that's again basically just extrapolating from myself rather than me having checked.

Separate point: I started listening to an episode on a Toby Ord piece yesterday and found the switching of the audio from left to right a bit distracting/annoying/unprofessional-seeming, which further contributed to me not finishing that episode.

(This comment is kinda blunt and maybe rude. Apologies for that. It felt like it'd be worthwhile to say anyway, in this context, since this is a context where I want to actively encourage specific activities and am also promising funding for a certain fuzzily specified version of those activities. But I do acknowledge that it's a bit odd for me to say this in this public way.)

Also, on the Toby Ord episode, I've found a way to strip most/all of my comments from previous episodes. I've done this and posted a new version here ... (and on all podcatchers).

This is an edited repost of a previous reading (reader David Reinstein); I removed my commentary so you can listen to the full essay uninterrupted.

Let me know what you think I may do this for other prior episodes (remove the comments), if there is interest. I'm thinking for future readings to save my comments for the end, if at all (maybe still including a few explainers if they don't distract from the flow.) ... but if I were to do the MIRI thing I probably wouldn't add any comments or even explainers, as I have little or know expertise there.

The commenting (including clarifications) and the audio switching was all my doing, I think. I don’t think any of the other readers did this. I tried to denote these episodes separately. For the Toby Ord episode I had a lot to say and some knowledge in this area and I wanted to get my thoughts out there. So it was a “different sort of thing”.

For some other readings I commented less, or almost not at all.

The left/right thing was meant to distinguish between the original text and the comments. Perhaps there is some better way of doing this?

I can definitely see the argument for “reading without commenting” in many cases, or for putting these separate.

For me it was more like “I want to read and comment on these and I thought that while doing so it would be worth posting them”.

Anyways the main point is that ea forum podcast could probably handle doing these, at least some of them and we wouldn’t add commentary… at least if the funding were there I think we could get these done.

[+][comment deleted]6mo 1

Hi! My name is Coleman, I am an X - Risk and EA Podcastor, YouTuber, and speaker. I would absolutely love to work on either project idea with you and your team! 

Feel free to directly message me here. 

Great to hear, Coleman! Keep up the good work on your podcast :)

I would love to help out with these, especially reading!

I've already started on this for the EA Forum podcast.

Finm -- let's join forces here? Maybe we cross-post on both podcasts?

Here's the first story I recorded

If anyone wants to be a reader (authors could be great readers too!), they can ... fill out this airtable-linked form

... or just add their info to the shared airtable, itself and 'claim' a story (or other EA Forum post) to read in the forum_posts_episodes table (minimal_entry view if you want to be quick)

Awesome, this looks great. Endorsed!

I'd love to read! Female American voice here. I'm a trained singer, but not a trained voice actor. I have a Tascam DR-05 and might be able to finagle access to a recording studio.

This is great timing. I'm currently in the middle of reading Significant Digits aloud. Just this past week, I realized that voice acting is a ton of fun and I'd like to contribute to a project :) 

Thanks for organizing, Fin!

Amazing, thanks so much!

Hi Fin, this is a cool and seemingly worthwhile project - I'm happy to contribute by recording some of the text (in my slightly? South African accent) :p

Great, thanks for letting me know!

I'd be happy to contribute by reading aloud! However, I don't have any specialty recording equipment, so you might not want to include me if you're going for high sound quality.

Hi Finn, I'd be happy to help out with these (on recording voice especially, I don't think I can commit time for audio editing at the moment). I've already got a mic for my podcast (Samsung Q2U) so if that was good enough, I wouldn't need as much set-up time.