Anonymous_EA

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What success looks like

Great post! 

From Scenario 1, in which alignment is easy:

The alignment problem turns out much easier than expected. Increasingly better AI models have a better understanding of human values, and they do not naturally develop strong influence-seeking tendencies. Moreover, in cases of malfunctions and for preventative measures, interpretability tools now allow us to understand important parts of large models on the most basic level and ELK-like tools allow us to honestly communicate with AI systems.

Here you seem to be imagining that technical AI alignment turns out to be easy, but you don't discuss the political/governance problem of making sure the AI (or AIs) are aligned with the right goals. 

E.g. what if the first aligned transformative AI systems are built by bad actors? What if they're built by well-intentioned actors who nevertheless have no idea what to do with the aligned TAI(s) they've developed? (My impression is that we don't currently have much idea of what a lab should be looking to do in the case where they succeed in technical alignment. Maybe the aligned system could help them decide what to do, but I'm pretty nervous about counting on that.)

From my perspective a full success story should include answers to these questions.

Are too many young, highly-engaged longtermist EAs doing movement-building?

Appreciate the anecdata! I agree that probably there are at least a good number of people like you who will go under the radar, and this probably biases many estimates of the number of non-community-building EAs downward (esp estimates that are also based on anecdata, as opposed to e.g. survey data).

Are too many young, highly-engaged longtermist EAs doing movement-building?

Hi, Vilhelm, thanks for these thoughts! Some quick responses to just a few points:

Fwiw, in Sweden, my 50% confidence interval of the share of highly-engaged longtermists under 25 doing movement-building is  20-35%.  However, I don't think I am as concerned as you seem to be with that number.

20-35% isn't all that concerning to me. I'd be more concerned if it were in the ballpark of 40% or more. That said, even 20-35% does feel a bit high to me if we're talking about college graduates working full-time on community-building (a higher percentage might make sense if we're counting college students who are just spending a fraction of their time on community-building).

my experience as a community builder in Sweden trying to help young longtermsist is that there aren't that many better opportunities out there right now. (Note that this might be very different in other contexts.)

Agreed that the counterfactual may be significantly worse for those based in Sweden (or most other countries besides the US and UK) who are unwilling to move to EA hubs. I  should have flagged that I'm writing this as someone based in the US where I see lots of alternatives to community building. With that said,  it's not totally clear to me which direction this points in: maybe a lack of opportunities to do object-level work in Sweden suggests the need for more people to go out and create such opportunities, rather than doing further community-building.

Data suggest people leave their community building roles rather quickly, indicating that people do pivot when finding a better fit

Yeah this matches my experience - I see a lot of young EAs doing community building for a year or two post-grad and then moving on to object-level work. This seems great when it's a case of someone thinking community-building is their highest-upside option, testing their fit, and then moving on (presumably because it hasn't gone super well). I worry, though, that in some cases folks do not even view community-building as a career path they're committed to, and instead fall into community-building because it's the "path of least resistance." 

To be clear, I'm incredibly grateful to community builders like you, and don't intend to devalue the work you do - I genuinely think community-building is one of the most impactful career paths, and a significant fraction of EAs should pursue it (particularly those who - like you, it sounds like - have great personal fit for the work and see it their highest-upside long-term career path).

Are too many young, highly-engaged longtermist EAs doing movement-building?

Thanks for pointing to these! I had forgotten about them or hadn't seen them in the first place — all are very relevant.

Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path?

Thanks for this! I really appreciate how carefully 80K thinks these questions through and have updated toward this bottleneck having gotten worse fairly recently, as you suggest. With that said, if there was an ops bottleneck in 2018 and 2019 as reflected in  previous surveys of skill needs, and if the ops bottleneck is back as of now, I wonder whether early 2020 was more the exception than the rule. 

To double check this, we would ideally run another survey of org leaders about skill needs, and there's some chance that happens in the next year.

I don't want to rush your process. At the same time, because I perceive this as fairly urgent bottleneck (as seems to be at least somewhat confirmed in comments by CarolineJ, Scronfinkle, and Anya Hunt), I'll just note that I hope that survey does in fact happen this year.  I doubt I can be helpful with this, but feel free to DM me if I could be - for example, I can think of at least one person who might be happy to run the survey this year and would likely do a good job.

Another reason why we dropped it is just because 'work at EA orgs' is already a priority path, and this is a subpath of that, and I'm not sure we should list both the broader path and subpath within the priority paths list (e.g. I also think 'research roles at EA orgs' is a big bottleneck but don't want to break that out as a separate category).

Again, I appreciate that you all are extremely thoughtful about these decisions. I will offer, from my outside perspective, that it seems like the Priority Paths already do a great job of conveying the value of research skills (e.g. 5/9 of the Priority Paths have the word "research" in the title), whereas they don't currently convey the value of operations skills. I'm not sure whether adding ops back to the Priority Paths is the best way to address this, or if there's another better option, such as simply removing the blurb about how ops skills are less needed now. But I think right now a reader of 80K would likely get the impression that ops skills are much less urgently needed than they are (see for example Eli Kaufman's comment on this post).

Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path?

Just confirming that "longtermist ED" is more the type of skillset I have in mind when I refer to  a "severe" bottleneck. Though I think even "EA-aligned with significant ops skills and potential to grow into ED-type roles" is also highly valuable and in short supply. 

I also like your advice!

Why is Operations no longer an 80K Priority Path?

These are great thoughts, thanks! We definitely have different perceptions, but I really appreciate this perspective.

One crux may be what CarolineJ points to in her comment: "ops" captures a continuum of skillsets, some of which seem much rarer and more urgently needed than others. I am not sure what roles you were hiring for at your orgs, but I agree with CarolineJ that we especially need those with "chief of staff"-type skills. Examples that come to mind are Zach Robinson (Chief of Staff at Open Philanthropy) and Bill Zito (co-founder and COO at Redwood Research). 

With that said, my impression is that even inexperienced but superb junior PMs are extremely valuable and not easy to find. Here, by "superb," I mean to gesture at the kind of skills described by Tara Mac Auley in her 80K podcast. I'll quote her at length:

So, one of the first jobs I actually had was working at a fast food restaurant called Oporto which is sort of like Nandos, it’s a chicken shop. And I just started working there as a cook in the kitchen and I think that was a really great experience for me because it’s a really fast-paced environment where you’re put under a lot of pressure to do a whole range of different tasks really quickly and they were all things that I had never done before. And I really loved being thrown into a systems-based environment where there were checklists everywhere and you were told how long each of these different tasks should take.

And I think I got to learn a lot from that. It just kind of felt like a game, like I could optimize all of the different motions that I took and the order in which I did of all of the tasks to try and tick off everything in that checklist, find things that were missing from the checklist that should be added or tweak it in little ways to make my work more effective and to make it go smoother for everyone who worked there.

I did that for a little while and at one point, I brought a stopwatch to work and then I timed myself for all of the tasks that I did commonly and timed lots of other people and I compared how long it took me to do it one way versus lots of different ways and kind of did that over a couple of days until I found the most efficient way to do all of the tasks that I had to do at that organization. So then, I got promoted to manager of the shop and then ended up working with a lot of new franchisees to train their staff and build new systems to run these chicken shops really effectively.

So, one thing I did there was to come up with a predictive ordering system based on really hilarious things like the weather forecast for the day to try and predict what things people would order and how much stock we needed to have so that we could fulfill all the customer orders and how many staff we needed to have on shift at all the different times so that the shop would be more profitable. And by implementing that system, we were able to cut staff cost by 30% and make a lot of stores that were failing profitable again. [Bolding added.]

Robert Wiblin: How old were you at this point?

Tara Mac Aulay: When I was doing that, I was about 15 or probably 16.

Obviously there's only one Tara Mac Auley, but (as she discusses later in the podcast) ops skills can be learned and honed. I'd be surprised if there were multiple people of 16-year-old Tara's caliber applying to any given EA ops position - in fact my impression is that anyone with this level of ops talent tends to be rapidly promoted to top positions in EA orgs. I think highly talented EAs who think they could be excellent at ops should very strongly consider this career path, even if they could also be very good in, say, top policy roles. But right now, I think they would not feel encouraged to do so by the community (and I think 80K's Priority Paths have a big impact on this).

Identifying talent for projects that haven't been started seems like a fundamentally different bottleneck that operations for existing projects.

This does seem like another crux. The recent Forum post on Concrete Biosecurity Projects offers some example projects which would likely benefit from highly entrepreneurial ops talent, and it's part of what led me to post my question. 

Maybe I also think ops skills and founder skills are closer together than you do, partly because a lot of the people I think of as excellent at ops also seem like they would be excellent founders (or at least co-founders/early employees). 

Thanks a bunch for the answer :) We may just have a difference of perception here, but I hope this at least clarifies a bit the bottleneck I had in mind. Would love to hear if any of this sounds off to you, and if any others who have experience with ops hiring want to chime in with their own impressions.