Max_Daniel

Chief of Staff at the Forethought Foundation for Global Priorities Research and Chair of the EA Infrastructure Fund.

Previously I participated in the first cohort of FHI's Research Scholars Programme (RSP) and then helped run it as one of its Project Managers.

Before that, my first EA-inspired jobs were with the Effective Altruism Foundation, e.g., running what is now the Center on Long-Term Risk. While I don't endorse their 'suffering-focused' stance on ethics, I'm still a board member there.

Unless stated otherwise, I post on the Forum in a personal capacity, and don't speak for any organization I'm affiliated with.

I like weird music and general abstract nonsense. In a different life I would be a mediocre mathematician or a horrible anthropologist.

Topic Contributions

Comments

EA is more than longtermism

I agree with your specific claims, but FWIW I thought albeit having some gaps the post was good overall, and unusually well written in terms of being engaging and accessible. 

The reason why I overall still like this post is that I think at its core it's based on (i) a correct diagnosis that there is an increased perception that 'EA is just longtermism' both within and outside the EA community, as reflected in prominent public criticism of EA that mostly talk about their opposition to longtermism, and (ii) it describes some mostly correct facts that explain and/or debunk the 'EA is just longtermism' claim (even though omitting some important facts and arguably underselling the influence of longtermism in EA overall).

E.g., on the claim you quote, a more charitable interpretation would be that longtermism is one of potentially several things that differentiates EA's approach to philanthropy from traditional ones, and that this contributes to longtermism being a feature that outside observers tend to particularly focus on. 

Now, while true in principle, my guess is that even this effect is fairly small compared to some other reasons behind the attention that longtermism gets. – But I think it's quite far from ridiculous or obviously wrong.

I also agree that one doesn't need to be a longtermist to worry about AI risk, and that an ideal version of the OP would have pointed that out somewhere, but again I don't think this is damning for the post overall. And given that 'longtermism' as a philosophical view and 'longtermism' as a focus on specific cause areas such as AI, bio, and other global catastrophic risk are often conflated even within the EA community, I certainly think that conflation might play into current outside perceptions of 'EA as longtermism'.

Bad Omens in Current Community Building

Thanks so much for sharing your perspective in such detail! Just dropping a quick comment to say you might be interested in this post on EA for mid-career people by my former colleague Ben Snodin if you haven't seen it. I believe that he and collaborators are also considering launching a small project in this space.

Some potential lessons from Carrick’s Congressional bid

Thank you for taking the time to share your perspective. I'm not sure I share your sense that spending money to reach out to Salinas could have made the same expected difference to pandemic preparedness, but I appreciated reading your thoughts, and I'm sure they point to some further lessons learned for those in the EA community who will keep being engaged in US politics.

Samotsvety Nuclear Risk Forecasts — March 2022

I recommended some retroactive funding for this post (via the Future Fund's regranting program) because I think it was valuable and hadn't been otherwise funded. (Though I believe CEA agreed to fund potential future updates.)

I think the main sources of value were:

  • Providing (another) proof of concept that teams of forecasters can produce decision-relevant information & high-quality reasoning in crisis situations on relatively short notice.
  • Saving many people considerable amounts of time. (I know of several very time-pressed people who without that post would likely have spent at least an hour looking into whether they want to leave certain cities etc.).
  • Providing a foil for expert engagement.

(And I think the case for retroactively funding valuable work roughly just is that it sets the right incentives. In an ideal case, if people are confident that they will be able to obtain retroactive funding for valuable work after the fact, they can just go and do that, and more valuable work is going to happen. This is also why I'm publicly commenting about having provided retroactive funding in this case.

Of course, there are a bunch of problems with relying on that mechanism, and I'm not suggesting that retroactive funding should replace upfront funding or anything like that.)

EA and the current funding situation

Hi, EAIF chair here. I agree with Michelle's comment above, but wanted to reply as well to hopefully help shed more light on our thinking and priorities.

As a preamble, I think all of your requests for information are super reasonable, and that in an ideal world we'd provide such information proactively. The main reason we're not doing so are capacity constraints.

I also agree it would be helpful if we shared more about community building activities we'd especially like to see, such as Buck did here and as some AMA questions may have touched uppn. Again this is because we need to focus our limited capacity on other priorities, such as getting back to applicants in a reasonable timeframe. 

I should also add that I generally think that most of the strategizing about what kind of community building models are most valuable is best done by organizations and people who (unlike the fund managers) focus on the space full time – such as the Groups team at CEA, Open Phil's Longtermist EA Movement Building Team, and the Global Challenges Project. Given the current setup of EA Funds, I think the EAIF will more often be in a role of enabling more such work. E.g., we funded the Global Challenges Project multiple times. Another thing we do is complementing such work by providing an additional source of funding for 'known' models. Us providing funding for university and city groups outside of the priority locations that are covered by higher-touch programs by other funders is an example of the latter.

(I do think we can help feed information into strategy conversation by evaluating how well the community building efforts funded by us have worked. This is one reason why we require progress reports, and we’re also doing more frequent check-ins with some grantees.)

To be clear, if someone has an innovative idea for how to do community building, we are excited and able to evaluate it. It’s just that I don’t currently anticipate us to do much in the vein of coming up with innovative models ourselves.


A few thoughts on your questions:

I wonder if that would have happened if a volunteer organizer came to you and said, "I want to make this my career, but I need to do it full-time and here are reasons I think it is impactful and relatively easy to prove out."

We would be excited to receive such applications.

We would then evaluate the applicant's fit for community building and their plans, based on their track record (while keeping in mind that they could devote only limited time and attention to community building so far), our sense of which kinds of activities have worked well in other comparable locations (while remaining open to experiments), and usually an interview with the applicant.

Can you by chance estimate how many applications you have gotten for full-time community building in American cities?

Unfortunately our grant data base is not set up in a way that would allow me to easily access this information, so all I can do for now is give a rough estimate based on my memory – which is that we have received very few such applications. 

In fact, apart from your application, I can only remember three applications for US-based non-uni city group organizing at all. Two were from the same applicants and for the same city (the second application was an updated version of a previous application – the first one had been unsuccessful, while we funded the second one). The other applicant wants to split their time between uni group (70%) and city group community building (30%). We funded the first of these, the second one is currently under evaluation. 

(And in addition there was a very small grant to a Chicago-based rationality group, but here the applicant only asked for expenses such as food and beverages at meetings.)

It's possible I fail to remember some relevant applications, but I feel 90% confident that there were at most 10 applications for US-based full-time non-uni community building since March 2021, and 60% confident that there were at most 3.

(I do think that in an ideal world we'd be able to break down the summary statistics we include in our payout reports – number of applications, acceptance rate, etc. – by grant type. And so e.g. report these numbers for uni group community building, city group community building, and other coherent categories, separately. But given limited capacity we weren't able to prioritize this so far, and I'm afraid I'm skeptical that we will be able to any time soon.)

I know personally of at least one big US city (much bigger than Austin) which was denied for FTE and a month later approved for PTE, though I think their plans may have improved in the interim.

Was this at the EAIF? I only recall the case I mentioned above: One city group who originally applied for part-time work (30h/week spread across multiple people), was unsuccessful, updated their plans and resubmitted an application (still for part-time work), which then got funded.

It's very possible that I fail to remember another case though.

I think that 1 FTE is usually worth much more than 2 0.5 FTEs.

I generally agree with this.

FWIW a community organizer in DC did tell me that my few months of doing unpaid CB part-time was nowhere near enough to go straight into paid fulltime work, although I wasn't working at that time and was spending about 20 hours a week on CB and getting up to speed and studying CB from EA and nonEA sources.

I can't speak for that DC organizer (or even other EAIF managers), but FWIW for me the length of someone's history with community building work is not usually a consideration when deciding whether to fund them for more community building work – and if so, whether to provide funding for part-time or full-time work.

I think someone's history with community building mostly influences how I'm evaluating an application. When there is a track record of relevant work, there is more room for positive or negative updates based on that, and the applicant's fit for their proposed work is generally easier to evaluate. But in principle it's totally possible for applicants to demonstrate that they clear the bar for funding – including for full-time work – otherwise, i.e., by some combination of demonstrating relevant abilities in an interview, having other relevant past achievements, proposing well thought-through plans in their application, and providing references from other relevant contexts. 

I think part-time vs. full-time most commonly depends on the specific situation of the application and the location – in particular, whether there is 'enough work to do' for a full-time role. (In the context of this post, FWIW I think I agree that often an ambitious organizer would be able to find enough things to do to work full time, which may partly involve running experiments/pilots of untested activities.)

Another consideration can sometimes be the degree of confidence that a candidate organizer is a good fit for community building. It might sometimes make sense to provide someone with a smaller grant to get more data on how well things are going – this doesn't necessarily push for part-time funding (as opposed to full-time funding for a short period), but may sometimes do so. One aspect of this is that I worry more about the risk of crowding out more valuable initiatives when an organizer is funded full-time for an extended period because I think this will send a stronger implicit message to people in that area that valuable community building activities are generally covered by an incumbent professional compared to a situation when someone is funded for specific pilot projects, part-time work, or for a shorter time frame.

Results from the First Decade Review

I'm not sure. – Peter Gabriel, for instance, seems to be an adherent of shorthairism, which I'm skeptical of.

Results from the First Decade Review

The submission in last place looks quite promising to me actually. 

Does anyone know whether Peter Singer is a pseudonym or the author's real name, and whether they're involved in EA already? Maybe we can get them to sign up for an EA Intro Fellowship or send them a free copy of an EA book – perhaps TLYCS?

EA and the current funding situation

I don't know but FWIW my guess is some people might have perceived it as self-promotion of a kind they don't like.

(I upvoted Sanjay's comment because I think it's relevant to know about his agreement and about the plans for SoGive Grants given the context.)

What are the coolest topics in AI safety, to a hopelessly pure mathematician?

Maybe the notes on 'ascription universality' on ai-alignment.com are a better match for your sensibilities.

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