908 karmaJoined Aug 2019New York, NY, USA


Sawyer Bernath is the Executive Director of the Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative (BERI). Prior to joining BERI in July 2019, he was a Production Manager at Research Electro Optics (now Excelitas Boulder) and Head of Production at Modular Robotics. He has a B.S. in physics from Tufts University.


Topic Contributions

Very nice post. "Anarchists have no idols" strikes me as very similar to the popular anarchist slogan, "No gods, no masters." Perhaps the person who said it to you was riffing on that?

I think a simpler explanation for his bizarre actions is that he is probably the most stressed-out person on the face of the earth right now. Or he's not seeing the situation clearly, or some combination of the two. Also probably sleep-deprived, struggling to get good advice from people around him, etc.

(This is not meant to excuse any of his actions or words, I think he's 100% responsible for everything he says and does.)

This sort of falls under the second category, "Grantees who received funds, but want to set them aside to return to creditors or depositors." At least that's how I read it, though the more I think about it the more this category is kind of confusing and your wording seems more direct.

Thanks for the clarification. I agree that the FTX problems are clearly related to crypto being such a new unregulated area, and I was wrong to try to downplay that causal link.

I don't think anonymized donations would help mitigate conflicts of interest. In fact I think it would encourage COIs, since donors could directly buy influence without anyone knowing they were doing so. Currently one of our only tools for identifying otherwise-undisclosed COIs is looking at flows of money. If billionaire A donates to org B, we have a norm that org B shouldn't do stuff that directly helps billionaire A. If that donation was anonymous, we wouldn't know that that was a situation in which the norm applied.

There are some benefits of some level of anonymity in donations. For example, I dislike the practice of  universities putting a donor's name on a building in exchange for a large donation. Seems like an impressive level of hubris. I have more respect for donors who don't aggressively publicize their name in this way. However, I do think that these donations should still be available in public records. Donation anonymousness ranges from "put my name on the building" at one extreme to "actively obscure the source of the donation" at the other.

I have more thoughts on donor transparency but I'll leave it there for now.

Downvoted because I think this is too harsh and accusatory:

I cannot believe that some of you delete your posts simply because it ends up being downvoted.

Also because I disagree in the following ways:

  • Donating anonymously seems precisely opposed to transparency. At the very least, I don't think it's obvious that donor anonymity works towards the values you're expressing in your post. Personally I think being transparent about who is donating to what organizations is pretty important for transparency, and I think this is a common view.
  • I don't think FTX's mistakes are particularly unique to crypto, but rather just normal financial chicanery.
  • "if the only way we aggregate how "good" red-teaming is is by up-votes, that is flawed"
    • IIRC the red-teaming contest did not explicitly consider up-votes in their process for granting awards, and the correlation between upvotes and prize-winners was weak.
  • "What makes EA, EA, what makes EA antifragile, is its ruthless transparency."
    • For better or for worse, I don't think ruthless transparency is a focus or a strength of EA. I agree with your sentence right after that, but I don't think that's much related to transparency.

Yep this is a great point and overlaps with Vardev's comment. If I thought that the money was gained immorally, it would be pretty bad to just return it to the people who did the immoral thing!

Yeah this seems super relevant, great point! To be honest I'm skeptical of how separate "FTX Foundation, Inc." is/was from the rest of the FTX conglomerate. Would be useful to see the Foundation's finances after this all shakes out.

Answer by sawyerNov 11, 20229

Put very vaguely: If it turned out that the money BERI received was made through means which I consider to be immoral, then I think I would return the money, even if that meant cancelling the projects it funded.

But of course I don't know how where my bar for "immoral" is in this case. Also it's probably not the case that all of FTX's profits were immoral. So how do I determine (even in theory) if the money BERI received was part of the "good profits" or the "bad profits"?

Answer by sawyerNov 11, 202217

What if there were a norm in EA of not accepting large amounts of funding unless a third-party auditor of some sort has done a thorough review of the funder's finances and found them to above-board? Obviously lots of variables in this proposal, but I think something like this is plausibly good and would be interested to hear pushback.

What are the specific things you'd want to see on a transparency page? I think transparency is important, and I try to maintain BERI's transparency page, but I'm wondering if it meets your standards.

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