2258Joined Dec 2014


These will still be massive, and massively expensive, training runs though - big operations that will constitute very big strategic decisions only available to the best-resourced actors. 

This is great! Also, I very much hope that the series on skill-building happens.

I'm not taking a position on the question of whether Nick should stay on as Director, and as noted in the post I'm on record as having been unhappy with his apology (which remains my position)*,  but for balance and completeness I'd like to provide a perspective on the importance of Nick's leadership, at least in the past.

I worked closely with Nick at FHI from 2011 to 2015. While I've not been at FHI much in recent years (due to busyness elsewhere) I remember the FHI of that time being a truly unique-in-academia place; devoted to letting and helping brilliant people think about important challenges in unusual ways. That was in very large part down to Nick - he is visionary, and remarkably stubborn and difficult - with the benefits and drawbacks this comes with. It is difficult to understate the degree of pressure in academia to pull you away from doing something unique and visionary and to instead do more generic things, put time into impressing committees, keeping everyone happy etc**. - It's that stubbornness (combined with the vision) in my view that allowed FHI to come into being and thrive (at least for a time). It is (in my view) the same stubbornness and difficultness that contributes to other issues noted in in the post. 

Whether Nick was the right leader at that time isn't a question to me - FHI couldn't have happened under anyone else. And the great work done by multiple people there (not just Nick), and a fairly remarkable range of fhi alumni post-fhi, must stand to that vision. Whether a different leader would be able to keep the positive aspects of the vision - and fight for them - while also being able to address the problems - maybe, I don't know. 

One model FHI might consider is a meaningful, and properly empowered, co-directorship model. I felt I had a good relationship with Nick at the time, and was able to regularly shut down ideas I thought foolish or unnecessarily annoying to the university (although it was stressful). I was also able to put time into maintaining university relationships for FHI, which seemed to keep things on the rails. But that required me being pretty stubborn too, and it seems like others may have had less success in this regard later on (although I know little of the details).  It may be possible to make such a model work, with a properly empowered fellow director (e.g. an exec director / research director model).

* I am not taking a position on issues raised in the post such as whether Nick's brand is too damaged, etc. This may be the case. For whatever it's worth I never saw/heard racist views during my time at FHI (if I had, I would have left). I do recall initiatives, enthusiastically initiated by Nick, to engage and support scholars from under-represented regions like South America, and to encourage intellectual hubs outside of Europe/North America.
**  I've spent a lot of time trying to navigate these things in academia, and have the scar tissue to show for it.

Reasons I would disagree:
(1) Bing is not going to make us 'not alive' on a coming-year time scale. It's (in my view) a useful and large-scale manifestation of problems with LLMs that can certainly be used to push ideas and memes around safety etc, but it's not a direct global threat.
(2) The people best-placed to deal with EA 'scandal' issues are unlikely to perfectly overlap with the people best-placed to deal wit the opportunities/challenges Bing poses.
(3) I think it's bad practice for a community to justify backburnering pressing community issues with an external issue, unless the case for the external issue is strong; it's a norm that can easily become self-serving.

Thanks for putting this together, very helpful given the growth of activities in the UK!

Strong agree. I've been part of other communities/projects that withered away in this way.

Rees has also written multiple blurbs for Will MacAskill, Nick Bostrom et al.

Great to see such a detailed, focused, and well-researched analysis of this topic, thank you. I haven't yet read beyond the executive summary yet other than a skim of the longer report, but I'm looking forward to doing so.

A clarification that CSER gets some EA funds (combination of SFF, SoGive, BERI in kind,  individual LTFF projects) but likely 1/3 or less of its budget at any given time. The overall point (all these  are a small fraction of overall EA funds) is not affected.

7.4% actually seems quite high to me (for a university without a long-time established intellectual hub, etc); I would have predicted lower in advance.

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