Target 3: Taking It To The Next Level

 |   |  MIRI Strategy

One week ago, we hit our first fundraising target. I’m thrilled to announce that we’re now closing in on our second target: our fundraising total passed $400,000 today!

As we approach target number two, we’re already taking active steps to grow our team. Jessica Taylor joined our core research team on August 1; another research fellow will be coming on in September; and a third researcher has just signed on to join our team in the near future — details forthcoming. These three new recruits will increase the size of our team to six full-time researchers.

We’re courting a few other researchers who may be able to join us later in the year. Meanwhile, we’re running a workshop on logical uncertainty, and we’ve started onboarding a new intern with the aim of helping us with our writing bottleneck.

We’re already growing quickly — but we could still make use of additional funds to pursue a much more ambitious growth plan. Given that we’re only halfway through our fundraiser, this is a good time to start thinking big.

At present, we’re recruiting primarily from a small but dedicated pool of mathematicians and computer scientists who come to us on their own initiative. If our fundraiser successfully passes target number two, any further funds will enable us to pivot toward recruiting top talent more broadly — including highly qualified mathematicians and computer scientists who have never heard of us before.

We have a strong pitch: we’re working on some of the most interesting and important problems in the world, on a research topic which is still in its infancy. There is lots of low-hanging fruit to be picked, and the first papers on these topics will end up defining this new paradigm of research. Researchers at MIRI have a rare opportunity to make groundbreaking discoveries that may play a critical role in AI progress over the next few decades.

Moreover, MIRI researchers don’t have to teach classes, and they aren’t under a “publish or perish” imperative. Their job is just to focus on the most important technical problems they can identify, while leaving the mundane inconveniences of academic research to our operations team. When we make it our priority to recruit the world’s top math talent, we’ll be able to put together a pretty tempting offer!

This is what we’ll do at funding target number three: Take MIRI’s growth to the next level. At this level, we’ll start stepping up our recruitment efforts to build our AI alignment dream team.

Target number three is significantly more ambitious than targets one and two; target one was $250k, and target two was $500k, whereas our third funding target is $1.5M. The more money we raise beyond the $500k level, the more of our next-level growth plans we’ll be able to execute on in the near future. We would execute on some of the below plans at (e.g.) the $750k level, but not all of them.

There are five reasons we can put significantly more funding to good use at this level:

First, to expand our recruiting efforts beyond the pool of people who came to us, we would hire dedicated staff focused specifically on active recruiting. At this level, we hire a research steward with a lot of technical ability who is skilled at engaging with rising stars in AI and mathematics and getting them excited about our research. Dedicated staff could also make it a priority to run seminars at Berkeley, give talks to the graduating classes at places like MIT and Stanford, and start building relationships with professional AI scientists and mathematicians around the world who can point interested talent our way.

Second, if we’re going to start actively recruiting, we’ll need to be confident that we have enough money to actually offer the best people jobs. Increased funding now gives us confidence that we will actually be able to hire on more people and continue to support them over the coming years.

Third, as we reach beyond the community of people who found us on their own, we will have to start offering more competitive salaries. Higher salaries aren’t sufficient to win the best people, but they often are necessary: in the past, we’ve lost potential researchers who wanted to support a family on a single income, or who felt social pressure to stay in the same income bracket as their peers. The market for top talent is competitive, and if we want to pull in the best people, we need to be able to offer market rates.

Fourth, as we increase our growth rate and widen our recruiting pool, we may need to start moving to larger offices, providing better benefits, and building up a bit more runway. When hiring the very best people, it’s important to offer them comfort and job security, especially if academia is the alternative we have to tempt them away from.

Fifth, at a higher funding level we can implement several new administrative projects that will allow us to recruit more effectively, such as by building a map of where all the research talent comes from and goes to, experimenting with different types of talks and seminars to see what works for us, and improving our branding and communication.

Up to now, we’ve been recruiting passively, by publishing ideas on the internet, filtering people who come to us, and building relationships with the very brightest of them. As we approach target three we’ll start recruiting actively, by engaging with a much broader pool of potential researchers.

Our plan is to do this in a way that will also benefit the wider existential risk reduction community. As we get better at recruiting and outreach, we’ll meet more and more bright young people who are interested in addressing the challenges that lie between us and beneficial machine intelligence. In all likelihood, most of them won’t quite fit into the vacancies we have at MIRI, and we’ll point a host of them towards the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford or the Centre for Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge, both of which will also be hiring aggressively this year.

Hitting target three means growing our existing research program as fast as we feel we sustainably can — and that’s an incredibly exciting proposition. If you can help us get there between now and August 30, this could be a massive opportunity for MIRI, and for the wider field of AI alignment research.