Summer MIRI Updates

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In our last major updates—our 2017 strategic update and fundraiser posts—we said that our current focus is on technical research and executing our biggest-ever hiring push. Our supporters responded with an incredible show of support at the end of the year, putting us in an excellent position to execute on our most ambitious growth plans.

In this post, I’d like to provide some updates on our recruiting efforts and successes, announce some major donations and grants that we’ve received, and provide some other miscellaneous updates.

In brief, our major announcements are:

  1. We have two new full-time research staff hires to announce.
  2. We’ve received $1.7 million in major donations and grants, $1 million of which came through a tax-advantaged fund for Canadian MIRI supporters.

For more details, see below.




1. Growth

I’m happy to announce the addition of two new research staff to the MIRI team:

 



Buck Shlegeris: Before joining MIRI, Buck worked as a software engineer at PayPal, and he was the first employee at Triplebyte. He previously studied at the Australian National University, majoring in CS and minoring in math and physics, and he has presented work on data structure synthesis at industry conferences. In addition to his research at MIRI, Buck is also helping with recruiting.

 



Ben Weinstein-Raun: Ben joined MIRI after spending two years as a software engineer at Cruise Automation, where he worked on the planning and prediction teams. He previously worked at Counsyl on their automated genomics lab, and helped to found Hacksburg, a hackerspace in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds a BS from Virginia Tech, where he studied computer engineering.

 

This year we’ve run a few different programs to help us work towards our hiring goals, and to more generally increase the number of people doing AI alignment research:
 

  1. We’ve been co-running a series of invite-only workshops with the Center for Applied Rationality (CFAR), targeted at potential future hires who have strong engineering backgrounds. Participants report really enjoying the workshops, and we’ve found them very useful for getting to know potential research staff hires.1 If you’d be interested in attending one of these workshops, send Buck an email.
     
  2. We helped run the AI Summer Fellows Program with CFAR. We had a large and extremely strong pool of applicants, with over 170 applications for 30 slots (versus 50 applications for 20 slots in 2017). The program this year was more mathematically flavored than in 2017, and concluded with a flurry of new analyses by participants. On the whole, the program seems to have been more successful at digging into AI alignment problems than in previous years, as well as more successful at seeding ongoing collaborations between participants, and between participants and MIRI staff.
     
  3. We ran a ten-week research internship program this summer, from June through August.2 This included our six interns attending AISFP and pursuing a number of independent lines of research, with a heavy focus on tiling agents. Among other activities, interns looked for Vingean reflection in expected utility maximizers, distilled early research on subsystem alignment, and built on Abram’s Complete Class Theorems approach to decision theory.
     

In related news, we’ve been restructuring and growing our operations team to ensure we’re well positioned to support the research team as we grow. Alex Vermeer has taken on a more general support role as our process and projects head. In addition to his donor relationships and fundraising focus, Colm Ó Riain has taken on a central role in our recruiting efforts as our head of growth. Aaron Silverbook is now heading operations; we’ve brought on Carson Jones as our new office manager; and long-time remote MIRI contractor Jimmy Rintjema is now our digital infrastructure lead.3
 

2. Fundraising

On the fundraising side, I’m happy to announce that we’ve received several major donations and grants.

First, following our $1.01 million donation from an anonymous Ethereum investor in 2017, we’ve received a huge new donation of $1.02 million from “Anonymous Ethereum Investor #2”, based in Canada! The donation was made through Rethink Charity Forward’s recently established tax-advantaged fund for Canadian MIRI supporters.4 

Second, the departing administrator of the Long-Term Future Fund, Nick Beckstead, has recommended a $489,000 grant to MIRI, aimed chiefly at funding improvements to organizational efficiency and staff productivity.

Together, these contributions have helped ensure that we remain in the solid position we were in following our 2017 fundraiser, as we attempt to greatly scale our team size. Our enormous thanks for this incredible support, and further thanks to RC Forward and the Centre for Effective Altruism for helping build the infrastructure that made these contributions possible.

We’ve also received a $150,000 AI Safety Retraining Program grant from the Open Philanthropy Project to provide stipends and guidance to a few highly technically skilled individuals. The goal of the program is to free up 3-6 months of time for strong candidates to spend on retraining, so that they can potentially transition to full-time work on AI alignment. Buck is currently selecting candidates for the program; to date, we’ve made two grants to individuals.5
 

3. Miscellaneous updates

The LessWrong development team has launched a beta for the AI Alignment Forum, a new research forum for technical AI safety work that we’ve been contributing to. I’m very grateful to the LW team for taking on this project, and I’m really looking forward to the launch of the new forum.

Finally, we’ve made substantial progress on the tiling problem, which we’ll likely be detailing later this year. See our March research plans and predictions write-up for more on our research priorities.

 

We’re very happy about these newer developments, and we’re particularly excited to have Buck and Ben on the team. We have a few more big announcements coming up in the not-so-distant future, so stay tuned.


  1. Ben was a workshop participant, which eventually led to him coming on board at MIRI. 
  2. We also have another research intern joining us in the fall. 
  3. We’ve long considered Jimmy to be full-time staff, but he isn’t officially an employee since he lives in Canada. 
  4. H/T to Colm for setting up a number of tax-advantaged giving channels for international donors. If you’re a MIRI supporter outside the US, make sure to check out our Tax-Advantaged Donations page. 
  5. We aren’t taking formal applications, but if you’re particularly interested in the program or have questions, you’re welcome to shoot Buck an email.