Our 2015 Summer Fundraiser ends in 0 days and 17 hours!

Grants and fundraisers

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Two big announcements today:

1. MIRI has won $299,310 from the Future of Life Institute’s grant program to jumpstart the field of long-term AI safety research.

  • $250,000 will go to our research program over the course of three years. This will go towards running workshops and funding a few person-years of research on the open problems discussed in our technical agenda.
  • $49,310 will go towards AI Impacts, a project which aims to shed light on the implications of advanced artificial intelligence using empirical data and rigorous analysis.

MIRI will also collaborate with the primary investigators on two other large FLI grants:

  • $227,212 has been awarded to Owain Evans at the Future of Humanity Institute to develop algorithms that learn human preferences from data despite human irrationalities. This will be carried out in collaboration with Jessica Taylor, who will become a MIRI research fellow at the end of this summer.
  • $36,750 has been awarded to Ramana Kumar at Cambridge University to study self-reference in the HOL theorem prover. This will be done in collaboration with MIRI research fellow Benja Fallenstein.

The money comes from Elon Musk’s extraordinary donation of $10M to fund FLI’s first-of-its-kind grant competition for research aimed at keeping AI technologies beneficial as capabilities improve.

This funding, coming on the heels of the payments from our sale of the Singularity Summit (which recently concluded) and an extremely generous surprise donation from Jed McCaleb at the end of 2013, means we can continue to ramp up our research efforts. That doesn’t mean our job is done, of course. In January, shortly after the FLI conference, we came to the conclusion that the funding situation for our field was set to improve, and decided to start gearing up for growth. That prediction has turned out to be correct, which puts us in an excellent position.

We’re now, indeed, set to grow—the only question is, “How quickly?” Which brings me to announcement number two.

2. Our summer fundraiser is starting in mid-July, and we’re going to try something new.

Every summer for the past few years, MIRI has run a matching fundraiser, where we get some of our biggest donors to pledge their donations conditional upon your support. Conventional wisdom states that matching fundraisers make it easier to raise funds, and MIRI has had a lot of success with them in the past. They seem to be an excellent way to get donors excited, and the deadline helps create a sense of urgency.

However, a few different people, including the folks over at GiveWell and effective altruism writer Ben Kuhn, have voiced skepticism about the effectiveness of matching fundraisers. Most of our large donors are happy to donate regardless of whether we raise matching funds, and matching fundraisers tend to put the focus on interactions between small and large donors, rather than on the exciting projects that we could be running with sufficient funding.

Our experience with our donors has been that they are exceptionally thoughtful, and that they have thought themselves about how (and how quickly) they want MIRI to grow. So this fundraiser we’d like to give you more resources to make an informed decision about where to send your money, with better knowledge about how different levels of funding will affect our operations.

Details are forthcoming mid-July, along with a whole lot more information about what we’ve been up to and what we have planned.

As always, thanks for everything: it’s exciting to receive one of the very first grants in this burgeoning field, and we haven’t forgotten that it’s only thanks to your support that the field has made it this far in the first place.

Wanted: Office Manager (aka Force Multiplier)

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We’re looking for a full-time office manager to support our growing team. It’s a big job that requires organization, initiative, technical chops, and superlative communication skills. You’ll develop, improve, and manage the processes and systems that make us a super-effective organization. You’ll obsess over our processes (faster! easier!) and our systems (simplify! simplify!). Essentially, it’s your job to ensure that everyone at MIRI, including you, is able to focus on their work and Get Sh*t Done.

That’s a super-brief intro to what you’ll be working on. But first, you need to know if you’ll even like working here.

Read more »

New report: “The Asilomar Conference: A Case Study in Risk Mitigation”

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Today we release a new report by Katja Grace, “The Asilomar Conference: A Case Study in Risk Mitigation” (PDF, 67pp).

The 1975 Asilomar Conference on Recombinant DNA is sometimes cited as an example of successful action by scientists who preemptively identified an emerging technology’s potential dangers and intervened to mitigate the risk. We conducted this investigation to check whether that basic story is true, and what lessons those events might carry for AI and other unprecedented technological risks.

To prepare this report, Grace consulted several primary and secondary sources, and also conducted four interviews that are cited in the report. The interviews are published here:

The basic conclusions of this report, which have not been separately vetted, are:

  1. The specific dangers that motivated the Asilomar conference were relatively immediate, rather than long-term. These dangers turned out to be effectively nonexistent. Experts disagree as to whether scientists should have known better with the information they had at the time.
  2. The conference appears to have caused improvements in general lab safety practices.
  3. The conference plausibly averted regulation and helped scientists to be on better terms with the public. Whether these effects are positive for society depends on (e.g.) whether it is better for this category of scientific activities to go unregulated, a question not addressed by this report.

June 2015 Newsletter

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Machine Intelligence Research Institute

Dear friends of MIRI,

As we announced on May 6th, I've decided to take a research position at GiveWell. With unanimous support from the Board, MIRI research fellow Nate Soares will be taking my place as Executive Director starting June 1st. Nate has introduced himself here.

I’m proud of what the MIRI team has accomplished during my tenure as Executive Director, and I'm excited to watch Nate take MIRI to the next level. My enthusiasm for MIRI’s work remains as strong as ever, and I look forward to supporting MIRI going forward, both financially and as a close advisor. (See here for further details on my transition to GiveWell.)

Thank you all for your support!

– Luke Muehlhauser

Research updates

News updates

Other updates

  • Nick Bostrom's TED talk on machine superintelligence.
  • Effective Altruism Global is this August, in the San Francisco Bay Area (USA), Oxford (UK), and Melbourne (Australia). Keynote speaker is Elon Musk. Apply by June 10th!


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Hello, I’m Nate Soares, and I’m pleased to be taking the reins at MIRI on Monday morning.

For those who don’t know me, I’ve been a research fellow at MIRI for a little over a year now. I attended my first MIRI workshop in December of 2013 while I was still working at Google, and was offered a job soon after. Over the last year, I wrote a dozen papers, half as primary author. Six of those papers were written for the MIRI technical agenda, which we compiled in preparation for the Puerto Rico conference put on by FLI in January 2015. Our technical agenda is cited extensively in the research priorities document referenced by the open letter that came out of that conference. In addition to the Puerto Rico conference, I attended five other conferences over the course of the year, and gave a talk at three of them. I also put together the MIRI research guide (a resource for students interested in getting involved with AI alignment research), and of course I spent a fair bit of time doing the actual research at workshops, at researcher retreats, and on my own. It’s been a jam-packed year, and it’s been loads of fun.

I’ve always had a natural inclination towards leadership: in the past, I’ve led a F.I.R.S.T. Robotics team, managed two volunteer theaters, served as president of an Entrepreneur’s Club, and co-founded a startup or two. However, this is the first time I’ve taken a professional leadership role, and I’m grateful that I’ll be able to call upon the experience and expertise of the board, of our advisors, and of outgoing executive director Luke Muehlhauser.

MIRI has improved greatly under Luke’s guidance these last few years, and I’m honored to have the opportunity to continue that trend. I’ve spent a lot of time in conversation with Luke over the past few weeks, and he’ll remain a close advisor going forward. He and the management team have spent the last year or so really tightening up the day-to-day operations at MIRI, and I’m excited about all the opportunities we have open to us now.

The last year has been pretty incredible. Discussion of long-term AI risks and benefits has finally hit the mainstream, thanks to the success of Bostrom’s Superintelligence and FLI’s Puerto Rico conference, and due in no small part to years of movement-building and effort made possible by MIRI’s supporters. Over the last year, I’ve forged close connections with our friends at the Future of Humanity Institute, the Future of Life Institute, and the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, as well as with a number of industry teams and academic groups who are focused on long-term AI research. I’m looking forward to our continued participation in the global conversation about the future of AI. These are exciting times in our field, and MIRI is well-poised to grow and expand. Indeed, one of my top priorities as executive director is to grow the research team.

That project is already well under way. I’m pleased to announce that Jessica Taylor has accepted a full-time position as a MIRI researcher starting in August 2015. We are also hosting a series of summer workshops focused on various technical AI alignment problems, the second of which is just now concluding. Additionally, we are working with the Center for Applied Rationality to put on a summer fellows program designed for people interested in gaining the skills needed for research in the field of AI alignment.

I want to take a moment to extend my heartfelt thanks to all those supporters of MIRI who have brought us to where we are today: We have a slew of opportunities before us, and it’s all thanks to your effort and support these past years. MIRI couldn’t have made it as far as it has without you. Exciting times are ahead, and your continued support will allow us to grow quickly and pursue all the opportunities that the last year opened up.

Finally, in case you want to get to know me a little better, I’ll be answering questions on the effective altruism forum at 3PM Pacific time on Thursday June 11th.



Two papers accepted to AGI-15

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MIRI has two papers forthcoming in the conference proceedings of AGI-15. The first paper, previously released as a MIRI technical report, is “Reflective variants of Solomonoff induction and AIXI,” by Benja Fallenstein, Nate Soares, and Jessica Taylor.

Two attemptsThe second paper, “Two Attempts to Formalize Counterpossible Reasoning in Deterministic Settings,” by Nate Soares and Benja Fallenstein, is a compressed version of some material from an earlier technical report. This new paper’s abstract is:

This paper motivates the study of counterpossibles (logically impossible counterfactuals) as necessary for developing a decision theory suitable for generally intelligent agents embedded within their environments. We discuss two attempts to formalize a decision theory using counterpossibles, one based on graphical models and another based on proof search.

Fallenstein will be attending AGI-15.

MIRI-related talks from the decision theory conference at Cambridge University

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Recently, MIRI co-organized a conference at Cambridge University titled Self-prediction in decision theory and artificial intelligence. At least six of the conference’s talks directly discussed issues raised in MIRI’s technical agenda:

  1. MIRI research fellow (and soon, Executive Director) Nate Soares gave a talk titled “What is a what if?” (.pdf w/o notes, .pptx w/ notes), on theories of counterfactuals in the context of AI.
  2. MIRI research fellow Patrick LaVictoire gave a talk titled “Decision theory and the logic of provability” (.pdf), on the modal agents framework.
  3. MIRI research fellow Benja Fallenstein gave a talk titled “Vingean reflection” (.pdf).
  4. Googler Vladimir Slepnev, a past MIRI workshop attendee, gave a talk titled “Models of decision-making based on logical counterfactuals” (.pdf).
  5. MIRI research associate Stuart Armstrong (Oxford) gave a talk titled “Anthropic decision theory” (.pdf, video).
  6. The conference also coincided with a public lecture by Stuart Russell titled “The long-term future of artificial intelligence” (video).

Our thanks to everyone who attended, and especially to our co-organizers: Arif Ahmed, Huw Price, and Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh!

A fond farewell and a new Executive Director

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LukeMeuhlhauser_w135Dear friends and supporters of MIRI,

I have some important news to share with you about the future of MIRI.

Given my passion for doing research, I’m excited to have accepted a research position at GiveWell. Like MIRI, GiveWell is an excellent cultural fit for me, and I believe they’re doing important work. I look forward to joining their team on June 1st. I’m also happy to report that I will be leaving MIRI in capable leadership hands.

Back in 2011, when MIRI’s Board of Directors asked me to take the Executive Director role, I was reluctant to leave the research position I held at the time. But I also wanted to do what best served MIRI’s mission. Looking back at the past three years, I’m proud of what the MIRI team has accomplished during my tenure as Executive Director. We’ve built a solid foundation, and our research program has picked up significant momentum. MIRI will continue to thrive as I transition out of my leadership role.

My enthusiasm for MIRI’s work remains as strong as ever, and I look forward to supporting MIRI going forward, both financially and as a close advisor. I’ll also continue to write about the future of AI on my personal blog.

Nate Soares will be stepping into the Executive Director role upon my departure, with unanimous support from myself and the rest of the Board.

Nate was our top choice for many reasons. During the past year at MIRI, Nate has demonstrated his commitment to the mission, his technical abilities, his strong work ethic, his ability to rapidly acquire new skills, his ability to work well with others, his ability to communicate clearly, his ability to think through big-picture strategic issues, and other aspects of executive capability.

During the transition, I’ll be sharing with Nate everything I think I’ve learned in the past three years about running an effective research institute, and I look forward to seeing where he leads MIRI next.

MIRI continues to seek additional research and executive capacity, and our need for both will only grow as I depart and as Nate transitions from a research role to the Executive Director role. If you are a math or computer science researcher, or if you have significant executive experience, and you are interested in participating in MIRI’s vital and significant research effort, please apply here.