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EA Hotel with free accommodation and board for two years

[Posted about previously here and here]

 

Overview

Do you long to be free from material needs and be able to focus on the real work you want to do? I know I’ve certainly been in that situation a few times in the past, but instead have lost time doing unimportant and menial jobs in order to be able to get by financially. Talented effective altruists losing time like this is especially tragic given that a lot of cause areas are currently constrained by the amount of quality direct work being done in them.

Buildings in the run-down seaside holiday resort of Blackpool (UK) are really cheap. I’ve bought a 17 bedroom hotel with dining room, lounge and bar for £130k. Assuming a 7% rental yield (which is reasonably high), this works out at about £45 per person per month rent. Factoring in bills, catering, and a modest stipend/entertainment budget, living costs could be as low as £5700/person/year (or lower for people sharing rooms, see budget). This is amazing value for hotel living with all basic services provided.

The idea is to invite people to live there, with all their expenses covered by donors, for up to two years. Funding is already in place (via me) for the first year of operations. The project will be managed by someone who lives on site and deals with all the admin/finances, shopping/cooking/cleaning/laundry, socials/events and morale - they will also have free living expenses, and be paid a modest salary. Note that this should be considered as a potential high impact, high prestige supporting role, for those excited to be involved in such a capacity on an EA mission. Guests will be free from concerns of material survival, and be able to have prolonged and uninterrupted focus on whatever projects they are working on. Obviously these will be largely limited to purely desk-based, or remote work. Potential people suited to being guests are those who want to:

- self-study economics, philosophy, science, AI, programming etc, in order to contribute to future efforts in various EA cause areas, without having to worry about - or waste time - getting (mostly irrelevant or menial) paid work in order to fund themselves

- immerse themselves in desk-based research/writing on an EA-related subject without having to worry about fundraising, a job, grants, teaching, tenure etc.

- work on a mostly software or research based start-up/project(/phase of a project) without having to worry about runway (be it for profit with a view to earning to give, or an EA-aligned/adjacent charity)

A somewhat out of the way location with little in the way of outside distractions most of the year, combined with fully catered living arrangements, should be ideal for engaging in deep work (usual focusing hacks applied)

Whilst a simple pledge to work on useful EA things is required (“I pledge to work towards doing the most good that I can whilst staying at the hotel”), there is no formal requirement for people to produce more value than is put in to help them. Given the low costs involved, it’s a fairly low bar to clear though - produce more value in a year than £5700 donated to the most effective charity (+ opportunity cost; for more see Value Proposition section). And just one major success will make the whole thing worth it. A useful analogy might be a catered and managed university residence (paid for by a grant), or perhaps even New York’s Chelsea Hotel, which produced billions of dollars worth of art, despite many guests not paying rent (and was an inspiration for this project). The slightly anarchic feel to it with a lack of formal structure does appeal too. Not requiring people to submit detailed grant applications is also something that may seem like a breath of fresh air to people used to continually chasing funding against the odds. This can only be fairly done though if assuming a relatively low demand. Which I expect from it being in Blackpool and not somewhere more happening like London or the Bay Area. Of course if demand levels increase to be significantly higher than supply, then this can be reassessed.

Read on for more detail, or skip to the final section (Next Steps) to get involved!

 

Outline

Life at the EA Hotel

Why Blackpool?

The Hotel Manager

Other uses for the hotel

Value proposition

Sustainability, risks and organisation

Next Steps

Acknowledgements

Footnotes

Appendix: Budget

 

Life at the EA Hotel

Facilities at the hotel will be fairly basic, but adequate for anyone accustomed to living in an average house-share or student residence in a European country. In fact, given that two thirds of the rooms have en suite bathrooms, it might be a cut above what many people are used to, at least in that regard. A sense of community will be encouraged through shared meals and regular socialising, but given the work focus, perhaps the vibe will lean more toward “monastery” than “party house”, although capturing some of the spirit of EA Globals would be nice.

Given the location and the aesthetics, living at the hotel will perhaps have more appeal for people who don’t care about status so much, at least in the usual ways (shiny things, cool locations, luxuries, start-up style offices etc). It will appeal more to people who care about concrete achievements, and furthering their EA goals, over signalling (counter-signalling of virtue notwithstanding!).

Having low levels of noise and general disruption most of the time will be required for the hotel to be a productive environment (evening socialising excepted). To this end, cleaning will be done at set times (say a weekend rotor, with each room being done at roughly the same time every week; weekends being when people are least likely to be either working, sleeping, or in their rooms[1]), and sound insulation can be put in if need be. The roads adjacent to the hotel are generally very quiet, being side streets. In the summer, with many holiday makers in the area there is more noise coming from outside, but so far (a couple of weeks into holiday season) this hasn’t been too much of an issue. For working, desks will be provided in each room, and fast internet (broadband services are currently limited to “up to 76Mb”. There is reasonable 4G coverage though). There are also plenty of tables in both the bar and dining room, and seating in the lounge, for people to work at outside of meal times. These areas will also be useful for group work, meetings, workshops and events (see below). The bar (pictured below[2]) can seat 40 people, the dining room 32 and the lounge 12. Perhaps a convention could be made for one of the large rooms to be for working, and the other socialising, outside of mealtimes, evenings and weekends. This would help people who benefit from having separate work-and non-work locations, and help keep groups on task (less distraction from other groups having a break and socialising).

EA Hotel bar (I published this post from the table in the corner)

Given zoning regulations in Blackpool, the hotel will remain nominally as a public facing hotel. Whilst in general there will be no advertising to the public (online or elsewhere), and normal prices will be set at the high end of the market, the option to host non-EA guests will be there. This will likely only be exercised in order to bolster the financial health of the project if necessary; “No Vacancies” signs feature in the front windows by default. Having the odd few outsiders stay might be good for the health of the community though, to guard against it becoming too insular.

Guests will be free to have their own guests stay in their rooms, but if they aren’t EAs doing EA work, then they will be required to contribute toward costs (at something like the cost price - £10-15/day food and accommodation. See budget). The same will apply for partners (costs for double rooms will be about 25% less per person). Most of the rooms are double rooms, and some are twin and even family rooms (three beds). Given this, EA couples, or groups of two or three good friends staying in the same room, could increase the capacity of the hotel and further boost its expected cost effectiveness. Small groups are also welcome even if not sharing a room, e.g. early stage EA startups, or already formed study/research groups (like the AI Safety Camp). If possible, they could have their own “wing” of the hotel, or even a whole floor.

There is a licensed bar at the hotel. Maintaining this could help with sustainable revenue, although having someone work on the bar could make it net negative given the relatively little that EAs tend to drink. Perhaps the bar could be open infrequently - say Friday nights and special occasions. In any case, it will be best to restrict its opening to a few hours in the evening, to minimise noise and distraction. However, after dinner events will likely be a regular feature. Expect people giving talks about their work, structured group discussions, and games (I have got a couple of old CEA/FHI favourites - Resistance and Pandemic, plus Pandemic Legacy for a twist).

The food will be all vegan, with plenty of variety and healthy yet tasty meals being provided (at a consistent quality that will likely be significantly higher than most who cook for themselves are used to - think something like this), all without guests having to plan, shop, cook, or clean up! Veganism is fairly mainstream in EA now, given the presence of animals in most people’s moral circles, so hopefully this won’t put off too many potential guests[3]. Special dietary requirements (e.g. food allergies) will be catered for. Cleaning and laundry will also be done for guests; sheets and towels changed once a week. Basic concierge services will be provided like taking deliveries of mail and packages. Having not only free accommodation, but also free meals, and cleaning and laundry done for them, will enable guests to increase their productivity by giving them not only 1-2 hours more time per day, but also a lighter cognitive load, and less stress. Whilst not the lap of luxury - no room service, or daily fresh sheets - this is still a pretty high standard of living, for a very low cost (and free to guests).

With the all inclusive services of set mealtimes and menus, laundry and cleaning, the hotel will be more suited to people who are flexible and easy going. Options for self-service laundry, and basic food and drink preparation facilities (kettle in room, microwave in communal area) will be made available however, for people who are more particular with their eating and clothes washing. There is also cost-price meal-replacement powder available via Queal, as per a generous offer from founder Floris Wolswijk (with thanks to Remmelt Ellen). Communal mealtimes will be encouraged though, as a way for camaraderie and a sense of community to develop amongst guests. Friendships will be formed, problems, and their solutions, discussed, and some amount of fun and laughter will be had too hopefully! Also, some people may find that the inevitable discussion of work that will arise will lead to some amount of peer pressure that will aid in keeping them productive.

Such peer pressure could also work in reverse too though, causing people to dread having to talk to people, and hide away in their rooms when they are procrastinating a lot. Or maybe it will have little effect and unproductive people will end up being the most social. Which could be good for morale, but perhaps dent others’ productivity (this was me, and some other Grad Bar regulars, during most of my PhD). People slacking off/procrastinating too much is a potential problem in terms of how much value the hotel creates. I have mixed feelings about this as someone who procrastinated for the majority of my PhD. It was during that procrastination that I read LessWrong, read about proto-EA stuff, researched 3D printing and open source hardware, which became a business for me after, etc. Sometimes having that kind of flexibility can lead to things that wouldn’t have happened in more stringent environments. Giving people freedom to do what they want can be a good thing, as long as their motivations are aligned (i.e. are EA; see e.g.).

Others may respond to a more structured setting though. Having attended the AI Safety Camp in Gran Canaria, where there is some overlap between the attendees and potential guests at the hotel, I have updated in terms of potential guests being more conscientious. Camp attendees were very diligent and productive, but some of this could be attributed to the external demand of having to present their work at the end of the 10 days. To provide some structure at the hotel, having someone fulfil a role of “work coordinator” could be useful (H/T Maia Pasek). Such a coordinator would be available for people to meet with to discuss their work, and help resolve any issues they may have (connect them to helpful people, suggest strategies for increasing output etc). I think it would be more fitting with the stress-minimising free living nature of the hotel to not require mandatory meetings with such a coordinator, but if people feel they need a motivation kick, they could ask for regular meetings. The hotel manager could perhaps fulfil this role during the 3 hours of office hours timetabled for giving advice/mentoring. In terms of guarding against people becoming freeloaders (or effectively squatters), perhaps there could be a mandatory minimum of very brief (one page) reports on progress to be filed every three months. There would also be some indirect self-generated pressure from guests worrying about donors getting their money’s worth (although perhaps this will only be applicable for the more highly scrupulous). But then there would have to be a mechanism for chucking people out if they are achieving very little. The hard cap of two years on length of free stays per person will be an ultimate limiter, but it might be prudent to proceed with caution regarding taking on long term residents (perhaps a three month probation period would be useful).

Truly strong reasons for ejecting people from the hotel would be severe conflict between guests or abuse. To this end, a code of conduct, and conflict resolution procedures would be put in place. These can be adapted from what EA Global has in place, for example. Guests and staff would be required to agree to abide by them at the start of their tenancies/contracts. When it comes to the practicalities of implementing such policies, having people skilled and experienced in such matters (especially the Hotel Manager) would be ideal.

Guests who have problems with executive function and motivation might benefit from various methods of self-improvement. It is expected that these will largely be practiced in a self-organised manner amongst guests (with the encouragement of the manager[4]), although the odd workshop (such as CFAR) wouldn’t go amiss for those who are keen. Guests with problems that extend beyond the financial and those which can be hacked away at with self-improvement methods would benefit from having understanding people around. Perhaps a counsellor even. The Hotel Manager could double as a “morale officer”, but may not have enough time for many people needing help. Having another member of staff as a full time morale officer/mentor/work coordinator would significantly add to costs, but might be worth it in terms of potential payoff. Although having said this, I think just having a strong community will be enough to keep most people motivated, in good spirits and productive.

Some guests might appreciate having companion animals around (e.g. cats or dogs), for comfort, stress relief, or maybe even to help viscerally expand their moral circle of concern. The down sides are feeding them non-vegan diets, increasing wild animal suffering (e.g. cats catching birds) and food hygiene issues (e.g. dogs eating human food in kitchen). On balance I think the default of no non-human animals might be best, but if many guests want to live with one, and there are no strong objections from other guests, then it’s a possibility.

 

Why Blackpool?

Property prices in the north of England are very low compared to the population centres of the South-East. In particular, towns that have seen their economies decline, such as Blackpool, are perhaps upwards of ten times cheaper than London. Note that Blackpool is fairly close to Manchester (1hr drive, 1.5hr train/bus), where the newly active EA Manchester is. It has the benefits of being in a rich anglophone country with stable and relatively easy to navigate institutions. Although visas may be an issue for people outside of the EU (and with Brexit, perhaps increasingly for people within the EU too). Alternatives with similar low costs and relative stability (and a better climate!) can be found in South-East Asia (some work has been done before researching low cost locations for EA hubs). However, I have strong personal ties to the UK, and as such, as funder and instigator of the project, prefer it to be within reasonable reach.

Regarding quality of life, Blackpool may be fairly dull most of the year (outside holiday season), but there is a certain charm to the bleakness of the beach in off season, with its wide open vistas largely empty of people, the sea, and wheeling murmurations of starlings (see picture below[5]). Walks featuring long horizons are good for thinking. The beach is just two minutes’ walk from the hotel. There is also the picturesque and award winning Stanley Park just a mile inland. The national parks of the Lake District, and Yorkshire Dales, and several Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty are also relatively nearby. And Scotland isn’t that far. Anyway, given 10-20 EAs living together, and regular visitors, a vibrant community can be built around the hotel itself. The local economy may be in decline, but that shouldn’t matter too much as we're independent of it in terms of the work we are doing. In other words, the risk of contagion of SLS (“Shit Life Syndrome”) should be minimal. It’s nice to be in a place with lots going on; a big city like London, or Manchester, for example. However, when it comes down to it, many people who live in such vibrant places often fail to take full advantage of them. One of the reasons my housemates and I moved to Manchester last year was that it’s a big city with a lot going on. However, in practice we rarely left the house, so as I said a few times - we might as well have been in Blackpool! Manchester is also only an hour to an hour-and-a-half away, should people staying at the Blackpool hotel feel the need for more entertainment than Blackpool can provide.

Blackpool beach in December

Regarding Manchester, living costs are about double what they are in Blackpool, so still fairly cheap. If the hotel idea proves popular, and there are people who would live at something like that in Manchester, but not in Blackpool, then it may be worth a try doing something similar in Manchester. London is probably double the costs again, so at that point the bar is significantly higher in terms of paying for living costs being positive EV when compared with donations to highly effective charities. Assuming most people working at highly effective charities have similar “big city” living costs, it’s then more of a level playing field in terms of “is this EA producing as much value on a day to day basis as someone working at a highly effective EA charity” (although you can take off the charity’s overheads in terms of employing someone, and employment taxes. More on this in the Value Proposition section).

 

The Hotel Manager

The Hotel Manager role is suited to someone who’s happiest when assisting others in achieving as much good as possible; someone who’s interested in playing a vital role on an important mission.  If the project is successful, it will become a high impact position.

The Manager will live on site and deal with all the admin, finances, shopping, cooking, dishwashing, cleaning, laundry, socials, events and morale - they will also have free living expenses, and be paid a modest salary (£20,000/year[6]). Ideally they will be a competent cook. All the cooking, cleaning and laundry for 17+ people is too much for one person to take on in addition to management tasks, so part time staff and external services will be hired to to do some of these tasks. The laundering of bed linen and towels is contracted out to a service that costs ~£2/guest/week (which is economical when compared with hiring staff to do it and managing them). Cleaning will be done by external contractors on weekends. Perhaps one or two guests could volunteer to help out in the kitchen for the evening meal (breakfast will be a simple buffet of cereal, toast, and fruit most days, perhaps a cooked breakfast at the weekend; and lunch will be salads, DIY sandwiches, crisps, fruit and other snacks, and leftovers from dinner the night before.) With part time staff and some small amount of volunteering and self-service amongst guests, there should be enough slack in the system for the Hotel Manager to have weekends off and a standard five weeks of holiday per year. One or two guests can also be paid to take on critical roles if necessary when the manager is away.

When the hotel was at full capacity in the heydays of the 1980s, there were four or five staff. However, most of the work was restaurant related. Having serve-yourself buffet breakfasts and lunches, and a choice of say two options for each dinner, makes the food preparation a lot easier when compared to an average hotel that has many options on the menu and is making meals individually or in small batches to order. So the job will not be on the level of full time chef and full time hotel manager in one. All necessary training, such as attending food hygiene and licensed bar management courses will be provided (the bar will probably only be open one night a week).

Ideally, it will be good to have the Hotel Manager start as soon as possible[7], so they can help get the hotel fixed up (some amount of repairs need doing) and meeting regulations (make sure all safety certificates and licenses are in order). There is also work to be done in setting up the organisational structure - a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, for which trustees need to be found[7a], a charter written, and incorporation documents filed (see Sustainability, risks and organisation section below) - and getting it in a position to sponsor visas for overseas guests. And backend systems for admin, like a website, booking system and accounts spreadsheets need to be built.

The role of Hotel Manager will require a highly motivated self-starter with a generalist skillset and good people skills. Hiring a competent manager could end up as a “chicken and egg” situation, whereby the project might need to be successful already in order to attract the necessary talent. I have hopes that someone from within the EA movement who sees the potential in the project can be found though. In the event that there is no one suitable candidate, the role could be split into two part time roles, perhaps along the lines of having a public facing “community manager” and a back room “operations manager”.

 

Other uses for the hotel

With two large common rooms - the bar and the dining room - and a smaller lounge, the hotel is also well-suited to hosting workshops, conferences, and research retreats, such as the AI Safety Camp, or rationality workshops. Maybe even coding bootcamps. The bar has seating for 40 people, the dining room 32, and the lounge 12. I'd say the hotel should be comfortable up to about 35 day-time participants at a workshop/conference, and 70-100 for a party. These could be run at very low cost, with the infrastructure already in place. Of course, if the hotel is full with residents, alternative accommodation will need to be supplied for some (or all) of the event guests. It should be fairly easy to have excess guests stay in nearby B&Bs if need be - the immediate area (within 50m) is full of them, and the prices are generally quite low (and the amount of excess capacity high). And even if the hotel is hosting an event, it should still be possible to feed the non-attending guests at mealtimes too if people sit in both the dining room and the bar.

The hotel was advertised as 18 bedrooms, but there are in fact 17 as there is no number 13![8] There are also three rooms in the basement, and two in the attic, but these do not meet regulations so are for storage/occasional/emergency use (I - and/or other Trustees[9] - can stay in the attic if the hotel is otherwise full, and the basement can be the nuclear bunker). Most of the rooms are double or twin rooms, with a few singles and triples ("family" rooms); 35 people could stay in total if the hotel is filled to its current bed capacity with most people sharing (see “Rooms” sheet here). Even more could stay were some of the larger rooms made into 4- or 6-bed dorm rooms with the addition of bunkbeds. In this scenario, there are still more than enough bathrooms (12 rooms have en suite shower rooms, and there is a stand alone shower on each floor).

In order to help keep the hotel both well occupied and on a good financial footing, rooms could also be offered for rent to visitors from the EA community who may or may not be working on important things during their stay. People pledging to do EA work will have precedence (and of those, people requiring a free stay). More on this in the following “Value proposition” section.

Another idea for empty rooms is offering outsiders the chance to purchase a kind of “catastrophic risk insurance”; paying, say, £1/day to reserve the right to live at the hotel in the event of a global (or regional) catastrophe. When they make it to the hotel, they would then pay their share of the costs of living[10]. In the case of a nuclear exchange elsewhere in the world, people may want to leave big cities like London, and move to stay in a safer place with known allies. They would be paying to reserve their right to do so. Also, growing the EA community in Northern England in general could be seen as a hedge against x-risk, i.e lessen the number of eggs (EAs) in the same, higher risk baskets (London and the South East). Blackpool might be hard to get to in the event of a catastrophe, but the flip side of this is that there would be a lower risk from hostile actors (mercenaries, milita), as well as lower direct damage from nukes and fallout. However, as a safe house it has the disadvantage of it’s address being public knowledge.

The cellars could serve as a nuclear bunker of moderate protection. It will be relatively low cost to keep a stockpile of long lasting food down there, which could be slowly used and replenished by the kitchen over a 2-5 year cycle. There is already bathroom plumbing down there, and other essentials could be easily added.

 

Value proposition

In terms of a value proposition, it will be hard to assign quantitative value to the outputs of this project with any precision. It’s essentially speculative investing in the EA potential of the guests. There will be compounding effects from those who successfully “level up” in their abilities (such as study and research), and from the work they produce. Future effects of the work done will also have a high variance, and involve many unknowns. This is essentially a form of “hits based giving”. And as with any hits based giving, the baseline that it has to beat is using the same resources on relatively well quantified low-risk interventions, such as those promoted by GiveWell. In this case £5700[11]/guest/year donated to the most effective charity, plus the opportunity cost of what guests would otherwise be doing, which presumably would be fairly low in the situation where staying at the hotel is the best option. Although perhaps the opportunity cost could be of the same order - a couple of thousand pounds a year given to EA charities (10% of a median salary). Again, as with all “hits based” things, it’ll only take one major success for the whole project to be worthwhile.

If there is not enough demand from EAs wanting to stay for free to fill the hotel, empty rooms could be filled with paying guests to help cover costs. People paying cost price (~£210-700/person/month, dependent on occupancy, see budget) would keep costs the same regardless of number of paying and free guests. People paying more would reduce the cost of hosting guests for free. In the event of empty rooms being available, EAs would be welcome to stay and pay cost price, whether working or not, in order to boost community; people not committing to EA stuff are welcome to stay and pay at a markup. In the case of half the guests paying at a markup and half being hosted for free, costs for hosting the free guests would be reduced by the markup. As an example, assuming all 16 guest bedrooms are filled by a single occupant, cost price (excluding stipend) is £330/month per guest. In the case of eight free/cost price guests, and eight guests paying at a 50% markup, costs will be £165/month per free guest, or £3500/year factoring in the £30/week stipend. At the extreme, charging a 100% markup + £30/week (£825/month[11]) for half the rooms would make the hotel revenue neutral, and there would be zero cost for hosting eight free EA guests and the Hotel Manager. This (£780/month) compares favourably to market rates of between £15 and £60 a night for hotels and similar for Airbnbs, especially considering those prices don’t include food. There may be scope to roll this out as a sustainable (non-profit) business model for EA hotels around the world.

Factoring in shorter stays with gaps, the average yield from rooms with paying guests would be reduced, so even with half the rooms set aside for paying guests, if charging a 50% markup, costs for the free guests might realistically be reduced by 10-35%. Costs could perhaps be further offset by charging for meals separately at a higher markup. Perhaps £2.50 for breakfast, £2.50 for lunch, and £5 for dinner, v.s. £2.75/day cost price for food. Separating out the room and board costs might lead to more people eating out though, and overall less revenue coming in.

For many guests, it is anticipated that the hotel will act as a stepping stone to bigger things. A free stay of up to two years should be sufficient to complete a large enough amount of work to enable good future opportunities; ones that would have not been readily available otherwise, be they jobs at EA organisations earned after studying relevant fields, or investment opportunities earned after the creation of a successful start up. The rationale for having two years as a default timescale is that it’s long enough to get deep into work, without having to plan next moves for a while, but not so long as to overly encourage freeloading or dependence. However, in exceptional circumstances the limit will be open to being extended (say a major piece of work is not quite finished, or high value independent research is being continually produced).

In order to help maximise the flourishing of guests’ potential, having an additional member of staff as a full time morale officer/mentor/work coordinator could well be worth it, not only for the guests themselves, but in terms of potential payoff in value created.

Some of you may be thinking: instead of going to all the trouble buying a hotel and starting a new organisation, why not just give people the money instead? Well, for it to be equivalent, they would have to be living (or go to live) somewhere where the costs of living are comparable, otherwise I would effectively be buying them time at a much higher cost. For example, someone frugal living in London might be able to get by on £15,000 a year. So for the same costs they would get about a third of the time; and this is before factoring in the free time-saving services (cooking, laundry, cleaning etc). So unless they were ~4x as productive as the average hotel guest, this would be a bad deal for me as a donor[12]. Also, the community aspect of having a significant number of EAs in the same place is probably worth something too in terms of increased focus, collaboration and morale boosting productivity. Community building via deeper in-person ties is becoming increasingly important to the further development of the EA movement (see here and here).

If people were to live somewhere like South-East Asia, they could probably get the equivalent bang for their buck in terms of living expenses. In fact, I know of a few EAs who are doing this already. To be consistent I, or the organisation this becomes, should also offer grants for budding EA digital nomads. It will be even better if a group of digital nomads formed a hub so there was some kind of focal point for people wanting to do this.

When CEA was starting out, they managed group houses in Oxford for their workers and volunteers. After a while, once Oxford was more established as an EA hub, they decided it best to free up their valuable time and let their staff self-organise their own accommodation and shared houses. The same model could be applied for EAs forming hubs in cheap locations. Perhaps this project could act as an initial focal point, and manage initial accommodation in each location. Maybe the umbrella organisation could be called “EA Hotels and Low-cost Living”?

For consistency, grants should be given in general to any EA whose living costs are low enough. Would this cause perverse incentives though? All else being equal, it’s much better to give promising people an amount that allows them a lot of freedom and slack. However, this makes the value proposition proportionally lower. Providing grants only at low levels of living costs is a better investment for the donor, but it also leaves a gap for people who don’t want to - or aren’t in a position to - radically alter their lifestyles but still need their living costs covered in order to do (more) useful EA things. Given that EA (as a movement) seems to have plenty of cash at the moment, perhaps there is room for this space to grow. I can envisage a hierarchy where the bigger grants have more stringent demands and more competition. I guess this is just the current non-profit (and for profit!) landscape, but for individuals instead of organisations. There are already many such grants in the forms of prizes and scholarships at the high end, but not much at the low end, so this is perhaps where the opportunity is.

There has been some debate recently about funding people/projects at the low end and whether donors are being too risk averse. I think we’re probably at the point where there are more false negatives than false positives, so more chances can be taken on people at the low end. Scammers can be avoided, at least in the first instance, by requiring a prior history of involvement in EA and references from people with standing in the community. The bigger risk is well intentioned but ineffective grant recipients (/hotel guests) just not delivering. However, we are likely already in a situation where EAs frequently go off on their own to work on individual projects that don’t deliver, but we don't hear much about it because of selection effects/social desirability bias (though there are welcome exceptions that come to mind[13]). The hotel scheme makes this more transparent if it is indeed occurring, and it gives us a testbed to try out interventions (H/T John Maxwell). Such failure to deliver will be mitigated by the low costs involved (meaning that there is a lower bar to what level of productivity could be considered effective), but is nevertheless something to keep in mind.

It’s worth noting that in a situation where a potential investment has high risk, but also has high upside potential, the answer to the question of how much to invest is often “a small amount” as opposed to “zero” (Pascal’s mugging does not apply when there aren’t that many similar opportunities, and certainly not enough to come close to draining all your capital. This is certainly the case with the current EA movement[14]).  There is also still the risk of “ideological nepotism” (“rewarding people solely for ascribing to the right values and knowing the right memes”) (H/T David Krueger) to contend with. To a certain extent this plays a role in any community that has shared beliefs and culture; nevertheless, being aware of it should help reduce it. The dynamics of status and prestige in the non-profit world seem to be geared toward being averse to risk-of-failure to a much greater extent than in the for-profit world (see e.g. the high rate of failure for VC funded start-ups). Perhaps we need to close this gap, considering that the bottom line results of EA activity are often considered in terms expected utility.

In line with the "hits-based giving" angle, there are large potential upsides to this project. If the project is successful and hotel residents are able to generate value in a way that's clear to other EAs, then we've got a workable pilot for decreasing EA living expenses by a large factor, meaning donor dollars can go that much further. There are also huge potential upsides in terms of community building (imagine a year-round EA Global), funding projects that are less legible to donors, and deploying donor dollars in a way that reduces perverse incentives (the possibility of perverse incentives might be a large part of what’s holding back EAs from giving money to each other) (H/T John Maxwell).

Why a Hotel? Hotels offer a high standard of living (catering, cleaning, laundry services), and are efficient in terms of resource use (catering for many people at once, buying in bulk[15]). Whilst normally associated with holidays, they actually can be viewed as enabling high productivity in general - whether that is a high productivity of leisure, or work. This list describes the benefits, although obviously the Blackpool EA Hotel will not include everything on it. Here is a list of notable people who have lived in hotels, and some discussion. Quite apart from matters of efficient living, there is a certain romanticism about the idea of living in a hotel, evocative of mid-20th century cinema. The EA Hotel: Blackpool will be at the low end, but may inspire other projects that take it to another level (see x-risk hub discussion below).

Having a set-up where there is plenty of communal space, but also private rooms for working, gives the best of both worlds in terms of deep solo work and serendipitous collaboration, as illustrated in Cal Newport’s hub-and-spoke model.

Other options for low cost living include large shared houses, and converted warehouses. Some houses with many bedrooms in Blackpool have similar low costs per bedroom as the cheap hotels; see this list from a popular property website (it was searching on this website with a wide range and sorting by price low-to-high, and reading about the Chelsea Hotel, that gave me this idea. Along with initial priming from research into hotels for communal living by John Beshir). Large shared houses can benefit from economies of scale if tenants are highly communal in their shopping and cooking. Without explicit organisation from the outset, it is generally rare for such high levels of coordination to happen though (I have not lived in a shared house where it has, despite the best intentions of many housemates in several houses). Converted warehouses are similar to large shared houses, but have the potential advantage of significantly lower rents. There are buildings in the Blackpool area where it might be possible (given planning permission) to make rooms for perhaps as low as £3000/room (compared to £7500/room for the hotel). However, already once you are getting as low as £7500/room, effective rent costs start to become a small fraction of living costs (<20% See budget), so even reducing them to zero can only help so much.

Living costs in a shared house could be lower still than the hotel, but not by much more than approximately 35%, which is the fraction of the above costs taken up by staff wages (Staff costs are approx £30k out of an £87k annual budget[16]). So perhaps £3500/year. Going down to absolute minimum levels of food spending (£1/day is possible with bread and margarine, peanut butter, porridge, bananas, carrots and rice), costs could perhaps be as low as £2800 a year. EAs who want more independent living can form group houses nearby, which would be open to being funded by this project. Of course living in a shared house and doing all meals and cleaning yourself might reduce productive EA hours by a few a week, so funding would probably be given at a slightly reduced rate compared to the hotel to factor this in.

I haven’t found many good examples of already existing projects that are similar to this one. Newspeak House in London provides fellowships to people who share a common cause (political technologists focusing on digital democracy); whilst fellows have accommodation provided, they largely need to provide for themselves. Historically, there has been the Chelsea Hotel. There has been much discussion in the EA community of housing projects, and forming new (low cost) hubs, but thus far, progress has been relatively slow, with a few group houses with EA, or part-EA missions coming to fruition (e.g.). The hard part of all projects of this kind is getting people to actually move![17] In the adjacent rationalist community there are many more group houses, many with a proportion of EA residents. No real low cost hubs have formed as of yet though.

Blackpool Tower and tramlines along the Promenade

X-risk focused EAs in the Geneva area have under consideration, as part of a wider strategy, an x-risk hub, that would both be a focal point for discussion of x-risk with wider society (plugged in to the global diplomacy scene there), and an incubator for new talent. The grand vision is for something much larger and more luxurious; a large complex for 100+ residents with games room, music room, sports facilities, kids play area etc (although it would have apartments rather than a hotel format). It would provide a pipeline for talent to level up and move on to working at x-risk orgs, as well as hosting its own x-risk org focused on global coordination and implementing the fruits of research. This might sound like a rather extravagant use of EA funding, but given the nature of x-risk the return in expected value could easily be well worth it (concerns about Pascal’s mugging notwithstanding). Also, given that OpenPhil are likely to spend a lot more on x-risk in the near future, it is a distinct possibility that something like this could get funded. Although to be clear, the people behind this 100+ resident x-risk hub idea feel that there is insufficient evidence to justify dedicating resources to move ahead with the project at this time.

The Blackpool EA Hotel could serve as a useful test bed for such a larger hub (if successful, it could increase the chances of something like the Geneva x-risk hub getting funding). With a low cost hub and a high cost hub, there could be a progression of people levelling up at the hotel, to enrolling in a structured intern program at the Geneva hub, to researching and implementing things at the forefront in Geneva, or going on to FHI, MIRI, CSER etc)[18].

 

Sustainability, risks and organisation

Currently this project has funding for the first year of operations (and the hotel has already been bought and paid for). Assuming the cryptocurrency markets maintain at least a third of their current value[19] going forward, the next few years are also covered. For longer term sustainability it is desirable for funding to be covered by more than one person, not least due to the greater stability and accountability resultant from having multiple financial stakeholders. To this end, it makes sense to run the hotel as a non-profit charitable organisation. Given the business-like nature of a hotel, a foundation Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) is the best option (this is a corporate body where the only members are the trustees). This has an added benefit of saving having to pay tax on the capital gains used for funding the project (I bought the hotel with my capital gains and plan on gifting it to the CIO).

Best practice says that CIO's should have a minimum of three Trustees. Anyone interested in being a Trustee? My initial thought was that in order to avoid conflict of interest, Trustees should not be guests staying for free, or the manager. But perhaps that will lead the governance of the CIO to be out of touch. Better organisation might result if the Manager, and a representative of the guests, are both on the Board of Trustees. Perhaps then add two independents for balance. So the board would be five - me (as Founder), the Manager (as day-to-day organiser), the EA Guest Rep (relaying the guest experience first hand, and two independent Trustees (for an outside perspective).

Once the organisation is set up, people who think investing in EAs at ~£5.4k/year will produce more value than the same given to top EA charities will be free to donate to it. Options to sponsor individual stays can also be provided. To give non-fee-paying guests (FreEAs?) security and peace of mind that the rug won’t be pulled from under them, there will be a contractual obligation provided by the hotel to provide them with accommodation and food. On the part of the non-fee-paying guests there will be a counterpart to this obligation of abiding by the Code of Conduct[20], and pledging to work on EA things. Acceptance of long-term (over a month) non-fee-paying guests, and events, will be subject to at least four of five trustees agreeing, including the EA Guest Rep and Manager. Short-term (less than a month) non-fee-paying guests will be accepted at the discretion of the Manager (I am the de facto manager until the full-time slaried position is filled).

In terms of overall productivity, it will probably be best to limit the hotel solely to free EA places. However, In the event of empty rooms, it might be good to encourage donors and other promoters of the project to pay for rooms and stay at the hotel, for community building purposes. In general however, the emphasis will be on filling as many rooms as possible with EA guests working on important things and paying nothing (the goal of the project is hosting such people!). Allocating rooms to paying guests at the expense of such free guests will only be done if it becomes a necessity for the fiscal health of the project (say if reserves drop below 12 months’ runway). But in the extreme, charging a 100% markup on cost price - plus and additional £30/week to cover stipends - for half the rooms would make the hotel revenue neutral, and there would be zero cost for hosting eight free EA guests and the Hotel Manager.

Regarding the stipend, is £30/week enough for phone, laptop, clothes, travel, entertainment, and all other non-food-or-housing expenditure? It seems so with the calculations done in the budget, but perhaps there could be a system where people can request additional funds for emergencies. Also a separate “career progression” fund could be useful for people to attend key conferences likely to help further their work (these funds being separate so as not to increase baseline costs of living at the hotel).

Alumni will be welcome to give back if the hotel serves them well in their endeavours. Perhaps a start-up launched from the hotel might give some equity, which in future becomes worth a lot. This would be analogous to painters giving paintings to the Chelsea Hotel before they became famous, and then the paintings becoming worth millions.

What would the cost of failure of this project be? Conservatively, perhaps selling the hotel at a 15% loss (£20k), and six months of running costs (<£33k (budget) assuming no more than half occupancy if it’s failing). Round to £50k. Plus, say 250 hours of my time, and the time spent by the hotel staff and volunteers. This would need counterfactual adjustment though, which given that the project is high expected value to begin with, could perhaps be largely depreciated. Financially, one way of looking at this is that it’s no more than a bad trade on the crypto markets, of which I made more than one of similar magnitude in the process of making the money to fund this project (I made others that were of much larger magnitude in the opposite direction though!) In fact, even selling the ETH to fund the purchase of the hotel was in hindsight not ideal, given that I could’ve got double the money if I’d waited three weeks! Such “what if”s are neither here nor there though. £50k is still a lot of cash that could be spent on a lot of other good EA projects (or more established giving opportunities). This perhaps behooves more analysis for this project. Then again, it’s sometimes good to just try things and avoid analysis paralysis. Perhaps a happy medium could be struck though - anyone want to make a Guesstimate model? Funding is available to do so.

What is the risk of failure? Even at 50%, the downside (~£50k + counterfactual time) is much more limited than the upside, so it seems like something that should be done. And The Value of Information is high.

A Facebook poll shows 1-3 month stays as the most popular options. However, the most benefit might perhaps be provided to those that stay over a longer term, i.e. 12-24 months. People staying shorter times might well be more likely to have counterfactually managed to work on the same stuff elsewhere, without the free living provided by the hotel.

Antisocial behaviour and petty crime are issues in Blackpool, but hopefully this won’t be too much of an issue for hotel guests if they stick together when out at night. Statistically, it’s no worse than Manchester, and I have been fine so far living there. Given the public nature of a hotel, people not content with having their address readily discoverable should probably not stay at the hotel (at least not long term).

The Hotel Manager will need to make sure that hotel does not fall foul of any of the many regulations that apply. Failing in this regard could have significant consequences, and in a worse case scenario lead to the hotel being shut down, and/or sued. The stairs (and some floors) are a bit crooked from some historic subsidence. This will either need to be fixed (probably overly costly), or perhaps guests can sign a disclaimer accepting the (minimal) risk of using them (the lean is about 5 degrees, so it feels a little like being on a ship initially. One quickly gets used to it though).

For guests coming from outside the EU (or even inside soon, given Brexit), there will be the issue of visas. It should be possible to get a Tier 5 (Temporary Worker - Charity Worker) visa for up to 12 months if the guest is sponsored by the CIO. The CIO will first need to apply to become a sponsor.

What about the name and branding of the hotel? Something straight forward like "The EA Hotel”, or “The EA Hotel: Blackpool”? Or maybe "The Bentham Hotel”? Or something with more in-group appeal? “The Phoenix’ Nest” (H/T Ryan Christopher Augustine Thomas) has associations with incubation, HPMoR, altruism, immortality, and also the english pub aesthetic, and the trope of adventurers meeting at an inn. However, explicitly associating it with EA might not be ideal when factoring reputational concerns; given that the initial funding source comes from risky crypto investments, and the possibility of a failure to deliver in terms of impact. A recent poll on the Facebook group for this project now has “The EA Hotel: Blackpool” in second place, with “Athena” Hotel (what it's currently called) in the lead. This suggests a community preference for straight forward naming, and some caution around attaching the moniker “EA” to projects.

The hotel, with view of Blackpool Tower around the corner.

Perhaps the name could be kept as it is, but the logo could have the “E” and the second “A” of "Athena" a different colour (EA turquoise?). Something like this:
or this:

There is a danger if the community is too insular and inward looking that it will develop unhealthy “cult-like” tendencies. This should be mitigated by having a regular influx of temporary visitors from within EA (and occasionally from outside EA).

As with any project that involves moving to a new city, getting people to commit to move, and then actually follow through and move, is the hard part. There have been over 30 people expressing interest so far, but ideally there needs to be another 3-5x this amount to ensure the hotel is well populated. For some, the top consideration is who they will be living with; for them, it will be a case of seeing how the hotel is populated before deciding on moving.

In order to mitigate the risk of hiring an unsuitable manager and then being stuck with them, the job will involve a six month trial period to begin with. The job will also not continue after this amount of time if the hotel proves to be unviable in terms of not attracting enough guests. If there aren’t many guests, the manager can use their working time to focus on developing the wider idea of “EA Hotels and Low-cost Living” (which may lead to a continuation of the job in other circumstances).

For the hotel to be successful, the atmosphere needs to be inviting. To a large part this will be determined by the guests and how well they get on with each other. Also important is the quality of the projects that guests are involved with. Potential new guests will be more likely to join the higher the palpable sense of excitement is regarding the people they will be living with, and they projects they are working on. For example, a strong group of people studying/researching AI Safety should attract others with high potential for AI Safety work. To some extent this is a bit of a chicken and egg situation, but this can be overcome if a strong initial group is committed to moving at the start. Perhaps a pledge where people commit in groups to move could help. Also hosting workshops whereby participants would be welcome to stay on at the hotel afterward for free.

Mental health is an important issue to address. Perhaps there is an increased risk that guests will suffer from mental ill health, correlated with the circumstances they find themselves in (i.e. being in need of funding and/or community), or perhaps the wider community suffers disproportionately in treading the “fine line between genius and insanity”. Fostering a strong sense of community, camaraderie and mutual support should help. And as previously mentioned, a case could be made for hiring a full time counsellor.

For funding people’s living costs elsewhere to the hotel (e.g. South-East Asia), there would be the issue of verifying whether they are actually spending that amount/year, and aren’t spending more, so doing less work with the grant - i.e. if they are getting funding at £5k/yr to live but are spending £10k, then the £5k is effectively only funding half as much time. To some extent this will have to rely on trust. Otherwise, perhaps bank statements and receipts would need to be collected, but this would both add admin costs and be a potential violation of privacy.

 

Next Steps

UPDATE 09 August 2018: The website is now up at eahotel.org. It's possible to book via the Booking page, and the Wiki page has information for guests and an FAQ. People can also book video calls to talk about proposals for free stays working on EA stuff via the Contact page.

Gathering feedback from the EA community - if anyone has strong reasons to believe that this is not a good idea (or that other uses of the money are much more likely to be higher expected value), please let me know in the comments below (or otherwise).

Crucial considerations aside, whether or not this project is successful largely depends on there being sufficient demand for it, and finding someone capable and willing to take on the role of Hotel Manager. There has been some initial demand already (via discussion of the idea on Facebook), but perhaps the bulk of demand will be take a “build it and they will come” form.

To help gauge interest in this project, please state dates that you would like to stay/host an event at the hotel, so they can be added to the Google Calendar. Comment below (or PM me) with the dates (and % likelihood of them), or your email so you can be given edit access to the calendar (create an event with your name or event name. e.g. I've added an event called "Greg [100%]" from 14 May 2018 to 14 May 2020 - 14th May is the date I gained possession of the hotel).

Getting an initial critical mass of guests is important. The hotel is already open and stocked up[21]. To register your general interest, please fill out this short form. To pre-register for a residency at the hotel, please fill out this longer form. Or PM me to arrange a video call to have a look around and discuss your work plans for your stay. If we are already friends, feel free to just drop in and have a look around/stay for a few days :)

Regarding volunteering at the hotel, helping it get set up etc, I have had a decent amount of interest in this already and probably have enough help for now, thanks for all the support! What’s really needed now is people to fill the rooms doing object level EA work (see here for inspiration), and people to fill the formal roles of Hotel Manager and Independent Trustees (EAs who aren’t likely to directly benefit from the hotel, but are interested in helping the project succeed. The board of trustees of a charity fulfils a similar role to the board of directors at a company. In this case it would be attending fortnightly meetings over video chat discussing the direction of the project and the acceptance of long term guests).

People interested in the Hotel Manager role can apply here.

People interested in becoming an Independent Trustee can apply here.

Currently we have a team of remote volunteers assembled who are stand in trustees until a formal recruitment process is completed. We are proceeding to form a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO) to run the project, with the goal of moving to a five-member team of trustees made up of the Hotel Manager, the EA Guest Representative, me (as Founder) and two formally recruited external trustees, in due course. It would also be useful to have people with knowledge/experience of UK immigration law, as many people from both inside and outside the EU are interested in staying.

Those interested in following the project can join the Facebook group (feel free to ignore the sign-up questions if you aren’t considering staying at the hotel and we have mutual Facebook friends). Easier than giving specific dates for a stay you can fill in this poll in the group.

Looking forward to welcoming many of you to the hotel :)

 

Acknowledgements

For useful discussion, promotion, volunteering and support, both remote and in person: John Maxwell, Jessica Cooper, Remmelt Ellen, David Krueger, Maia Pasek, John Beshir, Ryan Carey, Linda Linsefors, Kelsey Piper, Toon Alfrink, Florent Berthet, Chado Nihi, Abraham Rowe, Mati Roy, Alex Dickinson, Tor Økland Barstad, Dony Christie, Ryan Christopher Augustine Thomas, Rochelle Harris, Kyle Hubbard, Simmo Simpson, Genie Yogini, Floris Wolswijk, David Kristoffersson, Liam Donovan, Charlie Rogers-Smith, Tom Rogers, Isobel Colbourn, Chris Colbourn.

 

Footnotes

[1] Rooms will need to be tidy ready for the cleaner.

[2] More pictures of the hotel here.

[3] Guests who want to eat non-vegan food are welcome to buy their own. There will be a combi-oven (microwave, steamer, grill, oven) and toaster available for guest use. Frying and pot-based cooking by guests will not be feasible though. And obviously there are takeaways, cafes and restaurants nearby (including a hell of a lot of Fish & Chips).

[4] By asking people to write initiatives on whiteboards, for example.

[5] More pictures of the area surrounding the hotel, and Blackpool beach, here and here.

[6] This is within the range of market rates.

[7] Apply here.

[7a] Two Independent Trustees are sought. Apply here.

[8] Perhaps we could reorder them and have room 13 as "the LessWrong suite" or something :)

[9] See here for discussion about the organisational structure of the project.

[10] This may well be in non-monetary form if little in the way of stable currency remains.

[11] Variable, dependent on occupancy of the hotel, see budget.

[12] Still, given the current skewed cash to talent ratio in EA, perhaps it would be a good idea for there to be a program (perhaps run by OpenPhil or CEA) where someone researches the EA sphere in detail to identify bottlenecks in capacity, and competent people who are committed in those areas as volunteers, and then just gives them money to do the EA stuff full time. This would complement the EA Grants program, and would be valuable to people who literally don’t have the time or energy to formally apply for funding. I think it would have a good chance of being highly cost effective. Actually, it does seem that CEA might be moving toward this model ("we plan to move the evaluation processes even further in the direction of mostly evaluating the merits of the applicants themselves rather than their specific plans”) but not without controversy.

[13] These examples also illustrate the fact that even generally effective people have projects that fail.

[14] To a rough approximation OpenPhil has ~$10bn to spend (adding the rest of the net worth of the EA community might increase this by a factor of ~2 maybe); There were ~700 applications for the last round of EA grants. Including applicants for other grants (such as those offered by FLI) round to 1000, say with an average ask of ~$100k (probably on the high side). That’s still <1% of the cash available.

[15] Of course individuals can do this to an extent in terms of batching cooking and other tasks and buying in bulk, but it requires high up-front costs in terms of planning and money.

[16] Assuming 16 occupants plus the Manager.

[17] Moving often depends a lot on timing - in terms of waiting on other opportunities, finishing projects/courses/contracts, coordinating with friends/partners/family etc.

[18] Were such a grand hub to also have a hotel attached (enabling even higher efficiency living, see above), perhaps it could end up as a kind of cross between Google HQ and the Waldorf Astoria, but instead of tech, celebrity and politics, the guests would be from the worlds of x-risk research and mitigation, and global diplomacy and coordination; and by rights it should become as important as those two hubs were in the mid-20th century and early 21st, going forward into the 2020s and ‘30s.

[19] As of 2018-06-04T17:14:09+01:00.

[20] A version of this would also be in the Terms and Conditions fee-paying guests agree to abide by.

[21] I’ve been busy over the last couple of weeks ordering supplies and useful items, and installing energy efficient white goods and LED lighting (high lumen daylight overhead lighting for day time, and lower powered warm lighting on walls / in lamps for evenings).

[22] Which could be possible with Brexit leading to more UK people holidaying at home, or maybe even a growing local fracking industry!?

 

Appendix: Budget

The spreadsheet here details the budget for the hotel. Included are sheets showing fixed costs and variable costs. Variable costs depend on the occupancy of the hotel - the number of guests can be edited at the top left. Note that all the figures that are inputs to the calculations are highlighted in yellow; to play around with the numbers, please request access and make a copy of the sheet. Figures quoted in the main text assume an occupancy of 16 people (one person per bedroom, excluding the Hotel Manager). £5700/person/year is arrived at with all rooms filled by a single person. If people were to share, filling the hotel to its capacity of 35 people would result in costs of ~£4000/person/year. These figures are without factoring in amortisation of the cost of the building; this is reasonable as the building will remain an asset which should retain value (or even increase in value if Blackpool’s fortunes turn around[22])

Examples of costed meals and stipend spending are given to show that the allowances of £2.75/person/day for food and £30/person/week for stipend are reasonable. Utility bills are estimated usage.

Room charges for paying guests are shown on another sheet. Shown are cost prices per day, week, month and year (including a £10 admin fee per stay), and markups of 25%, 50%, 100% and 100% plus stipend, which would cover the costs of a non-fee-paying guest. Double and triple room prices are calculated based on the fraction of their share of savings from economies of scale (see calculations on “Rooms” sheet). Indeed, for paying guests, prices could be adjusted depending on the occupancy level of the hotel (lower prices the fuller the hotel is).

Also included are time estimates for admin, cleaning and other work, and sketched out timetables for workers and guests; a table showing details of the rooms; and a list of purchases made to date.

Comments (88)

Comment author: TomBers 25 June 2018 09:29:26AM 1 point [-]

HI Greg,

I just signed up to effective-alturism because I found a link to this post. I read what you wrote and thought it was an amazing idea. I also read the comments that seemed to be a little bit negative and prompted me to write a comment.

Firstly I think that giving people the space to work on projects is hugely valuable and people underestimate what can be done with the space just to work on a project.

Secondly, some of the comments are assuming this a cut-price alternative and everyone would really be better being in LDN / SF etc if cost were no obstacle. I would suggest you have a unique opportunity understand the context of the area and use the talent of the people involved to directly improve the place you are in. Making smaller towns in the UK more attractive places for young people to live in would be a huge service to mankind.

Comment author: weeatquince  (EA Profile) 21 June 2018 11:23:30PM 3 points [-]

Greg this is awesome - go you!!! :-D :-D

To provide one extra relevant reference class: I have let EAs stay for free / donations at my place in London to work on EA projects and on the whole was very happy I did so. I think this is worthwhile and there is a need for it (with some caution as to both risky / harmful projects and well intentioned free-riders).

Good luck registering as a CIO - not easy. Get in touch with me if you are having trouble with the Charity Commission. Note: you might need Trustee's that are not going to live for free at the hotel (there's lots of rules against Trustees receiving any direct benefits from their charity).

Also if you think it could be useful for there to be a single room in London for Hotel guests to use for say business or conference attendance then get in touch.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 08 July 2018 08:48:09PM 0 points [-]

Thanks :) Yes I have two independent Trustees now, we're in the process of registering the CIO. Good of you to offer of the London room, will let you know if anyone needs to go to London for (EA) business!

Comment author: Diego_Caleiro 18 June 2018 11:10:55PM 2 points [-]

I haven't read the whole thing. But this seems to be one of the, if not the coolest idea in EA in 2018. Glad you did it.

Good luck for everyone who goes to live or work there!

Comment author: Dunja 18 June 2018 10:21:37PM *  2 points [-]

Congrats on such a creative idea and the commitment in wanting to realize it! :) My main worry concerns a very basic premise that seems to underlie the project: that providing an optimal space for individuals to do research is likely to result in efficient and effective research. While conducting online courses may indeed be useful, conducting unguided research is not only hard, but unlikely to lead anywhere concerning effectiveness and efficiency. A junior researcher, without an access to a supervisor who has in-depth knowledge of the given subject domain, is likely to end up tapping in the dark and trying out all kinds of paths that are far from being optimal. This is why the task of a supervisor is so important: one learns which topics to focus on, which gaps in the knowledge should first be filled in, how this should be done, which blind spots are hindering one's research, etc. And that only concerns knowledge acquisition.

Knowledge production is probably even harder: without having an access to guidance concerning how to conduct e.g. empirical research, how to write academic papers, which workshops and conferences are optimal places for receiving critical feedback, which journal would be good for the given paper, etc. - one's own output is likely to remain unknown, unrecognized by the relevant community (academic or EA-related) and hence entirely ineffective.

I am not sure which steps could be taken to tackle these problems. The only solution I currently see is opening the hotel for larger project applications, by experts willing to coordinate the research done in the center, and who would regularly visit the place to guide junior researchers.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 20 June 2018 10:42:55PM 3 points [-]

Remote supervision of research is a possibility, but depends on people with relevant knowledge and experience being available. Peer support from other guests will be available to some extent, especially given the preponderance of people in the movement with postgraduate degrees. However, plenty of research can be self-directed, especially things that are more a case of collating existing knowledge than developing new science (e.g. meta-analyses, review articles, writing books). And the hotel will probably appeal to autodidacts who can plow through published texts and then build on top of them (without much need for explanation additional to what they find in writing).

The hotel is open to hosting research groups, and also conferences and workshops.

Comment author: Dunja 21 June 2018 07:45:59AM *  0 points [-]

That's all fine, but how does one make sure their meta-analysis follows the adequate methodological rigor of the given domain unless they have a prior experience with research or an in-depth knowledge of such methods? Writing review articles may be easier, though writing books that will make an impact is yet again hard without already having research experience. I've noticed in the area of EA that for some reason there is a misconception concerning the research in humanities: everyone would agree that conducting natural sciences outside of an appropriate expert team or a research institution is almost impossible. Yet, people tend to assume that humanities are different. They are not. When it comes to using reliable methods, engaging with the relevant literature, making studies (even meta-analysis) that actually matter - all this is far from trivial and requires expertise. It's extremely hard to weave through tons of information and uncover the one that actually matters, that should be reviewed, and then pushing that towards a finding that will actually make an impact. So when you say that autodidacts can plow through published texts and build on top of them- that's not at all simple without having had experience with such research beforehand and knowing quite well: - how to sort through the given texts and order them according to relevance - how to assess the given texts (depending on the domain, one might need to acquire additional skills for this) - what exactly to write about to "build on top of that": which standards should be employed in the given field so that they lead to an actual publication etc. So I'd say: regular supervision (even if remote) for any pre-doc is extremely important. As well as having funds to attend the relevant events in the field where one can get feedback on their work.

Comment author: Jen 17 June 2018 04:56:43PM 1 point [-]

This is brilliant. I have several thoughts on the idea and on the comment threads so I will number them. 1. For long term sustainability working towards some paying/donation shorter term guests and some stipend non-paying long term guests seems practical and doable. Another name for a Bed & Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, is a spa. A growing market that is largely not directly advertised to in mainstream ad campaigns is the over 50 year old bracket. They have more time and money, and also likely more concern for health. A vegan diet can be a healing diet. A quiet relaxing bird watching venue may be very desirable for a stress reducing get away. Marton Mere Local Nature Reserve is nearby and sounds underutilized from the online descriptions as it has no parking of its own and no gift shop/organized tours etc.. Bus transport from the hotel for spa type guest might also include educational tours by some non-paying residents whose altruistic goals are wetland or bird sanctuary oriented. The murmurations and beach front nearby would fit nicely into a spa type program.

  1. Athena was the goddess who sprang forth from Zeus in full armor and ready for battle. She is considered the "Goddess of wisdom, war and the crafts, and favourite daughter of Zeus, Athena was, perhaps, the wisest, most courageous, and certainly the most resourceful of the Olympian gods." https://www.ancient.eu/athena/ . I don't think you could think of a more effective altruistic champion if you had two years to focus on that. I also wouldn't recommend highlighting some letters of a name more than others. Passers-by would likely just think your sign needed a fresh coat of paint. If the goal was a mixed set of paying/donating guests and nonpaying EA workers than a simple name for the mainstream would be ideal. Passersby might stay for the birdwatching and good food and then become interested and active in the EA work. EA activists would already be aware of your hotel - springing forth fully ready to support EA work in a variety of ways.

  2. EA workers interested in relocating to a hotel/spa like resort might have projects that coincide with health management, quantity food production, stress reduction, wetland management or ocean health. Your location might be the magnet for the project.

  3. Preventative health or non-pharmaceutical health care is difficult to fund and often faces roadblocks from lobbyists or government that funds more profit oriented health care. The population as a whole is getting sicker on average, young and old, and increased heat is going to negatively impact the chronically ill more than the person of ideal health. Increased temperature increases oxidative stress on the body and increases volatile chemical release into the atmosphere which adds additional oxidative stress to the body, whether healthy or chronically ill. Increased temperatures are associated with increased irritability and violence.

  4. Homelessness and lack of jobs that support living costs within commuting range is an increasing problem in many or most areas. Group living situations are not allowed in many zoning areas so as a model project of something different your hotel project is a prototype. Having donating/paying guests could help support more amenities such as tour buses or an exercise facility onsite and better fund a healthy menu and adequate staff to prepare it. Nonpaying EA guests might volunteer or also be working on quantity food production projects and be interested in a test group for recipe development. The production of healthy food that is low cost and easy to prepare would be an effective altruistic need for refugee or climate crisis response as well as urban homeless populations.

  5. The Hotel Manager position does sound like more staff or volunteers would be needed to delegate some responsibility for daily chores and food production. I am a Registered Dietitian with food safety training and some experience in quantity food production for baked goods and overseeing the work of a full-time dietary manager for a residential facility kitchen. It is a lot of work and part of the work can be achieved by starting with a set of quantity food recipes and menu. If that is provided by a wholesale food business it can mean a menu and recipes based on processed foods that are quicker to prepare but are likely not providing as much health for an increased grocery expense. Bulk ingredients are cost effective and healthy but need time to prepare. Dividing the job into a person focused on hotel and dietary management and another person focused on EA project support and review of applications might be a good idea.

  6. Menus and recipes and kitchen management for a vegetarian cafeteria may be available already, why re-invent the wheel - the best cafeteria food I've ever eaten was not at a hospital. It was at the university where I did my post Bachelor's credentialing program for dietetics, Andrews University. They only have vegetarian food. https://www.andrews.edu/shp/publichealth/

  7. I am interested in your idea and the Hotel Manager or Trustee positions but am not a U.K. resident, however I have a current passport and the virtual world is already at our fingertips. Thanks for putting your profits into such an interesting idea.

Comment author: Jen 17 June 2018 05:38:52PM 1 point [-]

Addition: Andrews University also focuses on made from scratch vegan recipes. https://www.andrews.edu/news/2010/08/dining_services.html , contact info: pr@andrews.edu It is a faith based university - example thesis: https://digitalcommons.andrews.edu/theses/10/ . I wasn't sure about my memory regarding vegetarian vs vegan menu so I fact checked my previous comment - yes, vegetarian is the main cuisine. The vegan or gluten free or other special diet needs are included in their preventative health care focused approach. https://www.andrews.edu/undergrad/academics/programs/nutrition-dietetics/

Comment author: Jen 17 June 2018 06:25:58PM 0 points [-]

Virtually I could help with recipe/menu/food safety type of questions from anywhere. My own recipe development focus has switched to vegan and egg free baking due to autoimmune disease and it has helped my health. Traveling has been difficult for me due to health problems and that has led to problems online as travel to urban centers and large events is encouraged. Reputation in the modern world can be too easily effected with the speed of virtual communication and the rumor mill makes up and spreads stories that are difficult to address as mentioning a rumor can be taken as proof the rumor is true.

From my reading regarding the EA movement, it seemed there was a concern about reputation because an early focus on a fundraising message became attached as a primary goal instead of only being part of the larger goal of reviewing and encouraging projects that are shown to be effective. The long term benefits and sustainability of group living has been an interest of mine for decades. In the U.S. many problems can be traced back the closing of public residential mental health facilities. Mental health patients now are overly represented in homeless and prison populations and the cost of total care is likely more than a group home would cost. Add children and the story gets more complex. Answers are not easy but communal cooking and shared expenses can be more cost effective than supporting many individual residences.

Virtual commuting does make teamwork easier if the team is willing to work together from a distance instead of placing demands that are not possible due to physical illness and then blaming a person for not fulfilling the impossible demands. Facts are not excuses.

Comment author: vollmer 06 June 2018 04:56:20PM *  11 points [-]

First, big kudos for your strong commitment to put your personal funding into this, and for the guts and drive to actually make it happen!

That said, my overall feelings about the project are mixed, mainly for the following reasons (which you also partly discuss in your post):

It seems plausible that most EAs who do valuable work won't be able to benefit from this. If they're students, they'll most likely be studying at a university outside Blackpool and might not be able to do so remotely. If they're launching a new great project, they'll very likely be able to get funding from an EA donor, and there will be major benefits from being in a big city or existing hub such as Oxford, London, or the Bay (so donors should be enthusiastic about covering the living costs of these places). While it's really impressive how low the rent at the hotel will be, rent cost is rarely a major reason for a project's funding constraints (at least outside the SF Bay Area).

Instead, the hotel could become a hub for everyone who doesn't study at a university or work on a project that EA donors find worth funding, i.e. the hotel would mainly support work that the EA community as a whole would view as lower-quality. I'm not saying I'm confident this will happen, but I think the chance is non-trivial without the leadership and presence of highly experienced EAs (who work there as e.g. hotel managers / trustees).

Furthermore, people have repeatedly brought up the argument that the first "bad" EA project in each area can do more harm than an additional "good" EA project, especially if you consider tail risks, and I think this is more likely to be true than not. E.g. the first political protest for AI regulation might in expectation do more harm than a thoughtful AI policy project could prevent. This provides a reason for EAs to be risk-averse. (Specifically, I tentatively disagree with your claims that "we’re probably at the point where there are more false negatives than false positives, so more chances can be taken on people at the low end", and that we should invest "a small amount".) Related: Spencer Greenberg's idea that plenty of startups cause harm.

The fact that this post got way more upvotes than other projects that are similarly exciting in my view (such as Charity Entrepreneurship) also makes me think that the enthusiasm for this project may be partly driven by social reasons (it feels great to have a community hotel hub with likeminded people) as opposed to people's impact assessments. But maybe there's something I'm overlooking, e.g. maybe this post was just shared much more on social media.

What happens if you concentrate a group of EAs who wouldn't get much funding from the broader community in one place and help them work together? I don't know. It could be very positive or very negative. Or it just couldn't lead to much at all. Overall, I think it may not be worth the downside risks.

Comment author: hollymorgan 26 June 2018 04:40:36AM *  10 points [-]

First of all, Greg_Colbourn, very impressed with all the thought that's gone into this. I was already super impressed that you were doing the project in the first place, but this was a good read. Criticism tends to hit people harder than praise, so good on you for continuing to engage with that too.

vollmer, thanks for the time you're putting into the discussion here. I think a lot of your worries have less force if you think of the Hotel as a stepping stone / gap-filler / early incubator / refuge / safety net. If you don't have a lot of savings, you can't dedicate a focused chunk of time to:

  • earning the trust of other EAs who can then fund or at least vouch for you (this seems to be an important part of funding decisions, especially for new projects/orgs)

  • making a career move (the number of people I've known stuck in jobs they don't want to be in because they don't have the time to research, try out and apply for what they want to do next, and can't afford to to quit first and then figure it out...)

  • general reading/thinking/discussion around EA/rationality/self-improvement, without knowing where it might take you (I'd love to see EA Grants accept a funding proposal for "Sitting on a beach and reading whatever seems useful for a few months...maybe I'll start with the sequences, maybe I won't, who knows lol")

  • coming up with project proposals to take to the more official EA funding streams

  • recovering from burn-out or another knock (I know Greg_Colbourn hasn't mentioned this here and it's quite different from the others, so maybe I'm really straying into general "EA Hotels and Low-cost Living" territory now)

Put another way - if we want to invoke the Argument From 80k Authority again - Greg_Colbourn has just provided a free personal runway community insurance scheme.

There's a two-year limit. It's not meant to be a long-term lifestyle for an EA. I think it's meant to give less financially comfortable EAs a bit of freedom and breathing space between projects/careers.

I think this gap exists. The funder who says, "I know you don't have the time or energy to make a grant-proposal-standard case for why I should support you yet. And that's why I'm going to." Maybe I'm wrong. But hey, let's build it and see if they come :-)

I also think that often the way in which funding is offered is important. In my case, if I started to struggle financially, I'd be excited and proud to move into the EA Hotel. On the other hand, I'd feel somewhat embarrassed and burdensome to move back in with my parents, I've turned down financial support from three close EA friends because of what it might do to our relationship (and accepted very gratefully from two other less close EA friends <3), and I hate the thought of people questioning my motives as a community organiser if I accept a higher salary at EA London. I can also imagine people treating the EA Hotel as a last resort because e.g. future employers might think it looks like a cult. My point is more that it's a different kind of option, and people have all sorts of reasons for not wanting to accept funding that they need. (Note that the personal, somewhat emotional relevance probably makes me slightly biased in favour of this project overall.)

Then again, maybe I'm being too blase. I have no idea how many EA project ideas aren't getting funded due to lack of coordination / management time / funds in a particular area, and how many aren't getting funded because funders think they shouldn't be funded. The term "crucial considerations" makes me immediately think, "Ah. Yes. Yes, it's very easy to do well-intentioned harm." And actually I think I place an unusually high value on private research relative to action (publicising research can be pretty action-y), which might warrant a small group of community leaders withholding a lot of funding without much explanation until they've done a lot more research...Unfortunately, I also think it makes sense to be pretty suspicious of that approach.

No conclusions. Just some considerations for y'all.

(Incidentally, rejection is usually at least a bit hurtful. I wouldn't be surprised if all the job/funding rejections in our community - especially alongside all the headhunting, careers advice, talent gap talk, "EA's not funding-constrained" talk, pressure to reach relentlessly higher and reprioritise every 5 minutes etc. - was driving a lot of the enthusiasm for funders with more relaxed standards, including the upvotes on this article relative to the Charity Entrepreneurship one.)

Comment author: toonalfrink 18 June 2018 01:53:40PM 4 points [-]

Hi Vollmer, appreciate your criticism. Upvoted for that.

While it's really impressive how low the rent at the hotel will be, rent cost is rarely a major reason for a project's funding constraints

Do you realise that the figure cited (3-4k a year) isn't rent cost? It's total living cost. At least in my case that's 4 times as little as what I'm running on, and I'm pretty cheap. For others the difference might be much larger.

For example a project might have an actually high-impact idea that doesn't depend on location. Instead of receiving $150k from CEA to run half a year in the bay with 3 people, they could receive $50k and run for 3 years in Blackpool with 6 people instead. CEA could then fund 3 times as many projects, and it's impact would effectively stretch 623=36 times further. Coming from that perspective, staying in the world's most expensive cities is just non-negotiable. At least for projects (coding, research, etc) that wouldn't benefit an even stronger multiplier from being on-location. And this isn't just projection. I know at least one project that is most likely moving their team to the EA hotel.

Instead, the hotel could become a hub for everyone who doesn't study at a university or work on a project that EA donors find worth funding, i.e. the hotel would mainly support work that the EA community as a whole would view as lower-quality.

I'm pretty sure EA projects find many projects net-positive even if they don't find them worth funding. For the same reason that I'd buy a car if I could afford one. Does that mean I find cars lower-quality than my bicycle? Nope.

Imo it's a very simple equation. EA's need money to live. So they trade (waste) a major slice of their resources to ineffective endeavors for money. We can take away those needs for <10% the cost, effectively making a large amount of people go from part-time to full-time EA. Assuming that the distribution of EA effectiveness isn't too steeply inequal (ie there are still effective EA's out there), this intervention is the most effective I've seen thus far.

Comment author: vollmer 25 June 2018 07:43:21AM *  1 point [-]

Do you realise that the figure cited (3-4k a year) isn't rent cost? It's total living cost. At least in my case that's 4 times as little as what I'm running on, and I'm pretty cheap. For others the difference might be much larger.

Yes, I do. But in times when talent is the bigger constraint than funding, I'd rather create $100k worth of impact at a financial cost of $25k than $50k at a cost of $4k. Often, interacting in-person with specific people in specific places (often in major hubs) will enable you to increase your impact substantially. This isn't true for everyone, and not always, but it will often be the case, even for coding/research projects. E.g. it's commonly accepted wisdom that for-profit (coding) startups can increase their value substantially by moving to the Bay, and individual programmers can increase their salaries by more than the higher living cost by moving there. Similar things might apply to EA projects in Oxford / London / Berkeley / San Francisco.

So the potential benefits of the EA hotel might be somewhat limited, and there might also be some costs / harms (as I mentioned in the other comments).

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 07 June 2018 09:19:36AM 8 points [-]

If they're launching a new great project, they'll very likely be able to get funding from an EA donor

EA Grants rejected 95% of the applications they got.

Comment author: vollmer 08 June 2018 04:23:41PM *  2 points [-]

Sure, but an EA hotel seems like a weird way to address this inefficiency: only few people with worthwhile projects can move to Blackpool to benefit from it, the funding is not flexible, it's hard to target this well, the project has some time lag, etc. The most reasonable approach to fixing this is simply to give more money to some of the projects that didn't get funded.

Maybe CEA will accept 20-30% of EA Grants applications in the next round, or other donors will jump in to fill the gaps. (I'd expect that a lot of the grants applications (maybe half) might have been submitted by people not really familiar with EA, and some of the others weren't worth funding.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 09 June 2018 12:00:47AM *  3 points [-]

[Disclosure: I'm planning to move to Blackpool before the end of this month.]

only few people with worthwhile projects can move to Blackpool to benefit from it, the funding is not flexible

If you're working on a project full-time, there's a good chance you're not location-constrained.

the project has some time lag

I'm not sure what you're referring to.

Over 3 months passed between the EA grants announcement and disbursement. Does that count as "time lag"?

The disadvantages you cite don't seem compelling to me alongside the advantages cited in this post: dramatically lower costs, supportive EA community, etc. Yes, it's not a great fit for every project--but if you're offered a bargain on supporting one project, it seems silly to avoid taking it just because you weren't offered a bargain on supporting some other project.

I think maybe our core disagreement is that you believe the bottom 95% of EA projects are risky and we should discourage people from funding them. Does that sound like an accurate summary of your beliefs?

I've written some about why I want to see more discussion of downside risk (and I'm compiling notes for several longer posts--maybe if I was living in Blackpool I'd have enough time to write them). However, the position that we should discourage funding the bottom 95% of projects seems really extreme to me, and it also seems like a really crude way to address downside risk.

Even if there is some downside risk from any given project, the expected value is probably positive, solely based on the fact that some EA thinks it's a good idea. Value of information is another consideration in favor of taking action, especially doing research (I'm guessing most people who move to Blackpool will want to do research of some sort).

As for a good way to decrease downside risk, I would like to see a lot more people do what Joey does in this post and ask people to provide the best arguments they can against their project (or maybe ask a question on Metaculus).

The issue with downside risk is not that the world is currently on a wonderful trajectory that must not be disturbed. Rather, any given disturbance is liable to have effects that are hard to predict--but if we spent more time thinking and did more research, maybe we could get a bit better at predicting these effects. Loss aversion will cause us to overweight the possibility of a downside, but if we're trying to maximize expected value then we should weight losses and gains of the same size equally. I'm willing to believe highly experienced EAs are better at thinking about downside risk, but I don't think the advantage is overwhelming, and I suspect being a highly experienced EA can create its own set of blind spots. I am definitely skeptical that CEA can reliably pick the 33 highest-impact projects from a list of 722. Even experienced investors miss winners, and CEA is an inexperienced charitable "investor".

Your example "the first political protest for AI regulation might in expectation do more harm than a thoughtful AI policy project could prevent" is one I agree with, and maybe it illustrates a more general principle that public relations efforts should be done in coordination with major EA organizations. Perhaps it makes sense to think about downside risk differently depending on the kind of work someone is interested in doing.

BTW, if the opinion of experienced EAs is considered reliable, maybe it's worth noting that 80k advocated something like this a few years ago, and ideas like it have been floating around EA for a long time.

Comment author: hollymorgan 26 June 2018 02:53:07AM 2 points [-]

Even if there is some downside risk from any given project, the expected value is probably positive, solely based on the fact that some EA thinks it's a good idea.

I think the Unilateralist's Curse is relevant here.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 05 July 2018 11:09:30PM 0 points [-]

The Unilateralist's Curse refers to situations where many people oppose a project and only one person supports it. This is an important case to consider, but I think a randomly chosen EA project is unlikely to fall into this category.

Comment author: hollymorgan 06 July 2018 12:36:04AM 3 points [-]

Hmm. I think the Unilateralist's Curse rests on the assumption that individuals underestimate potential downsides relative to their estimations concerning potential upsides, at least when it comes to the consequences for other people. (Anecdotally this assumption seems likely but I basically have no idea if it's true.) Centralised coordination/control is a way to counteract that. But the situation is even worse in this case because not only are we potentially facilitating projects with no centralised filtering, we're actually selecting for projects that are more likely to have been rejected by a central filter.

Thank you for prompting me to clarify my thinking here. I expect it's wrong, I haven't read Bostrom's paper on it, but that's where I'm up to.

(Also it might be worth me saying that I currently still think the EA Hotel has positive expected value - I don't think it's giving individuals enough power for the Unilateralist's Curse to really apply. But it's worth continuing to think about the UC and it doesn't seem clear to me that "the fact that some EA thinks it's a good idea" is sufficient grounds to attribute positive expected value to a project, given no other information, which seemed to be what you were saying.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 12 July 2018 02:59:12PM *  1 point [-]

Centralised coordination/control is a way to counteract that.

OpenPhil funding OpenAI might be a case of a "central" organization taking unilateral action that's harmful. vollmer also mentions that he thinks some of EAF's subprojects were probably negative impact elsewhere in this thread--presumably the EAF is relatively "central".

If we think that "individuals underestimate potential downsides relative to their estimations concerning potential upsides", why do we expect funders to be immune to this problem? There seems to be an assumption that if you have a lot of money, you are unusually good at forecasting potential downsides. I'm not sure. People like Joey and Paul Christiano have offered prizes for the best arguments against their beliefs. I don't believe OpenPhil has ever done this, despite having a lot more money.

In general, funding doesn't do much to address the unilateralist's curse because any single funder can act unilaterally to fund a project that all the other funders think is a bad idea. I once proposed an EA donor's league to address this problem, but people weren't too keen on it for some reason.

it doesn't seem clear to me that "the fact that some EA thinks it's a good idea" is sufficient grounds to attribute positive expected value to a project, given no other information

Here's a thought experiment that might be helpful as a baseline scenario. Imagine you are explaining effective altruism to a stranger in a loud bar. After hearing your explanation, the stranger responds "That's interesting. Funny thing, I gave no thought to EA considerations when choosing my current project. I just picked it because I thought it was cool." Then they explain their project to you, but unfortunately, the bar is too loud for you to hear what they say, so you end up just nodding along pretending to understand. Now assume you have two options: you can tell the stranger to ditch their project, or you can stay silent. For the sake of argument, let's assume that if you tell the stranger to ditch their project, they will ditch it, but they will also get soured on EA and be unreceptive to EA messages in the future. If you stay silent, the stranger will continue their project and remain receptive to EA messages. Which option do you choose?

My answer is, having no information about the stranger's project, I have no particular reason to believe it will be either good or bad for the world. So I model the stranger's project as a small random perturbation on humanity's trajectory, of the sort that happen thousands of times per day. I see the impact of such perturbations as basically neutral on expectation. In the same way the stranger's project could have an unexpected downside, it could also have an unexpected upside. And in the same way that the stranger's actions could have some nasty unforeseen consequence, my action of discouraging the stranger could also have some nasty unforeseen consequence! (Nasty unforeseen consequences of my discouragement action probably won't be as readily observable, but that doesn't mean they won't exist.) So I stay silent, because I gain nothing on expectation by objecting to the project, and I don't want to pay the cost of souring the stranger on EA.

Suppose you agree with my argument above. If so, do you think that we should default to discouraging EAs from doing projects in the absence of further information? Why? It seems a bit counterintuitive/implausible that being part of the EA community would increase the odds that someone's project creates a downside. If anything, it seems like being plugged into the community should increase a person's awareness of how their project might pose a risk. (Consider the EA hotel in comparison to an alternative of having people live cheaply as individuals. Being part of a community of EAs = more peer eyeballs on your project = more external perspectives to spot unexpected downsides.) And in the same way giving strangers default discouragement will sour them on EA, giving EAs default discouragement on doing any kind of project seems like the kind of thing that will suck the life out of the movement.

I don't want to be misinterpreted, so to clarify:

  • I am in favor of people discouraging projects if, after looking at the project, they actually think the project will be harmful.

  • I am in favor of bringing up considerations that suggest a project might be harmful with the people engaged in it, even if you aren't sure about the project's overall impact.

  • I'm in favor of people trying to make the possibility of downsides mentally available, so folks will remember to check for them.

  • I'm in favor of more people doing what Joey does and offering prizes for arguments that their projects are harmful.

  • I'm in favor of people publicly making themselves available to shoot holes in the project ideas of others.

  • I'm in favor of people in the EA community trying to coordinate more effectively, engage in moral trade, cooperate in epistemic prisoner's dilemmas, etc.

  • In general, I think brainstorming potential downsides has high value of information and people should do it more. But a gamble can still be positive expected value without having purchased any information! (Also, in order to avoid bias, maybe you should try to spend an equal amount of time brainstorming unexpected upsides.)

  • I think it may be reasonable to focus on projects which have passed the acid test of trying to think of plausible downsides (since those projects are likely to be higher expected value).

But I don't really see what purpose blanket discouragement serves.

Comment author: hollymorgan 16 July 2018 12:40:02PM *  0 points [-]

The OpenPhil/OpenAI article was a good read, thanks, although I haven't read the comments on either post or Ben's latest thoughts, and I don't really have an opinion either way on the value/harm of OpenPhil funding OpenAI if they did so "to buy a seat on OpenAI’s board for Open Philanthropy Project executive director Holden Karnofsky". But of course, I wasn't suggesting that centralised action is never harmful; I was suggesting that it's better on average [edit: in UC-type scenarios, which I'm not sure your two examples were...man this stuff is confusing!]. It's also ironic that part of the reason funding OpenAI might have been a bad idea seems to be that it creates more of a Unilateralist's Curse scenario (although I did notice that the first comment claims this is not their current strategy): "OpenAI’s primary strategy is to hire top AI researchers to do cutting-edge AI capacity research and publish the results, in order to ensure widespread access."

If we think that "individuals underestimate potential downsides relative to their estimations concerning potential upsides", why do we expect funders to be immune to this problem?

Excellent question. No strong opinion as I'm still in anecdote territory here, but I reckon emotional attachment to one's own grand ideas is what's driving the underestimation of risk, and you'd expect funders to be able to assess ideas more dispassionately.

I'm not sure that EA is all that relevant to the answer I'd give in your thought experiment. If they didn't have much power then I'd say go for it. If their project would have large consequences before anyone else could step in I'd say stop. As I said before, "I currently still think the EA Hotel has positive expected value - I don't think it's giving individuals enough power for the Unilateralist's Curse to really apply." I genuinely do expect the typical idea someone has for improving the status quo to be harmful, whether they're an EA or a stranger in a bar. Most of the time it's good to encourage innovation anyway, because there are feedback mechanisms/power structures in place to stop things getting out of hand if they start to really not look like good ideas. But in UC-type scenarios i.e. where those checks are not in place, we have a problem.

We might be talking past each other. Perhaps we agree that: In your typical real-life scenario i.e. where an individual does not have unilateral power, we should encourage them to pursue their altruistic ideas. Perhaps this was even what you were saying originally, and I just misinterpreted it.

[Edit: I'm pretty sure we're talking past each other to at least some extent. I don't think there should be "blanket discouragement". I think the typical project that someone/an EA thinks is a good idea is in fact a bad idea, but that they should test it anyway. I do think there should be blanket discouragement of actions with large consequences that can be taken by a small minority without the endorsement of others (eg. relating to reputational risk or information hazards).]

Comment author: Liam_Donovan 10 June 2018 06:23:40AM 4 points [-]

I suspect Greg/the manager would not be able to filter projects particularly well based on personal interviews; since the point of the hotel is basically 'hits-based giving', I think a blanket ban on irreversible projects is more useful (and would satisfy most of the concerns in the fb comment vollmer linked)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 12 July 2018 02:56:53PM 1 point [-]

Just to play devil's advocate for a moment, aren't personal interviews and hits-based giving essentially the process used by other EA funders? I believe it was OpenPhil who coined the term hits-based giving. It sounds like maybe your issue is with the way funding works in EA broadly speaking, not this project in particular.

The same seems to apply to vollmer's point about adverse selection effects. Over time, the project pool will increasingly be made up of projects everyone has rejected. So this could almost be considered a fully general counterargument against funding any project. (Note that this thinking directly opposes replaceability: replaceability encourages you to fund projects no other funder is willing to fund; this line of reasoning says just the opposite.) Anyway, I think the EA Hotel could easily be less vulnerable to adverse selection effects, if it appeals to a different crowd. I'm the first long-term resident of the hotel, and I've never applied for funding from any other source. (I'm self-studying machine learning at the hotel, which I don't think I would ever get a grant for.)

Sounds like you really want a broader rule like "no irreversible projects without community consensus" or something. In general, mitigating downside risk seems like an issue that's fairly orthogonal to establishing low cost of living EA hubs.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 05:49:15PM 1 point [-]

maybe this post was just shared much more on social media.

I see Facebook and Twitter share buttons at the bottom of the post (but only when I load the page on my phone). They currently have the numbers 174 and 18 next to them. Seems like an excessive number of Facebook shares!? Surely that can’t be right? (I’ve only seen - and been tagged on - one, in any case. Clicking on the numbers provides no info. as to where the shares went, if indeed they are shares. Ok, actually, clicking on them brings up a share window, but also ups the counter! So maybe that explains a lot as to why the numbers are so high (i.e. people wanting to see where all these shares are going, but only adding to the false counter)).

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 05:48:58PM *  1 point [-]

If they're students, they'll most likely be studying at a university outside Blackpool and might not be able to do so remotely.

Regarding studying, it would mainly be suitable for those doing so independently online (it’s possible to take many world class courses on EdX and Coursera for free). But could also be of use to university students outside of term time (say to do extra classes online, or an independent research project, over the summer).

they'll very likely be able to get funding from an EA donor

As John Maxwell says, I don’t think we are there yet with current seed funding options.

the hotel would mainly support work that the EA community as a whole would view as lower-quality

This might indeed be so, but given the much lower costs it’s possible that the quality-adjusted-work-per-£-spent rate could still be equal to - or higher than - the community average.

.. without the leadership and presence of highly experienced EAs (who work there as e.g. hotel managers / trustees).

I think it’s important to have experienced EAs in these positions for this reason.

Regarding “bad” EA projects, only one comes to mind, and it doesn’t seem to have caused much lasting damage. In the OP, I say that the “dynamics of status and prestige in the non-profit world seem to be geared toward being averse to risk-of-failure to a much greater extent than in the for-profit world (see e.g. the high rate of failure for VC funded start-ups). Perhaps we need to close this gap, considering that the bottom line results of EA activity are often considered in terms expected utility.” Are PR concerns a solid justification for this discrepancy between EA and VC? Or do Spencer Greenberg’s concerns about start-ups mean that EA is right in this regard and it’s VC that is wrong (even in terms of their approach to maximising monetary value)?

the enthusiasm for this project may be partly driven by social reasons

There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as people participating at the hotel for largely social reasons pay their own way (and don’t disrupt others’ work).

Comment author: hollymorgan 26 June 2018 02:03:53AM *  1 point [-]

Regarding studying, it would mainly be suitable for those doing so independently online (it’s possible to take many world class courses on EdX and Coursera for free). But could also be of use to university students outside of term time (say to do extra classes online, or an independent research project, over the summer).

Fully-funded living expenses could also open up the option of The Open University for some people.

the enthusiasm for this project may be partly driven by social reasons

There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as people participating at the hotel for largely social reasons pay their own way (and don’t disrupt others’ work).

I think vollmer just meant to caution against readers taking upvotes as a proxy for the value of a project.

Comment author: Liam_Donovan 10 June 2018 06:13:10AM *  3 points [-]

Following on vollmer's point, it might be reasonable to have a blanket rule against policy/PR/political/etc work -- anything that is irreversible and difficult to evaluate. "Not being able to get funding from other sources" is definitely a negative signal, so it seems worthwhile to restrict guests to projects whose worst possible outcome is unproductively diverting resources.

On the other hand, I really can't imagine what harm research projects could do; I guess the worst case scenario is someone so persuasive they can convince lots of EAs of their ideas but so bad at research their ideas are all wrong, which doesn't seem very likely. (why not 'malicious & persuasive people'? the community can probably identify those more easily by the subjects they write about)

Furthermore, guests' ability to engage in negative-EV projects will be constrained by the low stipend and terrible location (if I wanted to engage in Irish republican activism, living at the EA hotel wouldn't help very much). I think the largest danger to be alert for is reputation risk, especially from bad popularizations of EA, since this is easier to do remotely (one example is Intentional Insights, the only negative-EV EA project I know of)

Comment author: MichaelPlant 11 June 2018 12:04:48PM 2 points [-]

irreversible and difficult to evaluate

This basically applies to everything as a matter of degree, so it looks impossible to put in a blanket rule. Suppose I raise £10 and send it to AMF. That's irreversible. Is it difficult to evaluate? Depends what you mean by 'difficult' and what the comparison class is.

Comment author: vollmer 10 June 2018 04:26:08PM 2 points [-]

I agree research projects are more robustly positive. Information hazards are one main way in which they could do a significant amount of harm.

Comment author: vollmer 08 June 2018 04:30:16PM *  4 points [-]

Regarding “bad” EA projects, only one comes to mind, and it doesn’t seem to have caused much lasting damage. In the OP, I say that the “dynamics of status and prestige in the non-profit world seem to be geared toward being averse to risk-of-failure to a much greater extent than in the for-profit world (see e.g. the high rate of failure for VC funded start-ups). Perhaps we need to close this gap, considering that the bottom line results of EA activity are often considered in terms expected utility.” Are PR concerns a solid justification for this discrepancy between EA and VC? Or do Spencer Greenberg’s concerns about start-ups mean that EA is right in this regard and it’s VC that is wrong (even in terms of their approach to maximising monetary value)?

Just wanted to flag that I disagree with this for a number of reasons. E.g. I think some of EAF's sub-projects probably had negative impact, and I'm skeptical that these plus InIn were the only ones. I might write an EA forum post about how EA projects can have negative impacts at some point but it's not my current priority. See also this facebook comment for some of the ideas.

Regarding your last point, VCs are maximizing their own profit, but Spencer talks about externalities.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 06 June 2018 05:49:40PM 0 points [-]

Furthermore, people have repeatedly brought up the argument that the first "bad" EA project in each area can do more harm than an additional "good" EA project, especially if you consider tail risks, and I think this is more likely to be true than not. E.g. the first political protest for AI regulation might in expectation do more harm than a thoughtful AI policy project could prevent. This provides a reason for EAs to be risk-averse. (Specifically, I tentatively disagree with your claims that "we’re probably at the point where there are more false negatives than false positives, so more chances can be taken on people at the low end", and that we should invest "a small amount".) Related: Spencer Greenberg's idea that plenty of startups cause harm.

I thought this was pretty vague and abstract. You should say why you expect this particular project to suck!

It seems plausible that most EAs who do valuable work won't be able to benefit from this. If they're students, they'll most likely be studying at a university outside Blackpool and might not be able to do so remotely

I also wonder what the target market is. EA doing remote work? EAs need really cheap accommodation for certain time?

Comment author: vollmer 06 June 2018 09:16:44PM 3 points [-]

I thought this was pretty vague and abstract. You should say why you expect this particular project to suck!

I wasn't making a point about this particular project, but about all the projects this particular project would help.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 05 June 2018 10:42:02PM 10 points [-]

Bravo!

I'm not so sure whether this is targetting the narrowest constraint for developing human capital in EA, but I'm glad this is being thrashed out in reality rather than by the medium of internet commentary.

A more proximal worry is this. The project seems to rely on finding a good hotel manager. On the face of it, this looks like a pretty unattractive role for an EA to take on: it seems the sort of thing that demands quite a lot of operations skill, altready in short supply - further, 20k is just over half the pay of similar roles in the private sector (and below many unis typical grad starting salary), I imagine trying to run a hotel (even an atypical one) is hard and uninspiring work with less of the upsides the guests will enjoy, and you're in a depressed seaside town.

Obviously, if there's already good applicants, good for them (and us!), and best of luck going forward.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 05 June 2018 11:05:44PM 6 points [-]

Maybe I should stress more the fact that the Hotel Manager will get to hang out with loads of cool EAs and make them happy (the number of cool EAs, and their happiness, being somewhat correlated to how well a job they do as Manager). £20k is not bad for Blackpool. And given they also have free accommodation and board too, they should have quite a bit left over to save/donate.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 06 June 2018 05:47:11PM 2 points [-]

I sypathise with Gregory (Lewis') point and it not being an attractive role for an EA. It might work better if billed as a short duration role, possibily for someone who wants to develop operational experience to do so in another EA org.

Comment author: Arepo 07 June 2018 12:20:09PM 3 points [-]

Is there any particular reason why the role needs to be filled by an EA? I think we as a community are too focused on hiring internally in general, and in this case almost no engagement with the ideas of EA seems like it would necessary - they just need to be good at running a hotel (and ok with working around a bunch of oddballs).

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 04:15:37PM *  1 point [-]

I think 80k make a good case for why it's important to have EAs in ops roles here.

Comment author: Khorton 07 June 2018 09:58:12PM 4 points [-]

Several of the reasons listed in that article don't matter for the hotel because the hotel manager will be the only full time member of staff. For example, the hotel manager won't be likely to switch into other roles/be promoted at the same organization and won't need to communicate with other staff about EA-specific things. Additionally, the article suggests that being involved in the EA community is a benefit, but not the only thing to consider when hiring. That sounds about right to me.

I would seriously consider splitting up the hotel manager role and the community mentory person. It's hard enough to find an awesome cook who can do 17 people's laundry, keep everything clean, pay all the bills, and keep everything legal. Requiring them to be one of a couple thousand EAs IN THE WORLD sounds really hard.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 08 June 2018 11:19:54AM 0 points [-]

the hotel manager won't be likely to switch into other roles/be promoted at the same organization

But they would be in at the ground level of a new organisation that could potentially grow (if the model is franchised, or expands to supporting digital nomads). It should be seen as an exciting opportunity to co-create and mould an institution.

and won't need to communicate with other staff about EA-specific things.

But they will need to communicate with lots of EA guests about EA-specific things.

splitting up the hotel manager role and the community mentory person.

I'm open to doing this as a plan B. A good manager should be able to optimise/outsource the tasks they find tedious though.

Comment author: Liam_Donovan 10 June 2018 05:59:29AM *  4 points [-]

From my perspective, the manager should 1. Not (necessarily) be an EA 2. Be paid more (even if this trades off against capacity, etc) 3. Not also be a community mentor

One of the biggest possible failure modes for this project seems to be hiring a not-excellent manager; even a small increase in competence could make a big difference between the project failing and succeeding. Thus, the #1 consideration ought to be "how to maximize the manager's expected skill". Unfortunately, the combination of undesirable location, only hiring EAs, and the low salary seem to restrict the talent pool enormously. My (perhaps totally wrong) impression is that some of these decisions are made on the basis of a vague idea of how things ought to be, rather than a conscious attempt to maximize success.

Brief arguments/responses:

  • Not only are EAs disproportionately unlikely to have operations skills (as 80K points out), but I suspect that the particular role of hotel manager requires even less of the skills we tend to have (such as a flair for optimization), and even more of the skills we tend not to have (consistency, hotel-related metis). I'm unsure of this but it's an important question to evaluate.

  • The manager will only be at the ground floor of a new organization if it doesn't fail. I think failure is more likely than expansion, but it's reasonable to be risk averse considering this is the first project of its kind in EA (diminishing marginal benefit). Consequently, optimizing for initial success seems more important than optimizing for future expansion.

  • The best feasible EA candidate is likely to have less external validation of managerial capability than a similarly qualified external candidate, who might be a hotel manager already! Thus, it'll be harder to actually identify the strong EA candidates, even if they exist.

  • The manager will get free room/board and live in low-CoL Blackpool, but I think this is outweighted by the necessity of moving to an undesirable location, and not being able to choose where you stay/eat. On net, I expect you'd need to offer a higher salary to attract the same level of talent as in, say, Oxford (though with more variance depending on how people perceive Blackpool).

  • You might be able to hire an existing hotel manager in Blackpool, which would reduce risk of turnover and guarantee a reasonable level of competence. This would obviously require separating the hotel manager and the community mentor, but I'm almost certain that doing would maximize the chances of success either way (division of labor!). I'm also not sure what exactly the cost is: the community mentor could just be an extroverted guest working on a particularly flexible project.

  • Presumably many committed and outgoing EAs (i.e. the people you'd want as managers) are already able to live with/near other EAs; moving to Blackpool would just take away their ability to choose who to live with.

Of course, there could already be exceptional candidates expressing interest, but I don't understand why the default isn't hiring a non-EA with direct experience.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 11 June 2018 01:40:02PM 0 points [-]

vague idea of how things ought to be, rather than a conscious attempt to maximize success.

I would say it’s a bit more than vague ;) I think it’s important to have someone who really understands and shares the goals of the project. Someone who doesn’t get EA is not likely to care about it much beyond seeing it as a means to get paid. It would then be largely up to part time volunteers (the other Trustees) to direct the project and keep it aligned with EA. This scenario seems more likely to lead to stagnation/failure to me.

less of the skills we tend to have (such as a flair for optimization)

I think a flair for optimisation is needed in any kind of ops role. The more you optimise, the greater your capacity (/free time).

and even more of the skills we tend not to have (consistency, hotel-related metis)

Conscientiousness would be required. But there are a fair amount of EAs with that trait, right?

optimizing for initial success seems more important than optimizing for future expansion.

In practice I think these are mostly the same thing. The more initial success there is, the more likely expansion is. The point I was making is that the manager will have a large stake in the course the project takes, so it will depend on what they make of it (hence meaning it should be seen as an exciting opportunity. I mean yeah, there will be some amount of “boring” (mindfulness promoting?) tasks - but it could be so much more fun than “Hotel Manager in Blackpool” initially sounds).

less external validation of managerial capability than a similarly qualified external candidate, who might be a hotel manager already!

In many ways this won’t be a typical hotel (non-profit, longer term stays, self-service breakfast and lunch, simplified dinner menu, weekly linen/towel changes, EA evening events etc), so I’m not sure how much prior hotel experience is relevant. Really anyone who is a reasonably skilled generalist, passionate about the project, and friendly should be able to do it.

I expect you'd need to offer a higher salary to attract the same level of talent

Salary is open to negotiation (have amended ad).

require separating the hotel manager and the community mentor

I think that once everything is set up, the day-to-day management of the hotel itself won’t require full time hours. Would prefer to have one full time employee rather than two part-time employees, but as I’ve said previously, I am open to splitting the role.

division of labor

As mentioned above, part of optimisation can be outsourcing tasks you are less good at (or don’t like doing). e.g. hiring someone else to do the cooking or laundry (depending on how much you value your time/money).

Comment author: Khorton 11 June 2018 05:17:40PM *  4 points [-]

"In many ways this won’t be a typical hotel (non-profit, longer term stays, self-service breakfast and lunch, simplified dinner menu, weekly linen/towel changes, EA evening events etc), so I’m not sure how much prior hotel experience is relevant. Really anyone who is a reasonably skilled generalist, passionate about the project, and friendly should be able to do it."

I think this is where we disagree. It's taken me years to develop the (rather basic) domestic skills I have. I think it would be quite a challenge for someone like me, who can competently manage a household, to competently manage a hotel with 17 people. For example, when I organized EA London's weekend retreat and oversaw the housing, cooking and cleaning for 25 people, it was really hard and I made some significant mistakes.

This worries me because a large majority of the EAs I meet in London are worse at cooking/cleaning/household management than I am. If I'm not currently capable of the task, and most EAs are less capable than I am, then I wonder who CAN do the job.

There are a couple of things I might be wrong about: maybe people are better at domestic tasks outside of London, or maybe there are one or two exceptional candidates (and that's really all it takes!). But based on my experience, I really don't think "anyone who is a reasonably skilled generalist, passionate about the project, and friendly should be able to do it" - or at least, not to a high standard, not right away.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 10:54:19AM 1 point [-]

I think it's important for the manager to be at least a medium-term position. Familiarity with the guests, culture, operations, building and location will make things run more smoothly (having new people take up the role every few months would be quite disruptive). There is also a lot of scope in the job for development - building and refining systems, assisting guests with their work/plans, assisting in developing the ideas behind the project, franchising to other locations (/supporting "digital nomads").

So yes, it could be seen as a stepping stone to working in ops at a more established EA org. But it could equally be seen as getting in at the bottom and building a new EA org.

Comment author: RomeoStevens 05 June 2018 11:08:20PM 8 points [-]

The biggest risk seems to be in the hotel manager position. My guess is there is underestimation of the learning curve and ongoing maintenance costs/time to run a 17 person hotel.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 06 June 2018 12:09:07AM *  4 points [-]

Yes, the goal is to simplify and streamline things as much as possible (e.g. self-service buffet for breakfasts and lunches, 1 or 2 option set menus for dinners, trolleys and trays for clearing/dishwashing, bulk buying of nearly all supplies - pretty much everything apart from salad veg and fruit - on a 6-8 week basis (large freezer), contracted out cleaning, bed linen/towel laundering and building repairs, automated booking systems, all-digital financial transactions, etc). Although I'm sure the planning fallacy will no doubt still strike. If need be, more volunteer time could be used, or the weekend manager could up their hours to add some in the week too (I have budgeted for a part-time salaried Weekend Manager, but have not made an ad for it yet. Priority is filling the full-time role).

Comment author: NickFitz 06 June 2018 12:46:08AM *  4 points [-]

Greg, this is fantastic and congratulations on all everything involved in making this a reality. I'm sure many of us will head over for a visit to collaborate and build community (I especially appreciate the handy google calendar!).

Comment author: arikagan 06 June 2018 01:09:29AM 3 points [-]

This is terrific - thanks for taking steps to make this a reality! Excited to see what wonderful things come out of the people who are staying there.

Comment author: WilliamKiely 06 June 2018 03:16:01AM 2 points [-]

Is the main value of this coordination to cause EAs to live together in a group? Or is it causing poor EAs to be able to do direct work without having to build up savings first?

If the former, it's unclear to me why there would only be value in grouping together EAs who don't have much money/income (would getting other EAs with money to live together not be equally as valuable?).

And if it's the latter, it's unclear to me why this idea would be better than just funding poor EAs directly and letting them decide where to live -- e.g. Alex K. Chen has proposed that paying for talented young people with high potential to live in the Harvard/MIT area so they could unschool themselves there is potentially very high value.

Comment author: jimrandomh 06 June 2018 03:45:58AM 3 points [-]

And if it's the latter, it's unclear to me why this idea would be better than just funding poor EAs directly and letting them decide where to live

That would cost much more per person. With that cost would come an expectation of filtering and grant proposals, which would keep out a lot of people who might otherwise use this to do good things.

Comment author: WilliamKiely 06 June 2018 03:59:19AM 0 points [-]

Good point. Do you think EAs with more money ought to consider living in group houses for the sake of reducing the cost of living to enable them to donate more?

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 06 June 2018 12:26:37PM *  0 points [-]

only be value in grouping together EAs who don't have much money/income

The hotel is open to anyone who wants to live frugally. Ideally EAs with money would pay their own way (i.e. the cost price of their stay). (In the event of demand outstripping supply, precedence will be given to EAs who don't have money/income though). Also EAs with means are welcome to form their own group houses in the nearby area.

just funding poor EAs directly and letting them decide where to live

The umbrella charity being formed will be open to funding EAs to live at similar costs in other places (as mentioned in OP, SE Asia is a possibility). A key metric is how much working time you are buying with the amount granted. As jimrandomh says, funding people at a higher level places higher expectations and demands on applicants (and there are prestigious and selective grants people can already apply for).

Comment author: SamSilver 06 June 2018 12:44:28AM 3 points [-]

This is so great - are you aware of any similar projects in the States?

Comment author: lukefreeman  (EA Profile) 06 June 2018 12:34:23AM 2 points [-]

I love this idea with so many 😍emojis

Comment author: WilliamKiely 06 June 2018 03:35:32AM 1 point [-]

Alex K Chen says: "You should like talk to people who do summer camp housing too, like SPARC" https://sparc-camp.org/

Comment author: richard_ngo 05 June 2018 01:13:07PM 5 points [-]

Kudos for doing this. The main piece of advice which comes to mind is to make sure to push this via university EA groups. I don't think you explicitly identified students as a target demographic in your post, but current students and new grads have the three traits which make the hotel such an attractive proposition: they're unusually time-rich, cash-poor, and willing to relocate.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 05 June 2018 10:13:29PM 2 points [-]

Good idea! Happy for anyone to promote it to any EA uni groups they are involved with. I can be on hand to comment/answer questions if added/tagged in posts on Facebook (or otherwise notified if elsewhere).

Comment author: MichaelPlant 04 June 2018 09:59:47PM 9 points [-]

Yeah, this is really cool, good work on this. £45 a month... Just crazy you can by a 17 room hotel in Blackpool for 1/3 the price of a 2 bed flat in London.

Comment author: Arepo 04 June 2018 10:15:51PM 7 points [-]

Hey Greg, this is a super interesting project - I really hope it takes off. Some thoughts on your essay:

1) Re the hotel name, I feel like this should primarily be made with the possibility of paying non-EAs in mind. EAs will - I hope - hear of the project by reputation rather than name, so the other guests are the ones you're most likely to need make a strong first impression on. 'Effective Altruism Hotel' definitely seems poor in that regard - 'Athena' seems ok (though maybe there's some benefits to renaming for the sake of renaming if the hotel was failing when you bought it)

2) > Another idea for empty rooms is offering outsiders the chance to purchase a kind of “catastrophic risk insurance”; paying, say, £1/day to reserve the right to live at the hotel in the event of a global (or regional) catastrophe.

This seems dubious to me (it's the only point of your essay I particularly disagreed with). It's a fairly small revenue stream for you, but means you're attracting people who're that little bit more willing to spend on their own self-interest (ie that little bit less altruistic), and penalises people who just hadn't heard of the project. Meanwhile, in the actual event, what practical effect would it have? Would you turn away people who showed up early when the sponsors arrived for their room?

If you want an explicit policy on using it as a GCR shelter, it seems like 'first come first served' would be at least as meritocratic, require less bureaucracy and offer a much more enforceable Schelling point.

3) As you say, I think this will be more appealing the more people it has involved from the beginning, so I would suggest aggressively marketing the idea in all EA circles which seem vaguely relevant, subject to the agreement of the relevant moderators - not that high a proportion of EAs read this forum, and of those who do, not that many will see this post. It's a really cool idea that I hope people will talk about, but again they'll do so a lot more if it's already seen as a success.

4) You describe it in the link, but maybe worth describing the Trustee role where you first mention it - or at least linking to it at that point.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 05 June 2018 10:07:41PM 4 points [-]

Hey, thanks for the comments.

1) Think it's fine to leave it as the Athena. Keeps things simple. The hotel wasn't failing as such, more that the previous owners have now retired and for a while had been happy to just have old regulars stay. The few public reviews it has are good.

2) You're probably right about "first come first served" being best for use of the hotel as a GCR shelter. Realistically, I wouldn't expect many EAs to make it to Blackpool from elsewhere in such an event, but they would be welcome.

3) I don't want to personally spam it too much, but I'd be grateful if others promote it to various groups they think are relevant. Especially UK groups (so far there haven't been that many UK people interested. Maybe something to do with the North-South divide?), and uni groups (as Richard mentions below).

4) Have added in footnote [7a].

Comment author: Khorton 04 June 2018 10:29:42PM 0 points [-]

I agree with all of these points, esp #2.

Comment author: Khorton 04 June 2018 10:07:37PM 7 points [-]

"is £25/week enough for phone, laptop, clothes, travel, entertainment, and all other non-food-or-housing expenditure" No, but that's probably okay. I have a friend who received a similarly stipend during an internship and supplemented it with savings.

I'd expect people to want to travel occasionally for personal reasons (eg home for Christmas) and need to occasionally pay for new phones or laptops (several hundred pounds, once every couple years). They might also find something like Spotify Premium, Netflix, or Headspace useful. The point is, £25 a week is unrealistic for a middle class Brit, but again, I think it's fine to expect people to freelance or use savings for these extra expenses.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 05 June 2018 10:50:26PM *  1 point [-]

I did factor in a £200 flight home once a year and mid-price phone contracts and laptops (just realised that the budget spreadsheet wasn't visible with the link before; it should be now). Netflix premium (£9.99/month) allows 4 simultaneous streams, so perhaps there could be one or two hotel accounts (I'm hoping to keep the hotel TV-free though, so there are no actual TVs). Doesn't look like Spotify has anything equivalent (but really, there is Soundcloud; and pretty much any music you can think of is on YouTube, and there are ways to play it ad free and in the background from a phone). But yes, I do expect that some people will want some over-budget luxuries, which they will hopefully be able to otherwise pay for.

Although of course it would be somewhat problematic if someone was spending a lot of their own money on extra luxuries (say they were spending an additional £5k/year. As mentioned in the OP with the digital nomad example, the cost-effectiveness of their funding would effectively be halved).

Comment author: Khorton 06 June 2018 12:57:48PM *  1 point [-]

I've just looked over the budget (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1bTwMRAD4TQjvHZ0eRCsN4uFdN5Se4zdcP1ikFOKj6-4/edit?usp=sharing). I really like how thorough and detailed it is. I am concerned that it may be overly optimistic, though - I'm sure other expenses will come up. For example, here are some things I use regularly that I don't see money set aside for:

-Tampons

-Medications (prescription or not)

-Razors

-Moisturizer/lotion

-Sunblock

-Contact lenses and solution

-Stationery

-Haircuts

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 02:38:26PM *  3 points [-]

You're right; I have increased the "Misc/Other" category to £200/year, and added an item for "Pharmacy" (£5/month)*. This ups the stipend to £30/week (increasing baseline costs 5% to ~£5700/person/year [EDIT 06 July 2018: have updated the OP to reflect this]). If in practice people are consistently running out of money covering their basic expenses it can be reviewed. I do want to try and keep the baseline costs as low as possible though, rather than have a higher amount to cover things that not everyone will need. However, as mentioned in the OP, it makes sense to have some kind of hardship/emergency fund (as well as a "career progression" fund for attending events). These would probably be means tested to some degree though.

*I have got a stock of basic things like toothpaste, toothbrushes, shower gel, shampoo, conditioner, sunblock, sunglasses, eye masks, ear plugs, combs, nail scissors, pain killers, tampons, hay fever tablets, paper and pens etc.

Comment author: deluks917 04 June 2018 07:21:26PM *  9 points [-]

Is this real life? This is mindblowingly cool. I wish I had the option to study here when I was younger.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 09 August 2018 05:37:20PM *  0 points [-]

The website is now up at eahotel.org. It's possible to book via the Booking page, and the Wiki has information for guests and an FAQ. People can also book video calls to talk about proposals for free stays working on EA stuff via the Contact page (I have updated the Next Steps section in the OP to reflect this).

Comment author: Denkenberger 18 June 2018 03:58:00AM 0 points [-]

Nice idea! The free health care in the UK helps make it low cost, though is there a probationary period for immigrants?

Comment author: Khorton 18 June 2018 09:02:46AM *  0 points [-]

No, your free (edit: pre-paid for most immigrants) health care starts when you start working/studying and register with a GP. If you need to apply for a visa, you will likely pay an NHS surcharge as part of your visa application.

Comment author: Jeff_Kaufman 15 June 2018 06:58:46PM 0 points [-]

Thinking about the hotel manager role, it's useful to use earning to give as a baseline for comparing impact. Maybe someone who could do a good job at this role could otherwise earn to give at $75-$150k/year if they were only to keep $20k/year for themself? [1] At full capacity there would be 16 bedrooms, but maybe you average 80% full, so this is an effective subsidy of $6k to $12k per resident per year. This on its own is in the same range as just giving people money to rent housing, even in an expensive market like London or the Bay Area. Then add in the other costs (real estate, upkeep, tasks that are contracted out) and this doesn't actually seem cheaper.

Might still be worth it, for the value of crystalizing a new EA hub in a generally cheaper area, but I'm not sold on it.

[1] Long term my expectation is that working a high paying job is probably building a lot more career capital than working as a hotel manager, but let's ignore that for now.

Comment author: MatejVrzala 18 June 2018 07:26:51AM 2 points [-]

Do you know, there are many people who have the skills to be great hotel managers and are making $15-$25k a year? In cheaper countries, such as Slovakia, Czech, Poland ... I really do not think people who are able to make 75 - 150 k a year will be interested in this job.

Comment author: branperr 06 June 2018 10:29:40PM 0 points [-]

I forgot to include this in the Google forum I filled, so I wanted to come back and comment on this. Are you going to help EAs with student loan debt on their payments? I know that many people, including myself, have a few hundred dollars a month that we have to pay, and being without income for a long period of time could make this a non-option for them. Alternatives like deferments could potentially be used, but it's an area that should be explored at least.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 03:44:17PM 3 points [-]

I think this is something that would come under the "hardship" fund mentioned above. Any kind of debts would probably be best treated as special cases deserving of individual assessment and means testing. (Student debt is not something I've especially considered as in the UK it only has to be paid if you are earning a significant amount, and gets written off after a number of years otherwise, so can basically be better considered as just another form of income tax).

Comment author: philosophytorres 06 June 2018 06:37:43PM 0 points [-]

Wow, this is absolutely stunning. I can't myself participate, but I genuinely hope this project takes off. I'm sure you're familiar with the famous (but not demolished) Building 20 at MIT: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Building_20. It provided a space for interdisciplinary work -- and wow, the results were truly amazing.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 07 June 2018 04:06:26PM *  1 point [-]

Thanks! Yes, Building 20 sounded great. It's mentioned in Deep Work, from which I reference the the "hub-and-spoke" model in the OP.

Comment author: MichaelPlant 06 June 2018 05:51:33PM 0 points [-]

A potential spanner: how would you restrict this to EAs? Is that legal? I doubt you can refuse service to people on the basis of what would be considerd an irrelevant characteristic. Analogy: could you have a hotel only for people of a certain race or sex?

Comment author: MichaelStJules 22 June 2018 02:34:19AM *  1 point [-]

There are protected characteristics, like race and gender, and the only way I can see EA/non-EA being covered is through beliefs. This first link only says religion specifically, but the second includes philosophical beliefs more generally:

https://www.gov.uk/discrimination-your-rights

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/section/10

More here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

I would guess that nonprofits that only serve people of a certain protected characteristics can also be legal, e.g. women's shelters. Maybe it could fall under Services and public functions, Premises or Associations:

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/part/3

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/part/4

http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/part/7

Comment author: Liam_Donovan 09 June 2018 03:43:26AM 2 points [-]

It's pretty simple: just get EAs to move in and don't advertise vacancies the rest of the time. That might sound sketchy, but I think it's essentially what the old owners did -- they let friends/long-time guests stay but didn't rent out the rest of the rooms. It might not fly in, like, Tahiti, but Blackpool has an enormous glut of accomodation. The impression I got from Greg is that lots of hotel owners there are already restricting occupancy to friends/family; a de-facto restriction to EAs shouldn't be a major problem, especially since (at least in the US) non-EAs are not a protected class.

Furthermore, if some random person really wants to stay there at inflated rates despite the complete lack of advertising, that would be a net benefit for the hotel, as Greg mentions in his post.

Comment author: Denkenberger 18 June 2018 04:15:13AM -1 points [-]

This says 20% of EA is vegan or vegetarian, so I would guess less than 10% vegan. Granted, the hard core EAs you are attracting may be more likely vegan, and you are lowering the barrier if someone else is reading labels and is hopefully a good cook. But I still think you are really limiting your pool by having all meals vegan. I understand you want to be frugal, and vegan from scratch is cheaper, but animal product substitutes are generally more expensive than animal products.

Comment author: EricHerboso  (EA Profile) 21 June 2018 04:06:23AM 5 points [-]

Not all EAs are on board with AI risk, but it would be rude for this EA hotel to commit to funding general AI research on the side. Whether all EAs are on board with effective animal advocacy isn't the key point when deciding whether the hotel's provided meals are vegan.

An EA who doesn't care about veganism will be mildly put off if the hotel doesn't serve meat. But an EA who believes that veganism is important would be very strongly put off if the hotel served meat. The relative difference in how disturbed the latter person would be is presumably at least 5 times as strong as the minor inconvenience that the former person would feel. This means that even if only 20% of EAs are vegan, the expected value from keeping meals vegan would beat out the convenience factor of including meat for nonvegans.

Comment author: markus_over 21 June 2018 08:24:18AM 9 points [-]

Plus there's reason to believe that of the non-vegans/vegetarians, a substantial subset probably still agrees to some extent that it's generally a good idea, and simply doesn't commit to the diet due to lack of motivation, or practicality in their situation, and thus would still welcome or at least be open to vegan food being provided in the hotel. So I guess even if 80% of EAs consider themselves to be omnivores, we can't assume that the whole 80% would personally perceive this policy of the hotel as negative.

Comment author: FlorianH 23 June 2018 06:37:46PM 4 points [-]

Indeed, I think I'm not the only one to whom the nudge towards eating more fully vegan would seem a highly welcome side-effect of a stay in the hotel.

Comment author: Gregory_Lewis 21 June 2018 08:59:28AM *  1 point [-]

I'm getting tired of the 'veganism is only a minor inconvenience' point being made:

  • V*ganism shows very high 'recidivism' rates in the general population. Most people who try to stop eating meat/animal products usually end up returning to eat these things before long.
  • The general public health literature on behaviour/lifestyle change seldom says these things are easy/straightforward to effect.
  • When this point is made by EAAs, there is almost always lots of EAs who they say, 'No, actually, I found going v*gan really hard', or, 'I tried it but I struggled so much I felt I had to switch back'.
  • (The selection effect that could explain why 'ongoing v*gans' found the change only a minor convenience is left as an exercise to the reader).

I don't know many times we need to rehearse this such that people stop saying 'V*ganism is a minor inconvenience'. But I do know it has happened enough times that other people in previous discussions have also wondered how many times this needs to be rehearsed such that people stop saying this.

Of course, even if it is a major inconvenience (FWIW, I'm a vegetarian, and I'd find the relatively small 'step further' to be exclusively vegan a major inconvenience), this could still be outweighed by other factors across the scales (there's discussion to be had 'relative aversion', some second-order stuff about appropriate cooperative norms, etc. etc.). Yet discussions of the cost-benefit proceed better if the costs are not wrongly dismissed.

Comment author: MichaelStJules 22 June 2018 02:57:15AM *  2 points [-]

V*ganism shows very high 'recidivism' rates in the general population. Most people who try to stop eating meat/animal products usually end up returning to eat these things before long.

FWIW, based on Faunalytics surveys, the recidivism rate seems to be about 50% for vegans motivated by animal protection specifically:

https://www.facebook.com/groups/EffectiveAnimalAdvocacy/permalink/906516599519212/

Comment author: MatejVrzala 21 June 2018 10:11:22AM *  9 points [-]

I would say, in many cases, we could consider veganism to be a major inconvenience.

For example

  • when the whole family is eating meat and one has to live with them.
  • when one cannot really choose in school or work because of cafeteria offer
  • when one doesn't have a belief animal suffering should be avoided
  • when one has low tendency to stand up against colleagues/friends/family/society pressure
  • when one doesn't know how to cook (or doesn't have time) and there are not good enough vegan services in place of living

But when you change the context to Hotel for effective altruists where one can just eat what is given, is supported to eat what's given by everyone around we could call it only a "minor inconvenience". And in a case, the food will be really good it could be called "great opportunity" for non-vegan EA to experience vegan living without even trying.

Comment author: Greg_Colbourn 18 June 2018 02:14:29PM 8 points [-]

I've not yet had anyone say it's a dealbreaker (and of course people are allowed to buy meat from takeaways - or microwaveable burgers etc - with their spending money if they are really craving it..). Whilst frugality comes into it, the main reason for the all vegan catering is ethics.

Also, I'd put money on the 2018 survey coming out with higher numbers for veg*anism :)

Comment author: Denkenberger 24 June 2018 04:13:29PM 0 points [-]

Good backup plan. That's great that it has not been a dealbreaker for anyone.