Comment author: vollmer 06 June 2018 04:56:20PM *  9 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: toonalfrink 18 June 2018 01:53:40PM 3 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: toonalfrink 08 June 2018 01:34:38PM 1 point [-]

Thank you for the mention!