Reflections on EA Global London

post by PabloAMC · 2021-12-12T00:56:10.372Z · EA · GW · 3 comments

Contents

  Deciding and preparing to go
  How did the event go
    AI Safety related meetings
    Other important topics
  Concluding remarks.
None
3 comments

Summary: In this post, I aim to give an overview of my experience in EA Global London 2021.

Deciding and preparing to go

I started considering going to the Effective Altruism Global event in London some two months before the event. At the time, my main reason to go was that I am finishing a Ph.D. and my objective is to get a postdoc (or similar) on AI Safety. In particular, I was applying for a Future of Life Institute grant, and going to London would allow me to talk to knowledgeable people about my research proposal. Furthermore, I had some flying vouchers due to covid cancellations that either I could use or I would lose altogether; so it made sense to travel almost for free.

I had already taken part in EAG London in 2019, but since my objective was so clear and "high-stakes" careerwise this time, I took preparation more seriously. In particular, as soon as I was admitted and given access to the app, I looked for people to talk to. I scheduled quite a few meetings mostly with people I did not know personally but worked at places that could be useful to reach out to.

I also started looking for where to stay and can say I am very grateful to the members from EA Yale and Georgetown that allowed me to take the eighth bed in their room.

How did the event go

I think the event went really well. I had some really valuable conversations, and I cannot be but extremely grateful for people who were generous enough to give me half an hour of their time and useful feedback on my research proposal. Something I find particularly enjoyable about EA conferences is how easy it is to reach out to people of much higher status that would be inaccessible in other circumstances. I have been in academic conferences and it is oftentimes complicated to talk to people unless you have a previous reputation, which is quite scarce. On the other hand, even if you can talk to them it is really important that you think well through what you want to talk about with them, they will find it more enjoyable and easier to provide feedback and you will find it much more useful.

I met with top researchers like Geoffrey Irving, EA long term fund managers and while most of them had been carefully scheduled, I also had serendipitous meetings with new people (I even got to ask something to Victoria Krakovna!) and encounters with old friends from AI Safety Camps, etc I had not seen for a long time. It was encouraging to see so many of them doing great research work already :) I acknowledge that in contrast to 1-1s I did not put much focus on workshops or speed meetings, perhaps because I prefer more targetted conversations.

Other important topics

Besides AI Safety, I wanted to talk to people in the community about managing personal sacrifices to improve the world. It happens to be the case that my girlfriend is in Spain, and if I want to take an impactful research position it will most certainly be relatively far. I still want to do it, but it is also true that she makes me very happy, so this is a sacrifice. Unfortunately, nobody could offer me a silver bullet, but I did not expect such a thing to exist anyway, and I think talking to people about this helps me too. I am particularly grateful to Katie Glass for walking me through different options.

Something I was also very excited to do was to talk in person with Habiba Islam. I have had career coaching with her but never met her in person before. I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to meet her in person and am thankful for their supportive work at 80000hours. I also believe we should value more those in the community listening to people's worries and challenges since doing a lot of good can be quite demanding.

Concluding remarks.

In general, I think the EA Global was a very nice experience. In retrospect, even each of the individual days would have been enough to warrant the trip. I also liked the opportunity to meet some people virtually. Finally, I am not sure what I would have done differently. Perhaps going to the AI Safety speed meeting? Probably reaching out to newer people in the field to help them in their aspirations.

There were only two things I did not like about the conference though. The first one was once I felt needlessly excluded from a conversation. I think we should be especially careful with this behavior towards newcomers, as it can be damaging to the perceived oppeness of the community. The second was how floppy was London in general and participants in particular towards covid. I don't think that organizers took the wrong decisions, but I felt that participants should have worn masks much more often than they did. I was a bit worried that if I caught covid I would have missed the flight back home or found myself in messy insurance bureaucratic situations.

In any case, I would like to thank the organizers for the conference. While I often feel more comfortable at home without the need to take planes or make plans, I can say it was a very enjoyable and productive event. Thanks!

3 comments

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comment by Robi Rahman (robirahman) · 2021-12-14T20:19:02.264Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I disagree with your point about participants not being cautious enough about covid. Last I heard (someone correct me if this was later updated), four attendees tested positive during or after the conference, out of about 900 participants. That is an impressively low rate, and indicates that the safety measures worked well! I want to commend the organizers for doing a great job addressing covid issues: they had lots of rapid tests available for us, gave lots of advice about travel safety, and didn't do anything excessive or unwarranted by the risk level, like cancelling the conference or social-distancing the discussions.

Replies from: PabloAMC
comment by PabloAMC · 2021-12-14T20:58:59.399Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Notice that I did not criticized the organisers, I think encouraging but not imposing masks was a good enough approach. What worried me was the possible consequences of getting covid abroad. On the other hand, 4 people was around what I expected based on the 14 days incidence. My intuition is that people behaved that way because they say people in London acting that way. And if not wearing masks at the event was the right behavior, then does that mean that we should not wear them anymore anywhere? It depends on your preferences of course, but under uncertainty I prefer to stick to masks, especially being so low cost.

comment by aogara (Aidan O'Gara) · 2021-12-12T08:41:49.232Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Great example of what EA Globals can be useful for, thanks for sharing! Particularly like the model of coming with a specific question or questions to be answered, booking ahead calls with people you’ve researched and believe can offer specific insight, and having a general plan for the structure of your calls. Also really cool to hear about getting personal advice and support, haven’t had the chance myself but sounds like it was really valuable and worthwhile. Nicely done.