Where would we set up the next EA hubs?

post by mariushobbhahn, MaxRa, Yannick_Muehlhaeuser, JasperGeh · 2022-03-16T13:37:21.242Z · EA · GW · 32 comments

Contents

  Criteria
    Local Culture & Social Environment 
    Quality of life
    Economic regulatory framework
    Governance institutions
    Research environment
    Easy immigration & visa
    Timezone
    Language
    Great Power War
  Suggestions
  First steps
None
31 comments

A question that we often asked ourselves is “where would be the best spot for a large EA hub?”. By this, we actually mean two questions. Firstly, “Where would be the optimal hub from first principles?” and secondly, “Which locations are currently neglected by the community?

Recently, a lot of EAs suddenly live (temporarily) in the Bahamas. We think this mostly shows that there is a large number of EAs who have a high willingness to move as long as the outcome justifies it. However, we don’t think the Bahamas are a good long-term destination for an EA hub since they don’t fulfill many of the criteria below. Thus, we think it makes sense to (once again) think more deeply about the location question for EA hubs. 

TL;DR: just skim the headlines and suggestions.

Context: The topic of location has been discussed before (see e.g. this 2020 LW [LW · GW] post or this MIRI post [LW · GW]). We decided to write this post anyway because a) the topic is always relevant, b) previous discussions left out important locations (e.g. Asia, mainland Europe) and c) recent developments (Covid, Bahamas, new companies) changed some considerations. 

Of course, these are just preliminary thoughts and we’d be interested in your takes and, more importantly, location suggestions.

Criteria

Broadly sorted by how important we think they are and weighed by different use-cases, e.g. governance vs. industry vs. research. However, feel free to reorder them according to your preferences. 

Local Culture & Social Environment 

The entire point of having a hub is to be around like-minded people and benefit from the network effects. This becomes especially important when we want to collaborate with people outside of the EA community who do important work on similar problems, e.g. the Bay Area and AI research. 

Furthermore, the location should probably have a culture that is compatible with (or at least tolerant of) EA. This often entails an interest in intellectualism that is found in cities with a large university or the entrepreneurial spirit of start-up scenes. 

Quality of life

High quality of life usually depends on a lot of different factors such as the cost of living, how walkable a place is, the availability of health and child care, the quality of the internet connection, crime rates, the weather, the availability of housing, and much more. 

There are a number of indices that rank cities according to a weighted sum of many factors such as the mercer city ranking, the where-to-be-born index and the most livable cities overview. While there is some disagreement between different rankings, they often rate the current EA hubs outside of their top ten and their top cities usually have a smaller EA presence (e.g., Tokyo, Auckland, Adelaide, Vancouver, Vienna). Of course, EAs could just have very different preferences but it might still be a good starting point to think about these questions from first principles. 

The availability of healthcare differs strongly for trans people around the world. Since a non-trivial amount of the wider EA/rationality community is trans, it makes sense to look into this in more detail before building up the hub. 

Economic regulatory framework

There is a growing demand for megaprojects in EA [? · GW]. In many countries, the laws for NGOs are made for smaller institutions and do not really allow for these large-scale endeavors. Therefore, either private companies (e.g. FTX, Alvea [EA · GW](?)) or private-public hybrids (e.g. Anthropic, Redwood Research) might become more and more prominent in EA. Thus, the specific economic regulatory framework matters a lot. It is important to be able to set up these hybrid companies in the first place, to be able to hire international workers easily, to allow for international investors, to not be hindered by too much red tape, etc.

Our hunch is that there will be many such projects in the near future and thus this should be an important consideration when founding a new hub or growing an existing one. 

Governance institutions

Influencing governments is a rapidly growing priority within the EA community. Therefore, a potential hub should be close to institutions that matter. These can be governments, supranational bodies like the EU, or global institutions like the UN. 

Additionally, it might be important to be in places that have a relevant influence on the AI landscape such as the US and China. With more powerful AI systems, countries will have to create legislation and it is important that EAs play a part in the creation of such laws. 

Research environment

Good research requires good institutional support and an environment that supports researchers and allows them to focus solely on their mission. This environment is often influenced by local institutions such as universities or companies, e.g. it is easier to do good research in Oxbridge or DeepMind than a small underfunded institution. Concrete things to look out for include research spending as a percentage of GDP, ease of receiving grants, the potential for collaborations with high-impact non-EA researchers, or the conditions of concrete institutions (e.g. do they require you to publish X papers every year). 

However, we think the research environment is less important than the economic framework and governance since research seems to depend more on having the right people at the right place than the exact regulatory setup. Thus, it is more important to create a good environment for the researchers once there is a hub, rather than building the hub around some local research institution. 

Easy immigration & visa

EAs come from many different countries and often quickly need to get into another country to start a new position. The more complicated the immigration and visa process, the more we artificially reduce the talent pool. Immigration for high-skilled workers between western, rich nations is probably sufficiently easy (even though it could be better) but getting talent from the developing world (which contains the vast majority of people) to western countries is still an annoyingly complicated process. 

Timezone

There is a lot of cooperation between EA organizations around the globe and timezones matter more than one might expect. Since the two biggest hubs are either in the Bay Area time zone or London time zone, high overlap with those is likely desirable. 

Specifically, time zones beyond ~UTC+6 (East Asia, Australia, New Zealand) often have scheduling problems with many EA organizations. 

Language

Especially when trying to influence governments, language matters more than we like. Governments are often run in the country’s official language and policymakers might not like to interact with people that only speak English. 

Places where this is especially prominent include Japan, Italy, France, China, and many more. Therefore, for governance endeavors in these countries, it is especially important to have people who speak the local language very well and can build a trustworthy bridge to powerful institutions. 

Beyond the interaction with governments, living in a place where most people speak a language you know is also much more convenient for interaction with ordinary bureaucracy and health care and social activities like sport or other hobbies. 

Great Power War

With Putin’s war on Ukraine and China–Taiwan tensions, the probability of great power wars and nuclear war is non-negligible. Metaculus estimates 21 % chance for a third world war before 2050 and a 6 % chance for fatalities from a non-test nuclear detonation by 2024, and you can find a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation by Ben Todd on how endangered specific places are. 

A detailed look at the safety of different places can be found here [EA · GW]. The consensus is that important international centers such as Washington DC, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., and (potential) conflict zones such as Eastern Europe and Taiwan are especially endangered. 

Places that are either mostly neutral such as Switzerland or far away from potential great power wars (like Latin America, Australia and Africa) likely have a low probability of being hit by nuclear weapons. 

Suggestions

From obvious to less obvious. Current hubs exist for a reason but they have some downsides such as high cost of living or being focused on a small number of Western countries.

While our list of suggestions might seem long, there are a ton of major cities around the world that we have explicitly omitted from it. We think, for example, that many US cities wouldn't be ideal for a hub since the downsides of American city design outweigh the benefits unless there are important private or public actors to counter-balance it. 

First steps

If you are interested in setting up a new hub or want to contribute to an existing one we have some vague suggestions:


 

32 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by levin · 2022-03-16T19:17:29.100Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

We're working on making Boston a much better hub - stay tuned!

In addition to the biosecurity hub, advantages for Boston not listed in the Boston section include immediate proximity to two of the top 2/5/5 global universities (the only place on earth where two are within a mile of each other), an advantage both for outreach/community-building and for the "culture fit" aspects discussed in this post.

It's also nearly ideally positioned between other EA hubs and mini-hubs:

  • Non-horrific distance in both time zone and flight to London (5 hours apart/6.5 hour flight) and San Francisco (3 hours apart/7 hour flight). Decent flight connectivity to Central Europe as well (though NYC is better for this).
  • Easy train ride to NYC (on which I am typing this comment!) and quick flights to NYC/DC.
  • Same time zone and 3.5 hour flight to Bahamas.
Replies from: Dan Elton, jpaddison
comment by Dan Elton · 2022-05-25T14:46:35.071Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I live near Boston (Somerville, just north of Cambridge).

Perhaps this is obvious but it's worth noting that the urban core of Boston is denser than a lot of other cities, which makes it easier to get around, either by walking, bike, or public transit. The public transportation is very good (although only by American standards) and will get better with the Green line extension opening (hopefully by Fall 2022). They also seem to be doing a really good job with urban planning / construction here generally compared to other cities (they are actually allowing lots of new housing to be built to meet rising demand). 

I'm excited about the EA co-working (https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/cCrMqacEhFRnoHthF/do-you-want-to-work-in-the-new-boston-ea-office-at-harvard) and biosecurity hub projects here. 

The main downside is the cold weather, which is exacerbated by moist air from the ocean. However if you know how to dress properly it shouldn't be too much of an issue.  Another downside, if you're young, is high-turnover among the people in their 20s since many are just here for school. 

comment by JP Addison (jpaddison) · 2022-03-16T19:48:28.166Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

As a newcomer to Boston, I endorse those advantages.

comment by Jan_Kulveit · 2022-03-16T14:36:54.030Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing!  We plan to announce some new significant effort in Prague in next ~1 month, and also likely will offer some aid to people moving to Prague. If anyone is interested in moving somewhere in Europe, send me a pm. 

Basic reasoning is Prague is pareto-optimal on some combination of 'existing community (already 10-20 FTE people working on longtermist projects, other ~10FTE job openings this year)', 'better quality of living', 'costs to relocate', 'in Europe', 'cultural sanity'. There wasn't much effort going into promoting Prague in past two years, but that's likely to change.

FWIW 
- I don't think any european AI efforts apart from DeepMind are important
- It is something between 'hard' and 'almost impossible' to start a community somewhere without a strong grass-root effort by a local group; top-down reasoning of the style 'it would be good to have a hub in Japan' leads to no practical results 
 

Replies from: mariushobbhahn
comment by mariushobbhahn · 2022-03-16T15:02:13.764Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the comment. I'll add it to the post :) 

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2022-03-16T15:29:51.531Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It seems to me that more or less all of the listed places in the Anglosphere are already existing hubs, meaning that ~all suggestions for new hubs are outside of the Anglosphere. But there could be room for new hubs in the Anglosphere, e.g. in LA, NYC, Texas, Florida, or somewhere in Australia or New Zealand. Several of those places probably have better weather than existing Anglosphere hubs.

Replies from: dpiepgrass
comment by dpiepgrass · 2022-03-17T23:24:29.681Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I propose someplace affordable. What's wrong with, say, Toledo, OH (between Detroit and Cleveland), which according to one source has the least expensive rent among U.S. cities? Its location on Lake Erie should give it reasonably good weather.

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert, mariushobbhahn
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2022-03-17T23:43:20.631Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My sense is that affordability is often a bit overrated (relative to other criteria) in discussions of new hubs.

comment by mariushobbhahn · 2022-03-18T08:29:14.377Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I have a similar intuition as Stefan. The networks effects, governance advantages, etc. seem more important to do effective good fast than how expensive rent is. I think cheap housing might win out for some orgs, e.g. if you can work mostly remote, have a very limited budget and don't require much real-world contact with non-EA institutions. But it feels like this applies to the vast minority of orgs in the status quo. 

comment by david_reinstein · 2022-03-16T20:50:30.263Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I encourage you to consider expanding the list. The current hubs/considered hubs are overwhelmingly
in expensive places to live, vulnerable to the threat of nuclear war/nuclear winter, and hard to immigrate to.

But maybe 'one hub' does not fit all purposes. A hub in a place like the Canary Islands would be inexpensive to live, has a very high quality of life, has a good nice timezone, and is fairly safe from nuclear war. This could be very useful for enabling intellectual development, research, and writing.

On the other hand a hub in Washington DC offers the potential for influence, intellectual stimulation, proximity to top universities, etc.

But these things naturally tend to trade off; the more 'central' a place is, the more costly it is, and the more it is a target of great power war.

I don't see the point in getting people interested in doing research to live in cities that are expensive precisely because they are close to financial or government centers ... or vice/versa.

comment by Chris Leong (casebash) · 2022-03-16T15:47:03.579Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

You may want to join this group if you aren't there already.

I'm bullish on Berlin given TEAMWORK [EA · GW] and the plans to create a long-termist version of the EA Hotel there which seem to have significant backing.

Replies from: Alex D, Severin T. Seehrich, Simon_Grimm
comment by Alex D · 2022-03-16T22:15:31.890Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

No one's quite sure exactly what the WHO's Pandemic Intelligence Hub is going to, like y'know, actually do... but it existing is probably a marginal boost in favour of Berlin for Biosecurity EAs.

comment by Severin T. Seehrich · 2022-03-16T19:56:21.000Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Agreed. There are some more arguments for Berlin:
- it has a local EA community whose member count may well be somewhere in the 100s
- it is one of Europe's major startup hubs
- it already has a very large expat community and culture. Accordingly, you can manage most of everyday life from grocery shopping to socializing with non-EAs without knowing a word of German.

Regarding the plans for Berlin Longtermist Hub Chris mentioned: Here you can find our project outline. Note that it still is a work in progress and things will change over the next weeks and months.

Replies from: Simon_Grimm
comment by slg (Simon_Grimm) · 2022-03-16T20:09:07.579Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Maybe you’re already considering this but here it goes anyway:

I‘d advise against the name ‚longtermist hub‘. I wouldn‘t want longtermism to also become an identity, just as EA is one.

It also has reputational risks—which is why new EA-oriented orgs do not have EA in their name.

Replies from: Severin T. Seehrich, Jonathan_Michel
comment by Severin T. Seehrich · 2022-03-16T21:29:40.492Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, we are currently working on a better name. Thanks for the input, and feel free to send me a message if you have a great idea.

comment by Jonathan_Michel · 2022-03-16T22:53:59.121Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Very strong upvote. Thanks for commenting this Simon.

comment by slg (Simon_Grimm) · 2022-03-16T20:12:12.004Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Do you know which funder is supporting the EA Hotel type thing?

Replies from: casebash
comment by Chris Leong (casebash) · 2022-03-16T22:35:19.413Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Apparently they have support from a private donor.

comment by OllieBase · 2022-03-16T13:50:55.625Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for sharing! Minor point: I'm biased about this (because I live there) but London + Oxford + Cambridge is an area that is about the same size as the Bay Area (I can't find a map-to-map comparison quickly). The communities are mostly separate but with lots of overlap. I expect that's also true (?) of the Bay Area.

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert, Aleks_K, calebp
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2022-03-16T16:16:52.965Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

My sense is that, e.g. Berkeley and SF are more integrated than London and Oxford. E.g. the areas in-between Berkeley and SF are continuously built-up, whereas that's not the case between London and Oxford.

Replies from: OllieBase
comment by OllieBase · 2022-03-16T17:09:48.548Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Huh, I thought the Bay Area referred to a larger area (e.g. Palo Alto too). Makes sense!

I can confirm that Reading is not the glistening urban sprawl that we dream it to be.

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2022-03-16T17:19:49.640Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

It does but I think many (not all) EA orgs are situated in SF, Berkeley, and adjacent areas. I'm not up to date, however.

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-03-16T18:25:31.717Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I'm not aware of any EA orgs in South Bay at least back when I was there (circa 2016-2019), with the possible exception of the Foresight Institute.

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2022-03-16T18:48:14.817Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Stanford Existential Risk Initiative works on X-risk.

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-03-16T19:27:48.160Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Ah yeah I wasn't thinking of the Stanford folks good point! (Also they were less around in 2019). 

comment by Aleks_K · 2022-03-26T07:58:51.580Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

While this is true for London + Oxford and (probably?) London + Cambridge, I don't think this is true for (London +) Oxford + Cambridge,  in particular as Oxford and Cambridge are really poorly connected transportwise.

Replies from: Stefan_Schubert
comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2022-03-26T11:58:00.203Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I think that the degree to which there is a "Loxbridge" is overrated.

comment by calebp · 2022-03-18T23:27:08.228Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think I have the opposite impression although I haven't spent much time in the bay.

When I lived in London I didn't feel connected to oxf/cam communities. I think that oxf and cam uni groups are trying to collaborate more but it takes about 2 hours to get from one place to the other.

comment by jwpieters (Jordan Pieters) · 2022-06-14T15:46:11.650Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

One thing this post doesn't really touch on, which I would like more discussion about, is why we should establish new hubs in the first place. I think creating an EA hub that's as good as Berkeley or Oxford is actually really difficult, so we should plausibly spend a lot of time deciding whether it's worth the cost. We should weigh up the cost of new hubs with the cost of just trying to get people to move to an existing one. Sure, maybe not everyone can move to Oxford or Berkeley if they want to, but not everyone needs to live in a 'hub'. 

Maybe the flip side of this is that we should just have a bunch of people trying to start hubs, and we see who succeeds and who fails. That might be a good indicator of hub 'attractiveness'. But I'm not sure we have the time or resources to try that

comment by Charles Dillon (Charles_Dillon ) · 2022-03-26T14:38:46.276Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

"generally really shitty salaries for researchers in the UK" as a downside for Oxbridge - this seems like something any org hiring researchers can unilaterally fix, at least for their researchers?

Replies from: mariushobbhahn
comment by mariushobbhahn · 2022-03-28T07:32:44.899Z · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think this is true for EA orgs but 
a) Some people want to contribute within the academic system
b) Even EA orgs can be constrained by weird academic legal constraints. I think FHI is currently facing some problems along these lines (low confidence, better ask them).