Posts

Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus 2019-11-22T16:19:31.741Z · score: 41 (41 votes)
CEA is Fundraising for 2019 2018-11-28T05:14:00.055Z · score: 29 (19 votes)
Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA): an overview of 2017 and our 2018 plans 2017-12-19T14:02:03.231Z · score: 21 (21 votes)

Comments

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-29T17:39:43.001Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Casebash,

Thank you for the question; this is an important topic.

We believe that advances in psychology could make improvements to many people's lives by helping with depression, increasing happiness, improving relationships, and helping people think more clearly and rationally. As a result, we're optimistic that the sign can be positive. Our past work was primarily focused on these kinds of upsides, especially self-improvement; developing skills, improving rationality, and helping people solve problems in their lives.

That said, there are potential downsides to advancing knowledge in a lot of areas, which are important to think through in advance. I know the EA community has thought about some of the relevant areas such as flow-through effects and how to think about them (e.g. the impact of AMF on population and the meat-eater problem) and cases where extra effort might be harmful (e.g. possible risks to AI safety from increasing hardware capacities and whether or not working on AI safety might contribute to capabilities).

Leverage 1.0 thought a lot about the impact of psychology research and came to the view that sharing the research would be positive. Evaluating this is an area where it's hard to build detailed models though so I'd be keen to learn more about EA research on these kinds of questions.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on EA Updates for November 2019 · 2019-11-29T17:19:53.495Z · score: 23 (13 votes) · EA · GW

Every time you post these each month, I end up thinking something like "these are so useful, I'm really grateful David does this". I thought this month I should actually tell you that, so thank you so much for posting these!

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-24T22:04:02.191Z · score: 3 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Hi casebash,

We are conducting psychology research based on the following assumptions:
1) psychology is an important area to understand if you want to improve the world
2) it is possible to make progress in understanding the human mind
3) the current field of psychology lags behind its potential
4) part of the reason psychology is lagging behind its potential is that it has not completed the relevant early stage science steps
5) during Leverage 1.0, we developed some useful tools that could be used by academics in the field to make progress in psychology.

Assumptions 2) and 5) are based on our experience in conducting psychology research as part of Leverage 1.0. The next step will be to test these assumptions by seeing if we can train academics on a couple of the introspection tools we developed and have them use them to conduct academic research.

Assumptions 3) and 4) are something we have come to believe from our investigations so far into existing psychology research and early stage science. We are currently very uncertain about this and so further study on our part is warranted.

What we are trying to accomplish is to further the field of psychology, initially by providing tools that others in the field can use to develop and test new theories. The hope is that we might make contributions to the field that would help it advance. Contributing to significant progress in psychology is, of course, a very speculative bet but, given our views on the importance of understanding psychology, one that still seems worth making.

I hope that helps. Let me know if you have further questions.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-24T20:38:58.577Z · score: 5 (4 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Jeff,

Thanks for taking the time to check out the paper and for sending us your thoughts.

I really like the examples of building new instruments and figuring out how that works versus creating something that’s a refinement of an existing instrument. I think these seem very illustrative of early stage science.

My guess is that the process you were using to work out how your forked brass works, feels similar to how it might feel to be conducting early stage science. One thing that stood out to me was that someone else trying to replicate the instrument found, if I understood this correctly, they could only do so with much longer tubes. That person then theorised that perhaps the mouth and diaphragm of the person playing the instrument have an effect. This is reminiscent of the problems with Galileo’s telescope and the difference in people’s eyesight.

Another thought this example gave me is how video can play a big part in today’s early stage science, in the same way, that demonstrations did in the past. It’s much easier to demonstrate to a wide audience that you really can make the sounds you claim with the instrument you’re describing if they can watch a video of it. If all people had was a description of what you had built, but they couldn’t create the same sound on a replica instrument, they might have been more sceptical. Being able to replicate the experiment will matter more in areas where the claims made are further outside of people’s current expectations. “I can play these notes with this instrument” is probably less unexpected than “Jupiter has satellites we hadn't seen before and I can see them with this new contraption”. This is outside of the scope of our research, it’s just a thought prompted by the example.

I’ve asked my colleagues to provide an answer to your questions about how controversial the claim that early stage science works differently is and whether it seems likely that there would still be early stage science today. I believe Mindy will add a comment about that soon. We’ll also amend the typo, thanks for pointing that out!

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-23T15:04:55.398Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Perfect, thank you. I've edited it and added a footnote.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-23T14:58:14.216Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks JP and Edoarad! 😄

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-22T22:09:35.503Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Jeff :-) I hope it’s helpful.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-22T22:07:17.591Z · score: 9 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Yeah this makes sense, thanks for asking for clarification. The communication section is meant to be a mixture of i) and ii). I think in many cases it was the right decision for Leverage not to prioritise publishing a lot of their research where doing so wouldn’t have been particularly useful. However we think it was a mistake to do some public communication and then remove it, and not to figure out how to communicate about more of our work.

I’m not sure what the best post etiquette is here, should I just edit the post to put in your suggestion and note that the post was edited based on comments?

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-22T22:03:12.562Z · score: 5 (3 votes) · EA · GW

(totally unrelated to the actual post but how did you include an emoticon JP?)

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-22T22:02:29.841Z · score: 8 (11 votes) · EA · GW

Hi JP,

(Haha, I did wonder about having so many headings, but it just felt so organised that way, you know 😉)

With regards to removing content we published online, I think we hit the obvious failure mode I expect a lot of new researchers and writers run into, which was that we underestimated how time-consuming, but also stressful, posting publicly and then replying to all the questions can be. To be honest, I kind of suspect early and unexpected negative experiences with public engagement led Leverage to be overly sceptical of it being useful and nudged them away from prioritising communicating their ideas.

From what I understand, some of the key things we ended up removing were:

1) content on Connection Theory (CT)

2) a long-term plan document

3) a version of our website that was very focused on “world-saving.”

With the CT content, I don’t think we made sufficiently clear that we thought of CT as a Kuhnian paradigm worth investigating rather than a fully-fledged, literally true-about-the-world claim.

Speaking to Geoff, it sounds like he assumed people would naturally be thinking in terms of paradigms for this kind of research, often discussed CT under that assumption and then was surprised when people mistook claims about CT to be literal truth claims. To clarify, members of Leverage 1.0 typically didn’t think about CT as being literally true as stated, and the same is true of today’s Leverage 2.0 staff. I can understand why people got this impression from some of their earlier writing though.

This confusion meant people critiqued CT as having insufficient evidence to believe it upfront (which we agree with). While the critiques were understandable, it wasn’t a reason to believe that the research path wasn’t worth following, and we struggled to get people to engage with CT as a potential paradigm. I think the cause of the disagreement wasn’t as clear to us at the time, which made our approach challenging to convey and discuss.

With the long-term planning documents, people misinterpreted the materials in ways that we didn’t expect and hadn’t intended (e.g. as being a claim about what we’d already achieved or as a sign that we were intending something sinister). It seems as though people read the plan as a series of predictions about the future and fixed steps that we were confident we would achieve alone. Instead, we were thinking of it as a way to orient on the scale of the problems we were trying to tackle. We think it’s worth trying to think through very long-term goals you have to see the assumptions that are baked in into your current thinking and world model. We expect solving any problems on a large scale to take a great deal of coordinated effort and plans to change a lot as you learn more.

We also found that a) these kinds of things got a lot more focus than any of our other work which distorted people’s perceptions of what we were doing and b) people would frequently find old versions online and then react badly to them (e.g. becoming upset, confused or concerned) in ways we found difficult to manage.

In the end, I think Leverage concluded the easiest way to solve this was just to remove everything. I think this was a mistake (especially as it only intensified everyone’s curiosity) and it would have been better to post something explaining this problem at the time, but I can see why it might have seemed like just removing the content would solve the problem.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Updates from Leverage Research: history, mistakes and new focus · 2019-11-22T19:18:27.084Z · score: 12 (8 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Milan, we’re still deciding what, if any, information it seems appropriate to share about our donors publicly. We do expect some Leverage 1.0 donors to continue to support Leverage 2.0. We will also soon start fundraising for Leverage 2.0 and will probably engage with communities that are interested in areas like early stage science and meta science.


Comment by larissaheskethrowe on How to use the Forum · 2019-10-11T12:42:44.668Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA · GW

That's great! Thanks for sorting that so quickly and for letting me know.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts · 2019-09-22T13:22:56.674Z · score: 21 (14 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Anonymoose,

I’d like to do two things with my reply here.

  1. First, to try and answer your questions as best I can.
  2. But then second, start to work out how to make future conversations with you about Leverage more productive

1. ANSWERING YOUR QUESTIONS

I’d recommend first reading my recent reply to Greg because this will give you a lot of relevant context and answers some of your questions.

Questions a, b and d: outputs, resources and future impact

Your Questions:

“(a) are Leverage's outputs truly as they appear?”
“(b) Is its consumption of financial resources and talent, as it appears?”
“(d) How will Leverage measure any impact from its ninth year of operation?”

In terms of questions a, b and d, I will note the same thing as I said in my reply to Greg which is that we’re currently working both on a retrospective of the last eight and a half years of Leverage and on updating Leverage’s existing website. I think these posts and updates will then allow individuals to assess for themselves

  1. our past work and outputs
  2. whether it was worth the resources invested
  3. our plans for the future

For now, though sections “What did Leverage 1.0 work on?” and “What is Leverage doing now” in my reply to Greg will give you some information about things Leverage did and its plans for the future.

It's hard to comment on whether any of these things are “as they appear” as (1) there isn't enough public content to assess and (2) different people seem to have had very different experiences with Leverage and have very different views on their work

This means how Leverage's work appears depends on an individual’s interactions with them. This has made it hard for any consensus to emerge and so debates continue. Once we've published more of our content, I hope it will be easier to sync up and assess them.


Questions e and f: staffing cross over between Leverage and Paradigm

Your questions (referencing one of your other posts about Leverage):

“(e) How many of the staff at Leverage Research are also affiliated with Paradigm Academy?”
“(f) How much of the leadership of Leverage Research is also playing a leading role at Paradigm Academy?”

On questions, e and f, see the section in my recent reply to Greg called “Who works for Leverage and Paradigm?”.

Geoff Anders is the founder and Executive Director of both Paradigm and Leverage and as such is currently the only member of staff working at both organisations. The two are sister organisations with different missions that collaborate. Leverage's mission was essentially conducting research. Paradigm's focus was much more on training. This means that there is some natural overlap and historically the two organisations have worked closely together. Paradigm uses Leverage’s research content in their training and in return they provide practical support (operations support, help to update the website) to Leverage.

We have no intention as you and the original poster propose of using the Paradigm or other brands to replace Leverage if there are too many problems with its brand. We created other organisations with different brands to distinguish between the different work they were doing. We’ve intentionally continued our current research under the same name so as to link to our origins with Leverage 1.0. When we update both websites (starting with Leverage) over the coming months you will be able to see the teams at each.


Questions i) and iv) discussing potential recruits in slack and recruitment at events

Your questions:

“(i) staff still discuss recruitees on individual slack channels”
“(iv) specific lists of attendees are recruited from EA events”

On question i), yes Leverage discuss people they are considering hiring on slack both in recruitment slack channels and DMs as part of deciding whether to hire someone.

With regards to workshops in particular, we will mention people attending workshops on slack but this is usually in the form of staff coordinating to arrange training and share training relevant information (e.g. “this person had trouble belief reporting, it would be good to assign a trainer during the 1-1 who could help them belief report"). If someone is a workshop attendee and we are considering hiring them they might be discussed in both contexts.

Leverage and Paradigm have also (in answer to question iv) attended (EA and non-EA) events with lists of people they plan to speak to because they might be good potential hires. In addition, at events, they often do things like having tables so that people interested in working there (or interested in their work in general) can ask questions. Of course, they also attend events for non-recruitment reasons (e.g. learning about interesting topics by attending talks and having discussions with people). Leverage are particularly interested in meeting independent researchers. Paradigm are interested in meeting people interested in self-improvement.


Question ii) “mind-mapping is still used during recruitment of staff”

On question ii), here I assume you’re asking about using the charting procedure which I think might have been called mind mapping at some point. This is a way of taking system one beliefs someone has and trying to map out why a person has those beliefs and what actions they taking as a result of those beliefs that they want to change.

Historically Paradigm and Leverage did do some charting with potential hires to see if they could use some of the basic techniques and found them helpful. Since Paradigm used charting in training and Leverage in research it was important new hires are aware of that, have a basic understanding of the tools and some interest in it. This is no longer needed in the Leverage hiring process as not all researchers will be doing any research relating to CT or charting but continues to be relevant to Paradigm for training so they still do some charting with potential hires. Staff will of course use their models of psychology to aid hiring decisions because they have useful models in this area but this is more akin to the way that recruiters might use their recruitment experience and intuition to aid decisions than I expect people are imagining.

Leverage and Paradigm both have a strict confidentiality policy for all one to one sessions with individuals which means this information is not discussed as part of recruitment discussions without permission.

While I don’t expect my experience to necessarily be indicative, I can speak a bit to my personal recruitment experience with Leverage. I worked on a trial project part-time for a couple of months looking at things like types of events different communities run and why people join communities and I attended a formal interview. I did charting with someone on I think two occasions, both at my own personal request and nothing to do with hiring. My most relevant nearby experience is in running recruitment rounds at CEA. I’d say that the Leverage process felt less organised and structured than the CEA process but was otherwise what I’d expect.

Leverage and Paradigm have both recently been working to make their hiring process more structured, in part based on feedback from potential hires. For Leverage, people can send a resume and would be invited to a research interview to discuss their research and our requirements. From there, successful candidates would take part in a trial period. Paradigm candidates go through several stages: sending a resume, attending an initial screening interview, a follow-up interview that aims to test job-relevant skills, a one week trial primarily checking team fit and finally an extended trial testing fit for the role. The process I went through was more like a less structured version of the Paradigm process. This is because while I’ll be working at Leverage, I won’t be a researcher so the Paradigm recruitment process made more sense in my particular case.


Question iii) “growth-rates are overestimated”

On question iii, am I right in thinking you’re referring to the claim in the original post that

“The leadership of Leverage Research have on multiple occasions overstated their rate of staff growth by more than double, in personal conversation”

If so, it’s hard to comment on what happened here without a lot more context on the conversation. I asked Geoff about this and his guesses were that this could have been confusion about hiring and attrition (was the conversation about hiring rates or about the total number of staff), numbers of volunteers or internal estimates for growth rate which turned out to be harder than we thought.


Question v) “negative rumours are still spread about other organizations that might compete for similar talent?”

Intentionally spreading rumours is certainly not Leverage policy nor endorsed or encouraged among staff. Of course, members of staff will have their own views on how best to improve the world and therefore I would expect them to have views on a number of EA and other organisations, both positive and negative.

I have the same difficulty in giving a useful answer to this question as with question iii, in that the original poster has made a claim about Leverage with a strong connotation but without providing the specifics or reasons they believe this.

I think it’s important for individuals to be able to share and discuss their views. I think it would be more helpful in cases like this forum post and when discussing other organisations people try to qualify what they think, why and where that information is from so that recipients of that information come away with a better understanding. This can be difficult but I think it’s important to try.


Question c) “Has it truly gone to such efforts to conceal its activities as described under the general transparency section?”

Finally on question c, yes our past website was removed from the Wayback machine. With hindsight this was a mistake. At the time people were digging up our old content (for example our old long term plan document) and using this to hype up various Leverage conspiracy theories. While this was entertaining, it was certainly distracting and meant people were even more confused about what we were doing. We thought that if we took the content off the wayback it would reduce the conspiracy style hype but removing it only fuelled the fire of conspiracies.

As you can probably tell, Leverage did not invest very many skill points or chips in public communication in the early days, instead spending them pretty much exclusively on research and experimentation. This means we’ve still got a lot to learn in the public communication space and a lot of mistakes to make up for.

As discussed above, Leverage did not use different organisations as a way to tailor messages to donors, different organisations had different focuses and donors understood this. Similarly we have no plans to replace Leverage as a brand.


2. MAKING OUR INTERACTIONS WITH ONE ANOTHER MORE PRODUCTIVE

I’d like to ensure that any future interactions between you and Leverage are a good use of both of our time, informative to readers, and helpful to you on whatever the real issues are.

Looking at your posting history, it seems that you’ve created this anonymous account only to ask questions about Leverage that come across at least as excuses to make insinuations against them. I don’t currently get the impression that you are following the spirit of the EA Forum guidelines and posting with a scout mindset, trying to give people an accurate view or being clear about what you believe and why.

If you would be willing to spend time trying to help me understand and address your particular concerns about Leverage then I am very happy to spend time on that. If you only plan to continue in the same vein as your previous comments I don't currently expect that to yield anything that feels useful for either of us. If you would like to chat more to figure out a better way forward that gets your concerns addressed let me know. You can reach me here or at larissa.e.rowe [at] gmail.com.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts · 2019-09-20T05:53:10.415Z · score: 12 (6 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks Raemon :-) I'm glad it was helpful.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts · 2019-09-19T22:15:50.464Z · score: 36 (18 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Greg,

Thanks for the message and for engaging at the level of what has Leverage achieved and what is it doing. The tone of your reply made me more comfortable in replying and more interested in sharing things about their work so thank you!

Leverage are currently working on a series of posts that are aimed at covering what has been happening at Leverage from its inception in 2011 up until a recent restructure this year. I expect this series to cover what Leverage and associated organisations were working on and what they achieved. This means that I expect Leverage to answer all of your questions in a lot more depth in the future. However, I understand that people have been waiting a long time for us to be more transparent so below I have written out some more informal answers to your questions from my understanding of Leverage to help in the meantime.

Another good way to get a quick overview of the kinds of things Leverage has been working on beyond my notes below is by checking out this survey that we recently sent to workshop participants. It’s designed for people who’ve engaged directly with our content so it won’t be that relevant for people to fill in necessarily but it gives an overview of the kinds of techniques Leverage developed and areas they researched.


What did Leverage 1.0 work on?

A very brief summary is that the first eight and a half years of Leverage (let’s call this “Leverage 1.0” as a catch-all for those organisations before the restructure) was at first a prioritisation research project looking at what should people work on if they want to improve the world. Leverage 1.0 later came to focus more on understanding and improving people as their psychological frameworks and training tools developed but they still conducted a wide range of research.

This means that in the very early days they were thinking a lot about how to prioritise, how to make good long term plans and just trying a bunch of things. I get the impression that at this stage almost nothing was ruled out in terms of what might be worth exploring if you wanted to improve the world. This meant people investigating all sorts of things like technological intelligence amplification, nootropics, and conducting polyphasic sleep experiments. People might be researching what caused the civilisational collapse that led to the dark ages, the beliefs of a particular Christian sect, or what lead to the development of Newtonian physics. Leverage felt this was important for research progress. They wanted researchers to follow what motivated them. They thought that it was important to investigate a lot of areas before deciding where to focus their efforts because deciding what to prioritise is so important to overall impact. This felt particularly important when investigating moon-shots which had the potential to be extremely valuable even if they seemed unlikely at the outset.

Some of the outputs of these early days of research included training sessions on:

  1. Planning - How to build and error-check plans for achieving your goals
  2. Expert assessment - how to determine if someone is an expert in a given domain when you lack domain knowledge
  3. Learning to learn - how to improve and expand the scope of your learning process
  4. Theorizing - how to build models and improve your model building process over time
  5. Prioritisation and goal setting - how to find your goals, back chain plans from them etc

This is far from everything but gives you a flavour.

Geoff had developed a basic model of psychology called Connection Theory (CT) so this was a thing that was investigated alongside everything else. This involved spending a lot of time testing the various assumptions in CT.

Through experimenting with using CT in this way, Leverage eventually found they were able to use ideas from CT to make some basic predictions about individual and group behaviour, help individuals identify and remove bottlenecks so that they could self improve and perhaps even identify and share specific mental moves people were using to make research progress on particular questions. This made the team more excited about psychology research in particular (amongst the array of things people were researching) as a way to improve the world.

From there they (alongside the newly founded Paradigm Academy) developed some of the research into things like

  1. one on one and group training,
  2. A catalogue of different mental procedures individuals use when conducting research so that they could be taught to others to use to tackle different research and other problems. One example intellectual procedure (IP) just to give a sense of this, is the Proposal IP where you use the fact that you have a lot of implicit content in your mind and your taste response to inelegant proposals to speed up your thinking in an area.
  3. Specific training in strategy, theorizing, and research
  4. A collection of specific introspection and self-improvement techniques such as:
    1. Self-alignment (a tool for increasing introspective access which handled a class of cases where our tools previously weren’t working)
    2. Anti-avoidance techniques (making it so you can think clearly in areas you previously didn’t want to think about or had fuzzy thoughts in)
    3. Charting (a belief change tool that has been modified and built out a lot since it’s initial release)
    4. Mythos (tool for introspection with imagery, helpful for more visual people)
    5. Integration and de-zoning (tools for helping people connect previously separate models)

What is Leverage doing now?

As for what Leverage is currently working on, once we have posted our retrospective we’ll then be updating Leverage’s website to reflect its current staff and focus so again a better update than I can provide is pending.

The teaser here is that from the various research threads being pursued in the early years of Leverage 1.0, Leverage today has narrowed their focus to be primarily on two areas that they found the most promising in their early years:

  1. Scientific methodology research
  2. Psychology

We also continue to be interested in sociology research and expect to bring on research fellows (either full time or part of future fellowship programmes) focusing on sociology in the future. However, since we’re relaunching our website and research programme we want to stay focused so we’re punting building out more of our sociology work to further down the line.

The scientific methodology research involves continuing to look at historical examples of scientific breakthroughs in order to develop better models of how progress is made. This continues some of our early threads of research in theorising, methodology, historical case studies and the history of science. We’re particularly interested in how progress was made in the earlier stages of the development of a theory or technology. Some examples include looking at what led to the transition in chemistry from Phlogiston to Lavoisier's oxygen theory or the challenges scientists had in verifying findings from the first telescopes. We aim to share lessons from this research with researchers in a variety of fields. In particular, we want to support research that is in its earlier, more explorative stages. This is more of a moon-shot area but this means it can get less attention while being potentially high reward.

Our psychology research aims to continue to build on the progress and various research threads Leverage 1.0 was following. While this is quite a moon shot style bet, if we can improve our understanding of people then we potentially improve the ways in which they work together to solve important problems. At this point, we have developed tools for looking at the mind and mental structures that we think work fairly well on the demographics of people we've been working with. I got a ballpark estimate from someone at Leverage that Leverage and Paradigm have worked with around 400 people for shallower training, and about 60 for in-depth work but treat those figures as a guess until we write something up formally. We've focused in the last few years on improving these tools so they work in harder cases (e.g. people who have trouble introspecting initially) and using the tools to find common mental structures. Moving forward with this research we want to test the tools in a more rigorous way, in particular by communicating with people in academia to see whether or not they can validate our work.

One thing I personally like about the plans for psychology research is that it also acts as a check on our scientific methodology research. If the insights we gain from looking at the history of scientific progress aren’t useful to us in making progress in psychology then that’s one negative sign on their overall usefulness.


Who works for Leverage and Paradigm?

The team is much smaller and the organisation structure slightly more defined (although there is a way to go here still). There are four researchers (including Geoff who is also the Executive Director) and I’ll be joining as a Program Manager managing the researchers and helping communicate with the public about our work. So four in total at the moment, five once I start.

While Leverage Research in its newer form is getting going it still receives a lot of help from its sister organisation Paradigm Academy. This means that while they are two separate organisations, currently Paradigm staff give a lot of time to helping Leverage, particularly in areas like operations and helping with PR and Communications like the website relaunch. This helps allow the researchers to focus on their research and means the burden of public communication won't all fall on their newest employee (me). Once a lot of that is done though we expect to make the division between the two organisations clearer. Paradigm currently has nine employees including Geoff.

I expect all of this will generate more questions than it answers at the moment and while my answer is to wait for Leverage’s formal content to be published I can see why this is frustrating. I hope my examples give a small amount of insight into our work while we take the time to write things up. You have every reason to be sceptical about Leverage posting content given various promises made in the past. I think given our track record on public communication that scepticism is valid. All I can perhaps offer in the meantime is that I personally am very keen to see both the retrospective and the new Leverage website published and the get sh*t done spirit that you and others on this forum know me for is part of the reason they’ve offered me a job to help with this in the first place.


Why I chose to work at Leverage

As for my personal reasons for choosing to accept an offer from Leverage, I expect this to be hard to transmit just because of inferential distance. My decision was the result of at least five months of discussions, personal research and resultant updates all of which is built on various assumptions that caused me to already be pursuing the plans I was at CEA.

I’ll attempt a short version here anyway in case it’s helpful. If there’s a lot of interest I’ll consider writing this up but I’m not sure it’ll be sufficiently useful or interesting to be worth the time cost.

Broadly speaking, I created a framework (building off a lot of 80Ks work but adapting it to suit my needs) to use to compare options on:

  1. Impact - comparing potential career plans by looking at the scale and likelihood of success across:
    1. the problem being tackled (e.g. preventing human extinction),
    2. the approach to solving that problem (e.g. develop AGI in a way that’s safe)
    3. the organisation (e.g. DeepMind)
    4. and what I personally could contribute (e.g. say in a role as Project Manager)
  2. Personal happiness (personal fit with the culture, how the job would fit into my life etc)
  3. Future potential (what skills would I build and how useful are they, and what flexible resources such as useful knowledge or network would I gain)

I decided that I was willing to bet at least a few more years of my career on the more moon shot type plans to build a much better future (something like continuing personally to follow CEA’s vision of working towards an optimal world).

This narrowed my focus down to primarily considering paths related to avoiding existential risks and investing in institutions or advances that would improve humanity’s trajectory. In exploring some options around contributing to AI safety in some way I came away both not feeling convinced that I wouldn’t potentially cause harm (through speeding up the development of AGI) and less sure of the arguments for now being a particularly important hinge on this. It, therefore, seemed prudent to learn a lot more before considering this field.

This left me then both wanting to invest more time in learning more while also not wanting to delay working on something I thought was high impact indefinitely. In terms of impact, the remaining areas were advances or institutions that might improve humanity’s ability to tackle global problems.

I'd had plenty of conversations with various people about Leverage (including many Leverage sceptics) in the past and interacted with Leverage and Paradigm directly to some degree, mostly around their introspection techniques which I personally have found extremely useful for self-improvement. I knew that they were interested in psychology initially as a potential way to improve humanity’s trajectory (but didn't yet understand the scope of their other research) so I reached out to chat about this. I found that many of the people there had already thought a lot about the kinds of things I was considering as options for improving the long-term future and they had some useful models. Those interactions plus my positive view of their introspection techniques led me to think that Leverage had the most plausible plan given my current uncertainty for improving the long-term future and was likely to be by far the best option for me in terms of self-improvement and gaining the knowledge I wanted for making better future plans. Their recent restructure, desire to establish a more structured organisation and plans to publish a lot of content meant they had an opening for my particular skill set and the rest, as they say, is history.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on How to use the Forum · 2019-09-17T11:45:53.937Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · EA · GW

Hey JP, don't worry I won't hold you to anything :-) I know you guys have a lot on. I think the feature of setting your own moderation guidelines at a certain karma level is a good one. It encourages top posters and also encourages the whole community to take more responsibility for good quality conversations. If you did get the chance to figure out how this was currently working on the EA Forum (e.g. at what karma level to individuals get what moderation features) and perhaps enact something similar to the LessWrong version that would be cool. Let me know what you end up deciding to do.

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Leverage Research: reviewing the basic facts · 2019-09-14T12:22:13.536Z · score: 11 (21 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Buck, Ozzie and Greg,

I thought I’d just add some data from my own experience.

For context, I’ve been heavily involved in the EA community, most recently running CEA. After I left CEA, I spent the summer researching what to do next and recently decided to join the Leverage Research team. I’m speaking personally here, not on behalf of Leverage.

I wanted to second Ozzie’s comment. My personal experience at least is that I’ve found the Leverage and Paradigm teams really welcoming.

They do employ people with a wide range of political views with the idea that it helps research progress to have a diversity of viewpoints. Sometimes this means looking at difficult topics and I’ve sometimes found it uncomfortable to try and challenge why I hold different viewpoints but I’ve always found that the focus is on understanding ideas and the attitude to the individual people one of deep respect. I’ve found this refreshing.

I wanted to thank Ozzie for posting this in part because I noticed reticence in myself to saying anything because my experience with conversations about Leverage is that they can get weird and personal quite fast. I know people who’ve posted positive things about Leverage on the EA Forum and then been given grief for it on and offline.

For this reason Greg, I can see why Leverage don’t engage much with the EA Forum. You and I know each other fairly well and I respect your views on a lot of topics (I was keen to seek you out for advice this summer). I notably avoided discussing Leverage though because I expected an unpleasant experience and that I had more information on the topic from investigating them myself. This feels like a real shame. Perhaps I could chat with you (and potentially others) about what you’d like to see written up by Leverage. I’m happy to commit to specific Leverage-related posts if you can help ensure that turns into a genuinely useful discussion. What do you think? :-)

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on How to use the Forum · 2019-09-12T15:38:54.973Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · EA · GW

I notice that some writers (e.g. Hauke in his recent post about the cost effectiveness climate change interventions) have something just above the comments section a note about their personal commenting guidelines. This seems like a potentially really useful feature. Not every user seems to have this though.

EDIT: I assume this relates to the feature on LessWrong described here where users can add moderation guidelines to their own posts so that they can treat LessWrong like a personal blog to some degree. This seems like a good way to encourage more people to post. Is there a similar feature on the EA Forum? If so, how does it work here?


Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Progress book recommendations · 2019-08-17T11:31:18.000Z · score: 14 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Thanks so much for this list. It's really helpful.

I'm having a quick look for ones that are on Audible Parker_Whitfill. I'm not checking all of them but using the UK Audible market I found the following ones:

  • The Technology Trap: Capital, Labor, and Power in the Age of Automation by Carl Benedikt Frey
  • The Secret of Our Success: How Culture Is Driving Human Evolution, Domesticating Our Species, and Making Us Smarter by Joseph Henrich
  • Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals by Tyler Cowen
  • The Pursuit of Power: Technology, Armed Force and Society Since A.D. 1000 by William H. McNeill
  • The Fate of Rome: Climate, Disease, and the End of an Empire by Kyle Harper
  • The Age of Em: Work, Love and Life when Robots Rule the Earth by Robin Hanson
  • Super Intelligence by Bostrom
  • Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? by Philip E. Tetlock
Comment by larissaheskethrowe on Changes to EA Funds management teams (June 2019) · 2019-08-08T21:33:46.211Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · EA · GW

What was the reason for Matt Fallshaw stepping down?

Comment by larissaheskethrowe on CEA is Fundraising for 2019 · 2018-11-28T21:33:06.659Z · score: 10 (7 votes) · EA · GW

Hi Khorton,
Thanks for commenting. These are definitely important areas. Improving project management, time management and prioritisation, as well as external communication are a priority of mine for CEA at the moment. We're working on planning projects further in advance with realistic timelines and communicating clearly about their status. We’ve been working on internal systems and training to try and improve this.

I think we made significant improvements to our hiring process this year but there’s still a lot to do. We’re currently beginning a review of the process to improve it for next year, including analysing the timeline versus our project plan in order to improve future time estimates.


Please do keep sharing feedback so that we know how we're doing and can continue to improve.