& move to the East Coast instead
TLDR: The Bay Area isn’t a great place to centre the EA community in the US. The East coast, between Boston and Washington DC, is a much better place because of the number of top universities, its proximity and accessibility to other EA-dense spots, its importance with respect to biosecurity and US policy, and how much money and time it would save the EA community overall.
- Views are my own and not those of my employer.
- Epistemic status: 70 sure %?
Based on a comment I made on a different post.
Whilst institutions and individuals who are already based in the Bay may be best placed there, especially those whose focal area is AI safety, those creating new programs, new organisations, and new events should seriously consider instead choosing an East Coast city as their homebase. The current paradigm was not established intentionally or strategically and there are strong reasons to pause, reevaluate, and shift forthcoming resources and institutions to other locations.
The EA community, broadly speaking, has two hubs - the Bay Area (which has Constellation, Lightcone, a number of EA org headquarters, and multiple all-EA living facilities) and Oxford (which has Trajan House, Whytham Abbey, and ).
According to the 2020 EA survey, 52.3% of the EA community live in the US and UK, so this makes sense.
Furthermore, the Bay Area was the most EA-populated ‘city’, with 100 (of 1163) respondents living there.
However Oxford only had ~50 respondents living there, compared to London, which was the second most populated city with ~80 respondents.
How these hubs came into existence was largely not strategic in terms of EA community-building in a global sense: Oxford is a hub because that is where the philosophers who formalised EA were living at the time, and subsequently where a large proportion of of EAs were found early on in the movement’s history. The Bay is where some American EAs were when they learned about EA, and became a gathering point which then got more attractive as EAs started focusing on AI, as the Bay is a global hotbed for AI research.
So, here are my 5 reasons (in decreasing strength) that support my claim:
1. The East Coast is better for University outreach
EA community builders have historically thought (and continue to think) that universities are the best place to do EA outreach. Furthermore, we’d argue that extremely prestigious, highly ranked universities are especially good places to do this.
I think it is very likely that moving to the East Coast is likely to be much more impactful for anyone interested in on-the-ground EA and longtermist community building which focuses on top-universities. Here is Juan’s cerebral case for Cambridge, Massachusetts being important. Here is a table with top 100 ranking universities at undergraduate level in the Bay compared to the east coast:
|Global University Ranking (undergrad only)|
|University Name||US News '22||QS '23||THE '22||Mean|
|The East Coast has:|
|Whereas the West Coast has:|
There are too many different specialties to do a subject-by-subject comparison between the two cities when it comes to graduate programs, so I will also just present “overall global graduate program rankings” and “US law school” rankings.
|US Law school ranking|
|The East Coast has:|
|Whereas the West Coast has:|
2. There are more cause areas centred on the East Coast than in the Bay
The most common response that I’ve heard to my argument is that the Bay area needs to remain a centre of EA work because AI is an (maybe the most) important cause area, and the most cutting edge and important AI research happens in the Bay. I think the reason is true, but the conclusion is not. What follows from that reasoning is that:
- the part of the EA community focusing on AI should be centred in the Bay,
- but the parts of the EA community focusing on Biosecurity should centre in Boston and/or Baltimore,
- those focusing on US policy should centre in DC,
- animal welfare seems to already have a significant footprint in NYC and NYU seems primed to become the centre of digital sentience research in the US,
- and those interested in community building would probably be better off following the rest of the cause area folks to the east coast too, which is the most densely populated part of the US, and as mentioned above, has orders of magnitude more college and grad students.
3. (almost) Everything is closer
There are three points here:
3. 1 International travel
The East Coast is a much more centrally located, and therefore more accessible global hub than the Bay Area. Eastern Standard time is an easier time zone to coordinate with the UK, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East than Pacific standard time is. Here is a table comparing how easy it is to fly from various cities with sizable EA communities, or global air travel hubs, to NYC compared to SFO.
|Destination||New York City (JFK)||San Francisco (SFO)|
|NYC/SFO||5.75 Hours (direct)||5.75 Hours (direct)|
|London||8 Hours (direct)||11 Hours (direct)|
|Nassau||3.5 (direct)||8+ hours (connecting)|
|Boston||1.5 hours (direct)||5.75 Hours (direct)|
|Washington DC||1.3 hours (direct)||5.75 Hours (direct)|
|Dubai||14 hours (direct)||16 hours (direct)|
|Sydney||20+ hours (connecting)||13.6 hours (direct)|
|Paris||8.2 hour (direct)||11.5 hours (direct)|
|Singapore||18.2 hours (direct)||15.2 hours (direct)|
3.2 Domestic Travel
The cities on the East Coast are close together. This means that travelling from hub city to hub city will be quicker and cheaper than it is now.
3.3 Local Travel
The East Coast has comparatively superior public transport within cities, and both trains and planes travelling between them. I would not be surprised if the average EA currently living in the Bay saved upwards of $400 per month on transport as a result of moving to Boston, NYC, or DC if they were using the quickest mode of transport between destinations locally.
4. It will save the EA community money
- The Bay area has a higher cost of living than Boston or Washington DC , whilst NYC is more expensive to live in.
- Shorter flights are cheaper than longer flights
- Public Transportation being quicker than driving saves money on Uber fares
- Cities being denser or less geographically spread-out means less time and money spent travelling to shops, restaurants, and meetings.
- California has higher tax rates than Massachusetts or DC, but lower than New York.
- Another reason I have less evidence for, but think is still worth listing here, is:
Many (if not most) EAs living in the Bay are doing remote work. As a community based on resource-effectiveness, I don’t think the possible benefit of local network effect for remote workers is likely to be outweighed by living in one of the most expensive places on earth, when you could be doing the same remote work, in a similarly large EA community, whilst spending less money on the same lifestyle.
Many recent critiques of EA from outside the EA community have heavily leant on the ‘vibe’ that EA is a crazy, elitist, dystopian pet-project of a bunch of silicon valley billionaires. I think this narrative has been aided by most of EA’s most publicly-visible/influential people being found in just a handful of places, one of which - the Bay - has a reputation amongst the American public and media for being extremely out of touch with the lives of ordinary people, and heading down a road of failed left-leaning ideological policy.
EA would be aided by hedging its reputation amongst a greater number of respected cities and institutions - in the same way that EA’s credibility has been bolstered by its association with Oxford University, it would also gain from being part of the house-hold colloquium in a greater number of metropolitan areas with influence over political and popular culture, such as Boston, NYC, DC, London, and a greater number of major cities outside of the US and the UK. De-centralizing the EA community away from the Bay area is the first step in this global diffusion.
Thanks to Rocky Schwarts, Juan Gil, Trevor Levin, and Justis from the Forum Feedback service for their feedback.
Nope, not a “Bae” joke in sight. I’m a mature adult
No offence intended, Philadelphians
I’m not a nominative determinist but, I mean, EA is even in the name - the EAst coast? come on.
and at least in the short term (from 2022 until 2030?) that it should be the Centre of EA in general. In the long term, it probably makes sense for somewhere like the UAE to be the global centre of EA. I don’t know if I want to defend this claim super vigorously at the moment though.
And in the tier just below these, there are Tufts, Northeastern, Darthmouth, Georgetown
This can probably be summarised at “network effects”
But nobody really wants to live in Baltimore if they have a choice
Or even in Boston, given Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School’s influence on the US government.
For more reasons to move to DC, here is a recent post.
The decision for US cities to specialise in particular cause areas vs. all cities taking a big-tent approach is a strategic decision the community as a whole has failed to actively/explicitly make to date.
According to google
Of course this might mean that actually the best place to do remote work might then be somewhere super cheap in Florida or Maine, but I think in order to achieve the balance of EA-attractiveness and less-expensive-than-the-Bay-ness, the East coast makes sense.
For a critique from inside the EA community, I keep coming back to this post for some reason