joe k

35 karmaJoined Cambridge, MA, USA


Recent grad pivoting into alignment research! Still stumbling around research ideas, but slowly developing some projects (happy to talk about what they are)! Currently doing research at MIT; was previously involved with Yale's EA group. I'm also interested in helping out with AI Safety community-building in the Cambridge/Boston area.


The writing on epistemic erosion reminds me of a weird feeling I left with during an EAGx conference. I've benefitted tremendously from having conversations with experienced safety members at previous EAGs. I think of EAGx as a way to connect with people but with more of an emphasis on giving my own advice and trying to pay it forward with the experience I've accumulated to (even more than myself) relatively junior people interested in AI Safety. I had a lot of great meetings, but a surprising number of meetings left a bittery taste in my mouth. 

Possibly I came in with improper expectations, but I expected a lot of discussion around project and research ideas, and general ways to get involved with AI Safety specific research if it was difficult to do at their current uni (through programs, funding opportunities,...) Instead, in many of my meetings, the questions were predominantly of a flavor where the reference class had a lot of overlap with the type of questions that would be asked if one were motivated to reduce Xrisks from AI, but felt distinctively different in that there were undertones of really motivated by prestige/status-seeking for the sake of prestige/status-seeking rather than for that being instrumentally useful on the path to reduce Xrisks from AI.  Thoughts on how to get hired at OpenAI, Deepmind, masters programs in subject X at a prestigious university Y, where X wasn't even related to my own background, but I just happened to be at university Y ...  Felt kinda bad because a lot of questions felt like things that could've been googled, or seemed very strongly driven by an eagerness to pursue high-prestige opportunities rather than anything about refining ideas on how to contribute to AIS.

Totally possible I'm overreading the vibes of such convos from that conference, but when I imagine what kind of things I'd be curious about (and had been curious about a few years ago) when I wanted to be helpful to AI Safety but unsure how, the kinds of questions and the direction in which I'd expect the conversations to be steered was very different in what I experienced. Just another light anecdota (admittedly highly speculative) on epistemic erosion.

edit*: I had lots of really great conversations where I was really happy I got to talk. The surprise was mostly about the percentage of conversations that gave me that ^ feeling.

Really enjoyed reading that post, thanks for sharing! I'm happy you commented on this, and I also feel better after receiving the DMs about relatable experiences. I hope the issue you bring up on inadvertent filters on socioeconomic status is evaluated carefully by some people in the EA group!

*This part is not related to burn-out, but slightly related to the recent discourse on EA spending, and in particular EA spending on students. When I checked out of the ER the next day in a better state of health, I reflected on the things I was thinking and feeling during the experience. Note and context: I didn't know that NHS/UK has free health care.

One peculiar thing I realized, was that it took an (post-hoc) unreasonably long time before I decided to call the ambulance/cab to get to a hospital. In the ~10 minute escalating lead-up to my decision to go to the hospital, I sat in the restaurant I was in, googling things like:

-What does a heart attack feel like?

-Can you have a minor heart attack?

-Do you have to go to a hospital if you have a minor heart attack?

-What does a stroke feel like?

-How expensive is the ER in London for Americans?

I spent many minutes during the escalation of the tightness in my chest and tingly weirdness in my body wondering if I should even go to the ER, because I wasn't sure how expensive it would've been. I was already in a panicked state of mind, but I remember thinking (or maybe justifying to myself), that if it ran me thousands of dollars, maybe EA would help cover some of the costs for the hospital expenses. And that was the point at which I called a cab. 3 minutes into the ride, I was hyperventilating, and I couldn't move a muscle in my body. The people at the ER carried me inside when I got to the hospital. 

Something about the fact that I believed my life was potentially at immediate risk, wondering if I could afford the medical help, and then thinking EA could help me if it was too much for me to financially handle, so I should just go to the hospital, was remarkably weird. I was not in the right state of mind, but thinking back, it feels SO SO bizarre that I had these thoughts.

I'm not really sure where I'm going with this. I think the recent discourse about money in EA makes me feel kind of compelled to share what I think is a perspective that is in the minority among EAs. Something something coming from an underprivileged background, EA and knowing that I have a support structure in the form of not just funding but a well-meaning and altruistic community, allows me to pursue things that I believe will create a big positive impact, bla bla...

Something something I felt out of place stepping onto Yale's campus my freshman year, enough so that my mental health went to shit and I had to take a year off to think about life (which was when I also discovered 80k and EA), and somehow when I first learned about the EA community it felt even more disproportionately privileged, bla bla...

Something something when you're not from a financially stable background it's ESPECIALLY hard to pursue things that you think are highest in positive impact EV because there's a nagging responsibility you feel to make money a non-issue for yourself and your family first, and knowing there is support EA can provide helps make this feel a little less difficult, bla bla...

Something something I wish there were a sub-group/community of EAs from underprivileged backgrounds that I could talk to and relate to, but I have no idea how to identify others who can relate to some of these things, and so I never bring these thoughts and feelings up to anyone in EA, bla bla..


Really rambly, but no energy to revise atm. Maybe I'll come back to edit and revise to make things more coherent later on. I just had some discomfort really pent up for a while, and my experience at the past EAG, along with the discourse on spending, triggered to share my (I think) relatively under(over)looked perspective on EA and EA support and EA money for university students, and wanted to put this out there for someone to see. 

I've attended a few EA conferences already, and I also experienced a sort of burnout this time around! On Sunday night, I had a bad bout of hyperventilation/anxiety and called myself a cab to the ER*. By the time I was there I couldn't move a muscle in my body. But while actually at the conference, I had a terrific time meeting everyone. I think I just didn't notice how beat up my body was from the lack of sleep in the previous week because I felt an especially big pressure to make the most use of my time.

For me, there was a lot of added pressure this time because of nervousness around AI timelines shrinking,  doing a lot of recent reevaluation on the best way to spend my time and work efforts, and feeling guilty about the possible counterfactual impacts of missing even one meeting. After all, experienced safety researchers were giving me their very valuable time, and to miss one connection could lead to big down-the-line differences. I'm also from a relatively disadvantaged financial background and EA was fully funding my travel. If I didn't get a lot out of it, I'd be "wasting their money", or so it felt. 

Each time I attended a conference, I was putting more and more effort into meeting more people and getting more out of it. Attending the conference in Prague, I'm going to let myself take it easy, cancel meetings if I feel exhausted, manage my energy levels, etc.