Yarrow Bouchard

357 karmaJoined May 2023Seeking workmedium.com/@strangecosmos


Pronouns: she/her or they/them.

I got interested in EA back before it was called EA, back before Giving What We Can had a website. Later on, I got involved in my university EA group and helped run it for a few years. Now I’m trying to figure out where EA can fit into my life these days and what it means to me.


Have Will MacAskill, Nick Beckstead, or Holden Karnofsky responded to the reporting by Time that they were warned about Sam Bankman-Fried's behaviour years before the FTX collapse?

I do not follow everything that happens in the EA world. I don't use Twitter. I'm out of the loop. So, I don't know if any of the people named have responded to the claims made in this Time article from March 2023:

...[Will] MacAskill had long been aware of concerns around Bankman-Fried. He was personally cautioned about Bankman-Fried by at least three different people in a series of conversations in 2018 and 2019, according to interviews with four people familiar with those discussions and emails reviewed by TIME.

He wasn’t alone. Multiple EA leaders knew about the red flags surrounding Bankman-Fried by 2019, according to a TIME investigation based on contemporaneous documents and interviews with seven people familiar with the matter. Among the EA brain trust personally notified about Bankman-Fried’s questionable behavior and business ethics were Nick Beckstead, a moral philosopher who went on to lead Bankman-Fried’s philanthropic arm, the FTX Future Fund, and Holden Karnofsky, co-CEO of OpenPhilanthropy, a nonprofit organization that makes grants supporting EA causes. Some of the warnings were serious: sources say that MacAskill and Beckstead were repeatedly told that Bankman-Fried was untrustworthy, had inappropriate sexual relationships with subordinates, refused to implement standard business practices, and had been caught lying during his first months running Alameda, a crypto firm that was seeded by EA investors, staffed by EAs, and dedicating to making money that could be donated to EA causes.


Many of the emerging issues at Alameda that were reported to EA leaders beginning in 2018—including pervasive dishonesty, sloppy accounting, and rejection of corporate controls—presaged the scandal that unfolded at FTX four years later, according to sources who were granted anonymity to avoid professional retribution or becoming entangled in Bankman-Fried’s ongoing legal drama. “I was shocked at how much of what came out about FTX rhymed with the concerns we raised in the early days,” says one person who spoke directly with MacAskill and others about Bankman-Fried in 2018. “It was the same thing. All of the same problems.”


It’s not entirely clear how EA leaders reacted to the warnings. Sources familiar with the discussions told TIME that the concerns were downplayed, rationalized as typical startup squabbles, or dismissed as “he said-she said,” as two people put it. EA leaders declined or did not respond to multiple requests from TIME to explain their reaction to these warnings and what they did in response. But by the end of 2018, Bankman-Fried’s behavior was such an open secret that EA leaders were debating Bankman-Fried’s presence on the board of the Centre for Effective Altruism. In emails among senior EA leaders, which TIME reviewed, one person wrote that they had raised worries about Bankman-Fried’s trustworthiness directly with MacAskill, and that MacAskill had dismissed the concerns as “rumor.” In 2019, Bankman-Fried left CEA’s board.

MacAskill declined to answer a list of detailed questions from TIME for this story. “An independent investigation has been commissioned to look into these issues; I don’t want to front-run or undermine that process by discussing my own recollections publicly,” he wrote in an email. “I look forward to the results of the investigation and hope to be able to respond more fully after then.” Citing the same investigation, Beckstead also declined to answer detailed questions. Karnofsky did not respond to a list of questions from TIME. Through a lawyer, Bankman-Fried also declined to respond to a list of detailed written questions. The Centre for Effective Altruism (CEA) did not reply to multiple requests to explain why Bankman-Fried left the board in 2019. A spokesperson for Effective Ventures, the parent organization of CEA, cited the independent investigation, launched in Dec. 2022, and declined to comment while it was ongoing.


In the weeks leading up to that April 2018 confrontation with Bankman-Fried and in the months that followed, [Tara] Mac Aulay and others warned MacAskill, Beckstead and Karnofsky about her co-founder’s alleged duplicity and unscrupulous business ethics, according to four people with knowledge of those discussions. Mac Aulay specifically flagged her concerns about Bankman-Fried’s honesty and trustworthiness, his maneuvering to control 100% of the company despite promising otherwise, his pattern of unethical behavior, and his inappropriate relationships with subordinates, sources say.

[Naia] Bouscal recalled speaking to Mac Aulay immediately after one of Mac Aulay’s conversations with MacAskill in late 2018. “Will basically took Sam’s side,” said Bouscal, who recalls waiting with Mac Aulay in the Stockholm airport while she was on the phone. (Bouscal and Mac Aulay had once dated; though no longer romantically involved, they remain close friends.) “Will basically threatened Tara,” Bouscal recalls. “I remember my impression being that Will was taking a pretty hostile stance here and that he was just believing Sam’s side of the story, which made no sense to me.”

“He was treating it like a ‘he said-she said,’ even though every other long-time EA involved had left because of the same concerns,” Bouscal adds.

To me, this feels like the most important part of the whole story. 

I feel like this would be a good post. It might get unfairly buried as a quick take.

I skimmed the sci-fi short story. What do you think is unhelpful?

slow space colonization

I mean, the good news (from your point of view) is that Mars colonization is going to happen pretty dang slowly. Even establishing a tiny base like the ISS or the moonbase in For All Mankind is probably going to take decades. (Elon’s timelines are always wildly optimistic, and always getting pushed back…) 

The only things I can see that would make Mars colonization go fast would be things that have a disruptive or transformative impact on Earth, such as superhuman AGI.

stop fueling utopians

Don‘t feel any pressure to reply, but if you feel like it, I’m curious to know what kind of utopians or utopianism you think is dangerous.

Would you annihilate all life on Earth, if somehow you could? Are you just anti-Mars or also anti-Earth? Your argument seems to be that life itself is bad, so I’m trying to see how far that goes and where it takes you.

I am intrigued by these sort of arguments. I tried reading the paper a little while ago and I read this post. But I find it basically impossible to follow what is being said. Maybe someone someday could do some explainer journalism on this paper. And on Toby Ord’s response (which Larks linked to in another comment), which I found similarly hard to follow.

When someone is pushing for our society to destroy, oppress, enslave, or exile millions of human beings, whether they mask their hatred with a veneer of politeness is not really the crux of the matter. It is extremely alienating and hostile to the people they hate and are seeking to severely harm to in any way endorse, promote, normalize, or empower them. That would include inviting them to a conference.

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