Why was the AI Alignment community so unprepared for this moment?

Our epistemic rationality has probably gotten way ahead of our instrumental rationality

-Scott Alexander

A Lesswrong Crypto autopsy

This is a question post:

Why was the AI Alignment community so unprepared for engaging with the wider world when the moment finally came?

EDIT Based on comment feedback: This is a genuine question about why something that is so obvious now with hindsight bias, was not clear back then and understand why not. Not an attempt to cast blame on any person or group.

I have been a LW reader for at least 10 years, but I confess that until the last ~1.5 years I mostly watched the AI alignment conversation float by. I knew of the work, but I did not engage with the work. Top people were on it, and I had nothing valuable to add.

All that to say: Maybe this has been covered before and I have missed it in the archives.

Lately (throughout this year), there have been a flurry of posts essentially asking: How do we get better at communicating to and convincing the rest of the world about the dangers of AI alignment?

All three of which were posted in April 2023.

The subtext being: If it is possible to not-kill-everyone this is how we are going to have to do it. Why are we failing so badly at doing this?

At this risk of looking dumb or ignorant, I feel compelled to ask: Why did this work not start 10 or 15 years ago?

To be clear: I do not mean true nuts and bolts ML researcher Alignment work, which this community and MIRI were clearly the beginning and end for nearly 2 decades.

I do not even mean outreach work to adjacent experts who might conceivably help the cause. Again, here I think great effort was clearly made.

I also do not mean that we should have been actively doing these things before it was culturally relevant.

I am asking: Why did the Alignment community not prepare tools and plans years in advance for convincing the wider infosphere about AI safety? Prior to the Spring 2023 inflection point.

Why were there no battle plans in the basement of the pentagon that were written for this exact moment?

It seems clear to me, based on the posts linked above and the resulting discussion generated, that this did not happen.

I can imagine an alternate timeline where there was a parallel track of development within the community circa 2010-2020(?) where much discussion and planning covered media outreach and engagement, media training, materials for public discourse, producing accessible [1]content for every level of education and medium. For every common “normie” argument and every easy-to-see-coming news headline. Building and funding policy advocates, contacts, and resources in the political arena. Catchy slogans, buttons, bumper stickers, art pieces, slam dunk tweets.

Heck, 20+ years is enough time to educate, train, hire and surgically insert an entire generation of people into key positions in the policy arena specifically to accomplish this one goal like sleeper cell agents.[2] Likely much, much, easier than training highly qualified alignment researchers.

It seems so obvious in retrospect that this is where the battle would be won or lost.

Didn’t we pretty much always know it was going to come from one or a few giant companies or research labs? Didn’t we understand how those systems function in the real world? Capitalist incentives, Moats, Regulatory Capture, Mundane utility, and International Coordination problems are not new.

Why was it not obvious back then? Why did we not do this? Was this done and I missed it?

(First time poster: I apologize if this violates the guidelines about posts being overly-meta discussion)

  1. ^

    Which it seems we still cannot manage to do

  2. ^

    Programs like this have been done before with inauspicious beginnings and great effect https://​​en.wikipedia.org/​​wiki/​​Federalist_Society#Methods_and_influence