(Crossposted from the EA Forum)
As a result of a crowdfunding campaign a couple of years ago, I printed 21k copies of HPMOR. 11k of those went to the crowdfunding participants. I need ideas for how to use the ones that are left with the most impact.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve sent 400 copies to winners of IMO, IOI, and other international and Russian olympiads in math, computer science, biology, etc. (and also bought and sent copies of Human Compatible in Russian to about 250 of them who requested it as well). Over the next month, we’ll get the media to post about the opportunity for winners of certain olympiads to get free books. I estimate that we can get maybe twice as many (800-1000) impressive students to fill out a form for getting HPMOR and get maybe up to 30k people who follow the same media to read HPMOR online if everything goes well (uncertain estimates, from the previous experience).
The theory of change behind sending the books to winners of olympiads is that people with high potential read HPMOR and share it with friends, get some EA-adjacent mindset and values from it, and then get introduced to EA in emails about 80k Hours (which is being translated into Russian) and other EA and cause-specific content, and start participating in the EA community and get more into specific cause areas that interest them. The anecdotal evidence is that most of the Russian EAs, many of whom now work full-time at EA orgs or as independent researchers, got into EA after reading HPMOR and then the LW sequences.
It’s mostly impossible to give the books for donations to EA charities because Russians can’t transfer money to EA charities due to sanctions.
Delivering the copies costs around $5-10 in Russia and $40-100 outside Russia.
There are some other ideas, but nothing that lets us spend thousands of books effectively, so we need more.
So, any ideas on how to spend 8-9k of HPMOR copies in Russian?
HPMOR has endorsements from a bunch of Russians important to different audiences. That includes some of the most famous science communicators, computer science professors, literature critics, a person training the Moscow team for math competitions, etc.; currently, there are news media and popular science resources with millions of followers managed by people who’ve read HPMOR or heard of it in a positive way and who I can talk to. After the war started, some of them were banned, but that doesn’t affect the millions of followers they have on, e.g., Telegram.
Initially, we planned first to translate and print 80k and then give HPMOR to people together with copies of 80k, but there’s now time pressure due to uncertainty over the future legal status of HPMOR in Russia. Recently, a law came into effect that prohibited all sorts of mentions of LGBTQ in books, and it’s not obvious whether HPMOR is at risk, so it’s better to spend a lot of books now.
E.g., there’s the Yandex School of Data Analysis, one of the top places for students in Russia to get into machine learning; we hope to be able to get them to give hundreds of copies of HPMOR to students who’ve completed a machine learning course and give us their emails. That might result in more people familiar with the alignment problem in positions where they can help prevent an AI arms race started by Russia.
How about walking through universities and dropping a few copies at random places?
You should probably also put up a sign/sticky note saying “free books” so people know they’re free :)
If someone just finds a book lying in a corner there’s added excitement for finding it that you don’t have with a “free books” sign.