[Altruist Support] Fix the SIAI’s website (EDIT: or not. I’ll do it)

EDIT: This post no longer re­flects my cur­rent at­ti­tude. I’m now signed up as a vol­un­teer for SIAI and will help them with the web­site and/​or what­ever else needs do­ing. Add a com­ment or con­tact me if you’re cu­ri­ous as to what my at­ti­tude was or why it changed.

What I’ve learnt: Peo­ple want some­thing more specific

What I’ve also learnt: Not to com­mit to donat­ing money to an or­ga­ni­za­tion with­out care­fully read­ing their web­site first

Imag­ine you are a prospec­tive SIAI donor. You’ve learnt about AI and its risks, about how hardly any­one takes these risks se­ri­ously, about how peo­ple are fun­da­men­tally not men­tally equipped to han­dle is­sues of ex­is­ten­tial risk in a sane way. You’ve looked around and seen that the SIAI is the only (or one of just a few) or­ga­ni­za­tions that ap­pear to re­al­ise this and want to do any­thing about it.

So you go to their web­site. What are you look­ing for? You’re look­ing for a rea­son not to give money to them.

Here’s one:

The Sin­gu­lar­ity In­sti­tute ex­ists to carry out the mis­sion of the Sin­gu­lar­ity-aware – to ac­cel­er­ate the ar­rival of the Sin­gu­lar­ity in or­der to has­ten its hu­man benefits; …

This seems a some­what gung-ho at­ti­tude which is not con­sis­tent with the mes­sage on the rest of the site. And this isn’t just my mis­read­ing or quot­ing out of con­text—ap­par­ently that page is very out of date and no longer rep­re­sents the wor­ld­view of the more ma­ture, grown up SIAI.

But peo­ple read­ing the site don’t know that. And re­mem­ber, they’re look­ing for rea­sons not to give—for rea­sons to re­treat back to their com­fort zone where ev­ery­thing’s ba­si­cally OK and the SIAI are just a bunch of weirdos.

The fact that an or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to shap­ing the fu­ture of hu­man­ity can’t keep their web­site up to date would seem to be one of those rea­sons.

So, if you re­ally be­lieve the SIAI to be the most effec­tive char­ity right now, you should help them by offer­ing to fix their web­site for them—in or­der to help at­tract more donors.

Some pos­si­ble ob­jec­tions and counter-ob­jec­tions:

1. If Giles thinks fix­ing the SIAI’s web­site is so im­por­tant, he’d already be do­ing it him­self.

Essen­tially this boils down to the fact that you prob­a­bly trust the SIAI a lot more than I do. So for me the com­mu­nity-build­ing effort is the higher pri­or­ity.

2. If the web­site was so im­por­tant, the SIAI would already have fixed it. Bet­ter just to give them money and they’ll spend it on fix­ing the web­site when it’s op­ti­mal to do so.

This as­sumes that the SIAI be­haves in a perfectly ra­tio­nal way. It also ig­nores the fact that peo­ple are go­ing to look at their ac­counts and try to find ev­i­dence that they are ac­tu­ally en­gag­ing in sav­ing-the-world type ac­tivi­ties. If all they do is “fix our own web­site and make our­selves look good” then no-one’s go­ing to take them se­ri­ously. By donat­ing your time to im­prove their web­site, you keep that ac­tivity off the bal­ance sheet.

3. There are so many more im­por­tant fac­tors keep­ing peo­ple away from donat­ing to the SIAI. Surely bet­ter to ad­dress those first?

Maybe—but they need to be fixed one at a time. And I be­lieve the web­site to be a sin­gle point of failure—even peo­ple who are oth­er­wise re­ally keen might be put off by a sin­gle strange-sound­ing sen­tence ap­pear­ing on the web­site.

Con­clu­sion:

I don’t think the web­site needs a big over­haul or a mas­sive amount of new in­for­ma­tion. It just needs a lit­tle thought as to peo­ple’s ques­tions and con­cerns. Other than the page I men­tioned, pos­si­ble con­cerns might be:

- All of the is­sues that arose in the GiveWell interview

- A recog­ni­tion of the non-straw­man crit­i­cisms of the SIAI and how they are be­ing addressed

- An an­swer to the only-game-in-town ques­tion: if we recog­nise that the SIAI is the only or­ga­ni­za­tion se­ri­ously ad­dress­ing these is­sues but aren’t sure of its effec­tive­ness, are we bet­ter off giv­ing now or wait­ing for a more effec­tive or­ga­ni­za­tion to come along?