MIRI’s 2015 Summer Fundraiser!

Our summer fundraising drive is now finished. We raised a grand total of $631,957 from 263 donors. This is an incredible sum, making this the biggest fundraiser we’ve ever run.

We’ve already been hard at work growing our research team and spinning up new projects, and I’m excited to see what our research team can do this year. Thank you to all our supporters for making our summer fundraising drive so successful!

It’s safe to say that this past year exceeded a lot of people’s expectations.

Twelve months ago, Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence had just come out. Questions about the long-term risks and benefits of smarter-than-human AI systems were nearly invisible in mainstream discussions of AI’s social impact.

Twelve months later, we live in a world where Bill Gates is confused by why so many researchers aren’t using Superintelligence as a guide to the questions we should be asking about AI’s future as a field.

Following a conference in Puerto Rico that brought together the leading organizations studying long-term AI risk (MIRI, FHI, CSER) and top AI researchers in academia (including Stuart Russell, Tom Mitchell, Bart Selman, and the Presidents of AAAI and IJCAI) and industry (including representatives from Google DeepMind and Vicarious), we’ve seen Elon Musk donate $10M to a grants program aimed at jump-starting the field of long-term AI safety research; we’ve seen the top AI and machine learning conferences (AAAI, IJCAI, and NIPS) announce their first-ever workshops or discussions on AI safety and ethics; and we’ve seen a panel discussion on superintelligence at ITIF, the leading U.S. science and technology think tank. (I presented a paper at the AAAI workshop, I spoke on the ITIF panel, and I’ll be at NIPS.)

As researchers begin investigating this area in earnest, MIRI is in an excellent position, with a developed research agenda already in hand. If we can scale up as an organization then we have a unique chance to shape the research priorities and methods of this new paradigm in AI, and direct this momentum in useful directions.

This is a big opportunity. MIRI is already growing and scaling its research activities, but the speed at which we scale in the coming months and years depends heavily on our available funds.

For that reason, MIRI is starting a six-week fundraiser aimed at increasing our rate of growth.

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This time around, rather than running a matching fundraiser with a single fixed donation target, we’ll be letting you help choose MIRI’s course based on the details of our funding situation and how we would make use of marginal dollars.

In particular, our plans can scale up in very different ways depending on which of these funding targets we are able to hit:

Target 1 — $250k: Continued growth. At this level, we would have enough funds to maintain a twelve-month runway while continuing all current operations, including running workshops, writing papers, and attending conferences. We will also be able to scale the research team up by one to three additional researchers, on top of our three current researchers and two new researchers who are starting this summer. This would ensure that we have the funding to hire the most promising researchers who come out of the MIRI Summer Fellows Program and our summer workshop series.

Target 2 — $500k: Accelerated growth. At this funding level, we could grow our team more aggressively, while maintaining a twelve-month runway. We would have the funds to expand the research team to ten core researchers, while also taking on a number of exciting side-projects, such as hiring one or two type theorists. Recruiting specialists in type theory, a field at the intersection of computer science and mathematics, would enable us to develop tools and code that we think are important for studying verification and reflection in artificial reasoners.

Target 3 — $1.5M: Taking MIRI to the next level. At this funding level, we would start reaching beyond the small but dedicated community of mathematicians and computer scientists who are already interested in MIRI’s work. We’d hire a research steward to spend significant time recruiting top mathematicians from around the world, we’d make our job offerings more competitive, and we’d focus on hiring highly qualified specialists in relevant areas of mathematics. This would allow us to grow the research team as fast as is sustainable, while maintaining a twelve-month runway.

Target 4 — $3M: Bolstering our fundamentals. At this level of funding, we’d start shoring up our basic operations. We’d spend resources and experiment to figure out how to build the most effective research team we can. We’d upgrade our equipment and online resources. We’d branch out into additional high-value projects outside the scope of our core research program, such as hosting specialized conferences and retreats and running programming tournaments to spread interest about certain open problems. At this level of funding we’d also start extending our runway, and prepare for sustained aggressive growth over the coming years.

Target 5 — $6M: A new MIRI. At this point, MIRI would become a qualitatively different organization. With this level of funding, we would be able to begin building an entirely new AI alignment research team working in parallel to our current team, working on different problems and taking a different approach. Our current technical agenda is not the only way to approach the challenges that lie ahead, and we would be thrilled to get the opportunity to spark a second research group.

We also have plans that extend beyond the $6M level: for more information, shoot me an email at nate@intelligence.org. I also invite you to email me with general questions or to set up a time to chat.

If you intend to make use of corporate matching (check here to see whether your employer will match your donation), email malo@intelligence.org and we’ll include the matching contributions in the fundraiser total.

Some of these targets are quite ambitious, and I’m excited to see what happens when we lay out the available possibilities and let our donors collectively decide how quickly we develop as an organization.

We’ll be using this fundraiser as an opportunity to explain our research and our plans for the future. If you have any questions about what MIRI does and why, email them to rob@intelligence.org. Answers will be posted to the MIRI blog every Monday and Friday.

Below is a list of explanatory posts written for this fundraiser, which we’ll be updating regularly:

Our hope is that these new resources will help you, our supporters, make more informed decisions during our fundraiser, and also that our fundraiser will serve as an opportunity for you to learn a lot more about our activities and strategic outlook.

This is a critical juncture for the field of AI alignment research. My expectation is that donations today will go much further than donations several years down the line, and time is of the essence if we want to capitalize on our new opportunities.

Your support is a large part of what has put us into the excellent position that we now occupy. Thank you for helping make this exciting moment in MIRI’s development possible!