Main points in favor of this grant
Rachel’s work looks really valuable to me. I don’t have strong inside views on technical AI safety research paths, but there are a bunch of positive signals: she’s at a top PhD program, so unlike many other TAIS researchers, she has received high quality mentorship and works with strong teams. She’s published papers with other well-regarded researchers, some of which have gotten into top journals, and others have won safety-specific rewards. She also works with interns at CHAI and holds office hours for aspiring AI safety researchers, which were so successful that 80k began to fund and recommend them. The world is really short on good AI safety researchers, and possibly even more short on good AI safety researchers who can offer mentorship to produce more good AI safety researchers. Rachel is both.
She’s also extremely under compensated for this work at the moment. Her monthly term-time take-home income in the past year was about $2,800, and she lives in a high-cost area. Her lab cannot offer her higher compensation or better insurance. This type of work is easily worth a 6-figure salary, and probably worth a 7-figure salary, so paying $13,000 for a ~5% increase in productivity over a year seems like a good price.
Donor's main reservations
None really. In the worst case, it makes no impact on her work but helps her personally, which both seems unlikely and not that bad relative to the potential downsides of other longtermist grants. In the best case this makes the difference between a good researcher staying in what I think is the most important field, and her leaving it.
Process for deciding amount
I initially offered $10k to cover her baseline medical expenses, in hopes that other donors would chip in a bit more as well. Then, after some discussion with Rachel about the costs that transparency imposed on her and the positive externalities I think it produces, we settled on $13k because this grant and her identity are public.
Mostly I didn’t offer $15-30k initially just because I only have $50k total to give out over 6 months and it’s been a week.
Conflicts of interest