[ExI] Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University £1 million grant for AI

J. Andrew Rogers andrew at jarbox.org
Sun Jul 5 18:49:16 UTC 2015

> On Jul 5, 2015, at 10:41 AM, Adrian Tymes <atymes at gmail.com> wrote:
> On Fri, Jul 3, 2015 at 12:23 PM, J. Andrew Rogers <andrew at jarbox.org <mailto:andrew at jarbox.org>> wrote:
> Some of the funded projects seem quite reasonable but the list reflects either an overly limited selection to choose from — fishing in the wrong pond — or a naivete on the part of the selectors as to the state of some of these areas. The absence of people doing relevant advanced computer science R&D in the list is going to produce some giant blind spots in the aggregate output.
> This is a basic problem with advanced science funding: lack of awareness of all of the truly game-changing possibilities.  That can be viewed as a marketing problem: those pursuing these most extreme but potentially effective technologies haven't gotten the word out much, so when funding is available, the funding sources never hear of them.

A major flaw is the “if you build it, they will come” attitude of most funding organizations. To the extent people doing advanced research are their customers, they are putting relatively little effort on customer acquisition.  

You have a few outliers like the US intelligence community that systematically search for people doing unusual computer science instead of waiting for it to walk in the door. This gives these organizations an unusually good grasp of the state of what is possible and might be possible, and who is doing credible work in the area. I have never come across private funding organization that put this kind of effort into finding people worth funding. 

In my experience, AI is more insular than the computer science research community at large, which magnifies the problem for that particular domain. 

> This is the theory behind SBIRs' open solicitations: by advertising that there is funding looking to solve a specific problem and waiting a few months, it is hoped that such edge cases may have a good chance of applying to the programs, and thereby coming to the funders' attention.

Yeah, in practice most people doing serious research avoid SBIRs altogether. Too much paperwork and process to justify the investment. Within the scope of the US government, this is where the intelligence agencies have a real advantage since they have multiple vehicles for writing million dollar checks without the application process or paperwork for things they think are important.

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