Hello from CFAR! Read on to learn about our busy summer, as well as what we’ve got planned for the fall.
What We Did
We’ve completed the first phase of our 2019 Instructor Training Program! We’re now moving on to the second (and final) phase with 20 instructor candidates. Staff will be working with these candidates as they continue various “quests”—mastering and improving core parts of CFAR’s curriculum, developing their own lesson plans, and making progress on any individual bottlenecks to becoming full-fledged instructors.
A few members of the cohort attended the July mainline; their first time helping run a workshop. We spent two days prior to the workshop preparing with lesson planning, class run-throughs, feedback, and even more run-throughs. During the workshop, the candidates co-taught some core units and presented two new classes. We’ll be doing it all again at the next four mainline workshops.
Mainline Workshop in Bodega Bay
Our most recent mainline workshop received the most positive responses to our participant experience metric since January 2016: the average response to “Are you glad you came to the workshop?” was 9.6 out of 10. While there are plenty of things to keep improving, we’re excited to see such positive feedback—especially from the first workshop featuring members of our new instructor candidate cohort!
MIRI Summer Fellows Program (MSFP)
We co-ran the fifth annual MSFP with MIRI at our venue in Bodega Bay this month. Staff from CFAR and MIRI came together with 31 mathematicians, programmers, and researchers interested in making technical progress on the AI alignment problem. Across the 14-day program, fellows spent time attempting research directly, practicing double crux and other conversational/thinking techniques, learning to let their own research tastes/interests/confusions drive their activity (some of the time), and hearing from visitors Paul Christiano and Andrew Critch about their research agendas. Our fellows also practiced blogging as a tool for furthering research thoughts; you can see some of those results on LessWrong.
AI Risk for Computer Scientists (AIRCS) Workshops
We’ve continued collaborating with MIRI to run regular AI Risk for Computer Scientists (AIRCS) workshops. These give bright computer scientists—with or without previous interest in AI safety—a taste of research and an overview of the AI safety problem broadly. This summer we ran a standard workshop and an alumni workshop where participants could take the material deeper and further.
These workshops have been running since Feb 2018; in that time, eight alumni have acquired new full-time jobs in AI safety, with roughly half saying that the AIRCS workshops played a substantial role in their transition. Several others have headed into internships, and a much larger number of folks have had positive experiences at the workshops getting a taste of technical alignment research work.
If you’re a computer scientist who might enjoy the workshop (or if you know such a person), you can find the interest form here.
Summer Program on Applied Rationality and Cognition (SPARC)
CFAR provided support for the SPARC team in running the 8th annual SPARC camp for mathematically talented high school students & college freshmen. People who initially came to SPARC as students are getting increasingly involved in running it. Two of this year’s instructors were junior counselors in past years and had been SPARC students before that. Additionally, several returning junior counselors are providing energy, direction, and elbow grease to SPARC throughout the year. Popular classes & activities at this year’s SPARC included statistical street fighting, double crux, improv games, and negative emotions.
European Summer Program on Rationality (ESPR)
ESPR, much like SPARC, is an immersive workshop for mathematically talented high school students. This year, the program spun off of CFAR to become its own nonprofit run by CFAR alum and FHI Senior Research Scholar Jan Kulveit. The first workshop since the spin-off just ended, and early reports are that it was a success. CFAR staff member Elizabeth Garrett helped onsite at this one, and we’re looking forward to more collaborations and more great things from the new ESPR team!
What We’re Planning
Mainline Workshops in Prague (Sep 16-20 & Sep 27-Oct 1)
We’re going back to Prague! We ran our first workshop there in 2017, and this fall we’re running our fourth and fifth. Attendees will have the chance to check out what many of our new instructor candidates have to offer. Applications close soon; apply here.
Alumni Reunion (Nov 15-18)
We’re hosting our 6th annual alumni reunion this fall. A little later than usual, we’re hoping to chill out with our alumni at our traditional venue—Westminster Woods. Imagine old and new friends coming together to share what they’ve learned, make new plans, and grow—all while being surrounded by quiet, campfires and cabins. Alumni can get their tickets here!
Mainline Workshops in Bodega Bay (Jan 29-Feb 2 & Mar 4-8) Our next two Bay Area workshops will be held in our Bodega Bay venue and will feature instruction from our well-seasoned staff and our bright, new instructor candidates. Applications are open now; apply here.
That’s all for now—we’ll be sending another update in November!
All the best, The CFAR team