(Cross posted from our alumni mailing list)

Hello again! The second quarter of 2017 has come and gone, so it’s time for an update about what CFAR has been up to and what we’re planning. 

If you missed our newsletter last quarter, here’s a link to catch up!

What We Did

Finished Workshop Sprint - We finished the last 2 workshops of our 5 workshop sprint! From February through early May we ran 5 workshops, which is more than we’ve run in an entire year in recent years. The average rating for the sprint was 9.19, which is almost perfectly in line with our running historical average of 9.20. Cohort sizes were about 3 people smaller than our historical average, at 23.3 versus 26.4 participants. 

We learned a few things and confirmed some others: 

  • confirmed: filling a lot of seats in a short period is hard 
  • learned: we have the operational capacity to run a lot of programs in quick succession
  • learned: a permanent venue would further free up capacity by about half an order of magnitude and funding by perhaps an order of magnitude 

We also got an otherwise impossible training environment (read: trial by fire) for our dozen instructor candidates to hone their craft; read about Seattle Workshop below for more on that.   

Seattle Workshop - After the workshop sprint was over, we believed our instructor candidates were ready to teach at workshops without supervision as full members of the instruction staff. To test it, they ran a workshop in Seattle from top to bottom, including all the substantial pre- and post- logistics work. 

I consider it a huge success of the instructor training program. The headline is that a cohort of 18 participants rated the workshop 9.33 overall. The breakdown indicates that the classes were almost 1 standard deviation weaker than usual at 8.22 vs. the global average of 8.57, but the time spent with staff outside class was over 1 standard deviation better than usual at 9.53 vs the global average of 9.14.

Now that we have a qualified corps of instructors we’ll be able to run programs closer together, and we’re looking forward to planning to train our second batch of candidates! Look for an announcement later in the year about when that will be. 

CFAR II - Last weekend we completed our first ever “CFAR II” workshop. We’ve long wanted to run a sequel to the mainline workshop that picks up where it leaves off. There is a substantial amount of material we don’t currently teach to those outside of our staff and instructor candidates because there isn’t enough time and it requires a lot of background knowledge to even approach, never mind master. Enter CFAR II, where we try to get that material into the broader community.

Our initial sense is that the workshop was a big success at transferring unusual rationality skills and at developing the art further. We’ll almost certainly be doing it again, possibly later this calendar year. We’ll likely write a lot more about this workshop’s impact, curriculum, and goals as it shifts from being an experiment to being a CFAR institution.

Curricular Reforging Week - CFAR staff and adjunct instructors took a week to refactor our iterated curriculum into more cohesive concepts and pedagogy, and ask the question: if we were building CFAR’s curriculum from scratch, knowing what we know now, what would we build? What is missing? 

The results are hard to quantify, but we certainly clarified some concepts and learned things about how to teach them. We also have a bunch of ideas about how we might change the structure of future mainline workshops to be higher impact. A lot of the material we developed went directly into the CFAR II workshop mentioned above. 

CSER Conference - Anna went to Cambridge to visit CSER, the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, for their existential risk research conference. She gave a talk on what group epistemic practices, skills, and norms are needed for doing good work on existential risk.

EAGxBoston - Duncan went to EAGxBoston to present CFAR techniques and talk about rationality with our east coast EA allies. He taught sessions on Goal Factoring, TAPs, Murphyjitsu, and Double Crux. He also gave a larger talk on being “productively selfish”/info-seeking, ie. one-sided double crux.

Community Dispute Resolution - Elizabeth Garrett and Lauren Lee put together the community dispute resolution council, which is now comprised of Elizabeth, Kenzi Amodei, and Max Harms. More is forthcoming. Email Elizabeth if you want to know more about how it operates or how to report an issue.

Lots of Community Events - So many. Community Talk Night, Secular Seder, Hufflepuff Unconference, Co-housing coordination meeting, Welcome Committee meetings, rationalist house dinner party, ex-risk study group meetings, “Factoring Fiesta!” (yes.), summer solstice. And more. So many!

Team Changes

Our team has changed again! 

Marcello Herreshoff has joined MIRI as a full time researcher, and will continue to lend support in our special AI programs. 

We’re excited that our part-time operations support, Gail Hernandez, has gone on to handle operations full time at OpenAI. Best of luck helping the world, Gail!

Adom “Quincy” Hartell. Quincy has joined our team doing operations full time, replacing Gail, and further expanding our ability to run programs, keep our books up to date, and handle customer service smoothly.

Adam Scholl. Adam joins us part time to spearhead the ongoing efforts to secure a permanent venue for CFAR (see below for more on that). He’ll also be helping with advanced curriculum development and workshop instruction.

What we’re doing right now

Fact Post Day - We’ve iterated on our Talk Nights, and we’re doing a day of scholarship with presentations near the end. The idea is to spread the skill of finding, interpreting, and summarizing academic research on a chosen topic. We want a lot of people in the community to be able to answer empirical questions about which there is or may be research, and generate a “fact post” about their findings that could be posted to their blog, LessWrong, or similar. The Truth is out there! Maybe! 

That’s coming up starting at 10am this Saturday the 22nd of July. There is limited space at this event, so click here to see the event details and RSVP.

EA Impact Metrics Report - We’ve collected the initial round of data for the EA Impact metrics that I mentioned in the previous newsletter. Dan did his heroic best to figure out the counterfactual impact CFAR has had on the people who participated in the survey, and we have an internal report with analysis of that data. Now we’re going a step further by selecting somewhere between 20 and 40 of the ~450 respondents for more interviews so we can work together with those people to really get to the bottom of our impact on them as much as possible. Stay tuned for that report. 

Rationalist House Games - Elizabeth has fomented an epic battle for bay area alumni and allies to prove their worth as rationalists. Read more about it here!

What we’re planning

Alumni Reunion - The reunion is about a month away, starting on August 18th and going through August 20th! Get your tickets here if you haven’t already.   

Permanent Venue - The search for a permanent venue for our programs continues with Adam Scholl taking the lead on finding properties that are suitable. One of the biggest difficulties has been dealing with the many zoning boards in various counties. It turns out to be actually impossible to [legally] operate anything like a retreat venue in several counties that would be otherwise desirable. Even with the strict limitations Adam has found a handful of properties that could potentially work. The current top contender (with nothing settled, so low chance of this specific one working out), is about 90 minutes north of Berkeley, nestled in some beautiful woods, and is a former bed and breakfast with a large main building and several cabins on site. We’ll keep you up to date as the search progresses!

Mainline Workshops - we’re running at least one of our rare European workshops in Prague (Apply here), maybe 2 in a row if demand is too much for a single workshop. Right now we have a waiting list for the Prague workshop, but we’re about 10 people shy of the number we’d need to justify an additional workshop. 

Separately we’ll be running a workshop starting October 25th (Apply Here).

Special Workshops - We’re planning a number of special workshops: AI Summer Fellows Program (AISFP, Apply here), European Summer Program on Rationality (ESPR), and Summer Program on Applied Rationality and Cognition (SPARC). We’re also running a mini-workshop in early August, prior to EA Global this year (Apply here).  

Alumni Workshops - We have several alumni workshops already planned, and it’s likely we’ll do more. We have an Operations workshop (how to organize people to do things like events and run organizations) planned for the end of September, a Focusing Mentor Clinic scheduled for October, and more instructor training likely in November.     

Community Events - Lots more. Check our facebook page and the alumni mailing list to stay up to date! 

All the best,