Launching Lightspeed Grants (Apply by July 6th)
Lightspeed Grants provides fast funding for projects that help humanity flourish among the stars. The application is minimal and grant requests of any size ($5k - $5M) are welcome. Budget is $5M for this grant round, and (probably) more in future rounds. Applications close in 30 days (July 6th, AoE). Opt into our venture grants program to get a response within 14 days (otherwise get a response in 30-60 days, around the start of August).
Apply here. The application should only take 1-2 hours!
Is the application really only 2 hours though?
Often, applicants get nervous about grant applications and spend a lot more time than they need to on them, or get overwhelmed and procrastinate on applying.
We really just want you to spell out some basic information about your project in a plain way and think this is doable in the 1-2 hour timeframe.
If you’re worried about overthinking things, we’ll have application co-working sessions and office hours every Thursday of June (edit: and July 6th) between noon and 2PM PT. If you think you might procrastinate on the application or get stuck in the weeds and spend a ton of unnecessary time on it, you can join one and fill out the application on the call, plus ask questions. Add the co-working to your calendar here, or join the Google meet directly at that time here!
Who runs Lightspeed Grants?
Lightspeed grants is run by Lightcone Infrastructure. Applications are evaluated by ~5 evaluators selected for their general reasoning ability and networks including applicants/references, and are chosen in collaboration with our funders. Our primary funder for this round is Jaan Tallinn.
Applications are open to individuals, nonprofits, and projects that don’t have a charitable sponsor. When necessary, Hack Club Bank provides fiscal sponsorship for successful applications.
Improved grantee experience
I’ve been doing various forms of grantmaking for 5+ years, both on the Long Term Future Fund and the Survival and Flourishing Fund, and I think it’s possible to do better, both in grant quality and applicant-experience.
Applications tend to be unnecessarily complicated to fill out, and it can take months to get a response from existing grantmakers, often without any intermediate updates. Different donors also often end up playing donor-chicken where donors wait to fund an organization to see whether other donors will fund it first, delaying decisions further. This period of funding uncertainty can have large effects on organizational strategy, and also makes experimenting with smaller projects much more costly, since each grant application might be associated with weeks to months of funding uncertainty, meaning it takes months to go from an idea to execution, or to go from “the beta test turned out well” to moving forward with the project.
My goal is to have an application process that requires minimal additional work beyond “explain why your project is a good idea and you are a good fit for it” and where most responses happen within 2 weeks. This round, we’re aiming for something somewhat less ambitious while we find our footing, and are planning to get back to people reliably in less than 60 days, with the ability to opt-into a 14-day response process.
Improved funder experience
Currently funders either have to find hyper-local grant opportunities among their friends and acquaintances and fund them directly, start something like their own foundation, or give up control over their funds and donate money to something like the Long Term Future Fund, which will then fund some portfolio of grants that the funder has relatively little insight into (especially with the decrease in grant writeups from the LTFF and EAIF).
The Lightspeed Grants process aims to be a way for funders to get involved much more directly, by being able to see applications, defer to selected evaluators (or bring their own evaluators), and fund organizations directly without needing to worry about double-funding or donor-chicken problems.
This seems particularly important given the recent uptick in interest in existential risks from artificial intelligence, which I expect will result in many people wanting to find giving opportunities to reduce that risk.
What if I want a response faster than 60 days?
If you want a response faster than 60 days, select the “Allow venture grants” option on your application and give a short explanation for why you want an urgent response. A set of venture evaluators who can fund applications immediately (without waiting for the round to complete) will take a look at your application.
As part of the round, we evaluate all venture grants and increase or decrease the venture grant evaluator’s budget based on how much value we think the venture grant has produced.
There is no cost to opting into the venture grant program, though venture grant capacity is limited, so it will overall help other applicants if you only opt into this if you would actually benefit substantially from a faster response.
For this round venture grants are facilitated by allowing members of the Survival and Flourishing Speculation Grants program to use their balance in that program to make grants to Lightspeed Grants applicants.
Who should apply to Lightspeed Grants?
We are looking for projects that have a chance of substantially changing humanity’s future trajectory for the better. The areas in which this kind of change seems most likely to us are:
Reducing the probability of existential catastrophe from Artificial Intelligence
Preventing the development or propagation of novel biological pathogens
Improving the reasoning of key global decision-makers
Uncovering crucial considerations that could shift our understanding of the future
Applications that fall outside of these focus areas are still welcome, and we expect to fund several projects that don’t narrowly fall into any of the categories above.
As a more concrete guideline, here is a set of grants made by the Long Term Future Fund and the Survival and Flourishing Fund that seem to me (Oliver Habryka) to be particularly good and indicative of the kind of grant we want to fund:
Daniel Filan - $23,544
Make 12 more AXRP episodes
SERI MATS program - $316,000
8-week scholars program to pair promising alignment researchers with mentors in the field
Alignment Research Center - $72,000
A research & networking retreat for winners of the Eliciting Latent Knowledge contest
Robert Miles - $82,000
1-year salary to make videos and podcasts about AI Safety/Alignment, and to build a community to help new people get involved
Stephen Grugett, James Grugett, Austin Chen (Manifold Markets) - $200,000
4-month salary for 3 FTE to build Manifold Markets, a forecasting platform based on user-created play money prediction markets
Fund for Alignment Research (FAR) - $524,000
General funding for FAR AI funding research on adversarial robustness, interpretability and preference learning.
Rapid Deployment Vaccine Collaborative (RADVAC) - $13,000
General support of RADVAC, a scientist collective developing self-administered vaccines against COVID.
How does the Lightspeed Grants process work?
Every grant evaluator decides how much value each project creates at various funding levels. Funders review the evaluator’s reasoning. We find an allocation of funds that’s fair and maximizes the funders’ and evaluators’ expressed preferences (using a number of somewhat dubious but probably not too terrible assumptions). Funders can adjust how much money they want to distribute after seeing everyone’s evaluations, including fully pulling out.
For a more detailed explanation see this footnote.
Who will have access to my application data?
Applications will be visible to Lightcone Infrastructure employees and collaborators, evaluators, and funders (as well as venture grant evaluators if you opt into our venture grants program). Lightcone Infrastructure, the evaluators, or the funders might publish evaluations publicly.
If you have confidential information that you want to make sure is not published, you can put that information in the corresponding field in the grant application, and it will not be shared publicly, though it will still be shared with participating evaluators and funders.
What can I do to help?
If you are not an applicant or are unlikely to participate as a funder in the process, the next most valuable thing you can do is share this post (or the website). We want to make sure we don’t miss great grant proposals, after all, our grant-making program can only be as good as the grants that apply to it.
Each evaluator specifies in what order they think it would be best to give money to different projects. They do this using a graphical tool that helps them specify marginal utility functions over different funding levels for the organizations. Each funder similarly specifies how much money each evaluator should distribute. We then run the following process:
1. For each evaluator, we check what they would give money to if they were the only person participating in this process, with the budget they were given by the funders
2. Multiple evaluators will have recommended funding to the same organization. For each dollar where multiple evaluator’s funding recommendations overlap, we refund them a fractional share of their money (e.g. if there are 4 evaluators each giving an organization $1000, then each evaluator gets back $750)
3. Each evaluator distributes the resulting refunds to whatever organizations they would fund next (ignoring how other evaluators are spending their funds)
4. We repeat steps 1-3 until the refunds reach zero (or get very small).
The overall goal of this process is to allow funders to coordinate on funding projects, without accidentally double-funding a project, or without accidentally failing to fund a project because they were expecting their room for funding to already be filled. The above is the algorithm we settled on after trying a lot of different variations.