My Thoughts on Bostrom’s “Apology for an Old Email”

Epistemic Status

Expressing this opinion because I get the sense the current zeitgeist on the forum underweights it, so staking it out feels somewhat valuable.

Personal Context

For context, I’m black (Nigerian who migrated to the UK last year as a student), currently upskilling to work in AI safety and joined EA via osmosis from LessWrong/​the rationalist community.

I’ve been a rationalist since 2017, and EA-adjacent since 2019-ish? I began overtly identifying as an EA last year.

I’m concerned about the longterm flourishing of humanity, and I want to do what I can to help create a radically brighter future.

I’m just going to express my honest opinions here:

The events of the last 48 hours (slightly[1]) raised my opinion of Nick Bostrom. I was very relieved that Bostrom did not compromise his epistemic integrity by expressing more socially palatable views that are contrary to those he actually holds.

I think it would be quite tragic to compromise honestly/​accurately reporting our beliefs when the situation calls for it to fit in better. I’m very glad Bostrom did not do that.

Beyond just general epistemic integrity that I think we should uphold, to the extent that one thinks that Bostrom is an especially important thinker re: humanity’s longterm flourishing, then it’s even more important that he strongly adheres to epistemic integrity.

I think accurately reporting our beliefs and being honest even when society would reproach us for it is especially valuable for people thinking about “grand strategy for humanity”.

I think it would be very tragic if Bostrom were to face professional censure because of this. I don’t think an environment that punishes epistemic integrity is particularly productive with respect to working on humanity’s most pressing problems.

As for the contents of the email itself, while very untasteful, they were sent in a particular context to be deliberately offensive and Bostrom did regret it and apologise for it at the time. I don’t think it’s useful/​valuable to judge him on the basis of an email he sent a few decades ago as a student. The Bostrom that sent the email did not reflectively endorse its contents, and current Bostrom does not either.

I’m not interested in a discussion on race & IQ, so I deliberately avoided addressing that.

  1. ↩︎

    I already had a pretty high opinion of him.