Please don’t criticize EAs who “sell out” to OpenAI and Anthropic

Edit: Wow, it seems like a lot of people misconstrued this post as saying that we shouldn’t criticize EAs who work on cutting-edge AI capabilities. I included some confusing wording in the original version of this piece and have crossed it out. To be utterly clear, I am talking about people who work on AI safety at large AI labs.

While I was at a party in the Bay Area during EAG, I overheard someone jokingly criticizing their friend for working at a large AI safety org. Since the org is increasing AI capabilities—so the reasoning goes—anyone who works at that org is “selling out” and increasing x-risk.

Although this interaction was a (mostly) harmless joke, I think it reflects a concerning and possibly growing dynamic in the EA community, and my aim in writing this post is to nip it in the bud before it becomes a serious problem. While it is fine to criticize organizations in the EA community for actions that may cause harm, EAs should avoid scrutinizing other community members’ personal career choices unless those individuals ask them for feedback. This is for a few reasons:

  1. People take jobs for a variety of reasons. For example, they might find the compensation packages at OpenAI and Anthropic appealing, relative to those they could get at other AI safety organizations. Also, they might have altruistic reasons to work at the organization: for example, they might sincerely believe that the organization they are working for has a good plan to reduce x-risk, or that their work at the org would be beneficial even if the org as a whole causes harm. If you don’t know a person well, you don’t have much visibility into what factors they’re considering and how they’re weighing those factors as they choose a job. Therefore, it is not your place to judge them. Rather than passing judgment, you can ask them why they decided to take a certain job and try to understand their motivations (cf. “Approach disagreements with curiosity”).

  2. Relatedly, people don’t respond well to unsolicited feedback. For instance, I have gotten a lot of unsolicited advice throughout my adult life, and I find it grating because it reflects a lack of understanding of my specific needs and circumstances. I do seek out advice, but only from people I trust, such as my advisor at 80,000 Hours. It is more polite to ask a person before giving them individual feedback or refrain from giving them feedback unless they ask for it. You can also phrase advice in a more humble way, such as “doing X works well for me because Y”, rather than “you should do X because Y” (cf. “Aim to explain, not persuade”).

  3. Finally, pitting “AI capabilities” people people who work on safety at big AI labs against “true” AI safety people creates unnecessary division in the EA community. Different AI safety orgs have different strategies for ensuring AGI will be safe, and we don’t know which ones will work. In the face of this uncertainty, I think we should be kind and cooperative toward everyone who is trying in good faith to reduce AI risk. In particular, while we can legitimately disagree with an AI org’s strategy, we shouldn’t pass judgment on individuals who work for those organizations or ostracize them from the community.