I went to the Progress Summit. Here’s What I Learned.

I attended the Progress Summit in Hollywood yesterday, hosted by The Atlantic. Progress studies and EA have overlap, so I thought it would be useful to give my thoughts on the event. In general, the main difference I perceived was people attending not because they wanted to maximize their positive impact but rather because they were intellectually interested in socially responsible progress. And some other stuff.


Right after I left, I told my friend it felt like a “grown up version of an EA conference.” I’m 22, and was probably the youngest person there. Everything felt more professional (cocktails, food, outfits, etc.) and the operations seemed smoother than any EA event I’ve been to.


The facilitators were all Atlantic writers, such as Ross Anderson and Derek Thompson, and they were significantly more eloquent and better at holding people’s attention than any EA event I’ve been to. I could definitely tell the difference in their training. That being said, the talks felt fluffy and often skirted around intellectual issues for the sake of a smooth conversation.


Networking was less direct. More small talk, less intensity.


The event was catered towards investors/​venture capitalists. Speakers were trying to make their product sound appealing so investors will fund them, which I thought was slightly bad for epistemics, often ignoring the risks of their products (e.g. AI slaughter bots).


In general, the majority of the attendees seemed bullish on “the progress of technology,” and didn’t touch much on the potential risks of things like AGI or biorisk. If they did address the risks, it was invariably in relation to (1) the economy, (2) climate change, or (3) war. Of the people I spoke with, <20% had heard of misalignment or existential risk. I didn’t get the impression that anyone at the event didn’t take existential risk seriously. Rather, it felt like they had not heard about it in the progress studies ecosystem.


Overall, I think the Progress studies community seems decently aligned with what EAs care about, and could become more-so in the coming years. The event had decent epistemics and was less intimidating than an EA conference. I think many people who feel that EA is too intense, cares too much about longtermism, or uses too much jargon could find progress studies as a suitable alternative. If the movement known as EA dissolved (God forbid) I think progress studies could absorb many of the folks.


Notable events:

  1. “How mRNA Technology Can Save the World”

    1. Most of the people I talked to here had never considered the risks posed by biotechnology (beyond class inequality stuff)

  2. “Drones and AI: The Future of Military Technology”

    1. The concern most people had was causing a war (which seems good), but because much of what Brian Schimpf talked about was technology used for deterrence, most people then seemed bullish on the positive impacts of this technology (I was not).

  3. “How Artificial Intelligence Can Revolutionize Creativity”

    1. I didn’t go to this one, but I heard from someone who did that they talked about GPT-3 and Dall-e positively, and didn’t mention the potential risks posed by capabilities advancements.

  4. “The Long View”

    1. Didn’t go, unfortunately.