Introducing The Nonlinear Fund: AI Safety research, incubation, and funding
We research high leverage AI Safety interventions. Our team of analysts generate, identify, and evaluate potentially high impact opportunities.
When we find them, we make them happen. Once a top idea has been vetted, we use a variety of tools to turn it into a reality, including grantmaking, advocacy, RFPs, and incubating it ourselves.
While we are means neutral and open to whichever methods make the most sense given the intervention, we will primarily use two tools: grantmaking and RFPs.
Requests for Proposals (RFPs) - funding ideas no one is working on
RFPs are a bit like job ads for organizations, usually for contract work. Instead of hiring an individual for a job, an RFP is put out to hire an organization or individual for a contract, and there’s much less management overhead than if the project was done in-house. (If you’d like a more detailed explanation of how they work, please see Appendix A.)
The reason why RFPs are amazing is that they fix an underlying problem with most grantmaking: you can make an idea happen even if nobody is currently working on it.
Think of it from the perspective of a large foundation. You’re a program officer there and just had an awesome idea for how to make AI safer. You’re excited. You have tons of resources at your disposal. All you have to do is find an organization that’s doing the idea, then give them oodles of money to scale it up.
The problem is, you look around and find that nobody’s doing it. Or maybe there’s one team doing it, but they’re not very competent, and you worry they’ll do a poor job of it.
Unfortunately for you, you’re out of luck. You could go start it yourself, but you’re in a really high impact role and running a startup wouldn’t be your comparative advantage. In your spare time you could try to convince existing orgs to do the idea, but that’s socially difficult and it’s hard to find the right team who’d be interested. Unfortunately, the usual grantmaking route is limited to choosing from existing organizations and projects.
Now, if you had RFPs in your toolkit, you’d be able to put out an RFP for the idea. You could say, “The Nonlinear Fund is looking to fund people to do this idea. We’ll give up to $200,000 for the right team(s) to do it.” Then people will come.
Values-aligned organizations that might not have known that you were interested in these projects will apply. Individuals who find the idea exciting and high impact will come forward. It will also help spread the idea, since people will know that there’s money and interest in the area.
This is why Nonlinear (1) will do RFPs in addition to the usual grantmaking. This will allow our prioritization research to not be limited to only evaluating existing projects.
We do not currently have a set timeline for when we will issue RFPs or do grantmaking rounds. If you would like to hear about funding opportunities when they do come up, either as an individual or an organization, make sure to subscribe to our newsletter or periodically check out our website.
We will have a team of research analysts working on generating, identifying, evaluating, and comparing different intervention opportunities.
We will use a research process similar to the one Charity Entrepreneurship used to help launch multiple GiveWell-funded and Open Philanthropy Project-funded charities. This involves, among other things, using the spreadsheet method to systematically identify the highest impact opportunities. The main elements of this method are:
Collect as many potential ideas as possible and record them in a spreadsheet.
Identify the best criteria to evaluate the ideas against. Add these as column headers for the spreadsheet (e.g. cost-effectiveness, potential flow-through effects, etc).
Systematically go through the spreadsheet, collecting information to inform how well the ideas do on each of the criteria.
Try to destroy the ideas, finding disconfirming evidence or crucial considerations that rule them out.
Compare the ideas that survive the gauntlet and strategize about how to get them implemented.
What about the risks?
Reducing astronomical risks is risky. There are many potential ways to accidentally make things worse. This is why in addition to spending hundreds of hours evaluating ideas, we will have a panel of advisors who will vet our work to maximize the chance of spotting dangers beforehand. Our board of advisors currently includes: Jonas Vollmer, Spencer Greenberg, Alex Zhu, Robert Miles, and David Moss. We are working on getting people from all the major safety organizations and major viewpoints to make sure our interventions are robustly positive.
Who we are
Kat Woods (previously Katherine Savoie): Prior to Nonlinear she co-founded multiple GiveWell and Open Philanthropy-funded charities. Namely: Charity Entrepreneurship (a charity startup incubator in poverty and animal welfare), Charity Science Health (increases vaccination rates in India), and Charity Science Outreach (a meta charity). The connecting theme between all of her organizations has been a focus on systematic prioritization research to identify priority interventions then turning those ideas into high impact projects and organizations.
Emerson Spartz: Named “King of Viral Media” by Forbes, Spartz is one of the world’s leading experts on internet virality and has been featured in major media including CBS, CNBC, CNN, and hundreds more. He was named to both Forbes’ and Inc Magazine’s “30 Under 30″ lists. Spartz is the founder of Dose, a top digital media company with $35 million in funding. By the age of 19, Spartz became a New York Times bestselling author after publishing his first book. He helps run Nonlinear part time while also angel investing and reading all the things.
You? We’re hiring! Please see the section below for more details.
Ways to get involved
Receive research updates and funding opportunities by signing up to our newsletter.
We’re hiring! If you want an EA job or internship, check out our job descriptions. The deadline for applications is April 2nd. Kat will be attending EAG, so please reach out to her while you’re there to ask any questions you might have. We are looking for:
Research analysts. If you like obsessively learning about EA things, and you probably do if you’re still reading this blog post, we need your skills!
Video editor for Robert Miles. If you like his videos, want there to be more of them, and can edit videos, the world needs you!
Technical help. We are looking to automate some cool EA things, like an automatic EA podcast. If you have ideas and know-how on how to do that, please apply!
High impact executive assistant. If you like what Nonlinear is doing and want there to be more of it, help save Kat and Emerson time. Additional benefit: if you dream of traveling the world, you can travel with Kat who lives nomadically (Caribbean this winter, Europe this summer). This position can also be done remotely.
Social media. Have you spent an embarrassing amount of time figuring out how to get more likes? Use your social media addiction for the greater good!
We greatly value any feedback or suggestions you might have. Please post your questions and comments below or reach out to Kat at EAG if you are attending.
1 - Nonlinear’s full name is The Nonlinear Fund. We will mostly refer to ourselves as Nonlinear unless the situation is sufficiently formal that the full name is worth the extra syllables.
Appendix A—More detailed explanation of RFPs
Frequently used in the charity sector, the original charity will “request proposals” for accomplishing a certain goal. Sometimes the goals are broad, like “decrease malaria infections in Uganda”, sometimes they’re more specific, like “hand out 10,000 bednets in the Budaka district”.
Then charities will send in applications, usually listing a plan on how they’d accomplish the goal, an explanation of why their organization is trustworthy and competent (a “CV” of the org), and a proposed budget.
The original charity reviews the applications, interviews the top contenders, then chooses the top one.
The grantee then goes and executes on the plan. There are varying degrees of management from the original charity. Sometimes it can be checking in once a month, sometimes it can be once a year. Sometimes it’s a recurring agreement, sometimes it’s a one-off. Regardless, it’s always less management time than if the charity just did it themselves.