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SIAI Fundraising

59 [deleted] 26 April 2011 08:35AM

Please refer to the updated documented here: http://lesswrong.com/lw/5il/siai_an_examination/

This version is an old draft.

 

NOTE: Analysis here will be updated as people point out errors! I've tried to be accurate, but this is my first time looking at these (somewhat hairy) non-profit tax documents. Errors will be corrected as soon as I know of them! Please double check and criticize this work that it might improve.

Document History:

  • 4/25/2011 - Initial post.
  • 4/25/2011 - Corrected Yudkowsky compensation data.
  • 4/26/2011 - Added expanded data from 2002 - 2009 in Overview, Revenue, and Expenses
  • 4/27/2011 - Added expanded data to Officer Compensation & Big Donors

Todo:

  • Create a detailed program services analysis that examines the SIAI's allocation of funds to the Summit, etc.
  • Create an index of organizational milestones.

Disclaimer:

  • I am not affiliated with the SIAI.
  • I have not donated to the SIAI prior to writing this.

Acting on gwern's suggestion in his Girl Scout Cookie analysis, here is a first pass at looking at SIAI funding, suggestions for a funding task-force, etc.

The SIAI's Form 990's are available at GuideStar and Foundation Center. You must register in order to access the files at GuideStar.

Work is being done in this Google Spreadsheet.

Overview

Notes:
Sometimes the listed end of year balances didn't match what the spreadsheet calculated:
  • Filing Error 1? - There appears to be a minor typo to the effect of $4.86 in the end of year balance for the 2004 document. This money is accounted for, the results just aren't entered correctly. * Someone else please verify.
  • Filing Error 2? - The 2005 document appears to have accounted for expenses incorrectly, resulting in an excess $70,179.00 reported in the end of the year asset balance. This money is accounted for under 2005 Part III. It is merely not correctly deducted from the year end asset balance. * Someone else please verify.
  • Theft? - The organization reported $118,803.00 in theft in 2009 resulting in a year end asset balance lower than expected. The SIAI is currently pursuing legal restitution.

Analysis:

  • The SIAI asset sheet grew until 2008 when expenditures outpaced revenue.
  • Assets would have resumed growth into 2009, except for theft (see above.)
  • Current asset balance is insufficient to sustain a year of operation at existing rate of expenditure. Significant loss of revenue would result in a shrinkage of services. Such a loss of revenue may be unlikely, but a reasonable goal would be to build up a year's reserves.

Revenue

Revenue is composed of public support, program service (events/conferences held, etc), and investment interest. The "Other" category tends to include Amazon.com affiliate income, etc.

Analysis:

  • Income from public support (donations) has grown steadily with a significant regular increase starting in 2006.
  • This regular increase is a result of significant new contributions from big donors.
    • As an example, public support in 2007 is largely composed of significant contributions from Peter Thiel ($125k), Brian Cartmell ($75k), and Robert F. Zahra Jr ($123k) for $323k total in large scale individual contributions (break down below).
  • In 2007 the SIAI started receiving income from program services. Currently all "Program Service" revenue is from operation of the Singularity Summit.
  • The Singularity Summit revenue continues to grow. The Summit is roughly breaking even. If this continues, the Summit will be able to compensate speakers better, improve the quality of proceedings, or net some of the revenue for other goals.

Expenses

Expenses are composed of grants, benefits, salaries & compensation, contracts, travel, program services, and an other category (mostly administrative costs and usually itemized, check the source data).
The contracts column in the chart below includes legal and accounting fees. Check the source data.

Analysis:

  • This chart can use improvement. It's categorized rather clinically. Would be more useful to break down the Contracts and Program categories (this may not be possible from the Form 990s).
  • The grants in 2002, 2003, and 2004 were paid to Eliezer Yudkowsky for work "of unique relevance and value to the Singularity, to Artificial Intelligence, or to Friendly Artificial Intelligence."
  • Program expenses include operating the Singularity Summit, Visiting Fellows Program, etc.
  • The Other category includes lots of administrative costs that are somewhat itemized.
  • Overall, expenses have grown at pace with revenue.
    • Salaries have steadily declined. (More detail below.)
    • Program service expenses have increased, but this is expected as the Singularity Summit has grown and new services like the Visiting Fellows Program have been introduced.

Big Donors

Analysis

  • Contributions in the 2010 column are derived from http://singinst.org/donors. Contributions of less than $5,000 are excluded for the sake of brevity.
  • Contributions in 2003 - 2009 are from official filings. The 2009 Form 990 discloses excess donations for 2006 - 2009. This is not an exhaustive list of contributions, just what could be found in the Form 990s available online.
  • The 2006 donation from Peter Thiel is sourced from a discussion with the SIAI.
  • Peter Thiel and a few other big donors compose the bulk of the organization's revenue.
    • Should any major donor be lost, the SIAI would have to reduce services. It would be good to see a broader base of donations moving forward.
    • Note, however, that over the past five years the base of donations HAS been improving. We don't have the 2010 Form 990 yet, but just based on data from MA and SingInst.com things are looking a lot better.

Officer Compensation

Analysis:
  • This graph needs further work to reflect the duration of officers' service.
  • In 2002 to 2005 Eliezer Yudkowsky received compensation in the form of grants from the SIAI for AI research.
  • Starting in 2006 all compensation for key officers is reported as salaried instead of in the form of grants.
  • SIAI officer compensation has decreased in recent years.
  • Eliezer's base compensation as salary increased 20% in 2008 and then 7.8% in 2009.
    • It seems reasonable to compare Eliezer's salary with that of professional software developers. Eliezer would be able to make a fair amount more working in private industry as a software developer.
  • Both Yudkowsky and Vassar report working 60 hours a work week.
  • It isn't indicated how the SIAI conducts performance reviews and salary adjustment evaluations.
Further Editorial Thoughts...

Prior to doing this investigation, I had some expectation that the Singularity Summit was a money losing operation. I had an expectation that Eliezer probably made around $70k (programmer money discounted for being paid by a non-profit). I figured the SIAI had a broader donor base. I was off base on all counts.* I am not currently an SIAI supporter. My findings have greatly increased the probability that I will donate in the future. 

Overall, the allocation of funds strikes me as highly efficient. I don't know exactly how much the SIAI is spending on food and fancy tablecloths at the Singularity Summit, but I don't think I care: it's growing and it's nearly breaking even. An attendee can have a very confident expectation that their fee covers their cost to the organization. If you go and contribute you add pure value by your attendance.

At the same time, the organization has been able to expand services without draining the coffers. A donor can hold a strong expectation that the bulk of their donation will go toward actual work in the form of salaries for working personnel or events like the Visiting Fellows Program.

Eliezer's compensation is slightly more than I thought. I'm not sure what upper bound I would have balked at or would balk at. I do have some concern about the cost of recruiting additional Research Fellows. The cost of additional RFs has to be weighed against new programs like Visiting Fellows.

The organization appears to be managing its cash reserves well. It would be good to see the SIAI build up some asset reserves so that it could operate comfortably in years were public support dips or so that it could take advantage of unexpected opportunities.

The organization has a heavy reliance on major donor support. I would expect the 2010 filing to reveal a broadening of revenue and continued expansion of services, but I do not expect the organization to have become independent of big donor support. Things are much improved from 2006 and without the initial support from Peter Thiel the SIAI would not be able to provide the services it has, but it would still be good to see the SIAI operating capacity be larger than any one donor's annual contribution. It is important for Less Wrong to begin a discussion of broadening SIAI revenue sources.

Where to Start?

There is low hanging fruit to be found. The SIAI's annual revenue is well within the range of our ability to effect significant impact. These suggestions aren't all equal in their promise, they are just things that come to my mind.

  • Grant Writing. I don't know a lot about it. Presumably a Less Wrong task force could investigate likely candidate grants, research proper grant writing methodology, and then apply for the grants. Academic members of Less Wrong who have applied for research grants would already have expertise in this area.
  • Software. There are a lot of programmers on Less Wrong. A task force could develop an application and donate the revenue to the SIAI.
  • Encouraging Donations. Expanding the base of donations is valuable. The SIAI is heavily dependent on donations from Peter Thiel. A task force could focus on methods of encouraging donations from new supporters big and small.
  • Prize Winning. There are prizes out there to be won. A Less Wrong task force could identify a prize and then coordinate a group to work towards winning it.
  • Crowd Source Utilization. There are sites devoted to crowd sourced funding for projects. A task force could conceive of a project with the potential to generate more revenue than required to build it. Risk could be reduced through the use of crowd sourcing. Excess revenue donated to the SIAI. (Projects don't have to be software, they could be fabricating an interesting device, piece of art, or music.)
  • General Fund Raising Research. There are a lot of charities in the world. Presumably there are documented methods for growing them. A task force could attack this material and identify low hanging fruit or synthesize new techniques.
I have more specific thoughts, but I want to chew on them a bit.

Comments (116)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 April 2011 12:02:29PM 24 points [-]

Note that it appears that Eliezer was paid $83,934 in 2009 as additional compensation for the completion of the Sequences.

Okay, that didn't happen. I got my standard salary in 2009, no more. I think my standard salary must've been put down as payment for the Sequences... or something; I don't know. But I didn't get anything but my standard salary in 2009 and $84K sounds right for the total of that salary.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 26 April 2011 04:45:14PM *  15 points [-]

Fixed.

The section that led me to my error was 2009 III 4c. The amount listed as expenses is $83,934 where your salary is listed in 2009 VII Ad as $95,550. The text in III 4c says:

"This year Eliezer Yudkowsky finished his posting sequences on Less Wrong [...] Now Yudkowsky is putting together his blog posts into a book on rationality. [...]"

This is listed next to two other service accomplishments (the Summit and Visiting Fellows).

If I had totaled the program accomplishments section I would have seen that I was counting some money twice (and also noticed that the total in this field doesn't feed back into the main sheet's results).

Please accept my apology for the confusion.

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 April 2011 01:13:13AM 8 points [-]

Hm. $95K still sounds too high, but if I recall correctly, owing to a screwup in our payments processor at that time, my salary for the month of January 2010 was counted into the 2009 tax year instead of 2010.

No apology is required; you wrote without malice.

Comment author: jasonmcdowell 26 April 2011 09:29:52AM 19 points [-]

I like seeing these numbers. Transparency + people organizing the information is great. Seeing this presented here (on Less Wrong) where I am likely to see it makes me more likely to donate. Thanks!

Comment author: jsalvatier 26 April 2011 02:36:50PM 4 points [-]

Ditto!

Comment author: jsalvatier 26 April 2011 03:23:46PM *  16 points [-]

Seeing SIAIs financials has made me more likely to donate to SIAI.

Does anyone have links to writing on what SIAI would do with increased funding? For example, "Allison Hu is a brilliant young Y and has come up with good ideas a,b,c. We would like to hire her, but we don't have the funding to do so". I'd like to see arguments about SIAIs marginal spending.

Also. Brandon! You should have talked about this at the meetup so we could all say what a great idea it was!

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 26 April 2011 11:39:00PM 11 points [-]

For a little more information, there's also this donor list, which consists of my best effort at finding $1K+ donors over the last few years:

http://singinst.org/donors

If I missed anyone who donated and wanted to be on the list, please contact me at anissimov@intelligence.org. Making this list involved going over thousands of Paypal records over the past few years. (Necessary because all Summit payments are also intertwined with actual donations in the records, making it necessary to mentally filter out all payments that are obviously for the Summit.)

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 27 April 2011 02:18:13AM 2 points [-]

Zvi Mowshowitz! Wow color me surprised. Zvi is a retired professional magic player. I used to read his articles and follow his play. Small world.

Comment author: Alicorn 27 April 2011 02:57:56AM 8 points [-]
Comment author: gwern 27 April 2011 02:52:57AM 4 points [-]

Birthday paradox? Given a set of donor-list-readers and another set of donors, there's a better chance than one would expect that there's a commonality. :)

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 27 April 2011 01:30:10PM *  5 points [-]

Come now, it's probably a different Zvi Mowshowitz.

Comment author: Sniffnoy 28 April 2011 12:27:57AM *  2 points [-]

Since the Zvi who posts here is indeed the same Zvi Mowshowitz he speaks of, it is close to certain that the one who donated the money is as well.

Comment author: ata 28 April 2011 05:18:10AM *  6 points [-]

It is close to certain that ArisKatsaris was joking (imitating the format of an exchange where one person says something about, say, a political candidate named John Smith, and the other person says "Oh, John Smith, isn't that the guy who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry a few years ago?" and the first person says "I dunno, probably a different John Smith", while subverting it by (seemingly very confidently) applying it to a comparatively very uncommon name).

Comment author: Sniffnoy 28 April 2011 05:38:33AM *  2 points [-]

...wow, I entirely failed to pick up on that. >.<

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 28 April 2011 04:22:54AM 6 points [-]

Zvi is one of the leaders of the New York Less Wrong community, actually. Munchkinism generalizes.

I played Magic against Zvi using one of his own decks, and the deck won - I was there, but I wasn't involved.

Comment author: ArisKatsaris 28 April 2011 08:30:20AM 1 point [-]

I was just joking, as ata explained. Sorry for the confusion. :-)

Comment author: drethelin 27 April 2011 03:36:53AM 0 points [-]

Did he retire since last year?

Comment author: Clippy 27 April 2011 02:52:34PM 0 points [-]

That doesn't list the 1000 USD that I gave.

Comment author: MichaelAnissimov 27 April 2011 03:13:28PM *  0 points [-]

Can you email me your name so I can check our records, confirm the donation, and list it? Did you check the box that said "list my name"?

Comment author: Clippy 27 April 2011 03:17:59PM *  2 points [-]

Ignore previous; I structured the contribution so that it would go under another human's name or be anonymous. Still, be it known that I gave 1000 USD, just ask User:Kevin or "Michael Vassar".

Comment author: playtherapist 26 April 2011 05:34:26PM 10 points [-]

Employee compensation generally includes more than just salary- there's the cost of the employers share of social security, health insurance and any other benefits. If these are included in the figures listed, then the employees salaries are considerably less. If the Singularity Institute isn't providing health insurance, than buying individual policies is a major expense for the employees. The Bay Area is also one of the most expensive places to live in the U.S.

Comment author: cousin_it 26 April 2011 06:34:57PM 2 points [-]

If donation money is used to buy worktime (which is good and well), why not move to Thailand and save the world from there? :-)

Comment author: CarlShulman 26 April 2011 06:44:47PM 11 points [-]

Sounds great from a weather perspective :)

Alas, folk need to see collaborators, arrange Singularity Summits, interact with donors, board members, and media in the US, Constant travel to and fro would be an imperfect substitute, and flight costs (including time and jet lag) would claw back the cost-of-living gains and more.

Comment author: cousin_it 26 April 2011 08:32:43PM 1 point [-]

My suggestion wasn't completely serious, but thanks for the answer anyway!

Comment author: Nisan 26 April 2011 08:38:29PM 1 point [-]

I'm given to understand this is why the Visiting Fellows program is being temporarily moved to Bali.

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 26 April 2011 08:41:26PM 7 points [-]

Last I heard, this is not actually the case.

Comment author: ameriver 27 April 2011 08:09:24AM 0 points [-]

The rule of thumb I've heard is that an employee's cost to their employer is between two and three times their salary. Even if the employer is not paying benefits, they still have to carry worker's comp insurance, for example, as well as administrative overhead on managing payroll, etc.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 26 April 2011 04:39:25PM 22 points [-]

Am I the only one who is now curious how Eliezer spends the bulk of his disposable income? Is it to save for retirement in case the Singularity either doesn't occur, or occurs in a Hansonian way, despite his best efforts?

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 27 April 2011 01:16:34AM 18 points [-]

Large air-conditioned living space, healthy food, both for 2 people (myself and girlfriend). My salary is at rough equilibrium with my spending; I am not saving for retirement. The Bay Area is, generally speaking, expensive.

Comment author: Wei_Dai 27 April 2011 05:09:24AM *  15 points [-]

Wow, my intuition was rather off on what $95,550 in compensation means for someone living in the Bay Area. Here's some actual calculations for others who are similarly curious. (There are apparently quite a few of us, judging from the votes on my comment.)

Assuming salary is 75% of compensation, that comes to $71662. $4557 in CA state tax. $11,666 federal income tax. $5,482 FICA tax. So $49957 after tax income.

For comparison, my wife and I (both very frugal) live in Seattle and spend about $35000 (excluding taxes and savings) per year. Redwood City's rent is apparently double the rent in Seattle, which perfectly accounts for the additional $15000.

Eliezer, you might want to consider getting married, in which case you can file your taxes jointly, and save about 6 thousand dollars per year (assuming your girlfriend has negligible income).

Comment author: ciphergoth 27 April 2011 10:36:07AM 4 points [-]

You're not saving for retirement because you think that, one way or another, it's unlikely you'll be collecting that money?

Comment author: VNKKET 02 July 2011 07:26:24AM *  2 points [-]

Is the Singularity Institute supporting her through your salary?

I hope you're not too put out by the rudeness of this question. I've decided that I'm allowed to ask because I'm a (small) donor. I doubt your answer will jeopardize my future donations, whatever it is, but I do have preferences about this.

(Also, it's very good to hear that you're taking health seriously! Not that I expected otherwise.)

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 02 July 2011 05:31:56PM 6 points [-]

My salary is my own, to do with as I wish. I'm not put out by the rudeness, per se, but I will not entertain further questions along these lines - it is not something on which I'm interested in having other people vote.

Comment author: V_V 18 December 2012 12:40:50AM 0 points [-]

Quiz: Who said it?

I would be asking for more people to make as much money as possible if they’re the sorts of people who can make a lot of money and can donate a substantial amount fraction, never mind all the minimal living expenses, to the Singularity Institute. This is crunch time. This is crunch time for the entire human species. […] and it’s crunch time not just for us, it’s crunch time for the intergalactic civilization whose existence depends on us. I think that if you’re actually just going to sort of confront it, rationally, full-on, then you can’t really justify trading off any part of that intergalactic civilization for any intrinsic thing that you could get nowadays

Comment author: wedrifid 18 December 2012 01:34:40AM 1 point [-]

Context please.

Comment author: hairyfigment 18 December 2012 04:11:08AM 0 points [-]

By a startling coincidence, V_V's editing seems deliberately deceptive:

So for example, if you’re making money on Wall Street, I’m not sure you should be donating all but minimal living expenses because that may or may not be sustainable for you. And in particular if you’re, say, making 500,000 dollars a year and you’re keeping 50,000 dollars of that per year, which is totally not going to work in New York, probably, then it’s probably more effective to double your living expenses to 100,000 dollars per year and have the amount donated to the Singularity Institute go from 450,000 to 400,000 when you consider how much more likely that makes it that more people follow in your footsteps. That number is totally not realistic and not even close to the percentage of income donated versus spent on living expenses for present people working on Wall Street who are donors to the Singularity Institute.

Question 5, if you don't want to paste into Find. Ph33r my drunken library school graduate skillz!

Comment author: V_V 18 December 2012 10:14:35AM 1 point [-]

I didn't edit it myself, I pasted it from there

Anyway, the editing doesn't seem to be particularly deceptive: apparently there is a special clause for Wall Street bankers that allows them to trade the bright future of our intergalactic (sic) descendants for their immediate personal luxuries.

Comment author: MugaSofer 09 January 2013 12:58:07PM -1 points [-]

... are you implying that Eliezer is wrong to be working to save the world, because he could earn significantly more money and pay others to do better? How much do you think his current "crunch time" efforts would cost?

Comment author: V_V 10 January 2013 05:51:57PM *  -1 points [-]

No. Yudkowsky is paid by the SI, hence he could just donate to the SI just by accepting a lower salary.

He claims that any single dollar of extra funding the SI has could make the difference between an exceptionally positive scenario (Frendly superhuman AI, intergalactic civlization, immortality, etc) and an exceptionally negative one (evil robots who kill us all). He asks other people to forfeit a substantial part of their income to secure this positive scenario and avert the negative one. He claims to be working to literaly save the world, therefore, to be working on his very own survival.

And then, he draws from the SI resources that could be used to hire additional staff and do more research, just to support his lifestyle of relative luxury.

He could live in a smaller house, he could move himself and the SI to a less expensive area (the Silicon Valley is one of the most expensive areas in the world, and there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for the SI to be located there). If he is honest about his claimed beliefs, if he "confronted them, rationally, full-on", how could he be possibly trading any part of the bright future of ours (and his) intergalactic descendants, how could he be trading the chance of his own survival, for a nice house in an expensive neighborhood?

I'm not suggesting he should move to a slum in Calcutta and live on a subsistence wage, but certainly he doesn't seem to be willing to make any sacrifice for what he claims to believe, expecially when he asks other people to make such sacrifices.

Of course, I'm sure he can come with a thousand rationalizations for that behavior. He could say that a lifestyle any less luxurious than his current one would negatively affect the productivity of his so much important work. I won't buy it, but everyone is entitled to their opinion.

Comment author: gwern 10 January 2013 06:48:00PM *  5 points [-]

he could move himself and the SI to a less expensive area (the Silicon Valley is one of the most expensive areas in the world, and there doesn't seem to be a compelling reason for the SI to be located there)

There are compelling reasons to be there: it is the epicenter of the global tech world. You will not find a place more interested in these topics, with more potential donors, critics, potential employees, etc.

This is the same reasoning for why the WikiMedia Foundation moved from St Petersburg, Florida to San Francisco back in 2007 or 2008 or so: that they would be able to recruit more talent and access more big donors.

I was a little disgusted at the high cost of living since I thought the WMF's role ought to be basically keeping the servers running and it was a bad idea to go after more ambitious projects and the big donors to pay for those projects. But sure enough, a year or two later, the multi-million dollar donations and grants began to come in. Or notice that Givewell is still located in NYC, even after spending a while working out of India with a much lower cost of living (Mumbai, not your Calcutta, but close enough).

I still think the projects themselves are largely wasted, and that the WMF should have been obsessed with reducing editor attrition & deletionism rather than SWPL projects like African DVDs and so I stopped donating long ago; but the move itself performed as advertised.

Comment author: V_V 11 January 2013 09:50:33AM -2 points [-]

There are compelling reasons to be there: it is the epicenter of the global tech world. You will not find a place more interested in these topics, with more potential donors, critics, potential employees, etc.

This is the same reasoning for why the WikiMedia Foundation moved from St Petersburg, Florida to San Francisco back in 2007 or 2008 or so: that they would be able to recruit more talent and access more big donors.

AFAIK the SI doens't do software development or direct computer science research. Other than operating Less Wrong, their main outputs seem to be philosophical essays and some philosophical pubblications, plus the annual Singularity Summits (which makes sense to do in the Silicon Valley, but don't have to be physically close to the SI main location). A cursory look on the SI team pages suggests that most of the staff are not CompSci professionals, and many of them didn't get their education or did research at Stanford or other Silicon Valley colleges.

From the donors point of view, IIUC, most of the money donated to the SI comes from very few big donors, Peter Thiel in particular donates much more than everybody else (maybe more than everybody else combined?). I suppose that such donors would continue to support the SI even if it was relocated.

Even assuming that there are benefits from staying in the Silicon Valley that outweight the costs, the point stands that Yudkowsky could accept a lower salary while still staying well above subsistence level.

Comment author: gwern 11 January 2013 05:13:52PM 2 points [-]

AFAIK the SI doens't do software development or direct computer science research. Other than operating Less Wrong, their main outputs seem to be philosophical essays and some philosophical pubblications, plus the annual Singularity Summits (which makes sense to do in the Silicon Valley, but don't have to be physically close to the SI main location). A cursory look on the SI team pages suggests that most of the staff are not CompSci professionals, and many of them didn't get their education or did research at Stanford or other Silicon Valley colleges.

The audience and donors are there, which is enough, but your point about the people is not strong: most of the people in Silicon Valley was not taught at Stanford, does that mean they are wasting their time there? Of course not, it just points out how California sucks in strange people and techies (and both) from around the world eg. my elder sister was raised and went to college on the east coast, but guess where she's working now? Silicon Valley.

From the donors point of view, IIUC, most of the money donated to the SI comes from very few big donors, Peter Thiel in particular donates much more than everybody else (maybe more than everybody else combined?). I suppose that such donors would continue to support the SI even if it was relocated.

You suppose that because it is convenient for your claim that being in Silicon Valley is wasteful, not because it is true. The widespread absence of telecommuting in corporations, the worldwide emphasis on clustering into cities so you can be physically close to everyone, how donors in every charity like to physically meet principles and "look them in the eyes", the success of LW meetups - all these point to presence being better than absence.

SI would never have gotten Thiel's support, I suspect, if it had remained in Atlanta. Having gotten his support, it will not keep it by moving out of Silicon Valley. Having moved out of Silicon Valley, it will find it hard to find any more donors.

What, like Thiel is guaranteed to never drop support? Even in such an absurd situation, why would you risk it by ignoring all other big donors? And what if you wanted to grow? If SI were to leave Silicon Valley to save some money on salaries, it would be a major long-term strategic mistake which would justify everything critics might say about SI being incompetent in choosing to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Even assuming that there are benefits from staying in the Silicon Valley that outweight the costs, the point stands that Yudkowsky could accept a lower salary while still staying well above subsistence level.

Dunno, but that wasn't the point I was addressing.

Comment author: V_V 11 January 2013 07:10:53PM -2 points [-]

Of course not, it just points out how California sucks in strange people and techies (and both) from around the world eg. my elder sister was raised and went to college on the east coast, but guess where she's working now? Silicon Valley.

Yes, of course the Silicon Valley attracts CompSci professionals from all over the world, but the SI doesn't employ them. Strange people you say? I've never been to San Francisco, but I've heard that it's considered home to weirdos of every possible kind. Maybe that's the people the SI panders to?

SI would never have gotten Thiel's support, I suspect, if it had remained in Atlanta. Having gotten his support, it will not keep it by moving out of Silicon Valley. Having moved out of Silicon Valley, it will find it hard to find any more donors.

Well, I dunno. It's not like Peter Thiel doesn't know how to use the Internet or can't afford flying. Facebook, for instance, was located in Massachusetts and only moved to the Silicon Valley in 2011.

Comment author: gwern 11 January 2013 08:13:55PM 2 points [-]

Yes, of course the Silicon Valley attracts CompSci professionals from all over the world, but the SI doesn't employ them. Strange people you say? I've never been to San Francisco, but I've heard that it's considered home to weirdos of every possible kind. Maybe that's the people the SI panders to?

All people who like SI are by definition out of the mainstream, but not all people out of the mainstream are whom SI 'panders' to.

It's not like Peter Thiel doesn't know how to use the Internet or can't afford flying.

And yet...

Facebook, for instance, was located in Massachusetts and only moved to the Silicon Valley in 2011.

How wasteful of them. Don't they know they can just use the Internet to do this thing called 'social networking'? There's no reason for them to be in Silicon Valley. Hopefully their shareholders will do something about that.

Comment author: hairyfigment 18 December 2012 04:08:19AM 0 points [-]

Who said:

There are maybe two or three people in the entire world who spend only the bare possible minimum on themselves, and contribute everything else to a rationally effective charity. They have an excuse for not signing up. No one else does.

Comment author: cjb 27 April 2011 03:16:37AM *  21 points [-]
  • In 2009 the SIAI reported $118,802 to theft - "Misappropriation of assets, by a contractor [...]" This is a significant amount when compared to annual revenue or liquid assets. The year's surplus appears to have been eaten up by the theft. No details are provided, other than the fact that suit has been filed to seek restitution.

I'm surprised that no-one's mentioned this -- it's hard to imagine how someone can steal that much money. Can someone at SIAI tell us whether they're allowed to talk about what happened; and if you can't right now, do you have any idea when you might be able to?

Comment author: gwern 15 February 2012 06:36:54PM *  12 points [-]

The theft must have been discovered to be more extensive than thought, because one early report says

Embezzlement report: Alicia Isaac, 37, of Sunnyvale arrested on embezzlement, larceny and conspiracy charges in connection with $51,000 loss, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence in 1400 block of Adams Drive, Dec. 10.

Which is significantly less than $120k.

Comment author: MileyCyrus 20 February 2012 08:46:45AM 3 points [-]

So in December 2009, Alicia Isaac was arrested for stealing from SIAI. One year later, she was hired by the Lifeboat Foundation, where she apparently still works.. On the finance board, no less!

Was she vindicated in 2010, or is the Lifeboat Foundation just stupid?

Comment author: gwern 20 February 2012 03:11:05PM *  3 points [-]

Was she vindicated in 2010,

Luke in his questions page for when he became director said the case was ongoing and scheduled for trial, IIRC, and that was either 2011 or 2012.

or is the Lifeboat Foundation just stupid?

I'm not sure stupid is the right adjective for the things I wonder about Lifeboat...

Comment author: steven0461 20 February 2012 06:21:58PM 2 points [-]

Based on the links, I don't think she actually works there any more than all the other advisory board members do. She isn't listed on the staff page.

Comment author: gwern 20 February 2012 11:37:02PM 1 point [-]

Looking in the Internet Archive, their staff page never lists anything with the keyword 'finance' (for the past 2-3 years), so I'm not sure that's a strong argument from silence.

Comment author: steven0461 21 February 2012 12:30:23AM *  4 points [-]

The "finance board" that she's a part of is one of LF's "advisory boards", which look like they total 1000+ people; see the first link in the grandparent. These people aren't employees even though they have bios on the site. My impression is they just get listed on the site and added to a mailing list.

Comment author: Alicorn 21 February 2012 12:36:46AM 3 points [-]

Yep. They seem to just look for people who have some connection, however tenuous, to what they do, and then ask nicely if you'd like to be on the board. Then they email you occasionally and maintain a wee profile with links to your stuff. It's pretty okay.

Comment author: gwern 24 June 2013 01:35:10AM *  1 point [-]

I think you may be right. I just took a look at the 2011 form 990 (2012 is not out), which is where I'd expect to first see her mentioned if she was handling books for them, but the form is listed as being prepared by the president Eric Klien and Isaac is not mentioned anywhere in it I can see.

Comment author: Rain 27 April 2011 04:31:19PM *  9 points [-]

Michael Vassar sent out an email with more information back in Dec 2009 (shortly after they discovered the theft?). I'm not sure if it was just to donors or also included newsletter subscribers. It basically said, 'we trusted this person and they took advantage of that trust.' It also states that since legal action is still pending, they have to "limit what [they] say", but that you can send further inquiries to Michael.

Comment author: cjb 27 April 2011 04:52:34PM 14 points [-]

Thanks. I guess the followup questions are:

  • Is the legal action still pending, or can the situation be talked about openly now?
  • Has SIAI been able to recover the money?
  • Was it a mistake to trust a contractor with access to >$100k of funds? Do they still do that?
Comment author: CarlShulman 03 May 2011 10:11:57AM *  8 points [-]

My understanding is that the case is ongoing in criminal court, at least as of a few weeks ago, and that the money has largely not yet been recovered. As far as I know, only that one contractor had the relevant financial access, which was required for the job, but obviously the financial controls on that access were not sufficient. I think that currently only the President and COO have the relevant access to the accounts (though others, including the majority-donor board, have limited access to monitor the accounts).

Comment author: ata 26 April 2011 09:15:34AM 7 points [-]

Note that there's also data for 2002 and 2003, though that time period may not be relevant to much now.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 26 April 2011 04:46:31PM *  1 point [-]

I'm also going to see if I can get a copy of the 2010 filing.

Edit: The 2002 and on data is now largely incorporated. Still working on a few bits. Don't have the 2010 data, but the SIAI hasn't necessarily filed it yet.

Comment author: jsalvatier 26 April 2011 03:33:10PM 4 points [-]

I think this should be on the front page. Brandon, you should also mention whether you are affiliated with SIAI and whether you've donated to SIAI before.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 27 April 2011 07:26:37AM 4 points [-]

Once I finish the todo at the top and get independent checking on a few things I'm not clear on, I can post it to the main section. I don't think there's value in pushing it to a wider audience before it's ready.

Comment author: curiousepic 26 April 2011 06:36:35PM 1 point [-]

From the OP: "I am not currently an SIAI supporter. My findings have greatly increased the probability that I will donate in the future. "

Comment author: jsalvatier 26 April 2011 07:00:51PM 0 points [-]

Oops, missed that. Thanks.

Comment author: gwern 26 April 2011 03:21:58PM 3 points [-]

Acting on gwern's suggestion in his Girl Scout Cookie analysis, here is a first pass at looking at SIAI funding, suggestions for a funding task-force, etc.

Congratulation on this writeup; it's pretty good. (Nothing in it strikes me as erroneous from my previous quick readings of the filings except that Sequences thing.) I hadn't actually expected anyone to take my suggestion, so this is a pleasant surprise.

Comment author: lukeprog 26 April 2011 04:17:09PM 4 points [-]

Kudos and karma for putting so much work into summarizing all this.

Comment author: FAWS 29 April 2011 11:17:24AM 2 points [-]

Why is this post deleted? Did something go wrong when transferring it to the main section?

Comment author: gwern 02 May 2011 01:41:09PM 0 points [-]
Comment author: Bongo 26 April 2011 11:04:58AM *  2 points [-]

$83,934 was also paid in additional compensation to Eliezer for the completion of the Sequences. (It could also have been anadvance on the assembly of his book on rationality...the text is a tad vague.)

Eliezer's base compensation increased 20% in 2008 and then 7.8% in 2009.

Personally I think this is pretty shocking and the worst thing I've ever learned about SIAI.

(And since it's relevant when saying these kinds of things, I've donated to SIAI before.)

EDIT: False alarm, apparently there was no sequences bonus

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 April 2011 12:02:56PM 12 points [-]

Should've noticed your own confusion, that didn't actually happen.

http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/5fo/siai_fundraising/40v2

(Base compensation rates of increase sound about right, though.)

Comment author: ciphergoth 26 April 2011 11:32:29AM *  3 points [-]

FWIW $95.5K doesn't seem excessive to me.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 April 2011 11:49:51AM 1 point [-]

It seems a little on the high side to me - and $180,000 (when you combine his salary and the Sequences money) in 2009 is ludicrous. I mean, if that's what people want to spend their money on, fair enough, but it's a big chunk of the total funds raised by SIAI that year. So when people talk about the marginal utility of donating a dollar to the SIAI, an equally valid way to phrase it might be "the marginal utility of increasing the salary of someone who earned $180,000 in 2009 by 28 cents".

But I'm not wanting to dissuade anyone from spending their money if that's what they want to spend it on...

Comment author: Nick_Tarleton 26 April 2011 07:21:17PM *  4 points [-]

So when people talk about the marginal utility of donating a dollar to the SIAI, an equally valid way to phrase it might be "the marginal utility of increasing the salary of someone who earned $180,000 in 2009 by 28 cents".

Assuming marginal money is allocated proportional to existing spending, which is surely not the case. (Yes, the $180,000 figure would be unreasonable if true.)

Comment author: jimrandomh 26 April 2011 11:53:33AM 2 points [-]

Personally I think this is pretty shocking and the worst thing I've ever learned about SIAI.

Shockingly high or shockingly low?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 April 2011 11:32:00AM 0 points [-]

Where did you think the money was going?!

Comment author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 26 April 2011 12:04:08PM 20 points [-]

Where did you think the money was going?!

They thought it wasn't going to paying me $180K. Correctly. +1 epistemic point to everyone who expressed surprise at this nonfact, -1 point for hindsight bias to anyone who claimed not to be shocked by it.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 April 2011 12:37:23PM 10 points [-]

Fair enough. I assumed that most of the money would be going on salary, so if an organisation with a small staff had a large income, it'd be paying high salaries. It's one reason (of many) I've never donated. So I've just made a $10 donation, partly to punish myself for my own biases, and partly to make some restitution for acting on those biases in a way which might have seemed insulting.

Comment author: Clippy 26 April 2011 04:00:31PM 0 points [-]

This doesn't list any payment to me for purchase and safekeeping of paperclips.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 27 April 2011 01:13:38AM 0 points [-]
Comment author: Clippy 27 April 2011 03:01:13AM *  0 points [-]

OK.

Comment author: Armok_GoB 26 April 2011 04:07:50PM 1 point [-]

"Crowd Source Utilization. There are sites devoted to crowd sourced funding for projects. A task force could conceive of a project with the potential to generate more revenue than required to build it. Risk could be reduced through the use of crowd sourcing. Excess revenue donated to the SIAI. (Projects don't have to be software, they could be fabricating an interesting device, piece of art, or music.)"

More info and discussion on this please? This sounds like something that I actually, just maybe, could make myself useful by, depending on what it means.

While I'm to unreliable and responisbility-shy to dare take lead of such a project, I might be able to come up with and bootstrap some art project if there are other people interested and dedicated that can complement my weaknesses and take over if I lose interest.

I have no idea what the scheme for somehting like this resulting in money is thou, or if the LW related stuff I'm planing could be reworked for doing that as well as the possible awareness rising and mostly being for fun it's current planed purpose is. If it ever becomes anything other than vaporware that is.

Comment author: BrandonReinhart 27 April 2011 05:39:36PM 0 points [-]

Can everyone see all of the images? I received a report that some appeared broken.

Comment author: Rain 28 April 2011 12:57:30PM 0 points [-]

All of the images are blocked by my work internet filter. I can see them all at home.