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NIST employees are protesting the expected appointment of an “effectively altruistic” AI researcher to the U.S. AI Safety Institute

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is facing an internal crisis as staff and scientists have threatened to resign over expected appointments of staff and scientists Paul Christiano He holds a key position on the agency's newly formed US AI Safety Institute (AISI), based on a minimum of two sources with direct knowledge of the situation who asked to stay anonymous.

Christiano, who’s known for his connections to the effective altruism (EA) movement and its offshoot, long-termism (a view that prioritizes the long-term way forward for humanity). popularized by the philosopher William MacAskill), so far, was reportedly rushed through the hiring process without anyone knowing, one in all the sources said.

Christiano's appointment, which reportedly got here directly from Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo (NIST is a component of the U.S. Department of Commerce), has sparked outrage amongst NIST employees, who fear that Christiano's association with EA and his long-termism could threaten the institute's objectivity and integrity .

Many say EA – defined by Center for Effective Altruism as an “mental project that uses evidence and reason to find easy methods to profit others as much as possible” – has develop into one cult-like group of very influential and wealthy followers (made famous by FTX founder and prison guard Sam Bankman-Fried), whose top priority is about stopping a future AI catastrophe from destroying humanity. Critics of EA deal with this existential risk, or “X-Risk,” and say it comes on the expense of the essential deal with current, measurable AI risks — including bias, misinformation, high-risk applications, and traditional cybersecurity.

The US AI Safety Institute was founded in November 2023

The AISI was founded in November 2023 to “support the responsibilities assigned to the Department of Commerce.” AI Executive Order. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced today that NIST will receive as much as $10 million to create the US AI Safety Institute.

Last month, VentureBeat reported on criticism of NIST's lack of transparency regarding AISI: In mid-December, lawmakers from each parties met on the House Science Committee sent a letter to NIST that Politico reported: “chastised the agency for a scarcity of transparency and for failing to announce a competitive process for planned research grants related to the brand new U.S. AI Safety Institute.” This lack of transparency revolved around a possible grant to the RAND Corporation, “an influential think tank “. related to tech billionaires, the AI ​​industry and effective altruism.” (VentureBeat has also reported on an “ever-widening net” of effective altruism advocates in AI security circles, including at RAND and leading LLM model company Anthropic).

“It is significant to be certain that NIST’s mission shouldn’t be compromised”

Divyansh Kaushik, Deputy Director for Emerging Technologies and National Security at Federation of American Scientiststold VentureBeat that no matter who’s appointed to the AISI role, “it is vital to be certain that NIST's mission shouldn’t be compromised.”

NIST has all the time conducted “methodological measurement research that may be very sound,” he said. “By attempting to ascertain an assessment program for hypothetical risks from general-purpose models, we’re breaking latest ground. I fully understand the concerns that NIST scientists would have, and it’s as much as industrial leadership to be certain that all appointments remain true to the science and NIST’s mission and methodology.”

If certain appointments resulted in NIST's “superstar scientists” leaving, he added, “that may be a disgrace – during which case I would definitely hope that the minister would take into consideration what they’re losing by appointing someone.” and reconsider their selection.”

He noted that congressional committees are already paying close attention to AISI's work. “I hope that they’re able to do good work with good people who find themselves one of the best measurement scientists, and that they’ll do this work in a way that pulls on NIST's strengths quite than attempting to “To reshape NIST’s mission and mission,” he said.

VentureBeat reached out to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, AISI Director Elizabeth Kelly and Paul Christiano. We'll update if we hear anything.


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