This last June, BERI announced its first Individual Grants program: a Project Grants round. This post summarizes our process and announces the grant winners for this round.

Process

We received 55 applications by the end of June, when the round closed. We then spent a total of approximately 77 person hours reviewing the applications, contacting references, and consulting advisors.

In late August, the Project Grants Committee (comprising three anonymous individuals) finalized its recommendations and sent those to BERI’s First Grant Fund Committee (more on the FGF Committee at this link) and Board of Directors for approval. We then emailed applicants notifying them of their status. We have spent most of September and early October setting up the logistics for the grants (drafting and sending out grant agreements, and disbursing funding). We have not yet finalized the disbursement of all grants.

Common considerations

We thought it might be helpful for future applicants to lay out some of the considerations that the project grants committee frequently found itself discussing. The following factors are presented in no particular order, and each committee member put different weight on each factor:

  1. The applicant’s general and specific competencies as evidenced by their past achievements (e.g., educational achievements, business achievements, social achievements, etc.).
  1. The quality and similarity of the applicant’s past work samples to the project being proposed.
  1. The general and specific competencies of the applicant’s references, as well as the content of the recommendations that the references submitted.
  1. The applicant’s track record of commitment to long-term futurist causes, or other signs of likelihood that the applicant cared about the long-term future.
  1. The likely and potential impact of the project, as well as the particular cost-effectiveness of the project being proposed.
  1. Potential downsides of the project.
  1. Whether the grantee was a good fit for the parameters of this project grant round.
  1. What would happen if BERI did not fund the project right now.

However, note that the committee may put more weight on a different set of factors in the future.

Mistakes & Challenges

There were several kinks in our process (we expected this, given that it was our first individual grants round). Some examples:

  • We sent out unclear recommendation forms to references, resulting in more back-and-forth about the forms than we had anticipated (and likely leading to fewer references being submitted than otherwise would have).

  • The project grants committee had difficulties scheduling meetings given summer vacation schedules and other events.

  • There were a number of internal steps that needed further development during the evaluation process, such as:

    • Transforming information gathered by the application form into an easy-to-compare format for committee members,

    • Collecting additional information on some applications for committee members, and

    • Developing grant agreements and figuring out how to communicate to grantees about the tracking requirements for the grants.

These steps took more time than we anticipated, and developing them as we went (as opposed to ahead of time) likely led to somewhat sub-optimal solutions in many cases.

However, despite the challenges, we’re relatively satisfied with how the grants round went—we managed to mostly keep to the schedule we set for ourselves and are excited about our selections. We now have a long list of improvements that we’d like to make for future individual grants rounds.

Grant Winners

See the bottom of this page for a list of winners

Of the 55 applications, we selected 18 to receive funding (~33%). One applicant was awarded a vendor contract in lieu of a grant based on the project’s legal structure and the availability of services offered that BERI wanted to purchase (not included in the grants totals BERI is reporting). We managed to stay close to the budget we initially set for this first round ($750k); in total, we plan to award $799,465 to selected winners (excluding the vendor). We are not sure how many applicants or grant winners to expect for future rounds—we predict (with low confidence) that we will receive more applicants, maintain our budget, and therefore accept a smaller fraction of applicants in the future.

Our grant winners are listed on our grants page. Currently, only those who have received their grants are listed; we will continue to update the grants page as we finalize disbursing the grants.

We’re excited about our grantees, and we hope you are too! We believe that having diverse projects all pursing work on x-risk as an objective is important to helping develop a culture of focus on humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing.

List of winners:

Grantee Amount Purpose
Baeo Maltinsky $55,000 Baeo will further his research on AI and technology trends.
Ben Goldhaber $150,000 The grant will support his project (co-lead by Jacob Lagerros) to bring x-risk-relevant questions to popular prediction platforms.
Colleen McKenzie $51,000 The grant will support Colleen's research on AI timelines and the processes that produce technical and scientific progress.
David Manheim $25,000 David will research aspects of Goodhart’s law, focusing on multi-agent dynamics.
Jamison Bryce Hidysmith $20,500 Bryce will analyze global risks from technology through a geopolitical lens.
Jessica Taylor $10,000 Jessica will work on her research in AI alignment and other areas.
Jordan Alexander $1,900 Jordan will host several meetings at Stanford EA and the Stanford Transhumanist Association.
Justin Shovelain $100,000 Justin will lead and develop “Convergence Analysis”, a new group focused on x-risk strategy research.
Luca Rade $20,400 Luca will research the implications of coarse-graining by an agent in a complex environment for AI alignment.
Lucius Caviola $44,353 Lucius will conduct research on the psychology of existential risk.
Markus Stoor (via EA Sweden) $4,000 Effective Altruism Sweden will support Markus Stoor’s project to coordinate two follow-up lunch-to-lunch meetings in Sweden for x-risk-focused individuals.
Roxanne Heston $49,532 Roxanne will work on a variety of AI policy projects in Washington, D.C.
Sarah D Spikes $24,000 Sarah will implement improvements in support of the Rationality and Effective Altruism Community Hub (REACH).
Sebastian Farquhar $12,000 Sebastian will attend conferences and purchase compute for experiments related to his PhD research on uncertainty modeling in neural networks.
Stefan Schubert $86,580 Stefan will conduct research on the psychology of existential risk.
Stephanie Zolayvar $100,000 Stephanie will train herself in circling and host circles for people who are promising contributors to reducing x-risk.
Zoe Cremer $25,200 The grant will support Zoe as a visiting fellow at CFI, where she will research disagreements about the amount and kind of structure required for AGI

Questions or comments?

If you have feedback or concerns, please reach out to individual-grants@existence.org.