SI and Social Business

post by Nick_Roy · 2011-11-07T23:25:53.204Z · score: 5 (8 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 17 comments

I asked this question for the Q&A:

Non-profit organizations like SI need robust, sustainable resource strategies. Donations and grants are not reliable. According to my university Social Entrepreneurship course, social businesses are the best resource strategy available. The Singularity Summit is a profitable and expanding example of a social business. Is SI planning on creating more social businesses (either related or unrelated to the organization's mission) to address long-term funding needs?

I also recently asked this of Luke for his feedback post before the Q&A was up, and he mentioned in his response that SI is continuing to grow the Summit brand in a multifarious manner. Luke also asked me for additional social business ideas, citing a lack of staff working on the issue.

Less Wrong's collective intelligence trumps my own, so I'm fielding it to you. I do have a few ideas, but I'll hold off on proposing solutions at first. I find that this is a fascinating and difficult thought experiment in addition to its usefulness both for SI and as practice in recognizing opportunities.

Edited to add: I posted my own ideas concerning SI and social business in the comments. What are yours? Also, addressing some valid points made in the comments, what are some other innovative ways to fund SI?

17 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Douglas_Knight · 2011-11-08T00:27:24.513Z · score: 6 (10 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

According to my university Social Entrepreneurship course, social businesses are the best resource strategy available.

I hope you didn't update on that.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-08T00:35:33.840Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I want to mark this comment up and down at the same time.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-11-08T05:20:55.300Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, that's a good point. Do you have any social business suggestions on top of that, though?

Edited to add: I apologize if my tone came off as being negative here. Such was not my intent.

comment by Dorikka · 2011-11-09T01:46:33.605Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you find that you keep wanting to remind people of this, you may want to add it to the main post more prominently. Such reminding is currently coming off as badgering to me, and likely to other people as well since both of your reminder comments are getting into the negatives.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-11-10T02:30:40.295Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sorry about that! It's difficult (for me at least) to express tone over the Internet. I'll have to practice that.

comment by shminux · 2011-11-08T20:50:35.519Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

This has been discussed before, but it is still worth pointing out.

I suspect that the "social business" aspect of the SIAI is severely hurt by the organization's name. It gives off an instant nerdy vibe that turns people off in "5 seconds or less". "Artificial Intelligence" sounds like an academic pursuit from the bowels of MIT, and the "Singularity" idea is still pretty controversial. Given that SIAI competes for funding with the non-profits like UN's Global Issues, Liu Institute for Global Issues and many others, a better name might be in order. Consider for example the way the Lifeboat Foundation is named: it gets instant emotional response from most people, due to the obvious allegories.

A less-geeky name could be a cheap step toward a more mainstream support.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-11-10T02:35:25.463Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

That's an excellent point. I wonder if it's too late at this point for a renaming, or not?

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-08T21:00:01.953Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

"Artificial Intelligence" sounds like an academic pursuit from the bowels of MIT[.]

Isn't it literally that?

This doesn't preclude it also being other things, of course...

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-11-08T21:24:19.848Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I admit that I don't precisely know where the bowels of MIT were, I'm pretty sure the AI Lab wasn't in them.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-08T21:26:45.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Presumably that would be the steam tunnels, which (if memory of lore serves) many AI hackers of yore spent time exploring.

Edited to add:

Hack, sense 9, in the Jargon File makes oblique reference.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-11-08T22:24:47.124Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Well, sure, but you might as well say that AI came from the cafeterias of MIT, where many AI hackers spent time eating.

comment by dlthomas · 2011-11-08T22:39:50.379Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

A case could certainly be made.

comment by Kaj_Sotala · 2011-11-09T07:58:57.455Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are rebranding into just "Singularity Institute", though I'm not sure whether that's an improvement.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-11-09T12:44:53.515Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

They are rebranding into just "Singularity Institute", though I'm not sure whether that's an improvement.

Wait... they are getting rid of the part that actually makes sense and keeping 'Singularity'? Fail.

comment by JGWeissman · 2011-11-08T00:53:20.094Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

I do have a few ideas, but I'll hold off on proposing solutions at first.

The full edict you are alluding to is:

Do not propose solutions until the problem has been discussed as thoroughly as possible without suggesting any.

So, perhaps while you are waiting to propose solutions, you can actively engage in the prelimaries of exploring the problem. And take a step back, and ask is the problem how to start more social businesses, or is the problem how to reliably fund SIAI and the idea of social businesses is a prematurely proposed solution?

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-11-08T05:21:39.280Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

Okay, that's a good point, too. However, do you have any social business suggestions in addition to that?

Edited to add: I apologize if my tone came off as being negative here. Such was not my intent.

comment by Nick_Roy · 2011-11-10T02:43:07.242Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW(p) · GW(p)

My thoughts on further social business opportunities: how about rationality consulting? If SI/LessWrong can establish enough credibility as rationalists this is worth money to both non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses, as well as potentially to consumers (as with Eliezer's rationality books). Rationality consulting would probably have to be done for free at first, of course. As a secondary benefit, this would also help with the ongoing effort to measure the impact rationality training has on an individual or an organization.

On a meta level, offering a prize may be a good way generate social business ideas, since the prize would more than pay for itself if the idea is profitable enough. Resource strategy consultants for non-profit organizations do exist, and business entrepreneurs (having expertise in resource strategies from another angle) might also like the idea of a prize.

This is also a topic that SI's Volunteering program can address, which I notice in the Strategic Plan that SI plans on growing.

Luke responded that "actually, a rationality teaching/consulting business is already in the works! That's the 'Rationality Org' we plan on spinning off from Singularity Institute."