Is AI safety no longer a scenius?
Back in the 1990s up until 2013 or so, AI safety work was almost entirely a volunteer effort that I believe fit many of the characteristics of scenius. But today in 2021, AI safety has become professionalized and prestigious. As Nielsen says (abstractly, not about AI safety in particular): "A field that is fun and stimulating when 50 people are involved may become overcrowded with 5,000 people. People get squeezed into tiny boxes, pursuing tiny dreams. They start to feel as though there is more competition, even if there are actually more resources per capita. As a result they become more selfish, less helpful, and less willing to share. Outside your immediate colleagues you are less buoyed by others."
Still, what do you do when something you are interested in, or believe to be the most important cause, is no longer a scenius? Do you give up and find some other fertile small field to work on, letting the prestige-seekers to take care of AI safety? Or do you say "I still think AI safety is the most important cause, so I'll figure out some way to work in it even if it kinda sucks"? Maybe start some small sub-field inside of AI safety that functions as scenius? Or try to work on mechanism design so that the larger AI safety community is more functional than existing "eternal september" type events?
Competition is sometimes good for motivating you, but you will always want to be in pool small enough that it's actually, to some considerable extent, friendly competition.
The kind I hate is when you're getting crowded out and there's 17 people all trying to do exactly the same thing, and it doesn't even feel that important anyway because in fact, there's just too many people trying to do the same sort of thing. That's the toxic version.