Lensa-Generated Portrait of Max
Date of Birth:November 3, 1988
Location:Northern California (probably)
Childhood:Western USA
(Oregon and Colorado mostly)
Profession:AI Alignment Researcher
Community:Rationalist & Effective Altruist
Known for:
Social Media:Inactive on all platforms
(as of 2023)
Relationship Status:Married Oct 7, 2023
(not seeking new partners)

An old résumé: 📄

I joined the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) mid-2017, and as of time of writing (mid-2023) am still working there, and intend to keep working there until the world is safe from unfriendly AI. I do closed-research, which unfortunately means I don't have any publications to my name or ability to talk about my work except in broad-strokes. Still, it's my dream-job.

I gained an appreciation for the AI alignment problem around 2009, thanks to the writings of Eliezer Yudkowsky and others in online transhumanist spaces, and re-oriented my life towards trying to improve our odds. I spent the years in between then and 2017 studying AI on my own, focusing on rationality, writing some novels, and working in the tech industry (first in web design, then aerial image processing).

I specialize in assistive research—helping other researchers realize their agendas through listening, questioning, distilling, and programming. This leverages my passion for helping others and talent for communication. My other main talent, I think, is in software engineering. I love strong types and clean abstractions. Haskell is my preferred language as of 2023, but I'm looking to switch to mostly using a language with dependent types sometime soon.

Between 2014 and 2017 I wrote three science fiction novels about artificial intelligence: Crystal Society, Crystal Mentality, and Crystal Eternity.

I occasionally write a non-fiction blog called Utopian Dreams.

I have a bunch of tattoos, many of which are my own design. My first tattoo was the Mandelbrot set (and image), written using my own formula: Mandelbrot Set Formula

I also have a custom formulation of Conway's Game of Life (and some gliders): Conway's Game of Life Formula (The big square brackets are Iverson brackets.)

My last math tattoo is a binary, combinator tree, where branches represent application and leaves are Rosser's X-combinator: X = λf.fKSK = λf.f(λ_x.x)(λghx.gx(hx))(λ_x.x). Because (XX)X = K and X(XX) = S, and S+K combinator trees are Turing complete, any program or data structure can thus be encoded as a simple binary tree. My tattoo ("eval") is the function that takes a binary tree and returns the function that it corresponds to, when interpreted in this way:Combinator Tree

Moving more abstract, the snowflakes on my wrist are a reminder of winter. They're a beautiful handcuff that holds my awareness of how cold and dark the world is, and how humanity has yet to even glimpse the dawning of an era without starvation, plague, war, and death. The snow symbolizes hope of escaping death through the cold sleep of cryonics, and the beauty and individuality of each person. It's a reminder to myself and a promise not to stop fighting before the spring thaw comes.

I have other tattoos as well, such as my wedding ring and other personal symbols of my journey and my values.

Picture of Max looking at the tattoos on his arm.

I'm married to Haven Worsham Harms, my lovely partner since 2021. We live in Grass Valley, California with Maple, our adorable Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.

Outside of work, I enjoy walking/hiking, writing, reading a mixture of science-fiction and non-fiction essays/blogs, coding personal projects, designing conlangs, eating fruit, spending time with Haven, and playing games.

I have a serious passion for gaming, both on the computer and the tabletop. From ~1998 to 2008 I was pushing hard to be an indie game developer; that was the spark that got me into programming, and I still greatly enjoy playing, designing, and thinking about games. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Cave Story
  • Slay the Spire
  • The Witness
  • Hades
  • Baba is You
  • The Outer Wilds
  • Inscryption
  • Deus Ex

Other favorite works of art, from other media, include:

  • Shawshank Redemption
  • Black Swan
  • Children of Men
  • Moneyball
  • Her
  • Finding Nemo
  • The Fountain
  • Pan's Labyrinth
  • Uncut Gems
  • Knives Out
  • After Yang
  • Death Note
  • Watchmen
  • Firefly
  • Black Mirror
  • Gurren Lagann
  • The Wire
  • Worm
  • The Little Prince
  • Lord of the Rings
  • The Song of Ice and Fire
  • Player of Games

I grew up in a very libertarian environment (my parents met at an Objectivist book club!), and was given an extreme level of autonomy and freedom as a child. While I spent many years in classrooms, ranging from public school to weird alternative schools, I mostly characterize my education as unschooling. I broadly recommend unschooling, mostly for the way it changes the dynamic between children and adults to be more healthy, but there are tradeoffs, and am no longer as much of a dogmatist on the subject as I once was. Nevertheless, I consider education to be a life-long activity, and regularly push myself to study new fields.

While I consider myself to be very Western in most aspects, I appreciate many aspects of Eastern philosophy, particularly Daoism, Zen Buddhism, and meditation more broadly. (Though each of these can be quite bad, in their own way! Don't uncritically absorb philosophy or otherwise self-modify!) I'm also a big fan of Focusing, as developed by Eugene Gendlin, and practice it on a regular basis.

There's obviously too many interesting ideas to cover in a place like this, but the centerpiece of my worldview is probably Transhumanism—the idea that the quest to transcend human nature through technology is human nature, and should be embraced even in the extremes. I consider all humans to be cyborgs along spectra of integration, dependence, and enhancement. I seek to live forever, or die trying, as is the immortalist motto.

Towards this end I am signed up for cryonics, am a fan of genetic engineering (human and otherwise), brain-machine interfaces, nootropics, biohacking (including "mundane" things like laser eye surgery (which I've purchased)), and uploading/emulation.

Despite my generally enthusiastic attitude towards becoming post-human, I do think value is fragile and wisdom is essential on the path towards godhood. If we aren't careful to cultivate rationality and the best aspects of humanity as we push towards tomorrow, we are likely to find a universe devoid of anything worth fighting for. Generalized competition is the enemy, and unaligned posthumans are the most likely vector for our destruction.

More broadly, I am a left-libertarian technocrat. I vote primarily for global stability, secondarily to increased immigration/globalization, and tertiarily towards freedom and liberalism. I believe there are many non-human people on Earth, and am an ethical vegetarian (I do eat clams, etc, however). I care a lot about honor and integrity, cooperating hard with those who are similarly ethical, and defending against those who aren't. I generally believe Socrates, however, in the true name of evil being ignorance; and typically seek to educate those who oppose me, rather than fight them outright.

My mantra: lo melbi banli balvi cu selgau mi i lo munje ba zenba zo'e li ci'i i mi na menrinju lo la'enunmorsi lonu tersnada lonu jmive kei mi; ὅτι στενὴ ἡ πύλη καὶ τεθλιμμένη ἡ ὁδὸς ἡ ἀπάγουσα εἰς τὴν ζωήν; but It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.