PERFECTLY NORMAL

CALLUM MCDOUGALL

This image was created using a variant of my thread art algorithm - read more here.

Hello!


This is my blog.


I use it to talk about random things that interest me. These include:

AI safety,
Rationality,
Mechanistic Interpretability,
Sci-fi movies,
My art projects,
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy,
Maths,
Climbing,
Anki, or Why Spaced Repetition Is The Best Thing Ever,
and whatever I happen to feel like at the time.


In 2022 I finished my Master's in Mathematics at the University of Cambridge, and after that co-ran 3 iterations of ARENA (Alignment Research Engineer Accelerator). In Feburary 2024 I started a full-time role at Anthropic doing interpretability research (although for at least the short to medium term I'll be working remotely from London).


You can contact me at cal.s.mcdougall@gmail.com, or here. For the weird fun experimental version of my blog, click here.



Sparse Autoencoder Visualisation

I'm working on an open-source viewer for investigating the learned features of sparse autoencoders, based on Anthropic's recent work. It provides similar functionality to Anthropic's viewer, although with the added ability to take user-defined prompts and highlight the most important features (by one of a few different metrics).

Click here to view one which is based on Neel Nanda's GELU-1l model.




My writing

A Little About Me

My Favourite Films
29th August 2023
My Film Log
19th August 2023
Computational Thread Art
6th August 2023
My Favourite Music
31st July 2023

Maths

What to study - a fourth option
19th August 2023
Six (and a half) intuitions for SVD
4th July 2023
Six (and a half) intuitions for KL divergence
10th October 2022

Productivity & Learning

The joys of using Plotly
6th September 2022
Anki - simple tools for making your own cards
4th September 2022
How I use Anki: expanding the scope of SRS
12th April 2022

My CV

Experience

ARENA (Alignment Research Engineer Accelerator) | Cofounder
Sep 2022 - present
  • Founded & ran the first and second iterations of ARENA (with Kathryn O'Rourke as head of operations)
  • Acted as head TA and curriculum designer for the majority of the program
  • Main roles included:
    • Assisting participants with conceptual and engineering questions
    • Structuring the micro and macro-level details of the curriculum
    • Giving several talks and organizing group discussions
    • Providing feedback and advice to groups while they were working on capstone projects
  • Created materials for people studying the program virtually, including a monthly series of mechanistic interpretability challenges
  • Designed our public-facing website here, and the website for hosting the curriculum here (which now has over 2000 unique visitors)
SERI MATS | Scholar
Jun 2023 - Aug 2023
  • Accepted into Neel Nanda's Mechanistic Interpretability SERI MATS stream with Arthur Conmy, studying negative attention heads in GPT2-Small
  • Developed a form of ablation which demonstrates that a particular mechanism (copy suppression) explains the majority of head L10H7's behaviour in GPT2-Small, and reoccurs as a motif in larger models
  • Wrote a paper on which I will be first author (a draft will be available on 27th October)
MLAB | Participant
Aug 2022 - Sept 2022
  • Attended MLAB (Machine Learning For Alignment Bootcamp), run by Redwood Research
  • Created Anki flashcards to summarise the material studied during the bootcamp (TODO - link to flashcards)
AI Safety Camp | Participant
Jan 2022 - present
  • Working in a team of three, researching selection for modularity in evolved systems & modern deep learning
  • Have given several summary talks on our team's progress
  • Link to LessWrong sequence can be found here
SERI MATS | Scholar
Oct 2021 - Dec 2021
  • Attended weekly discussions with Evan Hubinger to discuss his research agenda, and his views on alignment
  • Wrote up a distillation of John Wentworth's Natural Abstraction Hypothesis, linking it to other topics such as interpretability research and neuroscience (link here)
    • This distillation was featured for a time as part of the AGISF 201 course
Cambridge Existential Risks Initiative | Committee member
Sep 2021 - present
  • Designed syllabus & organised an introductory course on existential risks (ERIC)
  • Gave Q&A on AI Safety at the CERI 2021 retreat
  • Co-lead a reading group on Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control
Jane Street Capital | Quantitative Trading Intern
Jun 2021 - Aug 2021
  • Participated in team-based mock trading sessions
  • Developed methods for interactive visualisation of the results of a Gradient Boosted Tree in Python
  • Received a full-time offer as a trader
Effective Altruism, Cambridge | Faciliator
Jan 2020 – Mar 2020
  • Facilitated the Effective Altruism Introductory Fellowship for two groups of Cambridge residents
  • Helped to promote discussion of important topics, and helped fellows to engage with ideas

Projects

Computational Thread Art
Jan 2020 – Mar 2020
  • Created a Python programme which renders images as a series of lines between nodes, joined by a Eulerian path
  • Experimented with different search depths to improve performance
  • Designed a custom loss function to enhance accuracy in specific regions of the image (full code on GitHub)
  • Physically created these pieces using bike wheels & coloured thread
  • Built and programmed a robotic gantry system to automate the threading
  • Designed a website to feature this art, using Django & Heroku
  • Also built a professional website for sales

Education

University of Cambridge | MMath
2018 - 2022
  • Year 3: Class I [rank 11/222], Year 2: Class I [honorary], Year 1: Class I [rank 38/232]
  • Awards: Dr J.A.J. Whelan Prize in Mathematics, Christ's College Academic Scholarship (1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th years)
  • Courses: Statistics, Optimisation, Applied Probability, Automata & Formal Languages, Logic & Set Theory
Westminster School
2013 - 2018
  • STEP: S, S (“Outstanding”) grades in papers II and III (top 15 in the country)
  • A Levels: Maths (A*), Further Maths (A*), Economics (A*), Physics (D1, equivalent to high A*)
  • UKMT: Certificate of Distinction in 2nd round of British Mathematical Olympiad (top 25 of 30,000 students)
  • Senior Cheyne Prize for Mathematical Excellence (awarded to one senior student annually)
  • Subject prizes in Maths & English
  • Participated in the Greaze, won exactly zero pancake

Misc.

Guinness World Record Holder
Dec 2019 - present
  • Current holder of the world record for most clothes pegs removed from a line and held in one hand
  • Yes, really.

My art


The left artwork was created via a Python program which can render any image as a series of straight lines.

The right artwork was created using sewing thread, stretched between brass picture hooks.

See more here!