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I'm with the show. Hi, listeners, this is the 80000 Hours podcast, I'm Ardern Kaylor, this is the next in our series of audio articles today, I'm going to be doing a reading of ideas for high impact careers beyond our priority pads by me.
All right, here we go.
So in this post, we talk about some career options beyond our priority paths that seem promising to us for positively influencing the long term future. So when I say priority pads, I mean a handful of career paths that we've done a decent amount of research on so far and feel confident are pretty promising for many of our readers. So the pads are a policy and strategy, research and implementation, a safety technical research, becoming a grant maker, focusing on top areas, working in an effective altruism organization, doing global priorities research, doing bio risk research strategy or policy, being a China specialist, earning to give in a high paying role like quant trading or forecasting and related research and implementation.
This post is not about those paths, but about other paths that also seem promising for improving the long term future.
Some of these are likely to be written up as priority paths in the future or wrapped into existing ones, but we haven't written full profiles for them yet. For example, we're going to talk about policy careers outside A.I. and biosecurity policy that seem promising from a long term perspective. And we could totally see a priority path coming out of that.
Other things we're going to talk about, like information security, we think might be as promising for many people as our priority paths, but we just haven't investigating them very much. So we don't know. Others on the list that we're going to go into seem like they'll typically be less impactful than are priority paths for someone who could be equally successful at either one. But they still seem high impact to us and they could be top options for lots of people, depending on their personal fit, like their experience and interests.
So one example would be research management.
Finally, some of the paths that we're about to talk about, like becoming a public intellectual, sort of clearly have the potential for a lot of impact. But we can't really recommend them very widely because they don't have the capacity to absorb a large number of people or are particularly risky or both.
Before we get to the actual list, who is best suited to pursue these kinds of career paths?
Well, of course, the answer is different for each one. But in general, pursuing a career where less research has been done on how to have a large impact within it, especially a few of your colleagues will share your perspective on how to think about impact, might require you to think especially critically and creatively, about how you can do an unusual amount of good in that career. Ideal candidates then would be self-motivated, creative, inclined to think rigorously and often about how they can steer toward the highest impact options for them.
And that's in addition to having strong personal fit for the work. Just a note on how we put this together. We compiled this list by asking six advisors about what past they thought were currently undervalued and the effective altruism community, including by 80000 hours.
If something was suggested twice, we took that as a presumption in favor of including it. We also included a few just from our own research.
You can find a lot more context for the paths that we're about to talk about on the article or in our full article on high impact career paths. And for each one, we have a few links and resources that can point you to examples of similar work or things that you might be interested to read. If you're interested in the path, I won't go over what those resources are here. But if you're interested in any of these career paths, please do go check out the blog post and you can find those links there.
Oh, and I should say this list is not in any particular order.
OK, history become a historian of large societal trends, inflection points, progress or collapse, we think it could be high impact to study subjects relevant to the long term arc of history, for example, economic, intellectual or moral progress from a long term perspective, the history of social movements or of philanthropy or the history of well-being, understanding long trends better and key inflection points better like the Industrial Revolution might help us understand what could cause other important shifts in the future.
Our impression is that although many of these topics have received attention from historians and other academics, some are comparatively neglected, especially from a more quantitative or especially a more impact focused perspective. In general, there seemed to be a number of gaps that a skilled historian, anthropologist or economic historian would be able to fill revealingly open philanthropy commission to their own studies of the history and success of philanthropy because they couldn't find much existing literature that met their needs. And most existing research is not aimed at deriving action, relevant lessons.
But this is a very competitive path which is not able to absorb many people, although there may be some opportunities to do this kind of historical work in foundations or to get it funded through private grants. Pursuing this path would in most cases involve seeking an academic career.
Academia generally has a shortage of positions and especially in the humanities, often doesn't provide many backup options. It seems less risky to pursue historical research as an economist, since an economics does give you other promising options. That said, it doesn't give you all the tools that some of these other disciplines might. So it depends on the issue that you want to tackle. How can you estimate your chance of success as a history academic? We haven't looked into the fields relevant to history in particular, but you can find some discussion of parallel questions and some of our articles, like on philosophy, academia or academia in general.
It might also be possible to pursue this kind of historical research in non-traditional academia. Look at groups like the Future of Humanity Institute or the Global Priorities Institute. OK, next path, non-technical roles in leading A.I. labs. Although we think that technical AI, safety research and policy are particularly impactful, we think having very talented people working on safety and social impact at top AI labs might also be really valuable even when they aren't in technical or policy roles. For example, you might be able to shift the culture around A.I. more towards safety and positive social impact in general by talking publicly about what your organization is doing to build safe and beneficial AI, helping recruit safety minded researchers, designing internal processes to consider social impact issues more systematically in research, or helping different teams coordinate around safety relevant projects.
We're not really sure which roles are best, but in general, ones involved in strategy, ethics or communications seem pretty promising. Or you could pursue a role that makes an AI lab safety team more effective, like in operations or project management for one of those safety teams. That said, it also seems possible that some of these roles could have a veneer of contributing to A.I. safety without really doing much to head off bad outcomes. So it seems, again, particularly important here to continue to think critically and creatively about what kinds of work in this area are really useful.
Some of the roles in the space might also provide strong career capital for working in a policy later, by putting you in a position to learn about the work these labs are doing, as well as the strategic landscape of A.I..
A research manager or a pay for someone doing really valuable work? Some people might be extraordinarily productive compared to the average, but these people often have to use much of their time on work that doesn't take the best advantage of their skills like bureaucratic and administrative tasks. This may be especially true for people who work in university settings, as a lot of researchers do, but it's also true of entrepreneurs, politicians, writers and public intellectuals. Being someone's personal assistant can dramatically increase their impact by supporting their day to day activities and freeing up more of their time for work that other people can't do.
You can act as a sort of multiplier on their productivity. We think that a highly talented personal assistant can make somebody 10 percent more productive or perhaps even more, which is like having a tenth or more as much impact as they would have had. If you're working for someone doing really valuable work, that is a lot. In general, we want to emphasize that helping others have a greater positive impact than they would have been able to do without you is an important and valid way to do good.
At least we hope so, because that's our strategy here. At 80000 hours, another related path is working in research management. Research managers help prioritize research projects within an institution and help coordinate research, fundraising and communications to make the institution work better. In general, being a PR or research manager seems valuable for many of the same sorts of reasons that working in operations management does. If you're working for an organization that is doing a lot of good, these coordinating and supporting roles are crucial for enabling researchers and others to have the biggest positive impact they can.
Policy careers that are promising from a long term perspective, there is probably a lot of policy work with the potential to positively affect the long run future that doesn't fit into either of our priority paths of a policy or bio risk policy.
We aren't sure what it might be best to ultimately aim for in policy outside these areas. But working in an area that is plausibly important for safeguarding the long run future seems like a promising way of building knowledge and career capital so that you can judge later what policy interventions might be the most promising things for you to pursue. Here's a couple of possibilities. Maybe you could find ways to safeguard political systems against authoritarian backsliding, for instance, by improving the security of voting processes.
Maybe you could promote international cooperation and peace, which would also make civilization more robust. You could pursue broad interventions for making government generally better at navigating global challenges like promoting approval, voting or other forms of voting reform. Or you could work on policies to reduce extreme risks from climate change. Another idea is trying to find interventions aimed at giving the interests of future generations more representation. For example, in the UK Parliament the well-being of future generations. Bill was recently introduced.
You can see our Problem profiles page for more issues, some of which you might be able to help address through policy oriented career. There's a spectrum of options for making progress on policy, ranging from research to work out which proposals make sense to advocacy and lobbying for specific proposals and to implementation. We have a write up on government and policy careers on our Key Ideas page, which might prove helpful. It seems likely to us that many lines of work within the broad area of policy reform could be as impactful as our priority paths.
But we haven't investigated enough to be confident about what the most promising options are or what the best routes in are. Hopefully we'll be able to provide more specific guidance in this area in the future. Become a specialist on Russia, India or another potentially powerful country. So we've argued in another article that because of China's political, military, economic and technological importance on the world stage, helping Western organizations better understand and cooperate with Chinese actors might be highly impactful.
We think working with China represents a particularly promising path to impact. But a similar argument could be made for gaining expertise in other powerful nations, for example, Russia or India. If you're at the beginning of your career, it might even be valuable to think about which countries are most likely to be particularly influential in the next few decades and focus on gaining experience there. This is likely to be a better option for you if you are from or have spent a substantial amount of time in one of these countries.
The best paths to impact here likely require a deep understanding of the relevant cultures and institutions as well as language fluency. You know, for example, at the level where you might be able to write a newspaper article about long termism in the language, if you're not from one of these countries, one of the ways to get started might be to pursue area or language studies.
And one source of support available for U.S. students is the Foreign Language and Area Studies Scholarship Program. You might do this alongside economics or international relations. You can also start by working in policy in your home country and slowly concentrate more and more on issues related to the country that you want to focus on or try to work in philanthropy or directly on a top problem in the country you want to focus on. There are probably a lot of different promising options in this area, both for long term career plans and for useful next steps, though they would, of course, have to be adapted to the local context.
Some of the options that we lay out in our article on becoming a specialist in China could have promising parallels for other national contexts as well.
Become an expert in a hardware, advances in hardware like the development of more efficient, specialized chips have played an important role in raising the performance of A.I. systems and allowing them to be used more economically. There's a common sense argument that if A.I. is an especially important technology, that's an argument many of you will have heard. And hardware is an important input into the development and deployment of A.I. specialists who understand A.I. hardware will have opportunities for impact, even if we can't foresee exactly what form they will take.
Some ways hardware experts may be able to help positively shape the development of A.I. include more accurately forecasting progress and the capabilities of A.I. systems, for which hardware is a key and relatively quantifiable input, advising policymakers on hardware issues like on export, import and manufacture policies for specialized chips, helping A.I. projects in making credible commitments by allowing them to verifiably demonstrate the computational resources that they're using and helping advise and fulfill the hardware needs for safety oriented A.I. labs.
These are these are just examples of ways hardware specialists might be helpful. We haven't looked into this area very much, though. We do talk about it a little bit in our podcast episode with Danny Hernandez. But in general, we're pretty unsure about the merits of the different approaches, which is why we've listed it here instead of as part of the A.I. Technical Safety or policy priority path.
We also haven't come across research laying out specific strategies in the area. So pursuing this path would likely mean both developing skills and experience in hardware and thinking creatively about opportunities to have an impact in the area if you do take this path. We encourage you to think carefully through the implications of your plans and ideally do so in collaboration with strategy and policy experts who are also focused on creating safe and beneficial A.I.. Information security. Researchers at Open Philanthropy have argued that better information security is likely to become increasingly important in the coming years as powerful technologies like bioengineering and machine learning advanced, improved security will probably be needed to protect these technologies from misuse, theft or tampering.
Plus, in a blog post, these researchers have suggested that there aren't a lot of security experts already in the field who focus on reducing catastrophic risks, and they predict that there will be high demand for them over the next 10 years and a recent 80000 hours podcast episode. Bruce Schneier also argued that applications of information security are going to become increasingly crucial, although he pushed back on the idea that security for A.I. and bio risk is particularly important. We would like to see more people investigating these issues and pursuing information security careers as a path to social impact.
One option would be to try to work on security issues at a top A.I. lab, in which case the preparation might be similar to the preparation for A.I. safety work, but with a special focus on security. Another option would be to pursue a security career in government or a large tech company with the goal of eventually working on a project relevant to a particularly pressing area. In some cases, we've heard it's possible for people to start as engineers and then train in information security if they're at a large tech company that has significant security needs.
Compensation for security experts is usually high in the private sector. But if you want to work eventually on classified projects, it might be better to pursue a public sector career as it may better prepare you to eventually earn a high level of security clearance.
There are certifications for information security, but it might be better to get started by investigating on your own and looking at the details of the systems you want to protect or even participating in public capture the flag cybersecurity competitions at the undergraduate level, it seems particularly helpful for many careers in this area to study yes or statistics. We don't list information security as a priority path because we haven't spent very much time investigating how people working in the area can best succeed and have a big positive impact.
Still, we think there are likely to be exciting opportunities in this area.
And if you're interested in pursuing this career path or already have experience and information security, we'd be interested to talk to you. If you go to the blog post for this article, you can fill out a form and we'll get in touch with you if we come across opportunities that seem like a good fit. Become a public intellectual. Some people seem to have a very large positive impact by becoming public intellectuals and popularizing important ideas, often doing so by writing books, giving talks or interviews or writing blogs, columns or open letters.
But it's probably even harder to become a successful and impactful public intellectual than a successful academic, since becoming a public intellectual often requires a degree of success within academia while also having excellent communication skills and spending significant time building a public profile. So this path seems to us to be especially competitive and it's going to be a good fit only for a very small number of people. As with other advocacy efforts, it also seems relatively easy to accidentally do harm as a public intellectual if you promote mistaken ideas or even promote important ideas in a way that turns people off.
That said, this path seems like it could be extremely impactful for the right person. We think building awareness of certain global catastrophic risks, of the potential effects of our actions on the long term future or of effective altruism might be especially high value, as well as spreading positive values like concern for foreigners, non-human animals, future people or others. There are public intellectuals who are not academics. So there are prominent bloggers, journalists and authors who are not academics.
But going into academia, it seems like an unusually good way to become a public intellectual because academia requires you to become an expert in something and it trains you to write a lot. And the high standards of academia provide a certain amount of credibility for your opinions and your work. So if you're interested in pursuing this path, going into academia might be a good place to start. Public intellectuals can come from a variety of disciplines. What they have in common is that they find ways to apply insights from their fields to issues that affect many people and that communicate these insights effectively.
If you are already an academic, you might experiment with spreading important ideas on a small scale through a blog, magazine or podcast. If you share our priorities and are having some success with these experiments, we'd be especially interested in talking to you about your plans. And you can find a link to our advising page on the blog post for this article. Journalism. For the right person, becoming a journalist seems like it could be highly valuable for many of the same reasons that being a public intellectual would be highly valuable.
Good journalists keep the public informed and help positively shape public discourse by spreading accurate information on important topics. And although the news media tends to focus more on current events, journalists often also provide a platform for people and ideas that the public might not otherwise hear about again. That said, this path is very competitive, especially when it comes to the kinds of work that seem best for communicating important ideas which are often complex. So that's things like writing long form articles or books, podcasts and documentaries.
And like being a public intellectual, it seems relatively easy to make things worse as a journalist by directing people's attention in the wrong way. So this path might require especially good judgment about which projects to pursue and with what strategies. So we think journalism is likely to be a good fit only again for a small number of people. But if you want to learn more about doing good in journalism, you should check out our interview with Kelsey Pyper. She works for Vox's Future.
Perfect. Become an expert on formal verification. Proof assistance are programs used to formally verify that computer systems have various properties, for example, that they are secure against certain cyber attacks and to help develop programs that are formally verifiable in this way. Right now, proof assistants are not very highly developed, but the ability to create programs that can be formally verified to have important properties seems like it could be helpful for addressing a variety of issues, perhaps including a safety and cybersecurity.
So it seems like improving proof assistance could be high value.
For example, we might eventually be able to use proof assistance to generate programs for solving some subparts of the alignment problem. This would require that we be able to correctly formally specify the sub problems for which training and formal verification seems like it would be useful. We haven't looked into formal verification very much, but both for the research in this area and applying existing techniques to important issues seem potentially promising. You can try to enter this path by studying formal verification at the undergraduate or graduate level or learning about it independently.
If you have a background in computer science and you can find jobs in this area, both in industry and in academia.
Use your skills to meet a need in the effective altruism community. The effect of cultures and communities seeks to support people trying to have a large positive impact as a part of this community. We might have some bias here, but we think helping to build the community and make it more effective might be one way to do a lot of good. Plus, unlike other paths on this list. This might be something that it's possible to do part time while you also learn about other areas.
There are many ways of helping build and maintain the effective altruism community that don't require working at an effective altruism organization like consulting for one of these organizations, providing legal advice or helping effective altruist authors with book promotion. We'd especially like to highlight organizing student and local effective altruism groups. Our experience suggests that these groups can be very useful resources for people to learn about different global problems and connect with others who share their concerns. And I can attest to this. The New York City Effect of Altruism Meetup group was really instrumental in getting me more involved in the community.
We think these roles are good to pursue. In particular, if you are already very familiar with the effective altruism community and you already have the relevant skills and you want to bring them to bear in a more impactful way. Non-profit entrepreneurship. If you can find a way to address a key bottleneck to progress in pressing problem area, which hasn't been tried or isn't being covered by an effective organization, starting one of your own can be extremely valuable. That said, this past seems to us to be particularly high risk, which is why we don't listed as a priority path.
Most new organizations struggle and non-profit entrepreneurship can often be even more difficult than for profit entrepreneurship. Setting up a new organization will also probably involve diverting resources from other organizations, which means it's easier than it might seem to set the area back. The risks are greater if you're one of the first organizations in an area, as you could put off others from working on the issue, especially if you make poor progress, although this also has to be balanced against the greater information value of exploring an uncharted area.
In general, we wouldn't recommend that somebody start off by aiming to set up a new organization. Instead, we'd recommend starting by learning about and working within a pressing problem area. And then if through the course of that you come across a gap and the gap can't be solved by an existing organization, then consider finding a new one. Organization's developed more organically like this, which are driven by the needs of a specific problem area, usually seem to be much more promising.
There's a lot more to say about the question of whether to start a new organization and how to compare different nonprofit ideas and other alternatives. A great deal depends on the details of your situation, which makes it hard for us to give general advice on the topic. But if you think you found a gap for an organization within one of our priority problem areas or a problem area that seems really promising that we haven't investigated yet, then we'd be interested to speak to you.
You can find a link to our advising page on the blog post for this article. Create or manage a long term philanthropic fund. Some of the best opportunities for making a difference might lie far in the future. In that case, investing resources now in order to have many more resources available at that future time might be extremely valuable.
But right now we have no way of effectively and securely investing resources over such long time periods. In particular, there are few, if any, financial vehicles that can be reliably expected to persist for more than 100 years and stay committed to their intended use while also earning a good investment return. Figuring out how to set up and manage such a fund seems to us like it might be really worthwhile. Founders Pledge, an organization that encourages effective giving for entrepreneurs, is actually currently exploring this idea and is actively seeking input.
It seems likely that only a few people will be able to be involved in a project like this, as it's not clear there will be room for multiple funds or a large staff, but for the right person. We think this could be a great opportunity, especially if you have a background in finance or relevant areas of law. This might be a promising path for you to explore. And finally, explore a potentially pressing problem area. There are a lot of neglected global problems that could turn out to be as or even more pressing than those we currently prioritize most highly.
We'd be excited to see more people explore them, ideally by getting relevant training and a network of mentors, if possible, and getting to know the relevant fields if the problem area still seems like it might be promising. Once you've built up a background, you could take on a project or try to build up the relevant field, for instance, by setting up a conference or a newsletter to help people working in the area coordinate better. On the other hand, if after investigating, working on the issue doesn't seem particularly high impact, you've helped to eliminate an option saving others time.
In either case, we'd really like to see Write-Ups of these explorations. For instance, on the effective altruism form, we can't really recommend this as a priority path because it's so amorphous and uncertain. It also generally requires unusual degrees of entrepreneurial wisdom and creativity, since you may get less support in your work, especially early on. And it's challenging to think of new projects and research ideas that provide useful information about the promise of a less explored area. But if you do fit this profile, and especially if you have existing interest and knowledge in the problem that you want to explore, this path could be an excellent option for you.
All right, and that's it. Those are other paths, but the list is certainly not meant to be exhaustive. In fact, we're working on another couple right now, but these are some ideas for career paths outside of our priority paths that we think could be really high impact for the right people.