Which global issues should you work on to have the greatest impact?
We’ve been working on this question for the last eight years, drawing together research from the University of Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute; the Open Philanthropy Project (a foundation with billions of dollars of committed funds); the Copenhagen Consensus Center (a major think tank); and other groups.
Using this research, we created a framework and used it to rate and make a list of global issues.
This led to some surprising results – artificial intelligence ranks as more pressing than global health.
This is because the most urgent problems are not only big, they’re also neglected and solvable – the fewer people working on a problem, the easier it is to make a big contribution. An issue can be big but comparatively well-known and crowded, like climate change, or it can be small but neglected, like land use zoning reform, and therefore also worth considering.
If you want to get the full story, this article explains how we came to focus on neglected catastrophic risks, and this article explains how our broad views have changed over time. But for now, here’s the current list. It’s still very much a work in progress, and we expect it to change over the coming years.
The list of global issues
|Solvability(?)||Total Score (?)|
|Risks from artificial intelligence||Recommended||15||8||4||27|
|Promoting effective altruism||Recommended||13||9||4||26|
|Global priorities research||Recommended||13||9||4||26|
|Improving institutional decision-making||Recommended||13||7||4||24|
|Factory farming||Sometimes recommended||13||6||4||23|
|Nuclear security||Sometimes recommended||15||5||3||23|
|Developing world health||Sometimes recommended||13||2||6||21|
|Climate change (extreme risks)||Sometimes recommended||14||2||4||20|
|Land use reform||Sometimes recommended||9||7||4||20|
|Smoking in the developing world||Sometimes recommended||12||5||3||20|
Click through to see our reasoning for each problem. If there’s no link, the profile isn’t yet complete, but will be published soon. There are many problems we didn’t yet investigate, and the list could easily change.
One point higher means the problem is roughly three times as pressing, though this is highly approximate. See the full detail on how we did the ratings.
This tool re-ranks the list based on your answers to a couple of key questions.
Potentially promising problem areas we haven’t yet rated
Notes: Not in order or comprehensive. The articles we link to are just interesting sources that make an argument for the area, we don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions.
- Science policy and infrastructure – read more
- Mental health – read more.
- Cheap green energy / solar energy – read more here and here.
- Foreign policy and peace – especially as a strategy to reduce catastrophic risks.
- Trade reform – read more
- Advocating increased taxation of the super rich.
- Democratic reform – such as the proposals by Erik Olin Wright or the ideas Y Combinator is interested in.
- Medical research into how to slow ageing – read more
- Reducing migration restrictions – read more here and here.
- Promoting human rights.
- Increasing aid spending and effectiveness – read more.
- Criminal justice reform – read more.
- Biomedical research – read more.
- Human enhancement – read more.
- Anti-aging research – read more.
- Increasing access to pain relief in developing countries – read more.
- Expanding moral concern through the humanities – read more.
- Attention design at top tech firms – watch this and read more.
- Positively shaping the development of crypto-assets
The problems below seem important, but we expect would probably be rated below those already listed.
- Economic empowerment of the global poor – health seems somewhat more promising, read more
- Education in poor countries – health seems somewhat more promising, read more
- Certain types of education in rich countries – they could rate well, though broad based education reform seems crowded and hard to improve.
- Overpopulation and resource scarcity – it’s unclear how serious the problem is, and substantial effort already goes into avoiding resource shortages. Read more here and here
- General efforts to speed up technological and economic growth, as opposed to differential technological development.
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Which global issue should you work on?
Comparing global problems involves difficult judgement calls, so different people come to different conclusions. We made a tool that asks you some key questions, then re-ranks the lists based on your answers.
You can also read more about the arguments for and against focusing on catastrophic risks here.
Once you have a personalised list, the next thing to factor in is your personal fit. It’s better to be outstanding in a moderately pressing area, then unmotivated in your top area. Just don’t forget people often become passionate about new areas over time.
Different problems also need different skills and resources, so some people are better placed to work on them. To learn more about what’s most needed in each problem, click through to read the full profile. If you’re early in your career, don’t feel too constrained by the skills you already have – you can build expertise where it’s most needed.