The kinds of issues we currently prioritize most highly
Emerging technologies and global catastrophic risks
In the 1950s, large scale production of nuclear weapons meant that a few world leaders gained, for the first time, the ability to kill hundreds of millions of people. This was a striking milestone in a robust trend: as technology improves and the world economy grows, it gets easier to cause destruction on an ever larger scale.
In the 21st century, we expect this trend to continue. New transformative technologies may promise a radically better future, but also pose catastrophic risks. Mitigating these risks, while increasing the chance these technologies allow future generations to flourish, may be the crucial challenge of this century.
There is a growing movement working to address these issues, including new research institutes at Cambridge, MIT, and Oxford. Nonetheless, work on mitigating many risks remains remarkably neglected – in some cases receiving attention from only a handful of researchers. If you can find an effective way to work on these issues, we think it may be the most valuable thing you can do.
Building capacity to explore and solve problems
Comparing global problems involves lots of uncertainty and difficult judgement calls, and there have been surprisingly few serious attempts to make such big picture comparisons. And there are many global issues we haven’t yet seen investigated much at all.
For these reasons, we’re also strongly in favor of work that might help resolve some of this uncertainty, as well as work that seems robustly useful on many different assumptions yielding different conclusions about what’s best to work on.
One top priority in this category is to build the new field of ‘global priorities’ research, to try to work out which global problems are most pressing and make progress on foundational questions about how best to address them.
Another strategy is to help major existing institutions improve their capacities to make complex decisions, and therefore navigate global challenges.
A third strategy is to build communities of people who want to do good effectively, with the hope that they can deal with future challenges as they come. We’re especially keen to build the effective altruism community, because it explicitly aims to work on whichever global challenges will be most pressing in the future. We count ourselves as part of this community because we share this aim.
Finally, we want to encourage people to explore problem areas where the case for impact is more speculative but which might be very pressing — e.g. promoting civilizational resilience, mitigating great power conflict, or laying the foundations for the governance of outer space. Making progress on these issues, which are less explored (especially from a longtermist perspective) can help establish and build these nascent fields, or help discover us they’re less promising, meaning others can work more productively and efficiently.