Emerging technologies and global catastrophic risks
In the 1950s, large scale production of nuclear weapons meant that a few world leaders gained the ability to kill hundreds of millions of people. This was a striking milestone in a robust trend: as the world economy grows, the price of destructive capabilities falls. In the 21st century, we expect this trend to continue, with new transformative technologies promising huge upsides but also new catastrophic risks. Mitigating these risks, while increasing the chance these technologies enable a positive long-term future, seems likely to 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, many of these issues remain 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’s probably the most valuable thing you can do.
Problems faced by socially motivated actors
There are many problems which reduce the effectiveness of individual and collective attempts to build a better world. We think that mitigating some of these problems could be relatively cheap and would have a big multiplier effect.
Other urgent problems we’ve investigated
Below are some more global problems we’ve reviewed. We think these problems are very pressing but somewhat less pressing than those listed above.
If you’re an unusually good fit for one of these areas (e.g. you already have expertise in these areas or your skills are a very good match) then working on one of them may be your best opportunity to have a big impact.
There are many global problems we have not yet investigated at length. Below we list some areas we’ve at least briefly considered. The linked articles are just interesting sources that make an argument for the area – we don’t necessarily agree with the conclusions.
- Promoting peace & international coordination and avoiding great power conflicts – especially as a strategy to reduce catastrophic risks.
- Democratic reform – such as the proposals by Erik Olin Wright or the ideas Y Combinator is interested in.
- Improving individual cognition and rationality
- Human enhancement – read more.
- Science policy and infrastructure – to improve science so that it better helps society, read more
- Shaping the development of atomic scale manufacturing – read more
- Broadly promoting positive values, such as altruism, concern for other sentient beings and cooperation – read more
- Mental health – read more and see our podcast with Spencer Greenberg.
- Cheap green energy / solar energy – read more here and here.
- Trade reform – read more
- Advocating increased taxation of the super rich.
- Medical research into how to slow ageing – read more here and here
- Reducing migration restrictions – read more here and here.
- Increasing aid spending and effectiveness – read more.
- Criminal justice reform – read more.
- Biomedical research – read more – and other basic science.
- Increasing access to pain relief in developing countries – read more.
- Attention design at top tech firms – watch this and read more.
- Positively shaping the development of crypto-assets
- 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.