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AF - AGI safety career advice by Richard Ngo

Radio Bostrom

Audio narrations of academic papers by Nick Bostrom.


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Welcome to The Nonlinear Library, where we use Text-to-Speech software to convert the best writing from the Rationalist and EA communities into audio. This is: AGI safety career advice, published by Richard Ngo on May 2, 2023 on The AI Alignment Forum. People often ask me for career advice related to AGI safety. This post summarizes the advice I most commonly give. I’ve split it into three sections: general mindset, alignment research and governance work. See also this post I wrote two years ago, containing a bunch of fairly general career advice. General mindset In order to have a big impact on the world you need to find a big lever. This document assumes that you think, as I do, that AGI safety is the biggest such lever. There are many ways to pull on that lever, though—from research and engineering to operations and field-building to politics and communications. I encourage you to choose between these based primarily on your personal fit—a combination of what you're really good at and what you really enjoy. In my opinion the difference between being a great versus a mediocre fit swamps other differences in the impactfulness of most pairs of AGI-safety-related jobs. How should you find your personal fit? To start, you should focus on finding work where you can get fast feedback loops. That will typically involve getting hands-on or doing some kind of concrete project (rather than just reading and learning) and seeing how quickly you can make progress. Eventually, once you've had a bunch of experience, you might notice a feeling of confusion or frustration: why is everyone else missing the point, or doing so badly at this? For some people that involves investigating a specific topic (for me, the question “what’s the best argument that AGI will be misaligned?“); for others it's about applying skills like conscientiousness (e.g. "why can't others just go through all the obvious steps?") Being excellent seldom feels like you’re excellent, because your own abilities set your baseline for what feels normal. (Though note that a few top researchers commented on a draft to say that they disagreed with this point.) What if you have that experience for something you don't enjoy doing? I expect that this is fairly rare, because being good at something is often very enjoyable. But in those cases, I'd suggest trying it until you observe that even a string of successes doesn't make you excited about what you're doing; and at that point, probably trying to pivot (although this is pretty dependent on the specific details). Lastly: AGI safety is a young and small field; there’s a lot to be done, and still very few people to do it. I encourage you to have agency when it comes to making things happen: most of the time the answer to “why isn’t this seemingly-good thing happening?” or “why aren’t we 10x better at this particular thing?” is “because nobody’s gotten around to it yet”. And the most important qualifications for being able to solve a problem are typically the ability to notice it and the willingness to try. One anecdote to help drive this point home: a friend of mine has had four jobs at four top alignment research organizations; none of those jobs existed before she reached out to the relevant groups to suggest that they should hire someone with her skillset. And this is just what’s possible within existing organizations—if you’re launching your own project, there are far more opportunities to do totally novel things. (The main exception is when it comes to outreach and political advocacy. Alignment is an unusual field because the base of fans and supporters is much larger than the number of researchers, and so we should be careful to avoid alignment discourse being dominated by advocates who have little familiarity with the technical details, and come across as overconfident. See the discussion here for more on this.) Alignment research I’ll start with some high-level recommendations, then give a brief overview of how I see the f...