Hello everyone, I’m rather new to this space but I’m finding the ideas of the EA memeplex very fascinating! I’ll probably be starting college in one of the more “hard” physics-based engineering field (electrical, mechanical, chemical) sometime next year.
I just wanted to ask for ideas about research / development of which actual technologies would:
Be very helpful for directly adressing EA related problems
So nothing general purpose such as new materials
Not accidentally contribute to making the problems worse
So nothing that might become dangerous in the future such as nanotech
(I’ve not really found much relating to this on the 80KH website)
It seems the overlap there is probably very small. Here are some I’ve come up with:
Better green energy sources to make solving climate change cheaper
Battery technology to improve intermittent solar and wind energy
Cultured meat / plant-based substitutes to make factory farms obsolete (and cultured animal products generally)
Here I’m talking about designing bioreactors and generally making production efficient / scalable
Better hardware for AI?
What could be some good fields that might be missing from this list?
Also, am I right in avoiding potentially dangerous fields such as nanotechnology? Or would those be even more important to get into just to shape development positively?
For fusion to take off, nuclear engineering is gong to need to become much bigger than it is now. ChemEng for clean meat if you care about animals seems like a good shout as well. EE could be interesting if you want to work on AI but improving AI capability is not necessarily positive, in the worst case scenario you shorten timelines but do nothing for alignment.
I think personal fit matters here though, not just with what cause area you’re interested in but with what degree you do. Doing well in a quant degree that you’re good at and interested in (which means you’ll put more time into doing well) will give you lots of useful skills and signalling value, leaving many strong options on the table.
Here’s a compilation of ideas from 2015 called “What Can A Technologist Do About Climate Change?”: http://worrydream.com/ClimateChange/
Hi Hervé, glad to see another engineer here! I was a physics undergrad and I’m working near the area of quantum computing hardware now. I agree that there’s not a lot of advice for engineers on 80k, though it may be good to peruse this page (which mentions engineering as well as some other related areas) . A few comments about this:
one of the more “hard” physics-based engineering field (electrical, mechanical, chemical)
I think one area I might add to the list of “hard” physics based engineering is certain types of bioengineering/biophysics. You mention a couple areas that I think could fit nicely into this category (nanotechnology and clean meat, and probably alternative energy). If you haven’t listened already, I think the 80k podcast with Marie Gibbons lists some of the technical skills needed for clean meat, which seem to all be highly transferable to other exciting (if less EA) technical jobs (I can’t remember if it’s in this episode, but I think one 80k podcast mentions that the tissue engineering of clean meat could also be transferred to human tissue engineering for anti-aging.) I think some other directions you could take bioengineering is biorisks like pandemics. This is definitely less physics and more biology/public health, but certainly very EA. This brings up another point:
Be very helpful for directly addressing EA related problems
If this is what gets you excited I think it would be helpful to list out a couple precisely defined careers you are interested in and think if you’re choosing the right major for that. I picked my current path before hearing about EA, and I’ve found it really challenging to figure out how to use my skills to do good. (See my top-level comment for what I’ve been thinking about).
I think this is very interesting and would love to chat more (also seem my top-level comment). However, if you are interested in working on AI I think it would be helpful to really give software an honest chance, since I think it’s much more clear that you’re directly working on solving the problem from that approach. (I echo alexrjl’s comment that it’s not necessarily positive)
I’m reading nanotechnology in this context in the Eric Drexler sense, related to the idea of atomically precise manufacturing (APM). As best I can tell, there’s no consensus about whether it’s worth it to go into APM , but if you’re just starting college I think there’s no harm in trying to get some research in similar fields to help come to your own conclusions. I think the research skills are transferable to lots of other exciting areas, too. There are a few people in EA who have thought about this, though I think little is written publicly except this Open Phil post and talks from Eric Drexler on YouTube.
Really glad you posted this! I’m happy to talk more about any of this, you can DM me on the forum or schedule a time to meet here if you’d like: https://calendly.com/christopher-phenicie/30-min-meeting
Another option for engineering is work on alternative foods for catastrophes—there are many engineering projects listed here. You could volunteer/intern at ALLFED even as an undergrad.
This is a cool list, thanks for compiling it! For ease of others viewing, I’ll just list a couple that seemed most in the direction of the “hard” physics-based engineering as stated in the original comment:
“7. Open source leaf grinder for leaf protein extract from tree/crop leaves. Leaf protein has been produced at the household and industrial scale. - (S)
10. Work out how to recover industry as quickly as possible, e.g. focusing on making replacement parts destroyed by EMP (and estimate time of recovery). - (E)
16. Quantify the impact on energy/electricity production of nuclear winter, particularly solar, wind, and hydroelectricity. – (S)
25. Develop open source wood chipper. - (S)
27. Develop an open source shortwave (HAM) radio system (two way or just receiver). - (E)”