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).
Better hardware for AI?
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)
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?
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)”