[Summary: Four new postdoc positions at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk: Evaluation of extreme technological risk (philosophy, economics); Extreme risk and the culture of science (philosophy of science); Responsible innovation and extreme technological risk (science & technology studies, sociology, policy, governance); and an academic project manager (cutting across the Centre’s research projects, and playing a central role in Centre development). Please help us to spread the word far and wide in the academic community!]

An inspiring first recruitment round

CSER has been making excellent progress in building up our research team. Our previous recruitment round was a great success, and we made three exceptional hires. Dr Shahar Avin joined us in September from Google, with a background in the philosophy of science (Cambridge, UK). He is currently fleshing out several potential research projects, which will be refined and finalised following a research visit to FHI later this month. Dr Yang Liu joined us this month from Columbia University, with a background in mathematical logic and philosophical decision theory. Yang will work on problems in decision theory that relate to long-term AI, and will help us to link the excellent work being done at MIRI with relevant expertise and talent within academia. In February 2016, we will be joined by Dr Bonnie Wintle from the Centre of Excellence for Biosecurity Risk Analysis (CEBRA), who will lead our horizon-scanning work in collaboration with Professor Bill Sutherland’s group at Cambridge; among other things, she has worked on IARPA-funded development of automated horizon-scanning tools, and has been involved in the Good Judgement Project.

We are very grateful for the help of the EA community in spreading the word about these positions, and helping us to secure an exceptionally strong field. Additionally, I have now moved on from FHI to be CSER’s full-time Executive Director, and Huw Price is now 50% funded as CSER’s Academic Director (we share him with Cambridge’s Philosophy Faculty, where he remains Bertrand Russell Chair of Philosophy).

Four new positions:

We’re delighted to announce four new positions at the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk; details below. Unlike the previous round, where we invited project proposals from across our areas of interest, in this case we have several specific positions that we need to fill for our three year Managing Extreme Technological Risk project, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation; details are provided below. As we are building up our academic brand within a traditional university, we expect to predominantly hire from academia, i.e. academic researchers with (or near to the completion of) PhDs. However, we are open to hiring excellent candidates without candidates but with an equivalent and relevant level of expertise, for example in think tanks, policy settings or industry.

Three of these positions are in the standard academic postdoc mould, working on specific research projects. I’d like to draw attention to the fourth, the academic project manager. For this position, we are looking for someone with the intellectual versatility to engage across our research strands – someone who can coordinate these projects, synthesise and present our research to a range of audiences including funders, collaborators, policymakers and industry contacts. Additionally, this person will play a key role in developing the centre over the next two years, working with our postdocs and professorial advisors to secure funding, and contributing to our research, media, and policy strategy among other things. I’ve been interviewed in the past (https://80000hours.org/2013/02/bringing-it-all-together-high-impact-research-management/) about the importance of roles of this nature; right now I see it as our biggest bottleneck, and a position in which an ambitious person could make a huge difference.

We need your help – again!

In some ways, CSER has been the quietest of the existential risk organisations of late – we’ve mainly been establishing research connections, running lectures and seminars, writing research grants and building relations with policymakers (plus some behind-the scenes involvement with various projects). But we’ve been quite successful in these things, and now face an exciting but daunting level of growth: by next year we aim to have a team of 9-10 postdoctoral researchers here at Cambridge, plus senior professors and other staff. It’s very important we continue our momentum by getting world-class researchers motivated to do work of the highest impact. Reaching out and finding these people is quite a challenge, especially given our still-small team. So the help of the EA community in spreading the word – on your facebook feeds, on relevant mailing lists in your universities, passing them on to talented people you know – will make a huge difference to us.

Thank you so much!

Seán Ó hÉigeartaigh,

Executive Director, CSER


“The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk is delighted to announce four new postdoctoral positions for the subprojects below, to begin in January 2016 or as soon as possible afterwards. The research associates will join a growing team of researchers developing a general methodology for the management of extreme technological risk.

Evaluation of extreme technological risk will examine issues such as:
The use and limitations of approaches such as cost-benefit analysis when evaluating extreme technological risk; the importance of mitigating extreme technological risk compared to other global priorities; issues in population ethics as they relate to future generations; challenges associated with evaluating small probabilities of large payoffs; challenges associated with moral and evaluative uncertainty as they relate to the long-term future of humanity.
Relevant disciplines include philosophy and economics, although suitable candidates outside these fields are welcomed.
Evaluation of extreme technological risk

Extreme risk and the culture of science will explore the hypothesis that the culture of science is in some ways ill-adapted to successful long-term management of extreme technological risk, and investigate the option of ‘tweaking’ scientific practice, so as to improve its suitability for this special task. It will examine topics including inductive risk, use and limitations of the precautionary principle, and the case for scientific pluralism and ‘breakout thinking’ where extreme technological risk is concerned. Relevant disciplines include philosophy of science and science and technology studies, although suitable candidates outside these fields are welcomed.
Extreme risk and the culture of science

Responsible innovation and extreme technological risk asks what can be done to encourage risk-awareness and societal responsibility, without discouraging innovation, within the communities developing future technologies with transformative potential. What can be learned from historical examples of technology governance and culture-development? What are the roles of different forms of regulation in the development of transformative technologies with risk potential? Relevant disciplines include science and technology studies, geography, sociology, governance, philosophy of science, plus relevant technological fields (e.g., AI, biotechnology, geoengineering), although suitable candidates outside these fields are welcomed.
Responsible innovation and extreme technological risk

We are also seeking to appoint an academic project manager, who will play a central role in developing CSER into a world-class research centre. We seek an ambitious candidate with initiative and a broad intellectual range for a postdoctoral role combining academic and administrative responsibilities. The Academic Project Manager will co-ordinate and develop CSER’s projects and the Centre’s overall profile, and build and maintain collaborations with academic centres, industry leaders and policy makers in the UK and worldwide. This is a unique opportunity to play a formative research development role in the establishment of a world-class centre.
CSER Academic Project Manager


Candidates will normally have a PhD in a relevant field or an equivalent level of experience and accomplishment (for example, in a policy, industry, or think tank setting). Application Deadline: Midday (12:00) on November 12th 2015.”

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A quick reminder: our deadline closes a week from tomorrow (midday UK time) - so now would be a great time to apply if you were thinking of it, or to remind fellow researchers! Thanks so much, Seán.

Please note: I have a heavy travel and deadline schedule over the next few weeks, so will answer questions when I can - please excuse any delays!