What are your thoughts on my career change options? (AI public policy)

by Nathan Young3 min read19th Jul 20194 comments

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I am going through a period of transition in my own life and am going to change career. Whilst I think about these things I am doing a 6 month fellowship at Newspeak House - if you're in London check the events calendar or message me and swing by some time.

80000 Hours coaching advice

I did the 80000 hours coaching call this week. so I thought I'd ask for your thoughts on what was said:

  • I would really recommend signing up to 80k coaching. Also set a flag so you don't miss the email.
  • I have a 2:1 from ~7th best Uni in the country. The coach reckoned getting on to a world top 10 machine learning Phd would be difficult, so it probably wouldn't be worth my time applying. I will probably follow this advice, though I don't understand how it can both be true that AI ethics can be hugely talent constrained whilst also not accepting good candidates. (Perhaps the industry has high standards which interested EAs have to meet, so it's not the industry which is talent constrained but EAs? Likewise, perhaps I'm not a good candidate)
  • Their advice was to try and go into public policy positions in UK/EA in AI or try to become an MP. Seems like good advice. I have a list of people to talk to and actions to do.

A bit about Newspeak House

Following the call, I chatted to Ed, the Dean of Newspeak House. First a word about the college. "Newspeak House is independent residential college founded in 2015 to study, nurture and inspire emerging communities of practice across UK public sector and civil society." This is in my experience what it is attempting to do, though its methods are non-standard. There are 7 live-in Fellows with with jobs and lives who study and teach transferable skills to the communities which use Newspeak House to host their events (by virtue of living in the space).

As an aside, I tried to write a piece evaluating the impact of this, but it's hard. I guess I will write an 80000 hours style questionnaire and send it to Fellows/community organisers who use our space and see if there are trends in terms of impact. Any advice welcome, I will likely write something at some stage, but if I am going to make a lot of effort I'd like to not guessing so wildly as for it to be nonsense..

Ed, Newspeak House Dean's, advice

Ed is of the opinion that using systems to your advantage you can have a greater impact. Rather than employ 1 researcher, for the same cost, Newspeak House has 7 fellows who provide a much wider range of thoughts and connections. While talking about my future, he was of the opinion that to meet my own goals, I should:

  • Get funding either through freelance work or EA grants
  • Work for free in the AI public policy space outside of an institution
  • Attend all of the AI events in parliament (which are supposedly open to the public - more research needed)
  • Create networks with the movers and shakers, connect people where advantageous, talk to those in parliament about EA ideas
  • Do my own research, tell researchers if I find anything interesting and let them publish.

I don't know how the impact of this route would compare to a more standard Civil Service fast stream path. I am open to the idea it could be more effective - having lived at NH for a couple of weeks now, I have already met loads of well connected individuals and seen Ed create events just but getting two people to talk. Someone has to do the work, but someone often already is and if you can connect 10x as many people you can in theory do 10x as much good. That said, it is hard (as above) to measure impact and perhaps it is valuable to really be in the room when decisions are being made.

Emotionally speaking I am initially skeptical of Ed's idea, mainly because I would like a more stable job, but my career is the area of my life where I would like to make really efficient choices, so I'd like to hear your thoughts.

Sum up

I would like to work for the maximal good of conscious creatures. Seems like AI policy is a good way to go, but it's unclear if a standard or systems-based approach will be more effective. I'd love to hear your thoughts and intend to change my approach based on them.

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I don't have any advice but just wanted to say that I think it's really cool that you asked for advice here.

I don't think I can give much specific advice, but it doesn't seem like you're putting much of a weight on what you want to do. For instance, it seems like you're somewhat disappointed that 80k advised against working in AI ethics. If so, I'd suggest maybe applying anyway or considering good programs not in the top 10 (most school rankings seem to be fairly arbitrary in my experience anyway) with the knowledge that you might have to be a little more self-motivated to do "top 10" quality work.

Alternatively, it might be the case that you simply haven't looked into Civil Service jobs as much in which case maybe spend some time imagining/learning about that path. You might find yourself becoming just as excited for that work as for the AI stuff.

I suppose I'm not putting much weight on it, other than what is required to keep me working at a problem for the long term. The issue there is that I don't know what working at many of these jobs will be like...

In terms of desires, I would like most of all to have a legitimate ethical system. I value that more than my own wellbeing and my own desires. So I don't really care what I want other than instrumentally. I do thinks I *want* on my own time, whereas I think for my career I'd like to maximise as much as I can.

At least I think so - it's hard to know what you really want, right?

Perhaps I'll end up justifying what I want to do anyway. I suppose this process at least stops me making significantly non-maximal choices.

In that case, it seems plausible that you (and your coworkers) will do more and better work if you're not just ascetically grinding away for decades (and if they aren't spending time around someone like that). Perhaps, a good next step is to shadow/intern with/talk to people currently doing these jobs to learn what they look like day to day?