Tl;dr: Are there any research tasks/projects in AI or biosecurity that could potentially benefit from having a large group of lightly-supervised (but preferably paid) interns work on the problem? (E.g., collecting and codifying data for a dataset, compiling and tagging literature on a topic)
Some of my previous unpaid internships might be negatively described as “intern mills”:
- At the START Consortium, there were some ~60-70 interns working on various teams to collect and codify data for terrorism research, including the widely-cited Global Terrorism Database (GTD). The paid-supervisor to unpaid intern ratio was perhaps around 1:6?
- At the Think Tanks and Civil Societies Project (TTCSP), there were some ~100 interns working on various teams to collect organizational data (e.g., budgets, founding dates, contact information) and scholarly literature on think tanks. There was only one (partially) paid director, but the interns were organized into a hierarchy of “executive” interns, team leads (which I was), and regular interns. None of the interns were paid.
Some people may look at this and consider the degree of unpaid labor appalling. Personally, I found the overall programs somewhat revelatory: you can point and shoot large numbers of interns at some problems and come out with useful outputs like the GTD, while the interns get to work on topic areas they might be interested in and develop skills/experience that may be useful for future job applications. TTCSP was really the standout example here: a single person could lead an organization of roughly 100 unpaid interns in producing various reports, databases, and literature compilations! (Full disclosure: the quality of the work predictably suffered from such dramatic overextension, but I feel fairly confident it was better than nothing, and with more funding it definitely could have improved)
However, I didn’t want to do work on terrorism or on think tanks generally: I’ve sought work on AI or biosecurity for the past three years, but none of the six internships I managed to get have related to those topics, and only one heavily focused on technology more broadly. Five of the six internships were unpaid.
Given my past experiences, I’ve long been wondering “why can’t some EA organization just do some kind of internship project-family on various cause area topics, including AI or biosecurity? Surely there has to be some task or project out there that a large group of just lightly-supervised, unpaid (or minimally-paid) interns could help out with, whether it’s some kind of dataset to establish base rates, creating literature/argument/epistemic maps, tracking science funding or government projects related to AI/biosecurity, etc.”
This all leads me to the question stated up front: Are there any research tasks/projects in AI or biosecurity that could potentially benefit from having a large group of lightly-supervised interns work on the problem? (E.g., collecting and codifying data for a dataset, compiling and tagging literature on a topic)
Note: In this question post I’m not trying to defend the merits of such a proposal; I’m mainly just trying to solicit topic ideas from people (and preview the idea), which I will then incorporate into a normal post that proposes/discusses the idea. That being said, I would love to hear any initial feedback people have on the idea, including any kinds of objections you think I should address in a larger post (if I were to proceed with this)!