Has anyone tried hiring “totally random” people to work on a problem area? Basically you hire someone you don’t know well (maybe currently working a job known to be both intellectually challenging and under-paid [like teachers?] if you want some selection), give them a large lump sum of money, and tell them to work on some problem area in the way they feel is best, with accountability in the form of having to do a weekly/monthly report or something. (If you’re really feeling ambitious, maybe have them read some EA/business literature or something first, if that would increase effectiveness.)

I’m asking this because there seem to be a lot of problem areas where the main bottleneck is manpower, rather than money, and I wonder if we might be unnecessarily limiting manpower with our current hiring practices. Hiring non-experts obviously would be a very bad idea in problem areas where imperfect work could lead to strong downsides, but there are plenty of requests for further work/bounties mentioned on this forum where the only downside of improperly completing such requests would be a waste of money. I also don’t want subject-matter experts wasting time working on projects which non-experts can also work on successfully, as that would effectively be time wasted for them. Another important aspect here is that the person hiring them is not spending a lot of time on the process, and training is “outsourced” by giving them the time/money to research the area themselves. There may also be a side-benefit of getting more people interested in the problem area/connected with EA, and bring a greater diversity of perspectives to the problem area. Has this been tried before?

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I think the core issue with your idea is that the problems we are interested in are all problems where progress is very difficult, and it’s furthermore very difficult to evaluate the quality of someone’s work, and furthermore it is very hard for them to make progress without lots of guidance and feedback, so you cannot just throw a ton of people at the problem and expect it to work well.

I like the idea of giving more people opportunities though, and I like that Rethink Priorities plays a role in this by trying to hire a lot of people to do research. But we find it requires a lot of mentorship and management for people to do well.

Are you sure that all problems we’re facing are necessarily difficult in this he sort of way a non-expert would be bad at? I don’t have the time right now to search through past bounties, but I remember a number of them involved fairly simple testable theories which would simply take a lot of time and effort, but not expertise.

2Peter Wildeford2mo
I can't think of any problem area where I'd be excited to actively hire a ton of people without vetting or supervision, but I agree that just because I can't think of one doesn't mean that one doesn't exist. Also, as you and others mention, giving out prizes our bounties could work well if you have an area where you could easily evaluate the quality of a piece of work.

If there are existing bounties, what's stopping random people from just going after the bounties themselves? For example, there was recently a writing contest on imagining positive AI futures; anyone could have written a piece. 

 

My impression is most of the talent bottlenecks are in areas where random people just don't have the skills, and where you need to be confident people are well-aligned. E.g. government/policy, management, entrepreneurs (broadly construed, to include starting charities). The third category you can't really even hire; you just have to make money available and let ppl come and get it if they're working on something relevant. 

what's stopping random people from just going after the bounties themselves?

Simple answer—they don’t know the bounties exist. Bounties are usually only posted in local EA groups, and if you’re outside of those groups, even if you’re looking for bounties to collect, the amount of effort it would take to find out about our community’s bounty postings would be prohibitively high (and there’s plenty of lower-hanging fruit in search space). Likewise, many large companies hire recruiters to expressly go out and find talent, rather than hoping that talent finds them. The market is efficient, but it is not omniscient.