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The Berkeley Existential Risk Initiative provides operational and administrative support to researchers working on existential risks in a university setting. The idea is to make operations faster and more flexible for these groups—not only to make them more directly effective, but also to improve morale by unblocking tasks and projects they care about that are hard to do efficiently through other means (e.g. existing university administration channels).

Some specific examples: Hiring a software engineer, graphic designer, web developer, or copy editor; hiring a research assistant for month on 2 days notice; paying monthly software subscriptions; paying international contractors; buying stuff from a supplier that your university doesn't support.

How beneficial would this same service be to researchers working on global poverty or animal welfare (or other cause areas for that matter) in a university setting?

I'll add some of my preliminary arguments for and against below.

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Maybe there's more high-impact work happening at universities in x-risk than there is in other cause areas. I know some things about the x-risk research ecosystem. I know less about the relevant issues in other cause areas. I know even less about whether those issues are good candidates for university research. Is there high-impact work happening at universities in these cause areas? This is something I really want opinions on, and I think people here will have thoughts™.

Maybe there's something about x-risk research (or AI research, which makes up the majority of our collaborations) which presents a high number of bureaucratic hurdles. Maybe x-risk researchers are always trying to do crazy non-publishable things that confuse and stress university systems, while animal welfare and global poverty researchers manage to be impactful and ambitious without encountering hurdles. This seems unlikely to me.

Maybe there already exist one or more BERI-like entities for global poverty or animal welfare, and BERI would just be stepping on their toes.

My rough impression is that much more longtermist work is being done at universities within the EA universe and that the non-longtermist EA work is generally not being done at universities - or at least not done with sufficient organization and authority within a university such that they could engage in big contracts.

I think university programs working outside of longtermism are typically just 1-2 professors within a department or are big-but-not-all-that-EA. For example, I can't think of an equivalent to the Global Priorities Institute, Future of Humanity Institute, etc.

But maybe this is a failure of my imagination so I very much welcome others to come forward and say I'm missing something!

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sawyer
Thanks Peter! I will say, a BERI-like entity would not be restricted to helping big research groups. Current BERI helps some individual professors, and has had some positive impact doing so.

Yes! Connecting university researchers with Charity Entrepreneurship charities and other EA orgs could also be extremely valuable. I've helped informally connect the University of Toronto BioZone to a couple of different EA orgs. I don't think this is exactly what you are proposing, but supporting EA-aligned researchers to maximize their impact seems worthwhile.

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Have you tried asking J-PAL about this? They work with hundreds of development researchers and might have a good sense for what forms of support those researchers need most. (I think they provide certain kinds of support themselves, but I'm guessing there are a lot of non-overlapping functions between J-PAL and BERI.)

I have not tried asking J-PAL, but that's a great idea. Do you have any suggestions for who I should contact there? It's a big org and I don't think I know anyone who works there.

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