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TL;DR:

  • I am about to build an EA-University which provides systematic, scientific, digital and technological Education framed by the principles of effective Altruism.
  • I aim to start it with four courses[1]. (Foundations of AI, How to manage the digital transformation, How to work in the world of “work 4.0 / new work” and How to manage innovation in times of emerging technologies)
  • I aim to get all these courses officially certified by German authorities so that they have the maximum of practical value[1].
  • My primary 3 goals are to “create” more effective altruists (EAs), provide Tools + Mindset for EAs to DO and "create” more impactful Innovators through these steps.

Intro

Thanks to the multiplying character of emerging and deep technologies like AI, CRISPR and digital networks, every decision of every human paired with them has many orders of magnitude more impact than ever before in human history. But most of the people never heard of it, nor do they have the capabilities to properly deal with this kind of leverage.

To change this I will build DI - the Digital Institute.

The Logo of the Digital Institute. © Benjamin Eidam

There you learn two things[2]:

  1. What technologies - and the possibilities based on them - are out there for everyone. Now and in the upcoming years.
  2. What to do with this knowledge and possibilities, and how to find the perfect intersection between what you love to do and what helps the world the most (your “Ikigai” / "Digikai" - more about them in the following chapters). Students in the DI-courses will already start working on first projects, so they get practical experience while learning about it.

So, in one graphic, what I will build is:

What the DI is all about. © Benjamin Eidam

Why?

As Education is the baseline for innovation and therefore one of the mightiest "forces" out there[3] - both individually as collectively - and because we need more smart people working on really hard problems, I start building the first EA-University.

The EA-Community seems to be on the same page here. Although I could not find many places with this Idea mentioned, the sources where I found them are quite significant:

  1. "...a university would include teaching and a broader range of topics and disciplines. Nonetheless, a university and MPG have substantial overlap. 
    Given that education and career choice are important aspects of EA, it might make sense to launch an entire university. ..."
  2. "... educational curricula could be redesigned to pay more attention to the most important problems and most useful tools for reasoning. ..."

So I think as EA-Idea as well as a personal fit, this is a good Idea to at least try.

 

How does the Impact look like?

I just really like designing things. That's why these graphics look as they look. © Benjamin Eidam

I think the Impact should look pretty straight forward:

  1. More technological, effective altruistic and innovation-educated people +
  2. Practical experiences of building and real-world-testing the solutions that they came up +
  3. Mindset, Mental Models etc. to not be afraid of failure, start small etc. (basically a basic "Start-Up-Training" I guess)

= More people who live their best lives and helping as many people as possible through it. Enabling the DI-students to live their "scaled / digital Ikigai", the "Digikai", is kind of one of the primary goals for the education provided at DI. 

More to the theory behind the parts of the Digikai:
"Find your passion through testing",  "Productize your Authenticity",  "Know how to build + Sell"
© Benjamin Eidam

 

What are the specific Outcomes that I am looking for?

I want to reach ≥ 3 main-goals[4]:

  1. “Create” more effective altruists (EAs): The Digital Institute (DI) will literally train EAs. Comparabe to the Intro Fellowship, just on a much greater scale.
  2. Provide Tools + Mindset for EAs to DO: Having EAs is great. Having EAs who build projects and make things happen is better. DI will provide EAs with practical experience that lowers the threshold of beginning a project and the fear of failure etc.
  3. “Create” more Innovators: More EAs equipped with better tools and mindset = more brave people who follow their EA-Visions and form them into concrete solutions in the real world.

All in all, I think the key reasons for this project / that DI makes the world a better place through are:

  1. More people prioritizing important causes.
  2. Giving more people the tools to successfully work on these causes.
  3. Build a network.
  4. Enlarge the EA-Community.
  5. Create some standards in highly complex topics to ease conversations.
  6. Educate them for EA-critical jobs.
  7. Increase the acceptance of these causes.
  8. Supports / lays the foundation for the broader Mindset to deal with the current and upcoming challenges for all students.
  9. Scale up the number of innovators, entrepreneurs and “change-makers” by enabling them through tools and boost their mindset to do things.
  10. Help people find purpose and their place in the world, and understand a more accurate status of the world. (Instead of the “everything is doomed because the media says so-Mindset”)

 

Why am I qualified to do this?

  • I have worked - and to a certain degree still work - as a lecturer / trainer for nearly a dozen different German education institutes with many different educational approaches for the last > 5 years. I have collected more than 200 references of former students from these courses. (With a median of 9 out of 10 points, 10 being “perfect”)
    • Because of my work experience, I know the market and have gained knowledge on the steps needed to implement my courses.
    • I additionally train leaders and CEOs from a broad range of companies in 2-4 day coachings for the last > 3 years.
  • Besides that, I co-built two educational concepts and brought the last of them in front of an investor[5].
  • As I own my own consulting company for ~ 2 years now, I know how to build a company.
  • In 2017, I got a similar (but smaller) project - about health education - funded by German and EU-authorities.
  • I co-founded and lead a techno-optimist / part-EA political party in germany. The "Transhuman Party Germany".
  • More about my knowledge about technology can be found here (German), here (German) and here (German).

 

What am I looking for right now?

  1. Opinions and ideas on how to web EA more deeply into the whole thing: Right now, I just loosely copy the Intro Syllabus and then look at all the individual technologies from the perspective of EA.
  2. Possible Co-workers / Collaborators: At least some opinions / options to throw Ideas around would be great. At best, there are some people out there who share my passion and just didn't know where to start a project like this. If so: Just write me a message, please! (Or a comment, whatever fits you more)
  3. Funding: This project will cost tens of thousands of euros / dollars just to get the University as well as the courses officially certified and running. And a lot of hours as well. (Even though everything is completely digital) As the whole thing is planned to eventually get revenue in, you need to start somewhere to get the ball rolling. Right now I just finance and build everything on my own. But this won't probably work forever and/or will take forever because I always have to cross-finance everything. So if you are involved with funds, VCs etc. who could be interested, please connect them with me[6].

 

What could go wrong?

I am deeply optimistic about the whole project, and it is kinda my "brain-child" for ~3 years now. But of course, there can be speed bumps. The most important ones are:

  1. There will be no students interested
  2. I won't get the certification and so no one will take this seriously / doubt the use of the courses / content
  3. There will be "only" academics as output as in usual universities. So a lot of knowledge but not a lot of concrete solutions and innovations.
  4. Something I cannot foresee right now.

 

What could go right?

I have already discussed the main goals of DI. But it could come even better. For example, in these forms:  

  1. Foundation / Standard: With the Fellowship, the EA-Intro, the Handbook and a lot of other sources like books etc. I think EA is ready to be taught systematically now.
  2. (large) Community-Building: More parts of Society get in active contact with effective Altruism.
  3. Scale: If this works, it can be scaled into other countries and with a lot more courses and content. This is, in the best case, just the very starting point of something way bigger.
  4. Reputation: As I specifically choose concepts that in kind of the same form already work in the "real world" outside EA I think this university can improve the view of many people about EA as a whole.
  5. Something I cannot foresee right now.

 

Current Status

I've got / work on:

  1. Curricula: ~ 80% done. As I already roughly held them as lectures for / with some institutions. Although at least fine-tuning from an EA-Point of View would be appreciated.
  2. Website: ~ 90% done. Only things that are essentially missing for launch are 2-4 SEO-optimized blogposts so that the website won't look "empty" at the launch.
  3. Marketing: Right now, I start with Search Engine Optimization, as I come from this field. But this will need more work the bigger the project gets.
  4. Certification: I am ~5% through the mountains of paperwork to get there, but at least I have a plan now what and when to do. A lot to do but doable.
  5. Funding: See the section "What am I looking for right now?"
  6. Target Group: My "usual clientele" are people
    1. from age ~ 30-55,
    2. ~60% men,
    3. with a broad but at least minimal technical background
    4. who need some digital knowledge / certificate to get their next job.
    5. who pay for this education on their own (~10%-15%), get paid by their company (~10%-15%) or, the biggest chunk, get this education funded by the German government, as Germany needs more people with knowledge about the digital transformation. (~80%)

I like this "clientele" especially as it is not the "usual academics" that are (at least in my point of view) often overrepresented in EA-Space.

These are just the people that I'm usually working with and as I know ~80% of the system I think I can just get going with this[4].

 

Future / planned

Of course, this is just the start of it. More faculties should follow. More lecturers as well. Maybe a R&D-Department at some point. Making this international. Etc.

But for now I just want to get going and get results. EA-oriented, "digital-fluent" innovators who want to make the world better and bring this into practice instead of writing and/or just discussing it. (Which is fine to a degree. But philosophers alone won't make the world significantly better)

 

Outro

I probably forgot a lot of very important points, but I just wanted to give a brief summary of this awesome project.

Please ask if you want to know more.

I will attend the EAGxBerlin in September 2022. So I would love to talk with you guys about it and maybe even make something happen together!

 

Cheers, and thanks for reading,

Ben

  1. ^

    Why these specific courses and topics for them? Because based on my experience as a trainer, these are the best intersections of technological and applicable knowledge. And in these forms I highly expect to get the whole content certified and then people can actually apply for real jobs with this knowledge. Again: DI aims to be one of the "interfaces" from the EA-Space to the rest of the world.

  2. ^

    This is the starting point and will in the end probably be just one "faculty". But right now I have to start somewhere, and my personal expertise lies mostly in the field of technology.

  3. ^

    See the fields "Education" and "Innovation & Technology" including their classification for example here.

  4. ^

    There is a specific timeline, the curricula, defined milestones etc. already there, but they would completely blast the scope of this post. But if you are interested, just ask me please.

  5. ^

    We were a two-guy-team back then. Our Concept was / is building an educational mobile game which uses the same game mechanics as popular games but to educate kids / people instead of just "killing" time for them while playing.

  6. ^

    I applied at the EA Infrastructure-Fund with this concept in August 2022. H/T to Philippe Rivet for his tip.

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Hi Benjamin! I think it's great that you want to support more people to work on the most pressing problems, and that you shared your plan about your project here for feedback. Thanks!

I have a lot of reservations after skimming this article, here three major and two somewhat less major ones:

  • I think leading a large effort of introducing and teaching EA principles requires deep familiarity with the EA philosophy. It worries me that you don't mention your background with EA much in the reasons you'd be qualified, except your involvement with the Transhumane Partei Deutschlands, which (from my experience as a German community builder) doesn't seem particularly involved with the German EA community.
  • Relatedly, as Yi-Yang mentions, it worries me that you didn't immidiately consider reputational risks to the EA movement in your "What could go wrong" section. Advertising this project as "The first EA-University" (as you've done in the German EA Slack) will likely catch attention and be taken as representative of the EA movement. This is a consideration that I think would be very salient to people who have spend sufficient time engaging with the EA movement to be well-equiped to lead such an effort.
  • The four initial courses seem relatively odd choices to what I would expect from an effort to make people in their ~30s familiar with effective altruism: "Foundations of AI, How to manage the digital transformation, How to work in the world of “work 4.0 / new work” and How to manage innovation in times of emerging technologies" 
    • This sounds more like a selection of courses for tech entrepreneurs. I suppose these are topics you are more familiar with / interested in, but I think it would be misleading to call something based on this "EA university".
  • It's weird to me that you call this a university, as you mention in the comments that it's only supposed to last up to 16 weeks.
  • You write "As I own my own consulting company for ~ 2 years now, I know how to build a company." I looked you up on LinkedIn and it seems like the company is only you and one relative, who started working at your company 4 months ago and immidiately went on a sabbatical. This made your statement feel misleading and overconfident to me, as I expect people to expect more than that level of experience and success when reading "I know how to build a company".

Hi Max,

thanks for the reply! These are very good questions and mainly exactly what I meant with what I would probably forget about to mention it. So here we go:

  1. My EA-Background: I am "involved" in EA since ~ 2014. Involved in the sense that I've read some books and articles, discussed EA-Ideas in my  circles and spread the EA-Ideas embedded in other things like articles as EA became quickly a fix part of my thinking. Right now I'm technically part of EA here in Leipzig but I am not as active as I should I think. So I would give my a ~ 7/10 about EA-understanding I think. (That's why I would love to talk / work with other EAs on that project especially)
  2. "will likely catch attention and be taken as representative of the EA movement. This is a consideration that I think would be very salient to people who have spend sufficient time engaging with the EA movement to be well-equiped to lead such an effort." That is a good argument, I've never seen it from this perspective tbh., thank you! I don't think that this will be the case as nobody thinks about any IT-company as representive of the whole IT on earth but I will think about it and update my article as soon as I'm done.
  3. The four courses are choosen because a) they work, b) they can get relatively sure be certified, c) they bring practical advantages for the students in their life besides just knowing funny stuff and d) they seem [from my perspective] as the perfect intersection of EA-ideas and things that can be used in the real world. That's why I choose them. And that's why they explicitly don't be called "existentialism for people who want a job" or smt. like it.
  4. "It's weird to me that you call this a university, as you mention in the comments that it's only supposed to last up to 16 weeks." You have to start somewhere. Why exactly here I mentioned in Answer 3.
  5. "I looked you up on LinkedIn and it seems like the company is only you and one relative, who started working at your company 4 months ago and immidiately went on a sabbatical." I don't know where / how you got these numbers but that's an interesting piece of research. The whole story won't fit in this comment here but just look on the history of my very own website to get a idea of my past.

Thank you!

Cheers

Ben

Thanks for engaging!

  1. Engaging more with EA Leipzig sounds reasonable, and it seems also like a very reasonable move to go to EAGx Berlin if you want to get more actively involved in EA projects generally.
  2. I think the comparison between IT and EA is a little off as EA is much smaller and younger than IT, so any new project will be a much bigger share of overall EA-inspired activity and have a much higher chance to be the first EA exponent the people encounter.

Thank you for engaging Max! :)

Yeah, I think / hope that EAGxBerlin will give this project / me one big / final push to give it a / the final direction / polish to go all in. Let's see.

Hm. First of IT is not a "ancient" concept either, but I get your point. But then again: This will be a University, not an official representative Institution. I think it will just play its small role in the growing EA-Ecosystem, but you never know, true. But I'm not fully thought through it, so more about this in an update of the article. Thanks a lot!

Cheers

Ben

I'm guessing it would be a good idea to talk to people more skeptical about this project so that you can avoid unilateralist curses. It's not clear how much you've done that already (apart from posting on the forum!).

How long do you expect students to participate?

Too much focus on existing top EA focus areas can lead to community stickiness. If this is just meant as a somewhat quick pipeline to introduce people to the ideas of EA once they've already settled into a field this might be okay. Also most EAs historically have been convinced at a younger age (<30) when they are more flexible.

Thanks for your comment Alex!

I think if you have people for 3-5 weeks at least and literally give them a new perspective on the world, a lot of them at least can realisticly consider EA because they simply know how to place it as a "meta" mental model. Which brings me to the answer to your question:

"How long do you expect students to participate?"

Based on my experience at least 4 weeks. Up to 16 weeks. As i wrote: I borrow concepts that are already working in the real-life context so no need to experiment there.

 

Cheers

Ben

Hi Benjamin, I run EA Virtual Programs. Thanks for sharing about your project! I don't have a lot of time to think too deeply about your project, but here are my quick impressions (caveat: this is my personal opinion and not of my employer):

1. I worry about fidelity. I know you're hoping to certification for your university, but the four courses you listed don't seem relevant.
2. I worry that the "creating more EAs" goal you have might be goodharted.
3. I worry that you're not tracking risks to the wider movement well. You didn't mention how your project might impact the EA movement negatively.

Otherwise, it seems like you have some strengths and a good track record in pedagogy and training.  This seems like an important skillset to have. 

I echo Alex Mallen's suggestion to talk to more community builders to get a sense of risks and the needs of the wider movement. And I do appreciate that you took time to write down your thoughts! 

Hi Yi-Yang, thank you for your comment!

To 1.:  Could you please elaborate on what you mean by "I know you're hoping to certification for your university, but the four courses you listed don't seem relevant."? Thank you!

To 2.: Don't you think that when you get more people who come in because they want to learn / qualify for better job-options in the future and go out with a lot of knowledge about - well the "world right now" + EA", that they would join EA-causes more freely? My experience tells me that this works. Although I never exactly trained people in the way that I intend for DI tbh.

3.  I will update as soon as I have some useful thoughts about it.

About the talk to the community-builders: Do you have anyone specific in mind? Or sources, where I can find them? Thank you!

Cheers

Ben

Well, I'm an EA and I've scaled+secured funding for large-scale edutech ventures. My only comment would be to provide a compelling reason for someone to apply to DI. In edutech, I find there are 3 approaches:

  1. Securing funding from other institutions. By far the most common approach. Actual user experience becomes secondary if you can somehow convince schools/workplaces to sufficiently fund this, and you essentially secure a captive audience. Obviously, incentives skew here.
  2. Be fun and engaging to use, and then offer premium features.
  3. Present a viable alternative (in at least one niche area) to traditional education certificates

I have previously tried out an idea similar to yours. Singapore has the Skillsfuture program that subsidises job skills retraining. In theory, this is a forward-thinking move. However, in practice, the vast majority of the funding is given to the best marketers, not the best teachers. Mid-career tech transitions (usually forced) are an absolute bloodbath, and I suspect people in this job search are less receptive to adopting EA principles than they would be early in their career. After a while, the brain kind of goes into "I need a job regardless of whether it aligns with any principles", if that makes sense.

That said I don't know your context and future predictions based on past trends are notoriously bad, so I certainly encourage you to try.

Hi Minh,

thanks for commenting! Yeah, I've heard the "marketers win over experts" argument and I think it is a good one. But my "strategy" here is that in Germany we value work with values at least in theory relatively deeply. Like it is literally our culture with our poets etc.

In that sense education PLUS values would be a competitive advantage, but I don't know if the market sees it like that.

Only one way to find out, I guess.

Cheers

Ben 

Hello Ben, good to see such a passionate approach to education in EA. It seems like we are in similar positions in our careers (I have about 7 years of teaching at the University, 9 in High School, and 5 in management of teachers, with one school launch under my belt, that unfortunately due to COVID 19 did not pan out) and I have for the past four months been working with Heye Gross on an EA-university, starting from doing reaserch into progress studies and how we can get academics to be more productive, before trying to teach. If you wish to bounce ideas, do let me know.

My concerns here, which were not voiced by other commenters, are that it seems like this is a project you already wanted to start, and has had an "EA" sticker added to it.  It seems to me that a curriculum aimed at teaching EA would be teaching more foundational things such as empiricism and research, instead of tech-entrepreneur skills. You may want to start your thing, and you may want to start an EA project, but these need not be the same.

The branding issue is then even more compounded, calling it an EA university and being only tangentially related feels like hijacking a brand - which may be what the other commenters were also feeling when they mentioned reputational risk. 

I agree that having a place for education on EA ideas is important, having it be digital can help, having it give certifications will make it more attractive for sure, but it must be much more carefully done. My emotional response is that having a curriculum 80% done without consulting with the broader EA field feels like going against the EA epistemic approach. I understand for certification you need some more standardized things, but is certification so important as to jeopardize the thing being taught?

Education has several purposes, teaching philosophy and forming character being one side, and teaching work skills and issuing certificates that facilitate employment being another (the difference between Socratic education and getting a Microsoft office course on LinkedIn). I understand that some institutions try to do both, although these two goals are often in conflict. However, having an EA University aim only at the second, and not focus on the top priorities (AI Alignment or such) is a strange choice.

It seems like your project is so far along as to be hard to course-correct (pun not intended), is that accurate? If not, how much are you willing to adjust your idea based on the feedback of the EA community? 

Hi Dusan,

first thing: thank you a lot for your feedback, would love to bounce Ideas around with you! Just mail me at mail@benjamineidam.com please :)

"it seems like this is a project you already wanted to start, and has had an "EA" sticker added to it"

Actually, I wanted to start something EA way before I even had a thought about a project like this. But I can get it. Right now I choose to start with something that I have tested a lot and that works great in the "real world" with ~10%-20% EA in it. But I learned in my Intro-Fellowship, that there are a lot of intersections, plus my plan is to teach the content but constantly watch it through the perspective of EA. In the same way, the botanist looks at a forest in this example:

When a botanist looks at a forest they may focus on the ecosystem, an environmentalist sees the impact of climate change, a forestry engineer the state of the tree growth, a business person the value of the land. None are wrong, but neither are any of them able to describe the full scope of the forest. Sharing knowledge, or learning the basics of the other disciplines, would lead to a more well-rounded understanding that would allow for better initial decisions about managing the forest.

So in short: I think the content itself is relatively optimal between enabling students optimally for fulfilling their "Digikai" while the "meta-perspective" of EA frames all of it perfectly.

But this is just my point of view as I teach it, and it works "wonders" for my students right now. Like literally changing their view of the world.

I don't know if this will work on scale.

Again: Only one way to find out :)

"My emotional response is that having a curriculum 80% done without consulting with the broader EA field feels like going against the EA epistemic approach."

I 100% agree. That is why I share it now, that I'm more or less can see clearly a path how it could work. I think now it is a lot of fine-tuning, but i don't know how this will look like. I also don't want just chain hours of talking and chatting to each other without doing, but I really want to get more EAs involved and feedbacking this before really going "online".

I am really open to Ideas and just kick ~80% out of the sea if necessary. I just know technology and "love" the mental model of EA and have the "talent" to be an exciting teacher. So I want to use that.

But if it changes on the way, I'm ok with it. It really depends on the arguments.

Cheers

Ben

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