The case for building expertise to work on US AI policy, and how to do it

by 80000_Hours31st Jan 20192 comments


AI GovernanceCareer Choice

We recently completed an in-depth article on US AI policy careers that should be of interest to many people on this forum. It begins:

At 80,000 Hours we think a significant number of people should build expertise to work on United States (US) policy relevant to the long-term effects of the development and use of artificial intelligence (AI).

In this article we go into more detail on this claim, as well as discussing arguments in favor and against. We also briefly outline which specific career paths to aim for and discuss which sorts of people we think might suit these roles best.

This article is based on multiple conversations with three senior US Government officials, three federal employees working on science and technology issues, three congressional staffers, and several other people who have served as advisors to government from within academia and non-profits. We also spoke with several research scientists at top AI labs and in academia, as well as relevant experts from foundations and nonprofits.

We have hired Niel Bowerman as our in-house specialist on AI policy careers. If you are a US citizen interested in pursuing a career in AI public policy, please let us know and Niel may be able to work with you to help you enter this career path.


  • The US Government is likely to be a key actor in how advanced AI is developed and used in society, whether directly or indirectly.
  • One of the main ways that AI might not yield substantial benefits to society is if there is a race to the bottom on AI safety. Governments are likely to be key actors that could contribute to an environment leading to such a race, or could actively prevent one.
  • Good scenarios seem more likely if there are more thoughtful people working in government who have expertise in AI development and are concerned about its effects on society over the long-term.
  • This is a high-risk, high-reward career option, and there is a chance that pursuing this career path will result in little social impact over your career. However we think there are scenarios in which this work is remarkably important, and so the overall value of work on AI policy seems high.
  • We think there is room for hundreds of people to build expertise and career capital in roles that may one day allow them to work on the most relevant areas of AI policy.
  • If you're a thoughtful American interested in developing expertise and technical abilities in the domain of AI policy, then this may be one of your highest impact options, particularly if you have been to or can get into a top grad school in law, policy, international relations or machine learning. (If you’re not American, working on AI policy may also be a good option, but some of the best long-term positions in the US won’t be open to you.)

Table of contents

  • The problem to solve
  • Key actors
  • What do we mean by US AI public policy careers?
  • Why pursue this path?
  • Arguments against
  • How to pursue a career in US AI public policy
  • Be careful to avoid doing harm
  • Fit: Who is especially well placed to pursue this career?
  • Questions for further investigation
  • Conclusion
  • Further reading

Continue reading the full article...

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