Isaac Benson

Computer Engineering and Math major @ University of Maryland: Baltimore County
72 karmaJoined Pursuing an undergraduate degreeSeeking work


I am a CompE and math double major at UMBC. I am interested in working on medical devices and am interested in starting a for-profit startup. This startup would hopefully work on both direct impact and allow money for donations (see here). 

I am also considering a PhD or Masters in Biomedical engineering, computer engineering, or electrical engineering.

How others can help me

Advice on or introductions to people about medical devices, entrepreneurship, or graduate school in above subjects. Random Messaging is good.

How I can help others

I provide an anecdote of how young people see EA. 


I can't find a book, but articles about Norman Borlaug (creator of semi-dwarf wheat) may be high counterfactual.

I hope this isn't a prediction of someone in EA...

In case of developing technologies for general near term harm, one needs to look at the effects their technology is having on the customers and others affected. But, as with all technology, there can be good and bad uses of it. In regard to existential risk, it is hard to know ahead of time what will cause existential risk. Humans are already bad at predicting the future and we can't expect to stop all technological progress for the sake of some microscopic existential risk not measured empirically. It would be better to have a educated society that is ready to work towards difficult problems at the drop of a hat if it poses a risk to humanity. We have done things in the past to a lesser scale such as the Manhattan project and WWII innovation more generally along with COVID vaccines coming in 1 year instead of the most optimistic prediction at the time of 4 years.  Technology in general still has a very high EV in my book. 

  1. It is true that there will be divergence in recourses if profit and impact don't correlate strongly. In the other resources section for more about profitability, see this here. I would generally advise against the optimization of 2 goals at the same time, but when the mission of the company is aligned either by selling to the beneficiaries or when a technology correlates with a better product and good outcomes (Tesla with EVs), or customers internalize the cost of current products (Tesla customers want green cars), the 2 become aligned. SpaceX is finding how to establish a mars base by selling launch services and internet with the same rockets. 
  2. Not all organizations can be for-profit, but when it is possible, it can lead to much bigger growth.  One can innovate from high cost to lower cost (such as Tesla). Also middle income countries may have enough for moderate spending.  Each business will face the problem and have the learn about the specifics of the situation to know where they can make money and make sure it is aligned with their mission. Not all direct-impact for-profit companies are selling to the poor. Take lab-grown meat, there is potentially a large group of the global rich who would be the first customers.  
  3. There should still be non-profits, but my thesis was that direct-impact for-profits are underrated, not that all non-profits should start for-profits. If they have the possibility and it would lead to higher impact, then they should. If one can start something like one of the companies  mentioned, or Tesla or SpaceX, then there should be a good bit of attention paid to it in EA, rather than just small non-profits.  We can then compare starting/joining a startup that serves a smaller problem but grows naturally vs a non-profit that is serving a large problem but isn't guaranteed to grow and relient on donors. In the FTX case, I don't know how many non-profits went out of business because of it, but it could happen again (due to fraud or otherwise).

Thanks for the comment!

I would worry about moral issues and EA image issues by implementing EA ideas in these companies. I was talking about being a great engineer/manager that increases the level of innovation that aligns with the company's mission. The employees could convince their manager or upper management of certain issues relating to EA, but it is important for them not to try to hijack their company for EA goals against their company's wishes.

Edit: also see here from the other resources section about what makes a startup high impact. Counterfactual impact is important to consider and the consumer surplus of the product.

Thanks for the comment. You are right that large for-profit Non-EA companies can be better than the direct-impact for-profit companies I wrote about. Whatever the best decision for impact is, one should look at all of their options and decide which is best. Arguably Tesla was started with the intention of doing good (like most of the EA startups mentioned) and Apple wasn't focused as much on the "social good" rather the good to consumers and business (which is still good but not a focused social thesis). EA doesn't talk much about working for already large EA-esqe companies, such as Tesla, Neuralink, Spacex, etc. There could be alot of good to be done as an engineer or manager at one of those companies.

I was just looking for someone like you. I'm not a training medical professional, but I have thought about working on medical devices. I am currently a Computer engineering and Math double major in undergrad. Do you know of any opportunities for that? Any companies currently working on it? Grad programs or books on the subject? Thanks!

Is this a thought exercise for figuring out what I would find engagement in?

A better question would be my effectiveness rather than my passion. How much more effective would I have to be in other cause areas and low in alignment related skills  such that it would be good to select other activities (or vis versa)? Over time, I can keep asking the questions with new information.

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