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Computer science student at UCL. Previously finance lead at CEA, Nov 2019 - Aug 2021.


Answer by Ben3

Eliot Higgins, investigative journalist and founder of bellingcat. He also wrote this (which I haven't read), and who featured, maybe hosted this podcast series which I thought was interesting.

Answer by Ben10

Sounds interesting! I'd be interested in:

  1. Could Richard give a summary of his conversation with Eliezer, and on what points he agrees and disagrees with him? 
  2. (Perhaps this has been covered somewhere else) Could Richard give an broad overview of different approaches to AI alignment and which ones he thinks are most promising?



Thanks for sharing this piece and looking for constructive feedback. I'd agree with most of the points made by other commenters.  I would also suggest:

  • Engage more with primary sources and more things  written by people outside of effective altruism. There are thousands of climate scientists with interesting things to say, and a relatively small number of people in EA thinking about this. 
  • General humility about this field - we don't have great data on what the climate and society will be like in 50, 100, 200, 500+ years time, and it's hard to know what the limits for habitation / adaption will be.
  • How would you define existential threat? I've heard David Wallace-Wells say that he thinks climate change is already an existential threat because it's already leading us to change how we live our lives. You seem to use Bostrom's definition. Why do you think it's better?  
Answer by Ben2

Neuralink, and the Culture series also has voice-activated assistants that are a bit like Alexa 

Thanks! Did you think it was worth a read?

Interesting. OK, I added a link to this as an answer. Thanks for suggesting!

Answer by Ben2

I put down some fiction with a bit of a longtermist bent that I enjoyed here

I don't think any of the protagonists / characters in these books are "an EA" (whatever that means) in the way that question seems to be looking for. 

Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

Thanks - happy to help. 

1) You're right that pandemics and climate change are both part of the course. Taking the figures in the Precipice at face value,  the biggest risks are unaligned AI and engineered pandemics. From the unit list at UCL, and the biographies of the unit leaders on the 'natural and anthropogenic risks' unit, Joanna Faure Walker (a geophysicist) and Punam Yadav (who focuses on humanitarian projects), I couldn't see any specific content on weaponisation and conflict, which are topics I'm more interested in. That is not to say the course is not valuable - and there is no one EA route - but from my own perspective I think there's a lot of technical background I'd like to cover. Also I could see nothing on risks from AI anywhere in the UCL course, which seems like an oversight given advances in autonomous weapons today.  

2) Yes I've heard good things about the course. Having worked at CEA, I think it's worth dispelling the myth that there are recommended courses by the whole EA community - it seems to me that EA is a lot more disparate than people think. And you might disagree with me, and decide to do the course anyway - or do many other totally different things!

3) It took me about 2 years to gradually move my interests over from international relations and conflict theory to wanting to study computer science. 

Applying to masters courses is quite costly in time and fees - they require a personal statement, references from  your undergraduate degree, and something like a £150 application fee, per application. 

Bootcamps are typically rolling applications throughout the year, and if you did the masters you'd probably start Sep 2022, which means applying around Nov 2021 - June 2022 - quite a while away.

If you're submitting masters applications and considering coding bootcamps at the same time, it seems to me like it's worth spending a few months thinking about what you're interested in, and your comparative advantage might be first.  One way of doing this could be to try some online coding courses, and also read some IR books (e.g. Destined for War) and maybe write up a summary and review on the forum. Each of those would probably give you more information about each route and be a cheaper test than submitting applications. 

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