Open and Welcome Thread: January 2021
Hello there, just introducing myself (also kinda a xpost from reddit) :)
My name is Aaron, and I'm an senior in high school from Arizona. I discovered the EA rabbit hole while parsing through Applied Divinity Studies over winter break; it's super amazing and humbling to see yall smart people come together to find efficient ways to make the world better.
I'm fairly set on studying computer science in college because it fits the criteria of something that i'm relatively interested in/have a bit of experience in/pays well. I like to have (ever changing and sometimes unrealistic) long term goals about what I want to do in my life, and I was pretty sold on the idea of becoming a software engineer in the bay, living below my means, and end up retiring early in a low cost of living area to spend my time volunteering and doing things that I really wanna do in life.
When I discovered EA I was really interested in the idea of working in AI Safety, which 80000 hours categorizes as one of the most urgent global issue to work on. I know virtually nothing about machine learning or artificial intelligence, but its one of the things I wanna learn about now that my senioritis is kicking into full gear! I love statistics and thinking about the implications of tech on society and public policy, so it seems like something i'd might be able to contribute towards. I'm also studying linear algebra and multivar this year, which I understand are important mathematical concepts to grasp when studying machine learning. I really don't know anything about this field, however; I just know that AI safety is clearly an important field that EA seems to agree requires more research in, so I'm not sure if it will be a good fit for me until I try it.
80k hours also writes that potential AI safety researchers should have "strong technical abilities (at the level of a top 10 cs or math phd program globally)", which seems really scary and difficult. I'm graduating at the top of my high school class and I've dabbled in a bit of stuff like AMC and codeforces in high school, but i'm definitely not extremely gifted or talented, nor do I spend a lot of time on these things.
I've read that AI alignment is clearly an urgent global issue that's very talent constrained, but AI itself is a super competitive field which which has way more supply than demand. It seems that the people who work in AI safety are the cream of the crop who graduate as PhDs from the world's best universities, dedicating many years to solve these really important questions. I think that if I work hard enough in college, I might be able to contribute in such an effective way. However, I'm not sure if I'm willing to commit that much of my life to enter such a competitive field, when I could be making much more in the industry and potentially retire early and volunteer my time in other ways/earn to give within the EA community. I'm also wondering how much experience one needs in order to effectively contribute within AI safety; this article seems to suggest that with enough dedication, someone who comes from a competitive role in industry and doesn't have a PhD can still impact the field in a positive way.
In addition, I'm super passionate about US elections analysis; I love reading stuff like the NYT Upshot/Nate Cohn/Dave Wasserman and learning about voting patterns and elections forecasting and demography; I was wondering if there is anybody in EA who shares similar interests, and whether there is any EA-related paths that relate to voting/elections/democracy in the US.
Finally, I'm also applying to college this year, and I was wondering if there are any specific universities which have strong EA communities. I've applied to most of the UCs, ASU, U of A, and Cal Poly so I'm specifically wondering about those.
Thanks so much for reading this far down a post by a random high schooler :) Someone on the EA subreddit told me that I shouldn't be this worried about my future and that I don't need to make these decisions right now, but I'm honestly really worried for what the future holds for our world and excited for how I might be able to do something about it, so I hope that I can receive a bit of advice on how to best be a member of the EA community in the future. Looking through all the stuff that happens within the community is really inspiring and humbling, and I'm really excited to hearing your advice. Thanks!