Mission

BERI’s mission is to improve human civilization’s long-term prospects for survival and flourishing. Its main strategy is to identify technologies that may pose significant civilization-scale risks, and to promote and provide support for research and other activities aimed at reducing those risks.

Size and scope

BERI is currently a small initiative, operated on a volunteer and part-time basis by a handful of individuals with other part-time or full-time jobs. While we may conduct a limited amount of in-house research, most of BERI's value derives from the support it can provide for the activities of researchers at larger institutions who are working to mitigate existential risk (x-risk).

We consider it important to emphasize that startlingly little full-time research is currently being carried out anywhere in the world with a primary objective of mitigating x-risk. For that reason, we wish to highlight that BERI is a minor project, and should not be categorized with institutions engaged in full-time x-risk mitigation efforts, such as Cambridge University's Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Oxford University's Future of Humanity Institute, or the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley.

In other words, the existence of BERI should not be counted as a major update about the number of people or organizations working on these problems, although we hope that our efforts will improve the output of people who are already involved, and ultimately help inspire more researchers to get involved in x-risk work.

Activities

BERI currently aims to act as a multiplier on the impact of existing researchers. Our main present activity is the provision of free support and services to x-risk researchers, including but not limited to

  • access to expert consultations, e.g., if an x-risk motivated PhD student wishes to pay an expert for a one-hour consultation on some topic, then BERI can pay for the service on behalf of the student.
  • technical support, e.g., hiring an engineer on a contract to remotely help a researcher with tasks like
    • installing buggy software packages they need for research,
    • formatting papers for conference and journal submission, or
    • setting up and maintaining websites.
  • administrative support, e.g.,
    • helping organize an event run by an x-risk motivated PhD student or postdoc whose departmental administrators are not available to assist them.

Why BERI?

We hope that activities like those listed above will not only accelerate the work and professional development of x-risk motivated researchers, but also show them a kind of social support: that other people value their work, and are ready to help them with it in ways that go above and beyond the levels of outside support academics are used to receiving.

Without BERI or other entities like it, these particular kinds of support are unlikely to exist in the near term.

BERI's marginal value

Often, academic grant moneys cannot easily be spent on items like those listed above, and when they can, professors are sometimes under social pressure to hire more researchers instead of support staff. Other times, they lack the time or personal network needed to identify skilled and motivated contractors for the required work.

Therefore, BERI’s main value is currently as a vehicle for hiring contractors and part-time employees for sporadic tasks in support of x-risk research and activities, as vetted by BERI leadership for their impact and necessity. BERI is able to hire contractors for any task it considers part of a valuable collaboration, so we can effectively provide the above services for free, and help connect researchers with contractors who have done good work in the past.

BERI's comparative advantage

Why is BERI able to do things that universities can't?

Over time, many restrictions and informal social constraints on univesrity spending have arisen as agreements within and between institutions, to ensure responsible spending by diverse interest groups including professors, students, unions, budget committees, research support officers, purchasing departments, state departments, and so on. Often, these restrictions have side effects that inhibit funding for activities that are otherwise responsible and very much on-mission for a given research group, but difficult for a university to approve within its existing framework.

BERI achieves responsible spending in a different way: by being small, individually ethical, and understandable to its donors. In particular, we only expect to receive donations from individuals who know enough about us that they have sufficient reason to believe our funds will be used wisely, without any restrictions aside from basic moral principles like honesty, reciprocity, and transparency.

This means BERI can spend small amounts of money on one-off tasks that are harder to pay for on research budgets within large institutions with budgets of billions, or even just millions, of dollars.

BERI as a social influence

In addition to boosting productivity, we hope that the inexpensive luxuries BERI provides will help make the difference, to some researchers, between feeling like a typical academic versus feeling a deep sense of support from one's surrounding social context. Support from BERI means someone is going above and beyond the typical means of helping you, because they believe in what you're trying to do.

FAQ

Funding

BERI is currently funded by private donations, since its budget is small enough not to warrant a public fundraiser.

Who does BERI currently support?

Currently BERI is focused on working with researchers nominated to us by one of the following groups:

  • CHAI - the Center for Human Compatible AI at UC Berkeley,
  • CSER - the Center for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge University,
  • FHI - the Future of Humanity Institute Oxford University
  • MIRI - the Machine Intelligence Research Institute in Berkeley, CA.
As we gain experience working with these groups, we hope to expand our vetting criteria to include more researchers in the future.

Why doesn't BERI operate inside a larger non-profit?

BERI has close ties to MIRI and CFAR, both of which are non-profits whose missions are aimed at mitigating x-risk, as well as ties to the newly formed Center for Human Compatible AI at UC Berkeley. By operating as an independent legal entity with its own relationships to donors, advisors, and supporters, BERI is able make decisions more quickly, and under a broader mission statement.

Future plans

In the long run, BERI’s mission statement leaves open the possibility that we might expand our activities in any way the organization’s leadership considers the best use of its resources to reduce x-risk. If that occurs, we aim to be transparent about the change in scope of our activities, in keeping with our above concerns about the accuracy of public knowledge about the total work going into x-risk reduction.

Upcoming announcements

BERI does not currently maintain a regular announcement system, as we believe interested individuals are better off receiving news directly from existing research groups focused on existential risk. If you want to be sure you find out if that we establish a newsletter in the future, you can sign up to be notified.

Contact

If you wish to leave us a message, you can email contact@existence.org. However, please expect a very slow response, as we are currently focused on developing our own operations, and supporting researchers who have already been nominated to us by our affiliates.

Team

Staff

Advisors

Board