FAQ

How do BERI collaborations work?

BERI is aiming to act as a multiplier on the impact of existing university research groups that are interested in BERI’s help as a collaborator. Our main present activity is the provision of free support and services to research groups interested in existential risk reduction, including but not limited to

  • travel support, e.g., provision of Uber Business accounts to make travel between meetings more time-efficient and easier to document.
  • hiring contractors, e.g., if a particular person is ready to help the research group on a time-sensitive project, and the research group is excited to work with the person but not equipped to quickly hire them, we can take on the contractor.
  • employing collaborators. Sometimes BERI is able to employ individuals to work with one of our collaborators on a long-term basis, if the collaboration is a good fit.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Why does BERI provide this kind of support?

We hope that activities like those listed above will boost the productivity and professional development of researchers concerned with humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing. It is common for academics to engage in industry collaborations with outside companies or institutions to accelerate or amplify the impact of their work, and BERI is one such a company, but with humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing as its mission. Thus, we make it possible for university research groups to receive collaborative support from an outside institution (BERI) based on the group’s alignment with our mission, rather than alignment with a particular for-profit or political entity. Since it is not easy to find other companies with BERI’s mission, without BERI the support we freely provide is not likely to be provided by other companies.

In addition to boosting productivity, we hope that the support BERI provides will help make the difference, to some researchers, between feeling like an academic with no outside support versus feeling a deep sense of encouragement from one’s surrounding social context. Support from BERI means someone is going above and beyond to help you in your work, because they value and believe in the charitable impact of what you’re trying to do.

What areas of research is BERI most interested in supporting?

BERI is currently open to supporting research groups in any area who are motivated by humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing. We currently select the groups we collaborate with based on the collective judgement of BERI’s Board of Directors, with influences from BERI’s advisors and trusted sources of funding.

How is BERI different from a university?

What can BERI bring to a collaboration that universities don’t already have?

University administrations tend to be configured to support research and education in an equitable manner that is cause-agnostic, and have healthy “immune systems” to prevent administrative resources from being re-purposed to serve a particular cause area. This is important for maintaining a fair and diverse representation of views within the education system. As a result, administrative requests within a university often cannot be escalated or expedited merely on the basis that they will have a positive impact on a particular cause area.

That’s where BERI comes in. BERI is not cause agnostic, and can serve as a source of additional administrative support that is responsible for serving the long-term survival and flourishing of humanity, according to the best collective judgement of our board of directors, advisors, and major funders in choosing which groups we support.

How does BERI decide what to prioritize within a collaboration?

When establishing a collaboration with a new research group, we ask the leader or leaders of the group to appoint a “BERI Liaison”, a person within their group who can speak for the interests of the group as it pertains to collaborating with BERI. If the liaison approves a request to BERI from anyone within their group, we trust that the request is a valuable service to our work with that group, and go about trying to fulfill the request using our available resources as a public charity. In particular, we defer to the liaison to familiarize with what is and is not appropriate for them to get an outside institution to help them with. On the flip side, it’s our job to know what’s appropriate for BERI to do as a public charity. In particular, requests to BERI must always be work-related.

What are BERI’s limitations?

Generally speaking, BERI is able to pay for things that Universities can pay for, and sometimes more. But, BERI can’t do things that aren’t appropriate for a public charity to do. Below are some examples to give you a sense of what this means:

  • BERI can’t do things that are sufficiently unrelated to your work that they would normally be considered an individual’s responsibility as a natural person. For instance,
    • BERI can’t do people’s household chores for them, because that is something that individual persons are expected to pay for with their own post-tax earnings.
    • BERI can’t provide transportation from a person’s home to their normal place of work, as this is generally seen as an individual’s personal responsibility. We can provide transportation between work meetings, though, or to places that aren’t the individual’s normal place of work.
  • BERI can’t buy a large number of books that would accrue profits to an entity that would create a conflict of interest with BERI leadership, because BERI is not-for-profit.
  • BERI can’t pay an unreasonably high prices for products or services that could easily be obtained more cheaply at the same level of quality, as this is considered unfair to BERI’s donors and to taxpayers.

If you’re a BERI collaborator and you’re unsure as to whether BERI can do something for you, we encourage you to err on the side of asking, especially if you don’t mind hearing back with a “no, sorry we can’t do that.”

How does BERI detect misuse of its resources?

BERI achieves responsible spending in a similar way to a university: by collecting written statements of purpose, and sometimes following up with questions about those statements. For collaborations where a conflict of interest might arise with BERI leadership, we exercise additional due diligence.

BERI staff look for patterns in BERI’s expenditures that could constitute patterns of abuse, and follow up with questions. When the expenditures could constitute a conflict of interest with BERI leadership, we exercise additional due diligence.

How does BERI monitor its spending?

BERI maintains a separate budget for each of our collaborations, and track expenditures using Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP). We also try to be forthright with our collaborators about how much funding we have available to work with them, so that they have some sense of how much help they can ask for within the collaboration.

How does BERI handle intellectual property (IP)?

When collaborating with other public charities, such as universities, BERI concedes any intellectual property rights to our collaborators’ institutions. In research collaborations, we choose our partners for both their integrity and the importance of their work, and as such we defer all intellectual property decisions to them. This makes it easier for them to decide to collaborate with us, and benefit from our resources.

What is BERI’s information security policy regarding research outputs?

BERI does not require the research groups it supports through collaboration to be ready to provide all information about their work to BERI administrative staff or Board of Directors. This ensures that researchers can feel free to have ideas that they might feel would be irresponsible for them to immediately share with a stranger upon request. At its core, BERI is an administrative entity, and we are deferent to an outside ecosystem of funders and leaders at the universities we collaborate with that we trust to manage their ideas and information responsibly. BERI is open to criticism or concerns regarding this policy from anyone, via email to infosec-feedback@existence.org. We may not always respond to these emails, but we will read them all.

BERI’s history and future

Funding

So far, BERI has been funded by individually-sourced donations and grants, since its budget has been small enough not to warrant a public fundraiser. We may need to hold public fundraisers in the future, however.

How has BERI grown and developed over time?

With a couple of years of experience under our belt, and practice with varying levels of due diligence in our processes, BERI has identified university collaborations as an area of work where we can get a lot done in a scalable fashion. We aim to be a “yes we can” organization that can swiftly take on mission-relevant project ideas that come our way from present and future collaborators.

Future plans

In the long run, BERI’s mission statement leaves open the possibility that we might expand our activities in any way BERI’s leadership and major funders consider the best use of BERI’s resources for humanity’s long-term survival and flourishing. Our current expectation is that university collaborations are the best way for us to do this.

How to contact us

If you wish to leave us a message, you can email contact@existence.org. However, note that BERI is not currently engaged in much public communication, as we are currently focused on developing our own operations, and supporting researchers who have already been nominated to us by our affiliates. As such, you should expect a slow response if you try to contact us and you are not one of our funders or collaborators.