BERI has only been around for nine months, but we’ve already learned about significantly more needs than our current capacity can support. We’ve encountered many ideas that we believe would be great to execute, such as providing additional computational resources to x-risk oriented PhD students, hiring writers and editors for influential publications, investigating grant opportunities for our grants program. We feel almost as if BERI’s existence has “raised an antenna” which receives requests for help on x-risk reduction projects—and those requests are coming in rapidly.
In light of the level of demand for support that BERI has been receiving from the “x-risk ecosystem”, we believe we should try to become more growth-oriented over the course of the next year. In other words, we want to increase the number of projects we can take on and execute. BERI wants to become a “yes we can” organization that can swiftly support the many thoughtful and caring individuals who want to kick off low-externality, high-upside projects to reduce x-risk.
Doing this will require some degree of organizational maturation. In particular, we don’t yet have any full-time staff to get the ball rolling on all our incoming requests, so we are planning to hire at least one full-time project manager (job posting) over the next few months.
Furthermore, to accommodate these additional activities, we will need to hire an operations and finance manager (job posting) to handle accounting, onboarding, and other “backbone” activities that strengthen BERI’s institutional legitimacy, as we transition our current operations manager to focus more on writing projects.
The importance of organizational growth as a goal
To improve the world’s capacity for reducing existential risk, we believe it’s important to offer robust, x-risk-focused, growth-oriented career paths. This means new institutions are needed that:
can provide stable career opportunities,
are devoted to the mission of reducing x-risk, and
can scale with the competence and mission-orientation of their employees.
This last point is important: as x-risk-motivated individuals embark on career paths devoted to reducing x-risk, they gain competence and learn that they can manage larger, more impactful projects than when they started. If organizations fail to expand their capacity to match the growing capacities of their employees, teams will fragment as mission-driven employees leave to seek better opportunities for impact.
Thus, BERI has adopted the following stance toward growth: we will attempt to scale our capacity for projects to match our employees’ mission-driven career growth. This means that we need:
Operations work to enable us to grow both efficiently and ethically, and
Full-time responsiveness to incoming requests.
We expand upon these points below.
How operations work enables ethical growth
In order for an organization to increase the scale and number of its projects, additional accounting, legal, and infrastructural work becomes necessary. High-quality operations work is not necessary merely because it enables an expansion of an organization’s activity, but because it enables that expansion to happen in an ethical way. This principle is so fundamental that scalable oversight has been named as a fundamental research problem in artificial intelligence research (news article; arxiv paper).
There are two primary groups whose oversight of BERI we want to enable as we scale, so that we honor our ethical obligation to be transparent to those groups:
Our direct supporters, such as donors, and
Our governing bodies, such as the IRS.
Transparency to our supporters is important. We want them to be able to verify that we’re using their resources wisely as we expand. For example, they should be able to check that we’re being careful about hiring skilled, mission-oriented employees, we’re spending their money efficiently, and we’re taking on mission-relevant projects. Our operations work allows us to convey our activities more clearly to supporters (e.g., good accounting helps our donors see how we’re spending their money).
However, transparency to donors and direct supporters is not all that matters. Transparency to our governing bodies is also ethically important to us, and we believe this principle is too often neglected. Activities like following legal best practices, which make us more transparent to the governing bodies that enable our existence, are virtuous and ethically powerful.
After all, BERI is a sort of artificial intelligence—albeit a very slow one—built out of some combination of humans and the agreements between them. By adhering to high-quality accounting and legal practices, we make ourselves an example of the sort of agent that is transparent enough for humanity to want to build it. Our executive director (Andrew Critch) has spent considerable time thinking about how intelligent systems can deserve the trust of other agents (technical post / non-technical post), and feels strongly that such best practices are necessary for BERI to be deserving of trust from the public.
BERI is therefore seeking additional operations staff (job posting) who are excited to form the “organizational backbone” needed for BERI to “get things done” in a transparent and accountable way. This work will create an opportunity for BERI to safely and legitimately take on more projects in service of x-risk reduction.
The importance of full-time responsiveness
Because there is high-uncertainty as to how soon existential risks from emerging technologies could manifest, BERI prefers to be able to respond quickly to incoming requests to assist or enable new projects to reduce x-risk. Responding quickly and reliably reduces our collaborators’ uncertainty about whether projects will move forward, which lowers the activation barrier to getting good ideas off the ground.
This means we need highly responsive, full-time staff who are available during business hours to “keep the ball rolling” on outward-facing activities like hiring, recruitment, and communications with the groups and individuals contacting us for help. However, BERI started out as “a small initiative […] operated on a volunteer and part-time basis by a handful of individuals with other part-time or full-time jobs” (source). We now recognize a need to re-orient toward hiring at least one full-time staff member who can serve as a central point of communication & coordination, internally and externally, and possibly more as long as demand for additional work to reduce x-risk continues to exist.
We want to be clear that these changes will not represent a change in our mission; BERI’s purpose will remain the same. If we do succeed in hiring full-time staff, we will update our homepage to reflect that we are no longer operated entirely on a part-time basis. But to avoid contributing to the illusion that more full-time work is being carried out in service of existential risk than is actually the case, we want to remain modest in our self-description until we actually succeed in expanding.
So, as we grow, we are looking for individuals who will join our team, not for what we claim to be, but for what we hope to become. If you or someone you know might be that sort of person, please apply or share this post.