In 2020, BERI’s main focus will be almost exclusively on its collaborations program, which supports projects with CHAI, CSER, and FHI. I think collaboration with universities remains BERI’s greatest potential value-add to the world, and it’s the capacity that I’m most excited to see BERI maintain and expand. We will try to keep up with the existing responsibilities of BERI’s other programs, but will not be taking on new responsibilities, and are generally aiming to wind down non-collaboration activities. See this post for more information about the winding down of BERI’s grants program.

As a result of this narrowing of scope—as well as the hard work and dedication of present and past BERI staff toward streamlining BERI’s operations—there is now a lot less day-to-day work needed to fulfill BERI’s current responsibilities. In particular, in 2020, I expect many fewer meetings will be needed to discuss potential conflicts between future programs, and fewer organizational principles will be needed to prioritize between activity areas.

Since a number of BERI staff members are ready to transition to new job opportunities and are willing to make these transitions somewhat gradually, this presents a natural opportunity for BERI, which I’ll call “distillation and amplification” after a related concept developed in AI alignment.

The distillation phase works as follows: Before the end of 2020, BERI will reduce its core staff count to between 1 and 1.5 FTE. In particular, there will be one person whose job is to understand and manage the operation of all of BERI’s collaboration responsibilities. So, we’ll be trying to “distill” all the knowledge and skills necessary to operate BERI into that one person.

After this distillation, the remaining staff person will be in a very good position to judge—relatively independently, without turnaround delays for meetings or email exchanges between different ‘departments’ at BERI—what BERI is capable of doing in 2021, and how to do those things efficiently. At that point, if good opportunities for expanding BERI’s collaborations exist, we may attempt to enter an ‘amplification’ phase to hire additional people with a similar or complementary skill set for the purpose of expanding BERI’s university collaboration function.

The main person serving as BERI’s “distillation center” for the purpose of this plan will be Sawyer Bernath. That is to say, Sawyer will serve as employee #1 of the 1-1.5 FTE target that BERI is aiming for this year.

Two important things remain to be emphasized:

  • Throughout this process, BERI’s collaboration program will remain its top priority. This might mean we give less attention to certain other BERI programs (e.g., BSF support), but we remain dedicated to university collaborations as BERI’s primary purpose and priority.
  • This plan for 2020 is only made possible by the incredible goodwill and dedication of BERI’s past and present staff, board, and funders. I feel blessed for their support of BERI’s future, and of the existential safety cause area more broadly. If I’m wrong about the value of this process, the failure is my own. However, if I’m right, I’d very much like to thank BERI’s staff and funders for helping me to reach this conclusion and for being supportive of this phase of BERI’s development.

Thanks for reading!