What Should I Do?

by paulfchristiano1 min read6th Apr 201131 comments


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I have been having some difficulty deciding what to do with my life. I'm not really ashamed or surprised, because the problem seems extremely difficult and worth getting right. I still don't really know. Here are some of my options, though I wouldn't be surprised if what I end up doing is not on the list. I thought I would share to elicit advice, to give some context to some of my recent remarks, and maybe to provide comparison for people in similar situations.

1. Research

I could do research in a university, or in a private research lab. Many fields have at least a few questions that seem important and interesting.

A. Theoretical Computer Science. I could work on collaborative learning, recommendation and reputation systems, distributed protocols, or anything else that might assist collaboration in the future. 

B. AI / Computational Cognitive Neuroscience. I could work on algorithms for inference and planning, to increase the probability that we develop comprehensible or human-like AI before something horrible happens (like developing incomprehensible strong AI).

C. Neuroscience. I know almost nothing about this field, but technology for measuring and interfacing with the brain appears to be important and developing rapidly. I don't know how hard it would be to start working in the field, but I suspect that the connection to computer science is strong enough at MIT that it wouldn't be impossible.

2. Start a company

This seems way harder, but I am sufficiently arrogant and risk-neutral that I consider it a reasonable option. In particular, this is what I would do if I decided that making money as efficiently as possible and giving it away

A. Tech company. If I had to guess based on the currently available evidence, I would guess that this is the way to maximize my expected earnings.

B. Online Education. I would like to take a shot at designing materials for online education of smart, significantly underserved, high school students.

3. Cooperate with Other Rationalists

A. Work for a rational charity. Self-explanatory. Probably worse than earning a lot of money and giving away.

B. Start a rational charity. Probably worse than supporting an existing charity.

C. Work for a rational start-up. Can't really arrange this one; but optimistically it could happen if you were prepared (someone else does 2).

4. Be a Hobbyist

I could also simply try and earn a living as quickly as possible (rather than making as much excess as possible, or having a more structured way of doing good) and do work on the side. I don't think this is a good idea.

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