Ranked problems

When you don’t know what to do with your life, you try to solve the most important problems.

And even if you do know what to do, you may want to consider going for the most important stuff.

Unless you have a very strong analytical toolbox, it’s hard to distinguish between the relative importance of, say, problem #3 and #4. They may seem like you could work on either one, as they are both extremely important. (You may still be able to distinguish between problem #3 and, say, #3458 – e.g. solving global poverty vs. solving pollution in a small creek in some village.)

If that’s the case, you may want to consider thinking about problems in tiers, instead of particular problems. For example, problems #1 – #10 are Tier A problems: AI alignment, global nuclear war, catastrophic climate change, pandemics, global poverty etc.

In that case, it’s okay to pick any of the Tier A problems, as they all have, more or less, the same importance class. Then, you could think about picking the problem that you have the most chance do be successful at.

For example, if you’re a brilliant mathematician, you could work on AI alignment instead of global poverty, as this is a better use of your existing talent. Talented people can always “make it work” in a lot of fields, but here, you probably should be picky, and choose the thing that allows you to be most useful, considering your competitive advantage.

What if you have no competitive advantage? What if you’re fresh out of school, relatively good in a lot of things, but not a specialist in any, and without a track record or experience to point you towards a certain problem? You could:

  • filter by most important
  • filter by easiest

You could either work on what seems to be the most pressing issue even within Tier A, or you could choose the strategy of picking the lowest hanging fruit. Like, if you have a 2% shot to solve AI, but a 75% shot to solve global poverty, it’s an obvious choice. You should probably look outside Tier A if you have very large chances of solving things. (How you know what your chances are is your best informed guess – the stronger your analytical toolbox, the better the guess will be.)

And what if you have no clue whatsoever and you don’t even know how you would start in any of the most pressing problems, regardless of the important/easy filter? Then you go get skills and knowledge that can be used in a wide area, and that’s a necessary precondition for you doing something in Tier A. You go serious with self-improvement. And in this case, self-improvement is not a consequence of you doing quests – self-improvement is a quest of itself, a necessary level-up for you to even be offered the main quest lines.

In short, you should probably read this.

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