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At 29 years old, Sam Bankman-Friedis estimated by Forbes to have amassed a fortune of $8.7 billion. This was no accident. Sam began his career with the explicit strategy of earning as much as possible so that he could give it all away. He’s now half-way there, having earned his billions working as a quantitative trader at Jane Street and through founding Alameda Research and FTX. What gave him this idea? Sam’s career strategy came from a talk by Oxford philosopher Will MacAskill, co-founder of 80,000 Hoursand founding figure of the effective altruism movement.
In the talk, Will introduced some of the ideas behind 80,000 Hours, a non-profit that provides career advice based on its research into which career paths have the largest positive social impact. Hence the name – there are roughly 80,000 hours in an average career. The question is: how should you spend all that time?
80,000 Hours has investigated a number of career paths that have the potential to be an effective method of doing good, such as research, government policy or working at an effective non-profit. Of course, which career is best depends on your personal fit. Sam’s quantitative background at MIT made him a strong candidate to “earn to give” as a trader, one of the strategies Will mentioned in his talk. While 80,000 Hours has since stressed that this is only the best option for a small proportion of people, it’s worked for Sam.
Another success story in the crypto-world is Vitalik Buterin, inventor of Ethereum and now the youngest crypto-billionaire. Other than success in crypto, what links him with Sam is his interest in donating his wealth according to the principles of effective altruism. Effective altruism is a movement focused on using careful reasoning and evidence to determine how to do the most good and, importantly, taking action. 80,000 Hours was one of the first effective altruist organisations and the movement has now inspired students, young professionals (and a few billionaires) to use their resources and careers to help others.
Both Sam and Vitalik choose where to give by using the effective altruist framework of focusing on causes that are neglected, tractable and important. In an interview with Greg Ugwi, Sam says: “part of that is looking at global health charities, and which of them can save the most lives” and another area of interest is how “we can push the world in a positive direction” for example by “combatting new emerging technologies” especially those that pose global catastrophic risks. Similarly, Vitalik is one of the largest donors to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute, a non-profit research organisation aiming to reduce risks posed by artificial-intelligence.
A few years after Sam started his career as a trader, The 80,000 Hours Podcast launched with its host, Rob Wiblin. Rob, an Aussie who topped his cohort at Australian National University, interviews experts working in areas ranging from climate change to artificial intelligence. The show’s unusual length brings listeners to the cutting edge of research into the world’s most pressing problems. Though usually two to three hours long, one of the most popular episodes is an interview with one of the world’s greatest living philosophers, David Chalmers, that covers just under five hours of gripping discussion on the nature of consciousness.
The podcast’s appeal is clear. Anyone who wants to have an impact in their career will find something of value. If you’re into politics, they recently interviewed a big name in the podcasting world, founder of Vox Media and columnist for the New York Times, Ezra Klein. If tech’s your thing (and it probably is if you’re here), listen to Helen Toner on emerging technology or Nina Schick on disinformation and the rise of synthetic media. There’s also a top ten list to help new listeners get an understanding of the organisation’s work.
Aside from the podcast, I also recommend checking out its key ideas. There’s no guarantee you’ll become a billionaire philanthropist (or if there is, I’m still waiting for my cheque!) but you will gain insights into making a positive impact that could change your life.