What I Want To Do With My Life
Sometimes, people ask me what I want to do with my life. Usually, I say something like “I dunno, currently deciding between industry and grad school.” This answer is not technically false, but it is not the whole truth either.
The first deception is that my answer doesn’t answer the question - “becoming a software engineer” or “getting a PhD” are goals that I only care about in relation to other goals. It’s important to remember that the things you want are distinct from the actions you take to get what you want. You take actions because they have consequences; if the consequences change, then the action might no longer be valuable.
The second deception is that I do know, and have known, what I want to do with my life for a while. I don’t know with certainty, but I have good guesses; I cannot paint you a detailed picture of my utopia, but I can point to some things and say “probably close to this” and other things and say “probably not that”.
I don’t want disease or illness or death. I don’t want extreme forms of suffering or pain. I don’t want loneliness or heartbreak or boredom. I do want happiness and joy and love. I want excitement and adventure and compassion. I want people to get what they want - for them to flourish and thrive.
Some parts are confusing. I don’t want everyone to get everything they want without any struggle. Some struggle seems necessary for growth; some pain necessary for completeness. I want people to be able to have meaningful accomplishments, implying the possibility of failure. I want people to be able to chose, which means they must be free to choose wrongly.
But the confusion lies at the boundaries - relevant if I were remaking the world, but not relevant to seeing its current flaws. There are good moments, bad moments, and moments in between; I want to make more of the good ones and less of the bad ones - the in-between moments can be dealt with later.
Humanity has come far and we have a long road ahead. However, the things that we hold dear are in peril. The future hangs in balance - not by a thread, but far less secure than is comfortable. If nothing is done, the Earth might not be around for the children’s children or the children’s children’s children. I may be a little confused by what I want, but I definitely don’t want this.
The details of what I believe we can currently do about this have filled multiple books, although none that I’ve written (yet). The Precipice by Toby Ord outlines many of the broad strokes of why I believe what I believe and why I act the way I act. Human Compatible by Stuart Russell dives deeper into a risk that I’m particularly concerned by. If you want to read any of these book and can commit to talking to me about them, I will gladly buy you a copy.
The true answer to original question is “I want to save the world”. Sometimes, I consider the enormity of this task and despair; luckily, I am not alone. The only thing more powerful than a single human is a group of human beings. The movement known as Effective Altruism is a group of people also trying to save the world. If you would like to join us, we would love to have you - if the chance that one person can save the world is one in a million, then there had better be a whole lot more than million people trying. The world isn’t going to save itself.