Todd’s nonprofit 80,000 Hours helps new grads and experienced pros alike have greater impact by helping solve the world’s most urgent but neglected problems.
Todd’s nonprofit 80,000 Hours helps new grads and experienced pros alike have greater impact by helping solve the world’s most urgent but neglected problems.
About Benjamin Todd: How To Do What’s Valuable (No Matter What You Do)
Benjamin Todd is CEO and founder of the London-based nonprofit 80,000 Hours, which in my mind has one of the most interesting websites on the internet today.
The site bears that name because a typical career will take up about 80,000 years of your life. Which means that your choice of work may be the biggest single decision you make that most impacts the lives of others.
Helping People Find High-Impact Careers
Ben and his team at 80,000 hours set out to provide two interesting and valuable resources:
- A series of articles about the biggest threats facing our world now or in the near future. Ben has proven to be a thought leader in this area for identifying existential problems long before they made recent headlines. For example, as far back as a decade ago, the website listed both global pandemics and world nuclear power struggles as issues people need to pay more attention to.
- Guides for choosing a high-impact career path. They cover topics like the things people most often get wrong when trying to choose their own path, and how to avoid common pitfalls. 80,000 Hours goes even further and offers one-on-one coaching to people who want to make a difference.
Advice for the Experienced, Too
If all of this sounds like information that’s great for an undergrad but not necessarily useful to you, stay tuned. Ben also talks about how those of us who are mid-career or late-career might use their strategies for greater impact. You’ll be surprised by how many options there are.
Beyond that, Ben is simply a fascinating person. At Oxford University, he undertook a major to study physics and philosophy. This is someone who has thought deeply about life, our experience within it, and how to make it better for everyone on this journey. I invite you to tune in and hear his thoughts.
- Why following your interests is bad advice for choosing a career (26:05)
- Which global issues are most pressing – but neglected – and what you can do about it (20:01)
- The three questions to ask yourself to determine your best options for impacting the world, no matter what career stage you’re in (22:40)
- The impactful steps you can take that don’t include switching careers (24:10)
- What it means to study of physics and philosophy, and how these two seemingly different subjects intersect (2:55)
- The story of Sophie Rose, whose one-on-one work with 80,000 Hours led her to advocacy for a neglected solution to fighting future pandemics (31:08)
- The crazy good turn a teacher did for Ben during a difficult time in his life (34:15)
- How the Effective Altruism movement changed the course of Ben’s life (37:14)
My Sincere Thanks
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Benjamin Todd interview
BEN TODD: Great. Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.
FRANK BLAKE: Before we get into 80,000 Hours and the activities that you’re involved in, I want to ask just a question out of pure personal curiosity. So I go back to your time at Oxford and you graduated with degrees in both physics and philosophy. I have to say, in my mind, those are the two most difficult possible subjects. And so first, it’s, so, how, what got you to combine those?
BEN TODD: I ended up doing that partly, some things we might get into later, which is, I really didn’t know what I wanted to do. In the UK you have to choose just one major before you even start university, and I couldn’t choose. I actually applied to American universities so I could get out of having to pick a single subject. I spent a ton of effort on that and it didn’t quite work out. So I ended up staying in the UK. But then just kind of at that moment, I discovered physics and philosophy, which seemed like the perfect degree because it’s kind of like you could think of philosophy as the most kind of foundational humanities and then physics is the foundational science. So it allowed me to kind of have this real breadth which I found really fascinating.
FRANK BLAKE: Is there someone that you think of, a philosopher or anyone, that stands in that intersection of those two subjects whom you respect or admire?
BEN TODD: Well, yeah. The person who first came to mind was my tutor at university called David Wallace, who did a physics PhD, but then kind of realized he was more interested in the even more foundational questions. So he pivoted into philosophy and he became… Well, I think he just kind of really nailed the arguments for why the best interpretation of quantum mechanics is the many worlds interpretation. So if you want to get into go the deep end there, but it’s the idea that, when there’s a quantum phenomenon, what’s actually happening is the world is splitting into two and we end up in just one of those branches.
FRANK BLAKE: I’m not going to pretend to know quantum physics, but I’ve read enough about it to know that it is unbelievably confusing. The interesting thing to me, again, this is a bit of a side note from 80,000 Hours, is they do connect, because if I understand quantum physics, you have things people talk about, the Greek philosophers, come back in on quantum physics on what is time, what is motion and those things.
BEN TODD: Yeah. I know. Exactly. Physics used to be called natural philosophy when Newton was doing it. So it originally was a branch of philosophy. We would study what we called the kind of bridging subject, which is philosophy of physics, and it would cover a lot of questions like what is time, what is space, how should we understand quantum mechanics? But the other thing that really, just with that tutor, he wasn’t only really pioneering that field, but he really took a really keen interest in his students. It sounds very silly now, but we used to submit our essays in handwritten notes and then the tutors would kind of scribble over them and you wouldn’t really be able to read it or find the things, but he was a pioneer in, for instance, using a tablet so that you would have an electronic record and you’d have these really insightful notes at each point. I really valued how much attention he put into really helping his students.
FRANK BLAKE: Well, I know how difficult both subjects are. So congratulations to you. That’s quite amazing. On the more mundane side, if you would, for the folks who don’t–haven’t heard about 80,000 Hours, if you’d give a description of what 80,000 Hours does. I mean, it’s a podcast, it’s a blog, it’s personal advice. Give an overview of what it is.
BEN TODD: Yeah. In a line, we provide free research and supports to help people find careers tackling the world’s most pressing problems. More concretely, what we offer is exactly what you said. We have a couple of online guides which help people figure out, what does it even mean to make a difference with your career in the first place, and kind of just give people some new ideas about different ways you could contribute with your career. And then we have a podcast with in-depth interviews about how to tackle big pressing global problems, and then a job board, which we recently hit over 1,000 listings. So if you’re interested in working on the issues we highlight, there’s 1,000 jobs you can consider on that. And then finally, we have the one-on-one advice, which is more, then, to help you bring everything together, help advise on your individual plan, and then we make introductions to mentors and jobs and funding opportunities to help people actually switch paths.
FRANK BLAKE: What was the foundational thought that triggered 80,000 Hours?
BEN TODD: One way to say that is just with the name. So 80,000 hours is roughly how many hours you have in a typical working life. So over 40 years-
FRANK BLAKE: Your entire lifetime, you have 80,000…
BEN TODD: Roughly. Yeah. Yeah. If it’s investment banking then maybe a bit more. If you retire early. The foundational question is just, that’s a huge amount of time. So firstly, it’s really worth thinking about how to spend it best. If you would spend a couple of minutes debating where to go for dinner tonight, then the equivalent amount of time would be 4,000 hours researching and debating what career path to go down, just when scaled up. And the other kind of point is that, unless you happen to be the heir to a big fortune or something like that, then your time is probably the biggest resource you have to actually contribute to the world and make the world a better place. We really want people to be thinking, if they want to make a difference with their lives or they want to have an ethical life, then I think your choice of career is a thing that should be at the forefront of that. Whereas that’s often not how we think about it. Instead, when we think about living ethically, we might think about recycling or fair trade or being honest in our day-to-day lives. All those things can be important, but I really want people to think also, what are the biggest questions that I face and how can I make the most of them?
FRANK BLAKE: So this has been extraordinarily impactful and you’ve got some of the statistics that show that. Did you start out thinking, “Boy, there’s just a need for this. I know this is going to make an impact in the world”? Or the first few years it was, “Boy, no one’s paying any attention to this. What am I doing?” Tell us a little bit about the journey through that.
BEN TODD: So I was very lucky to come across this community at Oxford when I was a student there, which was called the Giving What We Can community. It was set up by a philosopher, Toby Ord, and Will MacAskill. They argued that if we donated to charities that were really carefully chosen, that could have a huge impact. So people in the group would pledge to give 10% of their income or more for life to the charities they thought were most effective. I saw Toby giving a talk about this and immediately decided to pledge 10% of my income, but there was a community of people doing this in Oxford. I got involved with that group and a lot of us started thinking, “Well, we’re students, so we’re going to graduate soon. What should we do with our careers?”
I was thinking that exact question and I volunteered to give a talk about it. Will MacAskill was in the room and he was also thinking about giving a talk on the same topic. It kind of shows how much it was on our minds. So we teamed up and put all of our thoughts about different ways to contribute and which ones might be most effective into a talk. In a sense, kind of, I think our first talk might have almost been our most successful. I think around 25 people went and maybe eventually about six kind of really changed their career plans, which is probably kind of the highest rates of major life changes.
FRANK BLAKE: Ratio, yeah.
BEN TODD: Yeah. Some of the folks at that talk asked us to start an organization based on it. We had that, where there was already that initial sign that there was some powerful ideas there, even just from the first talk.
FRANK BLAKE: Well, so first off, I hope all of our listeners spend some time on your website because I find it one of the most interesting websites I’ve been on and also very user-friendly. You break down categories and it’s easy to access content and you’ve got phenomenal content. One thing that you do that just earns you, to my mind, endless praise is you also admit things where 80,000 Hours might have gotten it wrong and you have a great section on anonymous questions. I am going to breach your anonymity and ask you some of these questions that, when I saw them, I thought, “This is brilliant. More people ought to be asking this of themselves.” And since you’re a site that helps people with their careers, one of the anonymous questions was, what is the thing that most people overrate in their careers?
BEN TODD: Maybe this is, in some ways, a bit of an obvious answer, but if you poll people about their biggest career priorities, they do often put money at the top. Obviously paying the bills is really important, but I think there’s now a lot of research that shows that money does make people happier, when people say it doesn’t matter, that’s also wrong, but it’s a relatively small effect. If someone would say, “Well, I’m seven out of 10 satisfied,” it turns out that if you then look at people who have twice as much income, they say they’re about seven and a half, 10 satisfied, which for kind of a whole doubling of income seems like quite a small gain to me. Whereas there’s a lot of other things that make a really big difference to happiness, like how engaging you find the work on a day to day basis. Do you get absorbed in it? Do you have a sense of flow? Do you like the people you work with? And do you find it meaningful? When you look back, do you think all that time was worthwhile? Those things all have a really big effect on how satisfied people end up saying they are with their careers. But I think it’s very easy to instead just focus on a very concrete number, which is salary.
FRANK BLAKE: Right. This was another one of the questions posed on your site. What do you think is underrated general life advice?
BEN TODD: I guess one would be focusing more on having an impact, which we can get into later. I mean, with just very general life advice, I have definitely taken the plunge into kind of the productivity world and tried to learn all the techniques and all those books and all that kind of stuff. But I think often, when I think about the stuff that’s made the biggest difference for me in terms of how good I feel, it’s just the really basic things like getting enough sleep.
FRANK BLAKE: I think that is brilliant. That’s absolutely true.
BEN TODD: Yeah. I put hanging out with friends and exercise… I mean, having a morning routine where I do some meditation, things like that.
FRANK BLAKE: So another thing that hugely commends you and your site is that you made an effort to list what you think some of the biggest problems in the world are. Not an easy thing to do. And impressive that well before COVID you had biological threats as a significant issue. So, I mean, maybe you want to describe a little bit how you got there, but it caused me to pause and say, “All right, if that’s one of the biggest issues, should it matter to us what the source of the virus was? Should it matter whether it was Wuhan or natural causes?”
BEN TODD: I think it definitely matters because, I mean, I don’t have a particular position on what caused COVID in particular, but looking forward, there is this research going on that could lead to more deadly viruses being developed. There’s a lot of dangerous compounds stored in labs around the world. Sometimes we don’t even know. I think there’s various cases of someone will open a freezer and they’ll find some smallpox still left in there, from the ’70s and we thought was all gone. But then all these labs have a long track record of having leaks. It’s not that likely, but there’s so many of them and over the years it really adds up.
So in the UK, there was the foot and mouth outbreak, which fortunately affected animals. But I think many millions of animals had to be killed because of this outbreak and it’s billions of dollars of costs. And that came from a leak from, I think it’s the top level security biolab in the UK. There was a review and they got a pretty small fine for what they’ve done wrong, and then just a couple of weeks later, another leak of foot and mouth happened again from the same lab. That time didn’t cause a pandemic, because it was stopped quickly enough. But these are supposed to be the most secure possible labs we have and they seem to kind of regularly fail. It’s a very high stakes game to be doing. It’s called gain of function research. I think I would prefer to see much less of that kind of thing until we can demonstrate that these labs are much safer than they seem to have been in the past.
FRANK BLAKE: What do you think it is about what you and your team do in terms of the clarity of your thinking or the breadth of your thinking that gets you to identifying biological risk as a top level risk when, frankly again, pre-COVID, if you had asked people to put a list of the major issues for society, that wouldn’t have been on most people’s list.
BEN TODD: One thing I should maybe say is on our list, we’re not just looking for the biggest issues, but we’re also looking for those that are neglected.
FRANK BLAKE: Okay. Fair enough.
BEN TODD: Whether society is making progress. Because that’s why you can make the biggest impact. It’s the kind of ratio of how important it is versus how many people are already working on it versus how easy it is to make progress. Kind of thinking about just scale in particular. One thing that’s different about us is we just are willing to, even if these questions seem almost impossible to answer, we’re willing to have a go. Just actually making an attempt, I think you can still learn a lot from even some very rough answers. And then I think another thing that’s different is we are willing to be a little bit quantitative and actually try and rather than just being like, “Well, the risk is low so we can ignore it,” actually try and think, “Well, what’s the risk every year? How might that add up over a couple of decades?”
And I think when you kind of zoom out and take that bigger picture perspective, it’s quite obvious that there have been big pandemics in the past and over our lifetimes, over the course of a career, it’s quite likely that there would be one. I think looking forward over the next 50 years, it’s likely there’s going to be more. There’s even arguments, I think, there’ll be more than in the past because the really interconnected world means viruses can spread much faster. And for the reasons we were just saying, it’s going to be possible that viruses could be created in the future that are more deadly than natural ones.
FRANK BLAKE: Is there a career path that you find your organization recommending more than any other and why is that?
BEN TODD: Yeah. So we were just talking about the list of problems and then supposing you kind of accept that list of problems, we then, kind of again in the spirit of just taking a rough attempt at a really difficult question, we also have a list of recommended careers. We have top 10 most highly recommended ones, and then we have another 30 or so which we call our sometimes recommended list. Those top 10, they tend to be some very competitive things. But if someone is really ambitious and up to focusing on impact, there’s some interesting things to think about. I mean, this is a whole other huge topic, but our top ranked one, currently, we call AI technical safety research. I don’t know how much you want to go into that.
But the idea is, if we think about over our lifetimes what might be the biggest change in the world… So this is when we think about there is pandemics and then there’s nuclear security, what might be the next thing that no one is really talking about? The thing that comes to mind the most, to me, is the transition to an economy that’s much more driven by artificial intelligence. And when you kind of zoom out and take a big picture perspective, that might be the most important thing in history that’s going to happen in our lifetimes, because it’s kind of a whole new… You have the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution and then there’s the intelligence revolution. So it’s this kind of potentially really pivotal moment, but there’s a lot of reasons to think that it might not turn out particularly well for us.
One of these, it’s called the challenge of AI alignment. So that’s like, how do you make sure that AI systems are aligned with human values as they get more and more powerful? That’s the challenge. And then the career path, one thing we need for that is just to build a research field of people in computer science tackling that question. This has been a really rapidly growing field the last five years or so. Anyone who’s a software engineer or studied computer science or also neuroscience, there can be their roles for that, then we’d encourage them to consider that as an option. There’s many other ways to help with that problem. But if you are fortunate to have that technical skill set, that’s one we’d really want people to consider.
FRANK BLAKE: A brilliant and huge, huge problem. Many of the people who listen to the podcasts are not early in their career, not making early career decisions, instead are in their 40s or 50s. We asked some of our listeners to give us questions before this podcast. The question that came in from Katherine Lawrence, one of our listeners.
KATHERINE LAWRENCE: Hello. My question is how your advice would change when shifting from being in an early stage of your career to a later stage?
Also, if someone is in retirement or they’re financially stable, how might your advice change for considering how best to make a difference with the skills or money that you have available to contribute. Thank you.
BEN TODD: Our advice does tend to be aimed at mostly people in their 20s, but the foundational ideas are the same no matter what stage of career you’re in. I mean, maybe use this as an opportunity to talk about our general framework for how can you figure out which options are highest impact for you? And we get people to focus on three key questions. So the first is which global problems are most pressing, which is a thing we’ve just been talking about. And second is, which parts could you take that would have the biggest contribution to those problems? And then the third is, what path fits you the best?
The kind of better your fit, the bigger your ways of contributing and the more pressing the problem, the more impact you can have. For someone who’s, say, midway through their career or in their 50s, how could they apply that framework? So then again, I would just get them to think, what problems in the world do they think are biggest and most neglected? And when you have that answer, then the second question would be, how could you use your skills to contribute to them to be most effective? The questions are exactly the same.
But the more practical way I’d get someone to go about it is to go and meet people who are working on those problems already and then, say, someone with my skillset, what might be my options for working on this issue? Younger people are, in a way, easier to advise because they’re much more similar, but as you get older, just everyone’s skill sets become different because you’ve got different experience. The advice has to get a lot more bespoke at that point. You kind of need to do a bit of legwork of going into these different issue areas and figuring out what roles there might be for you.
I mean, a couple of more general things to think about is if you’ve helped to build organizations, so you’ve worked in management or operations or finance, then there’s all these interesting nonprofits that you can find on our job board who are working on these issues and maybe there’s a way that your skills can help. Those are very transferable skills. Maybe you have some kind of professional network or platform of some kind, like a blog or known in your industry or something like that. A big thing you can do is maybe not change job, but it’s raise awareness of these. Find some ideas that you think are really important, but no one’s talking about and tell people about them or build a community around them. And then finally, if you’re already in a more highly paying career, you could also consider supporting people working on these issues through philanthropy.
There is this idea of this high-paid lawyer who works at the soup kitchen, volunteers at the soup kitchen at the weekend, which is a fulfilling thing to do. But with a lawyer’s salary, you could employ 10 people to run a soup kitchen by just donating a small fraction. If you find yourself in that position, you might be able to help a bunch of really talented young people get started in one of these career paths and stay in your job. You can consider all of these options, switching and supporting from within your current role. Just try to think through where your skills or what you can offer would be most impactful.
FRANK BLAKE: You’ve said in general that people are bad at determining what will make them happy. What do you see as some of the common mistakes that people make?
BEN TODD: Yeah. Well, one would be focusing a bit too much on money, like I said earlier. I think another big one in careers is kind of the standard philosophy of how to choose a career. It’s very focused on interests. A kind of classic exercise would be write out what you’re interested in, what your hobbies are, passions, and then try and find a job that matches those. That’s kind of standard recipe for finding a fulfilling career. But I think there’s a couple of problems with that. One is just, if you ask young people what their interests are, they say, sport, art, and music. And then in fact, because everyone is really interested in those things, that makes them the most competitive areas to succeed. Which makes it harder to get all the other things you want in a fulfilling job.
And then I think another big thing is people really underestimate how much their interests do change. There’s a study we talk about by Dan Gilbert, where he asks people, “Over the last 10 years, how much did you change?” So like what types of music were you into 10 years ago compared to now? And people typically say they’ve changed a lot. And then you ask them, “How much are you going to change the next 10 years?” And people kind of say, “No, I’m probably going to be into the same things in 10 years time.” But it’s not the case. We’re always changing and we really underestimate it.
I think people can actually just develop new interests more than they think they can. That’s why we encourage people to not focus as much on interests, but rather focus on doing something that’s important. And you can often find that if the work is engaging and you’re doing it with people you like and it’s for a meaningful goal, then it’s easy to become interested in new things. When I was a teenager, if you’d asked me, “Would you want to work in doing careers advice in the future?” I would’ve said that sounded really dull. But because the way it’s turned out and I really like working with my colleagues and I think it’s having an impact, that’s become something that I’m really interested in and passionate about.
FRANK BLAKE: What is the thing that gives you the most optimism as you interact with people and help them think through their jobs and careers?
BEN TODD: Well, I mean, so many people contact us who just really want to help. There’s a kind of idea out there that people are fundamentally selfish and it’s easier to get quite a kind of bleak picture of human nature, but we definitely see a lot of people out there who really care about making a difference and are willing to kind of make major changes to their life to do so. The kind of idea behind 80,000 Hours is, then there’s all these people, but they’re not getting all of the information and support they need to be as effective as they could be. And if we could get people focused on even more neglected problems and even bigger ways of contributing, then we could let all those people achieve far more good for the world than they would’ve been able to otherwise. There’s not only all these really kindhearted people out there, but it’s also going to be possible to achieve a lot more than has been possible in the past, I think, by really applying some of these ideas.
FRANK BLAKE: I love the fact that the site, you are so willing to kind of reflect on what goes well, what doesn’t go well, and you have reflected on things where 80,000 Hours can improve. If you said three to five years from now, what does 80,000 Hours look like? What are the changes you see making? What are those?
BEN TODD: A big one is just a lot of the people we want to reach have still not heard of us. We’re 10 years in. So one thing I would like to do is make sure we really reach all the students who might be interested and then get them reading our guides. There’s still a lot more we could do to improve the guides a lot more. And then we need to make sure our advising team is big enough to handle all of the calls.
FRANK BLAKE: How big is your team now?
BEN TODD: The whole team is about 17 or 18 full time staff. But three or so years ago, we were only speaking to about 250 people each year, one on one. But this year we expect to be at 1,200. We think we’d need to get to at least a couple of thousand per year to be serving our whole target audience.
FRANK BLAKE: And is it hard training those 17 people? This must be a tough thing to scale.
BEN TODD: That’s why, partly, we’ve been here for 10 years. In a way, only having 17 people after 10 years is quite a slow rate of growth. It has been hard to train each… Another big bottleneck is just finding the right people.
FRANK BLAKE: Right. I would think.
BEN TODD: Yeah. Often, if we find the right person, we can get them going within a few months, but we’ve kind of almost had to wait for our audience and community to grow along with us to get the talent pool of people able to hire.
FRANK BLAKE: Right. Is there a story, an example, an anecdote of someone interacting with 80,000 Hours that you go, “Yes, this is why I’m doing this.”
BEN TODD: Well, one I love, which we talk about on the site, is Sophie Rose, because she kind of illustrates all the ways we can help if it goes really well. She was considering becoming a doctor, just kind of you might think of a classic do-gooding career. We actually have this research where we really try and interrogate how many lives does a doctor actually save. Doctors do a lot of good compared to, I think, most jobs that you might take, but our estimate was it’s maybe saving about five lives over the course of a career in the UK.
FRANK BLAKE: That sounds like a lot.
BEN TODD: It’s a lot, but I think it’s a lot less than people might kind of think when they go into the path. She was kind of thinking about this and wondering, “Is there ways I could do more?” She came across our podcast about pandemics and how it’s likely there would be one in our lifetimes, but at the same time there’s very, very little prep done for one. I think in the U.S., the entire amount on healthcare is around a trillion a year, but we thought, at that time, it seemed like under 10 billion a year was spent globally on the pandemic. So it’s a factor of a hundred difference in how much attention was going into those, two issues, health in rich countries versus pandemics. And so she decided to transition and she spoke to us one-on-one and we helped her find funding to do a master’s in epidemiology.
Then when COVID started, she was already trained in the field and she was able to find this really neglected solution, which is called human challenge trial. It’s the idea of people can volunteer to be infected with COVID who are young and very unlikely to die. But it means that instead of a vaccine trial taking six months, which normally you just give people the vaccine and then you send them out into the world and wait for them to get COVID and it takes ages, instead you could compress it down into a few months. If we’d rolled this out, we would’ve been able to get the vaccines potentially a lot faster than we did and save millions of lives.
So she started this advocacy group of several tens of thousands of people who all volunteered to join a human challenge trial as a way to demonstrate that there was demand for this. It’s a thing we should consider in our toolkit for fighting pandemics. A trial, eventually, of this kind did eventually start in London. She founded this organization called 1Day Sooner along with some others she met through our community. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in time to help with COVID, but my hope is, if there’s another variant or another pandemic, then we’ll be able to take action on this kind of thing a lot faster than we did this time.
FRANK BLAKE: That’s extraordinary. That is phenomenal. If you were to say, in your life, who has done a crazy good turn for you, who is it? Who’s on that list for you?
BEN TODD: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, one idea that I was thinking about this morning was, when I moved schools around age 10 and I think I became a lot more shy just from the kind of moving city and moving school, and a couple of my teachers at that time noticed that. One was, I think he was called Mr. Dickens, and he tried to get me involved more socially with people. He could tell I was a pretty nerdy kid, as well, so he tried to get me involved with sports, but rather than actually doing sports, he got me to become the scorer for the cricket team. It’s the person who sits at the edge and takes notes of every shot that’s played and tallies up the score for the team. Cricket scoring is quite an arcane thing. There’s all these kind of symbols you have to learn and different shots have different numbers of points and they add up in different ways. So it was quite a kind of complex thing to be keeping track of. I got quite absorbed in that. I always kind of felt part of the team, though, in my own nerdy way.
FRANK BLAKE: That’s terrific. So as people listen and they go, “This is amazing. Someone’s dedicated his life to helping others find careers that make a bigger difference,” what would you suggest our listeners do, in addition to going to your website?
BEN TODD: Yeah, I mean, that really was what I was going to say. Think about you have 80,000 hours in your career. What might you be able to do with them that you’d think is meaningful? On the site, we have our key ideas series, which kind of introduces the big concepts. And then if those make sense to you, you can apply to get the one-on-one advice. Actually, something I should have said earlier is we’re a nonprofit. So everything on the site is free.
FRANK BLAKE: I will say to everyone listening, it is well worth the time. You can lose yourself on… I’m sure it’s not your intent to have just a fascinating site.
But it is a fascinating site. You tackle some of the most interesting questions, and as I say, are fearless in the intellectual approach to the questions and emotional approach to the questions. Really extraordinary.
BEN TODD: Yeah. And it means a lot because building that site has been a difficult, long process.
FRANK BLAKE: I’m thrilled at what you do in terms of helping people. But another crazy good turn that you do is just the effort to pull that all together and have those thought processes so that I may not agree with everything, but there aren’t many places that have the same “Boy, we’re just striving to make the world a better place and we’re tackling deep issue after deep issue.” Really fascinating. Who or what should the world know more about?
BEN TODD: Yeah. I’d say Toby Ord, who I mentioned earlier and his talk at Oxford, which is called Taking Charity Seriously, and you can find some versions of that on Google, that was the thing that really changed the course of my life. Our college, this is something very arcane, but our college chaplain used to host dinners in his room at college and we would sit on the floor and I sat there and we would eat lunch and I saw Toby talk. Like I said, I was immediately convinced. It just made so much sense to me.
Toby’s played a really big role in building the Effect Altruism movement, but a bit more behind the scenes in some ways. He’s not as well known as many others, but a really kind, but also super insightful person. He’s got this great book called The Precipice that I would really recommend if you’re interested in these issues like AI and pandemics and nuclear security. That book tackles all of those and puts it into the context of the whole future of civilization and some of the biggest questions.
FRANK BLAKE: Excellent. Excellent. And in addition to your website, are there other places where listeners should be staying current on your work or is that the main place?
BEN TODD: Yeah. For my work, I write a newsletter every month on the 80,000 Hours newsletter. And if people join the newsletter as well, we’ll mail them a free copy of either the old 80,000 Hours book or there’s two other books that you can get and one of them is The Precipice that I just mentioned. We’ll send you a physical copy. That’s a good place if you just want a monthly summary. And then if you want to more follow blow by blow, it’s mostly Twitter for me at this point.
FRANK BLAKE: And where on Twitter?
BEN TODD: So it’s Ben_J_Todd.
FRANK BLAKE: Perfect. Perfect. Well, I cannot thank you enough, first for what you’re doing, and second for taking the time with Crazy Good Turns because I think what you’re doing is a crazy good turn, really impressive. And I hope our listeners, as I say, spend time, not only on your site, but interacting with your team. Congratulations. Very cool.
BEN TODD: Great. Yeah. Thanks so much.
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