Crossposted from the AI Alignment Forum. May contain more technical jargon than usual.

I was part of a group that ran a PhilPapers-style survey and metasurvey targeting NLP researchers who publish at venues like ACL. Results are here (Tweet-thread version). It didn't target AGI timelines, but had some other questions that could be of interest to people here:

  • NLP is on a path to AGI: 58% agreed that Understanding the potential development of artificial general intelligence (AGI) and the benefits/risks associated with it should be a significant priority for NLP researchers.
    • Related: 57% agreed that Recent developments in large-scale ML modeling (such as in language modeling and reinforcement learning) are significant steps toward the development of AGI.
  • AGI could be revolutionary: 73% agreed that In this century, labor automation caused by advances in AI/ML could plausibly lead to economic restructuring and societal changes on at least the scale of the Industrial Revolution.
  • AGI could be catastrophic: 36% agreed that It is plausible that decisions made by AI or machine learning systems could cause a catastrophe this century that is at least as bad as an all-out nuclear war.
    • 46% of women and 53% of URM respondents agreed.
    • The comments suggested that people took a pretty wide range of interpretations to this, including things like OOD robustness failures leading to weapons launches.
  • Few scaling maximalists: 17% agreed that Given resources (i.e., compute and data) that could come to exist this century, scaled-up implementations of established existing techniques will be sufficient to practically solve any important real-world problem or application in NLP.
    • The metasurvey responses predicted that 47% would agree to this, so there are fewer scaling maximalists than people expected there to be.
  • Optimism about ideas from cognitive science: 61% agreed that It is likely that at least one of the five most-cited systems in 2030 will take clear inspiration from specific, non-trivial results from the last 50 years of research into linguistics or cognitive science. 
    • This strikes me as very optimistic, since it's pretty clearly false about the most cited systems today.
  • Optimism about the field: 87% agreed that On net, NLP research continuing into the future will have a positive impact on the world.
    • 32% of respondents who agreed that NLP will have a positive future impact on society also agreed that there is a plausible risk of global catastrophe.
  • Most NLP research is crap: 67% agreed that A majority of the research being published in NLP is of dubious scientific value.


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6 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 6:39 PM

This was really interesting, thanks for running and sharing! Overall this was a positive update for me. 

Results are here

I think this just links to PhilPapers not your survey results? 

Can you say more about how this was a positive update for you?

Sure! Prior to this survey I would have thought:

  1. Fewer NLP researchers would have taken AGI seriously, identified understanding its risks as a significant priority, and considered it catastrophic. 
    1. I particularly found it interesting that underrepresented researcher groups were more concerned (though less surprising in hindsight, especially considering the diversity of interpretations of catastrophe). I wonder how well the alignment community is doing with outreach to those groups. 
  2. There were more scaling maximalists (like the survey respondents did)

I was also encouraged that the majority of people thought the majority of research is crap.

...Though not sure how that math exactly works out. Unless people are self-aware of their publishing crap :P

Thanks! Fixed link.

Super interesting, thanks!

If you were running it again, you might want to think about standardizing the wording of the questions - it varies from 'will / is' to 'is likely' to 'plausible' and this can make it hard to compare between questions. Plausible in particular is quite a fuzzy word, for some it might mean 1% or more, for others it might just mean it's not completely impossible / if a movie had that storyline, they'd be okay with it.

Fair. For better or worse, a lot of this variation came from piloting—we got a lot of nudges from pilot participants to move toward framings that were perceived as controversial or up for debate.

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