The 4th edition of Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach came out this year. While the 3rd edition published in 2009 mentions the Singularity and existential risk, it's notable how much the 4th edition gives the alignment problem front-and-center attention as part of the introductory material (speaking in the authorial voice, not just "I.J. Good (1965) says this, Yudkowsky (2008) says that, Omohundro (2008) says this" as part of a survey of what various scholars have said). Two excerpts—
1.1.5 Beneficial machines
The standard model has been a useful guide for AI research since its inception, but it is probably not the right model in the long run. The reason is that the standard model assumes that we will supply a fully specified objective to the machine.
For an artificially defined task such as chess or shortest-path computation, the task comes with an objective built in—so the standard model is applicable. As we move into the real world, however, it becomes more and more difficult to specify the objective completely and correctly. For example, in designing a self-driving car, one might think that the objective is to reach the destination safely. But driving along any road incurs a risk of injury due to other errant drivers, equipment failure, and so on; thus, a strict goal of safety requires staying in the garage. There is a tradeoff between making progress towards the destination and incurring a risk of injury. How should this tradeoff be made? Furthermore, to what extent can we allow the car to take actions that would annoy other drivers? How much should the car moderate its acceleration, steering, and braking to avoid shaking up the passenger? These kinds of questions are difficult to answer a priori. They are particularly problematic in the general area of human–robot interaction, of which the self-driving car is one example.
The problem of achieving agreement between our true preferences and the objective we put into the machine is called the value alignment problem: the values or objectives put into the machine must be aligned with those of the human. If we are developing an AI system in the lab or in a simulator—as has been the case for most of the field's history—there is an easy fix for an incorrectly specified objective: reset the system, fix the objective, and try again. As the field progresses towards increasingly capable intelligent systems that are deployed in the real world, this approach is no longer viable. A system deployed with an incorrect objective will have negative consequences. Moreover, the more intelligent the system, the more negative the consequences.
Returing to the apparently unproblematic example of chess consider what happens if the machine is intelligent enough to reason and act beyond the confines of the chessboard. In that case, it might attempt to increase its chances of winning by such ruses as hypnotizing or blackmailing its opponent or bribing the audience to make rustling noises during its opponents thinking time.³ It might also attempt to hijack additional computing power for itself. These behaviors are not "unintelligent" or "insane"; they are a logical consequence of defining winning as the sole objective for the machine.
It is impossible to anticipate all the ways in which a machine persuing a fixed objective might misbehave. There is good reason, then, to think that the standard model is inadequate. We don't want machines that are intelligent in the sense of pursuing their objectives; we want them to pursue our objectives. If we cannot transfer those objectives perfectly to the machine, tghen we need a new formulation—one in which the machine is pursuing our objectives, but is necessarily uncertain as to what they are. When a machine knows that it doesn't know the complete objective, it has an incentive to act cautiously, to ask permission, to learn more about our preferences through observation, and to defer to human control. Ultimately, we want agents that are provably beneficial to humans. We will return to this topic in Section 1.5.
And in Section 1.5, "Risks and Benefits of AI"—
At around the same time, concerns were raised that creating artificial superintelligence or ASI—intelligence that far surpasses human ability—might be a bad idea (Yudkowsky, 2008; Omohundro 2008). Turing (1996) himself made the same point in a lecture given in Manchester in 1951, drawing on earlier ideas from Samuel Butler (1863):¹⁵
It seems probably that once the machine thinking method had started, it would not take long to outstrip our feeble powers. ... At some stage therefore we should have to expect the machines to take control, in the way that is mentioned in Samuel Butler's Erewhon.
These concerns have only become more widespread with recent advances in deep learning, the publication of books such as Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom (2014), and public pronouncements from Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Martin Rees, and Elon Musk.
Experiencing a general sense of unease with the idea of creating superintelligent machines is only natural. We might call this the gorilla problem: about seven million year ago, a now-extinct primate evolved, with one branch leading to gorillas and one to humans. Today, the gorillas are not too happy about the human branch; they have essentially no control over their future. If this is the result of success in creating superhuman AI—that humans cede control over their future—then perhaps we should stop work on AI and, as a corollary, give up the benefits it might bring. This is the essence of Turing's warning: it is not obvious that we can control machines that are more intelligent than us.
If superhuman AI were a black box that arrived from outer space, then indeed it would be wise to exercise caution in opening the box. But it is not: we design the AI systems, so if they do end up "taking control," as Turing suggests, it would be the result of a design failure.
To avoid such an outcome, we need to understand the source of potential failure. Norbert Weiner (1960), who was motivated to consider the long-term future of AI after seeing Arthur Samuel's checker-playing program learn to beat its creator, had this to say:
If we use, to achieve our purposes, a mechanical agency with whose operation we cannot interfere effectively ... we had better be quite sure that the purpose put into the machine is the purpose which we really desire.
Many cultures have myths of humans who ask gods, genies, magicians, or devils for something. Invariably, in these stories, they get what they literally ask for, and then regret it. The third wish, if there is one, is to undo the first two. We will call this the King Midas problem: Midas, a legendary King in Greek mythology, asked that everything he touched should turn to gold, but then regretted it after touching his food, drink, and family members.¹⁶
We touched on this issue in Section 1.1.5, where we pointed out the need for a significant modification to the standard model of putting fixed objectives into the machine. The solution to Weiner's predicament is not to have a definite "purpose put into the machine" at all. Instead, we want machines that strive to achieve human objectives but know that they don't know for certain exactly what those objectives are.
It is perhaps unfortunate that almost all AI research to date has been carried out within the standard model, which means that almost all of the technical material in this edition reflects that intellectual framework. There are, however, some early results within the new framework. In Chapter 16, we show that a machine has a positive incentive to allow itself to be switched off if and only if it is uncertain about the human objective. In Chapter 18, we formulate and study assistance games, which describe mathematically the situation in which a human has an objective and a machine tries to achieve it, but is initially uncertain about what it is. In Chapter 22, we explain the methods of inverse reinforcement learning that allow machines to learn more about human preferences from observations of the choices that humans make. In Chapter 27, we explore two of the principal difficulties: first, that our choices depend on our preferences through a very complex cognitive architecture that is hard to invert; and, second, that we humans may not have consistent preferences in the first place—either individually or as a group—so it may not be clear what AI systems should be doing for us.