This is part of a weekly reading group on Nick Bostrom's book, Superintelligence. For more information about the group, and an index of posts so far see the announcement post. For the schedule of future topics, see MIRI's reading guide.
Welcome. This week we discuss the nineteenth section in the reading guide: post-transition formation of a singleton. This corresponds to the last part of Chapter 11.
This post summarizes the section, and offers a few relevant notes, and ideas for further investigation. Some of my own thoughts and questions for discussion are in the comments.
There is no need to proceed in order through this post, or to look at everything. Feel free to jump straight to the discussion. Where applicable and I remember, page numbers indicate the rough part of the chapter that is most related (not necessarily that the chapter is being cited for the specific claim).
Reading: : “Post-transition formation of a singleton?” from Chapter 11
- Even if the world remains multipolar through a transition to machine intelligence, a singleton might emerge later, for instance during a transition to a more extreme technology. (p176-7)
- If everything is faster after the first transition, a second transition may be more or less likely to produce a singleton. (p177)
- Emulations may give rise to 'superorganisms': clans of emulations who care wholly about their group. These would have an advantage because they could avoid agency problems, and make various uses of the ability to delete members. (p178-80)
- Improvements in surveillance resulting from machine intelligence might allow better coordination, however machine intelligence will also make concealment easier, and it is unclear which force will be stronger. (p180-1)
- Machine minds may be able to make clearer precommitments than humans, changing the nature of bargaining somewhat. Maybe this would produce a singleton. (p183-4)
Many of the ideas around superorganisms come from Carl Shulman's paper, Whole Brain Emulation and the Evolution of Superorganisms. Robin Hanson critiques it:
...It seems to me that Shulman actually offers two somewhat different arguments, 1) an abstract argument that future evolution generically leads to superorganisms, because their costs are generally less than their benefits, and 2) a more concrete argument, that emulations in particular have especially low costs and high benefits...
...On the general abstract argument, we see a common pattern in both the evolution of species and human organizations — while winning systems often enforce substantial value sharing and loyalty on small scales, they achieve much less on larger scales. Values tend to be more integrated in a single organism’s brain, relative to larger families or species, and in a team or firm, relative to a nation or world. Value coordination seems hard, especially on larger scales.
This is not especially puzzling theoretically. While there can be huge gains to coordination, especially in war, it is far less obvious just how much one needs value sharing to gain action coordination. There are many other factors that influence coordination, after all; even perfect value matching is consistent with quite poor coordination. It is also far from obvious that values in generic large minds can easily be separated from other large mind parts. When the parts of large systems evolve independently, to adapt to differing local circumstances, their values may also evolve independently. Detecting and eliminating value divergences might in general be quite expensive.
In general, it is not at all obvious that the benefits of more value sharing are worth these costs. And even if more value sharing is worth the costs, that would only imply that value-sharing entities should be a bit larger than they are now, not that they should shift to a world-encompassing extreme.
On Shulman’s more concrete argument, his suggested single-version approach to em value sharing, wherein a single central em only allows (perhaps vast numbers of) brief copies, can suffer from greatly reduced innovation. When em copies are assigned to and adapt to different tasks, there may be no easy way to merge their minds into a single common mind containing all their adaptations. The single em copy that is best at doing an average of tasks, may be much worse at each task than the best em for that task.
Shulman’s other concrete suggestion for sharing em values is “psychological testing, staged situations, and direct observation of their emulation software to form clear pictures of their loyalties.” But genetic and cultural evolution has long tried to make human minds fit well within strongly loyal teams, a task to which we seem well adapted. This suggests that moving our minds closer to a “borg” team ideal would cost us somewhere else, such as in our mental agility.
On the concrete coordination gains that Shulman sees from superorganism ems, most of these gains seem cheaply achievable via simple long-standard human coordination mechanisms: property rights, contracts, and trade. Individual farmers have long faced starvation if they could not extract enough food from their property, and farmers were often out-competed by others who used resources more efficiently.
With ems there is the added advantage that em copies can agree to the “terms” of their life deals before they are created. An em would agree that it starts life with certain resources, and that life will end when it can no longer pay to live. Yes there would be some selection for humans and ems who peacefully accept such deals, but probably much less than needed to get loyal devotion to and shared values with a superorganism.
Yes, with high value sharing ems might be less tempted to steal from other copies of themselves to survive. But this hardly implies that such ems no longer need property rights enforced. They’d need property rights to prevent theft by copies of other ems, including being enslaved by them. Once a property rights system exists, the additional cost of applying it within a set of em copies seems small relative to the likely costs of strong value sharing.
Shulman seems to argue both that superorganisms are a natural endpoint of evolution, and that ems are especially supportive of superorganisms. But at most he has shown that ems organizations may be at a somewhat larger scale, not that they would reach civilization-encompassing scales. In general, creatures who share values can indeed coordinate better, but perhaps not by much, and it can be costly to achieve and maintain shared values. I see no coordinate-by-values free lunch...
1. The natural endpoint
Bostrom says that a singleton is natural conclusion of long-term trend toward larger scales of political integration (p176). It seems helpful here to be more precise about what we mean by singleton. Something like a world government does seem to be a natural conclusion to long term trends. However this seems different to the kind of singleton I took Bostrom to previously be talking about. A world government would by default only make a certain class of decisions, for instance about global level policies. There has been a long term trend for the largest political units to become larger, however there have always been smaller units as well, making different classes of decisions, down to the individual. I'm not sure how to measure the mass of decisions made by different parties, but it seems like the individuals may be making more decisions more freely than ever, and the large political units have less ability than they once did to act against the will of the population. So the long term trend doesn't seem to point to an overpowering ruler of everything.
2. How value-aligned would emulated copies of the same person be?
Bostrom doesn't say exactly how 'emulations that were wholly altruistic toward their copy-siblings' would emerge. It seems to be some combination of natural 'altruism' toward oneself and selection for people who react to copies of themselves with extreme altruism (confirmed by a longer interesting discussion in Shulman's paper). How easily one might select for such people depends on how humans generally react to being copied. In particular, whether they treat a copy like part of themselves, or merely like a very similar acquaintance.
The answer to this doesn't seem obvious. Copies seem likely to agree strongly on questions of global values, such as whether the world should be more capitalistic, or whether it is admirable to work in technology. However I expect many—perhaps most—failures of coordination come from differences in selfish values—e.g. I want me to have money, and you want you to have money. And if you copy a person, it seems fairly likely to me the copies will both still want the money themselves, more or less.
From other examples of similar people—identical twins, family, people and their future selves—it seems people are unusually altruistic to similar people, but still very far from 'wholly altruistic'. Emulation siblings would be much more similar than identical twins, but who knows how far that would move their altruism?
Shulman points out that many people hold views about personal identity that would imply that copies share identity to some extent. The translation between philosophical views and actual motivations is not always complete however.
3. Contemporary family clans
Family-run firms are a place to get some information about the trade-off between reducing agency problems and having access to a wide range of potential employees. Given a brief perusal of the internet, it seems to be ambiguous whether they do better. One could try to separate out the factors that help them do better or worse.
4. How big a problem is disloyalty?
I wondered how big a problem insider disloyalty really was for companies and other organizations. Would it really be worth all this loyalty testing? I can't find much about it quickly, but 59% of respondents to a survey apparently said they had some kind of problems with insiders. The same report suggests that a bunch of costly initiatives such as intensive psychological testing are currently on the table to address the problem. Also apparently it's enough of a problem for someone to be trying to solve it with mind-reading, though that probably doesn't say much.
5. AI already contributing to the surveillance-secrecy arms race
6. SMBC is also pondering these topics this week
If you are particularly interested in these topics, and want to do further research, these are a few plausible directions, some inspired by Luke Muehlhauser's list, which contains many suggestions related to parts of Superintelligence. These projects could be attempted at various levels of depth.
- What are the present and historical barriers to coordination, between people and organizations? How much have these been lowered so far? How much difference has it made to the scale of organizations, and to productivity? How much further should we expect these barriers to be lessened as a result of machine intelligence?
- Investigate the implications of machine intelligence for surveillance and secrecy in more depth.
- Are multipolar scenarios safer than singleton scenarios? Muehlhauser suggests directions.
- Explore ideas for safety in a singleton scenario via temporarily multipolar AI. e.g. uploading FAI researchers (See Salamon & Shulman, “Whole Brain Emulation, as a platform for creating safe AGI.”)
- Which kinds of multipolar scenarios would be more likely to resolve into a singleton, and how quickly?
- Can we get whole brain emulation without producing neuromorphic AGI slightly earlier or shortly afterward? See section 3.2 of Eckersley & Sandberg (2013).
How to proceed
This has been a collection of notes on the chapter. The most important part of the reading group though is discussion, which is in the comments section. I pose some questions for you there, and I invite you to add your own. Please remember that this group contains a variety of levels of expertise: if a line of discussion seems too basic or too incomprehensible, look around for one that suits you better!
Next week, we will talk about the 'value loading problem'. To prepare, read “The value-loading problem” through “Motivational scaffolding” from Chapter 12. The discussion will go live at 6pm Pacific time next Monday 26 January. Sign up to be notified here.