Holden Karnofsky's Singularity Institute Objection 3

byPaul Crowley7y11th May 20128 comments


The sheer length of GiveWell co-founder and co-executive director Holden Karnofsky's excellent critique of the Singularity Institute means that it's hard to keep track of the resulting discussion.  I propose to break out each of his objections into a separate Discussion post so that each receives the attention it deserves.

Objection 3: SI's envisioned scenario is far more specific and conjunctive than it appears at first glance, and I believe this scenario to be highly unlikely.

SI's scenario concerns the development of artificial general intelligence (AGI): a computer that is vastly more intelligent than humans in every relevant way. But we already have many computers that are vastly more intelligent than humans in some relevant ways, and the domains in which specialized AIs outdo humans seem to be constantly and continuously expanding. I feel that the relevance of "Friendliness theory" depends heavily on the idea of a "discrete jump" that seems unlikely and whose likelihood does not seem to have been publicly argued for.

One possible scenario is that at some point, we develop powerful enough non-AGI tools (particularly specialized AIs) that we vastly improve our abilities to consider and prepare for the eventuality of AGI - to the point where any previous theory developed on the subject becomes useless. Or (to put this more generally) non-AGI tools simply change the world so much that it becomes essentially unrecognizable from the perspective of today - again rendering any previous "Friendliness theory" moot. As I said in Karnofsky/Tallinn 2011, some of SI's work "seems a bit like trying to design Facebook before the Internet was in use, or even before the computer existed."

Perhaps there will be a discrete jump to AGI, but it will be a sort of AGI that renders "Friendliness theory" moot for a different reason. For example, in the practice of software development, there often does not seem to be an operational distinction between "intelligent" and "Friendly." (For example, my impression is that the only method programmers had for evaluating Watson's "intelligence" was to see whether it was coming up with the same answers that a well-informed human would; the only way to evaluate Siri's "intelligence" was to evaluate its helpfulness to humans.) "Intelligent" often ends up getting defined as "prone to take actions that seem all-around 'good' to the programmer." So the concept of "Friendliness" may end up being naturally and subtly baked in to a successful AGI effort.

The bottom line is that we know very little about the course of future artificial intelligence. I believe that the probability that SI's concept of "Friendly" vs. "Unfriendly" goals ends up seeming essentially nonsensical, irrelevant and/or unimportant from the standpoint of the relevant future is over 90%.