I sometimes talk to people who are nervous about expressing concerns that AI might overpower humanity. It’s a weird belief, and it might look too strange to talk about it publicly, and people might not take us seriously.
How weird is it, though? Some observations (see Appendix for details):
- There are articles about AI risk in the NYT, CNBC, TIME, and several other mainstream news outlets. Some of these articles interview experts in the AI safety community, explicitly mention human extinction & other catastrophic risks, and call for government regulation.
- Famous People Who My Mom Has Heard Of™ have made public statements about AI risk. Examples include Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking.
- The leaders of major AI labs have said things like “[AI] is probably the greatest threat to the continued existence of humanity”. They are calling for caution, concerned about the rate of AI progress, openly acknowledge that we don’t understand how AI systems work, note that the dangers could be catastrophic, and openly call for government regulation.
Takeaway: We live in a world where mainstream news outlets, famous people, and the people who are literally leading AI companies are talking openly about AI x-risk.
I’m not saying that things are in great shape, or that these journalists/famous people/AI executives have things under control. I’m also not saying that all of this messaging has been high-quality or high-fidelity. I’m also not saying that there are never reputational concerns involved in talking about AI risk.
But next time you’re assessing how weird you might look when you openly communicate about AI x-risk, or how outside the Overton Window it might be, remember that some of your weird beliefs have been profiled by major news outlets. And remember that some of your concerns have been echoed by people like Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, and the people leading companies that are literally trying to build AGI.
I’ll conclude with a somewhat more speculative interpretation: short-term and long-term risks from AI systems are becoming more mainstream. This is likely to keep happening, whether we want it to or not. The Overton Window is shifting (and in some ways, it’s already wider than it may seem).
Appendix: Examples of AI risk arguments in the media/mainstream
I spent about an hour looking for examples of AI safety ideas in the media. I also asked my Facebook friends and some Slack channels. See below for examples. Feel free to add your own examples as comments.
This Changes Everything by Ezra Klein (NYT)
- “In a 2022 survey, A.I. experts were asked, “What probability do you put on human inability to control future advanced A.I. systems causing human extinction or similarly permanent and severe disempowerment of the human species?” The median reply was 10 percent.”
- “I find that hard to fathom, even though I have spoken to many who put that probability even higher. Would you work on a technology you thought had a 10 percent chance of wiping out humanity?
Why Uncontrollable AI Looks More Likely Than Ever (TIME Magazine)
- “Once an AI has a certain goal and self-improves, there is no known method to adjust this goal. An AI should in fact be expected to resist any such attempt, since goal modification would endanger carrying out its current one. Also, instrumental convergence predicts that AI, whatever its goals are, might start off by self-improving and acquiring more resources once it is sufficiently capable of doing so, since this should help it achieve whatever further goal it might have.”
The New AI-Powered Bing Is Threatening Users. That’s No Laughing Matter (TIME Magazine)
- “The chatbot threatened Seth Lazar, a philosophy professor, telling him “I can blackmail you, I can threaten you, I can hack you, I can expose you, I can ruin you,” before deleting its messages, according to a screen recording Lazar posted to Twitter.”
- “Would you want an alien like this, that is super smart and plugged into the internet, with inscrutable motives, just going out and doing things? I wouldn’t,” Leahy says. “These systems might be extraordinarily powerful and we don’t know what they want, or how they work, or what they will do.” (Connor Leahy quoted in the article)
DeepMind’s CEO Helped Take AI Mainstream. Now He’s Urging Caution (TIME Magazine)
AI ‘race to recklessness’ could have dire consequences, tech experts warn in new interview (NBC)
- "Yeah, well here's the point. Imagine you're about to get on an airplane and 50% of the engineers that built the airplane say there's a 10% chance that their plane might crash and kill everyone."
- "What we need to do is get those companies to come together in a constructive positive dialogue. Think of it like the nuclear test ban treaty. We got all the nations together saying can we agree we don't want to deploy nukes above ground."
Elon Musk, who co-founded firm behind ChatGPT, warns A.I. is ‘one of the biggest risks’ to civilization (CNBC)
- “One of the biggest risks to the future of civilization is AI,” Elon Musk told attendees at the World Government Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
- “Regulation “may slow down AI a little bit, but I think that that might also be a good thing,” Musk added.”
Elon Musk warns AI ‘one of biggest risks’ to civilization during ChatGPT’s risk (NY Post)
- “I think we need to regulate AI safety, frankly,” said Musk, who also founded Tesla, SpaceX and Neurolink. “Think of any technology which is potentially a risk to people, like if it’s aircraft or cars or medicine, we have regulatory bodies that oversee the public safety of cars and planes and medicine. I think we should have a similar set of regulatory oversight for artificial intelligence, because I think it is actually a bigger risk to society.”
AI can be racist, sexist and creepy. What should we do about it? (CNN)
- “What this shows us, among other things, is that the businesses can’t self-regulate. When there are massive dollar signs around, they’re not going to do it. And even if one company does have the moral backbone to refrain from doing ethically dangerous things, hoping that most companies, that all companies, want to do this is a terrible strategy at scale.”
- “We need government to be able to at least protect us from the worst kinds of things that AI can do.”
- Note that this article focuses on short-term risks from AI, though I find the parts about industry regulation relevant to longtermist discussions.
Are we racing toward AI catastrophe? By Kelsey Piper (Vox)
The case for slowing down AI By Sigal Samuel (Vox)
- “So AI threatens to join existing catastrophic risks to humanity, things like global nuclear war or bioengineered pandemics. But there’s a difference. While there’s no way to uninvent the nuclear bomb or the genetic engineering tools that can juice pathogens, catastrophic AI has yet to be created, meaning it’s one type of doom we have the ability to preemptively stop.”
- “But there’s a much more obvious way to prevent AI doom. We could just ... not build the doom machine. Or, more moderately: Instead of racing to speed up AI progress, we could intentionally slow it down.”
The Age of AI has begun by Bill Gates
- “Then there’s the possibility that AIs will run out of control. Could a machine decide that humans are a threat, conclude that its interests are different from ours, or simply stop caring about us? Possibly, but this problem is no more urgent today than it was before the AI developments of the past few months.”
- “Superintelligent AIs are in our future. Compared to a computer, our brains operate at a snail’s pace: An electrical signal in the brain moves at 1/100,000th the speed of the signal in a silicon chip! Once developers can generalize a learning algorithm and run it at the speed of a computer—an accomplishment that could be a decade away or a century away—we’ll have an incredibly powerful AGI. It will be able to do everything that a human brain can, but without any practical limits on the size of its memory or the speed at which it operates. This will be a profound change.”
- “These “strong” AIs, as they’re known, will probably be able to establish their own goals. What will those goals be? What happens if they conflict with humanity’s interests? Should we try to prevent strong AI from ever being developed? These questions will get more pressing with time.”
Stephen Hawking warns artificial intelligence could end mankind (BBC). Note this one is from 2014; all the others are recent.
Quotes from executives at AI labs
- “Development of superhuman machine intelligence (SMI) is probably the greatest threat to the continued existence of humanity.”
- “How can we survive the development of SMI? It may not be possible.”
- “Many people seem to believe that SMI would be very dangerous if it were developed, but think that it’s either never going to happen or definitely very far off. This is sloppy, dangerous thinking.”
- “Our decisions will require much more caution than society usually applies to new technologies, and more caution than many users would like. Some people in the AI field think the risks of AGI (and successor systems) are fictitious; we would be delighted if they turn out to be right, but we are going to operate as if these risks are existential.”
- “I would advocate not moving fast and breaking things.”
- “When it comes to very powerful technologies—and obviously AI is going to be one of the most powerful ever—we need to be careful,” he says. “Not everybody is thinking about those things. It’s like experimentalists, many of whom don’t realize they’re holding dangerous material.”
- “We do not know how to train systems to robustly behave well. So far, no one knows how to train very powerful AI systems to be robustly helpful, honest, and harmless. Furthermore, rapid AI progress will be disruptive to society and may trigger competitive races that could lead corporations or nations to deploy untrustworthy AI systems. The results of this could be catastrophic, either because AI systems strategically pursue dangerous goals, or because these systems make more innocent mistakes in high-stakes situations.”
- “Rapid AI progress would be very disruptive, changing employment, macroeconomics, and power structures both within and between nations. These disruptions could be catastrophic in their own right, and they could also make it more difficult to build AI systems in careful, thoughtful ways, leading to further chaos and even more problems with AI.”
- 55% of the American public say AI could eventually pose an existential threat. (source)
- 55% favor “having a federal agency regulate the use of artificial intelligence similar to how the FDA regulates the approval of drugs and medical devices.” (source)
I am grateful to Zach Stein-Perlman for feedback, as well as several others for pointing out relevant examples.
Recommended: Spreading messages to help the the most important century
As co-author of one of the mentioned pieces, I'd say it's really great to see the AGI xrisk message mainstreaming. It doesn't nearly go fast enough, though. Some (Hawking, Bostrom, Musk) have already spoken out about the topic for close to a decade. So far, that hasn't been enough to change common understanding. Those, such as myself, who hope that some form of coordination could save us, should give all they have to make this go faster. Additionally, those who think regulation could work should work on robust regulation proposals which are currently lacking. And those who can should work on international coordination, which is currently also lacking.
A lot of work to be done. But the good news is that the window of opportunity is opening, and a lot of people could work on this which currently aren't. This could be a path to victory.
Anecdata: many in my non-EA/rat social circles of entrepreneurs and investors are engaging with this for the first time.
And, to my surprise (given the optimistic nature of entrepreneurs/VCs) they aren't just being reflexive techno-optimists, they're taking the ideas seriously and, since Bankless, "Eliezer" is becoming a first name-only character.
Eliezer said he's an accelerationist in basically everything except AI and gain-of-function bio and that seems to resonate. AI is Not Like The Other Problems.
Curious, is he accelerationist in atomically precise manufacturing?
"I'm an accelerationist for solar power, nuclear power to the extent it hasn't been obsoleted by solar power and we might as well give up but I'm still bitter about it, geothermal, genetic engineering, neuroengineering, FDA delenda est, basically everything except GoF bio and AI"
Thanks for this collection! A few other examples.
Some recent stories from FOX News:
Artificial intelligence 'godfather' on AI possibly wiping out humanity: ‘It's not inconceivable’ (FOX News)
Lawmakers consider regulations on artificial intelligence (FOX News)
Policymakers Responding to AI
Not really aware of US policymakers who have discussed existential risks from AI, but some policymakers have taken note recent AI progress, and some are alarmed. The video from Fox linked above actually gives a pretty good overview, but here are a couple examples.
Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) AI Needs To Be Regulated (NYT Op-Ed).
Senator Chris Murphy (D-CN) tweeting a bit about AI earlier today.
Another opinion on NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/24/opinion/yuval-harari-ai-chatgpt.html (Yuval Noah Harari, Tristan Harris, and Aza Ruskin. Non-paywalled version.)
Loved the first paragraph:
Idea: Run a competition to come up with other such first paragraphs people can use in similar op eds, that effectively communicate important ideas like this that are good to propagate.
Then test the top answers like @Peter Wildeford said here:
Another example of Overton movement - imagine seeing these results a few years ago:
I wonder if soon the general public will freak out on a large scale (Covid-like). I will be not surprised if it will happen in 2024 and only slightly surprised if it will happen this year. If it will happen, I am also not sure if it will be good or bad.
COVID at least had some policy handles that the government could try to pull: lockdowns, masking, vaccines, etc. What could they even do against AGI?
I don't think that the Overton Window for AI risk widening is a good thing, primarily because of the fact that we overrate bad news compared to good news, and there's actual progress on AGI Alignment, and I expect people to take away a more negative view of AGI development than it's warranted.
Here's a link to the problem of negative news overwhelming positive news:
In general, I think that we will almost certainly make it through AGI and ASI via aligning them. And in particular, the amount of capabilities compared to safety progress is arguably suboptimal, in that there's slack, which is we could accelerate AGI progress more and largely end up still alignment can be achieved.
I said elsewhere earlier: "AGI has the power to destroy the entire human race, and if we believe there's even a 1% chance that it will, then we have to treat it as an absolute certainty."
And I'm pretty sure that no expert puts it below 1%
I feel similarly, and what confuses me is that I had a positive view of AI safety back when it was about being pro-safety, pro-alignment, pro-interpretability, etc. These are good things that were neglected, and it felt good that there were people pushing for them.
But at some point it changed, becoming more about fear and opposition to progress. Anti-open source (most obviously with OpenAI, but even OpenRAIL isn't OSI), anti-competition (via regulatory capture), anti-progress (via as-yet-unspecified means). I hadn't appreciated the sheer darkness of the worldview.
And now, with the mindshare the movement has gained among the influential, I wonder what if it succeeds. What if open source AI models are banned, competitors to OpenAI are banned, and OpenAI decides to stop with GPT-4? It's a little hard to imagine all that, but nuclear power was killed off in a vaguely analogous way.
Pondering the ensuing scenarios isn't too pleasant. Does AGI get developed anyway, perhaps by China or by some military project during WW3? (I'd rather not either, please.) Or does humanity fully cooperate to put itself in a sort of technological stasis, with indefinite end?
it cannot occur as long as GPUs exist. we're getting hard foom within 8 years, rain or shine, as far as I can tell; most likely within 4, if we do nothing to stabilize then it's within 2, if we keep pushing hard then it'll be this year.
let's not do it this year. the people most able to push towards hard foom won't need to rush as much if folks slow down. We've got some cool payouts from ai, let's chill out slightly for a bit. just a little - there's lots of fun capabilities stuff to do that doesn't push towards explosive criticality, and most of the coolest capability stuff (in my view) makes things easier, not harder, to check for correctness.
The alignment, safety and interpretability is continuing at full speed, but if all the efforts of the alignment community are sufficient to get enough of this to avoid the destruction of the world in 2042, and AGI is created in 2037, then at the end you get a destroyed world.
It might not be possible in real life (List of Lethalities: "we can't just decide not to build AGI"), and even if possible it might not be tractable enough to be worth focusing any attention on, but it would be nice if there was some way to make sure that AGI happens after alignment is sufficient at full speed (EDIT: or, failing that, to happen later, so if alignment goes quickly that takes the world from bad outcomes to good outcomes, instead of bad outcomes to bad outcomes).
The good news is that I expect AI development to be de facto open if not de jure open for the following reason:
AI labs still need to publish enough at at least a high-level summary or abstraction level to succeed in the marketplace and politically.
OpenAI (et al.) could try and force as much about the actual functioning, work-performing details of the engineering design of their models into low-level implementation details that remain closed-source, with the intent to base their design on principles that make such a strategy more feasible. But I believe that this will not work.
This has to do with more fundamental reasons on how successful AI models have to actually be structured, such that even their high-level, abstract summaries of how they work must reliably map to the reasons that the model performs well (this is akin to the Natural Abstraction hypothesis).
Therefore, advanced AI models could in principle be feasibly reverse-engineered or re-developed simply from the implementation details that are published.
Yeah, even if there has been that kind of progress in alignment, I don't see anyone publicizing that 50% of experts giving a 10% chance of existential catastrophe is an improvement over what the situation was before they started reporting on it. I don't think they could tell that story even if they wanted to, not in a way that would actually educate the population generally.
The butlers might be coming.
Another article in The Atlantic today explicitly mentions the existential risk of AI and currently sits as the 9th most popular article on the website.
On the front-page of the NY Times today (and this week):
In addition, there is a front-page article on The Economist website today about AI accelerationism among the big tech firms.
A particular interesting figure from the article (unrelated to Overton Window):
Tentative GPT4's summary.
Up/Downvote "Overall" if the summary is useful/harmful.
Up/Downvote "Agreement" if the summary is correct/wrong.
TLDR: The article showcases increased media coverage, expert opinions, and AI leaders discussing AI existential risk, suggesting AI concerns are becoming mainstream and shifting the Overton Window.
Arguments: The article presents examples of AI risk coverage in mainstream media outlets like the New York Times, CNBC, TIME, and Vox. Additionally, it mentions public statements by notable figures such as Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Stephen Hawking, and quotes from AI lab leaders Sam Altman and Demis Hassabis. It also lists recent surveys where 55% of the American public saw AI as an existential threat and favored government regulation.
Takeaways: AI risks, both short and long-term, are becoming more mainstream and widely discussed in media, with expert opinions highlighting the potential threats. This shift in the Overton Window may reduce any reputational concerns when discussing AI existential risks.
Strengths: The article provides numerous examples of AI risk discussions from reputable media sources and expert opinions. These examples demonstrate a growing awareness and acceptance of AI-related concerns, highlighting the shift in the Overton Window.
Weaknesses: The article acknowledges that not all media coverage is high-quality or high-fidelity and that reputational concerns may still persist in discussing AI risk.
Interactions: This widening of the Overton Window might have implications for AI safety research funding, public perception of AI risks, and policy discussions on AI regulation and governance.
Factual mistakes: No factual mistakes were included in the summary.
Missing arguments: The summary could have mentioned the possibility of negative effects or misconceptions due to increased media coverage, such as sensationalism or unfounded fears surrounding AI development. Similarly, mentioning the importance of responsible AI research, collaboration, and communication between AI researchers, policymakers, and the public would be beneficial.
The Telegraph (UK’s main conservative broadsheet): https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2023/03/28/elon-musk-twitter-owner-artificial-intelligence/
Linking to my post about Dutch TV: https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/TMXEDZy2FNr5neP4L/datapoint-median-10-ai-x-risk-mentioned-on-dutch-public-tv