I've been citing AGI Ruin: A List of Lethalities to explain why the situation with AI looks lethally dangerous to me. But that post is relatively long, and emphasizes specific open technical problems over "the basics".

Here are 10 things I'd focus on if I were giving "the basics" on why I'm so worried:[1]


1. General intelligence is very powerful, and once we can build it at all, STEM-capable artificial general intelligence (AGI) is likely to vastly outperform human intelligence immediately (or very quickly).

When I say "general intelligence", I'm usually thinking about "whatever it is that lets human brains do astrophysics, category theory, etc. even though our brains evolved under literally zero selection pressure to solve astrophysics or category theory problems".

It's possible that we should already be thinking of GPT-4 as "AGI" on some definitions, so to be clear about the threshold of generality I have in mind, I'll specifically talk about "STEM-level AGI", though I expect such systems to be good at non-STEM tasks too.

Human brains aren't perfectly general, and not all narrow AI systems or animals are equally narrow. (E.g., AlphaZero is more general than AlphaGo.) But it sure is interesting that humans evolved cognitive abilities that unlock all of these sciences at once, with zero evolutionary fine-tuning of the brain aimed at equipping us for any of those sciences. Evolution just stumbled into a solution to other problems, that happened to generalize to millions of wildly novel tasks.

More concretely:

  • AlphaGo is a very impressive reasoner, but its hypothesis space is limited to sequences of Go board states rather than sequences of states of the physical universe. Efficiently reasoning about the physical universe requires solving at least some problems that are different in kind from what AlphaGo solves.
    • These problems might be solved by the STEM AGI's programmer, and/or solved by the algorithm that finds the AGI in program-space; and some such problems may be solved by the AGI itself in the course of refining its thinking.[2]
  • Some examples of abilities I expect humans to only automate once we've built STEM-level AGI (if ever):
    • The ability to perform open-heart surgery with a high success rate, in a messy non-standardized ordinary surgical environment.
    • The ability to match smart human performance in a specific hard science field, across all the scientific work humans do in that field.
  • In principle, I suspect you could build a narrow system that is good at those tasks while lacking the basic mental machinery required to do par-human reasoning about all the hard sciences. In practice, I very strongly expect humans to find ways to build general reasoners to perform those tasks, before we figure out how to build narrow reasoners that can do them. (For the same basic reason evolution stumbled on general intelligence so early in the history of human tech development.)[3]

When I say "general intelligence is very powerful", a lot of what I mean is that science is very powerful, and that having all of the sciences at once is a lot more powerful than the sum of each science's impact.[4]

Another large piece of what I mean is that (STEM-level) general intelligence is a very high-impact sort of thing to automate because STEM-level AGI is likely to blow human intelligence out of the water immediately, or very soon after its invention.

80,000 Hours gives the (non-representative) example of how AlphaGo and its successors compared to humanity:

In the span of a year, AI had advanced from being too weak to win a single [Go] match against the worst human professionals, to being impossible for even the best players in the world to defeat.

I expect general-purpose science AI to blow human science ability out of the water in a similar fashion.

Reasons for this include:

  • Empirically, humans aren't near a cognitive ceiling, and even narrow AI often suddenly blows past the human reasoning ability range on the task it's designed for. It would be weird if scientific reasoning were an exception.
  • Empirically, human brains are full of cognitive biases and inefficiencies. It's doubly weird if scientific reasoning is an exception even though it's visibly a mess with tons of blind spots, inefficiencies, and motivated cognitive processes, and even though there are innumerable historical examples of scientists and mathematicians taking decades to make technically simple advances.
  • Empirically, human brains are extremely bad at some of the most basic cognitive processes underlying STEM.
    • E.g., consider the stark limits on human working memory and ability to do basic mental math. We can barely multiply smallish multi-digit numbers together in our head, when in principle a reasoner could hold thousands of complex mathematical structures in its working memory simultaneously and perform complex operations on them. Consider the sorts of technologies and scientific insights that might only ever occur to a reasoner if it can directly see (within its own head, in real time) the connections between hundreds or thousands of different formal structures.
  • Human brains underwent no direct optimization for STEM ability in our ancestral environment, beyond traits like "I can distinguish four objects in my visual field from five objects".[5]
  • In contrast, human engineers can deliberately optimize AGI systems' brains for math, engineering, etc. capabilities; and human engineers have an enormous variety of tools available to build general intelligence that evolution lacked.[6]
  • Software (unlike human intelligence) scales with more compute.
  • Current ML uses far more compute to find reasoners than to run reasoners. This is very likely to hold true for AGI as well.
  • We probably have more than enough compute already, if we knew how to train AGI systems in a remotely efficient way.

And on a meta level: the hypothesis that STEM AGI can quickly outperform humans has a disjunctive character. There are many different advantages that individually suffice for this, even if STEM AGI doesn't start off with any other advantages. (E.g., speed, math ability, scalability with hardware, skill at optimizing hardware...)

In contrast, the claim that STEM AGI will hit the narrow target of "par-human scientific ability", and stay at around that level for long enough to let humanity adapt and adjust, has a conjunctive character.[7]

 

2. A common misconception is that STEM-level AGI is dangerous because of something murky about "agents" or about self-awareness. Instead, I'd say that the danger is inherent to the nature of action sequences that push the world toward some sufficiently-hard-to-reach state.[8]

Call such sequences "plans".

If you sampled a random plan from the space of all writable plans (weighted by length, in any extant formal language), and all we knew about the plan is that executing it would successfully achieve some superhumanly ambitious technological goal like "invent fast-running whole-brain emulation", then hitting a button to execute the plan would kill all humans, with very high probability. This is because:

  • "Invent fast WBE" is a hard enough task that succeeding in it usually requires gaining a lot of knowledge and cognitive and technological capabilities, enough to do lots of other dangerous things.
  • "Invent fast WBE" is likelier to succeed if the plan also includes steps that gather and control as many resources as possible, eliminate potential threats, etc. These are "convergent instrumental strategies"—strategies that are useful for pushing the world in a particular direction, almost regardless of which direction you're pushing.
  • Human bodies and the food, water, air, sunlight, etc. we need to live are resources ("you are made of atoms the AI can use for something else"); and we're also potential threats (e.g., we could build a rival superintelligent AI that executes a totally different plan).

The danger is in the cognitive work, not in some complicated or emergent feature of the "agent"; it's in the task itself.

It isn't that the abstract space of plans was built by evil human-hating minds; it's that the instrumental convergence thesis holds for the plans themselves. In full generality, plans that succeed in goals like "build WBE" tend to be dangerous.

This isn't true of all plans that successfully push our world into a specific (sufficiently-hard-to-reach) physical state, but it's true of the vast majority of them.

This is counter-intuitive because most of the impressive "plans" we encounter today are generated by humans, and it’s tempting to view strong plans through a human lens. But humans have hugely overlapping values, thinking styles, and capabilities; AI is drawn from new distributions.

 

3. Current ML work is on track to produce things that are, in the ways that matter, more like "randomly sampled plans" than like "the sorts of plans a civilization of human von Neumanns would produce". (Before we're anywhere near being able to produce the latter sorts of things.)[9]

We're building "AI" in the sense of building powerful general search processes (and search processes for search processes), not building "AI" in the sense of building friendly ~humans but in silicon.

(Note that "we're going to build systems that are more like A Randomly Sampled Plan than like A Civilization of Human Von Neumanns" doesn't imply that the plan we'll get is the one we wanted! There are two separate problems: that current ML finds things-that-act-like-they're-optimizing-the-task-you-wanted rather than things-that-actually-internally-optimize-the-task-you-wanted, and also that internally ~maximizing most superficially desirable ends will kill humanity.)

Note that the same problem holds for systems trained to imitate humans, if those systems scale to being able to do things like "build whole-brain emulation". "We're training on something related to humans" doesn't give us "we're training things that are best thought of as humans plus noise".

It's not obvious to me that GPT-like systems can scale to capabilities like "build WBE". But if they do, we face the problem that most ways of successfully imitating humans don't look like "build a human (that's somehow superhumanly good at imitating the Internet)". They look like "build a relatively complex and alien optimization process that is good at imitation tasks (and potentially at many other tasks)".

You don't need to be a human in order to model humans, any more than you need to be a cloud in order to model clouds well. The only reason this is more confusing in the case of "predict humans" than in the case of "predict weather patterns" is that humans and AI systems are both intelligences, so it's easier to slide between "the AI models humans" and "the AI is basically a human".

 

4. The key differences between humans and "things that are more easily approximated as random search processes than as humans-plus-a-bit-of-noise" lies in lots of complicated machinery in the human brain.

(Cf. Detached Lever Fallacy, Niceness Is Unnatural, and Superintelligent AI Is Necessary For An Amazing Future, But Far From Sufficient.)

Humans are not blank slates in the relevant ways, such that just raising an AI like a human solves the problem.

This doesn't mean the problem is unsolvable; but it means that you either need to reproduce that internal machinery, in a lot of detail, in AI, or you need to build some new kind of machinery that’s safe for reasons other than the specific reasons humans are safe.

(You need cognitive machinery that somehow samples from a much narrower space of plans that are still powerful enough to succeed in at least one task that saves the world, but are constrained in ways that make them far less dangerous than the larger space of plans. And you need a thing that actually implements internal machinery like that, as opposed to just being optimized to superficially behave as though it does in the narrow and unrepresentative environments it was in before starting to work on WBE. "Novel science work" means that pretty much everything you want from the AI is out-of-distribution.)

 

5. STEM-level AGI timelines don't look that long (e.g., probably not 50 or 150 years; could well be 5 years or 15).

I won't try to argue for this proposition, beyond pointing at the field's recent progress and echoing Nate Soares' comments from early 2021:

[...] I observe that, 15 years ago, everyone was saying AGI is far off because of what it couldn't do -- basic image recognition, go, starcraft, winograd schemas, simple programming tasks. But basically all that has fallen. The gap between us and AGI is made mostly of intangibles. (Computer programming that is Actually Good? Theorem proving? Sure, but on my model, "good" versions of those are a hair's breadth away from full AGI already. And the fact that I need to clarify that "bad" versions don't count, speaks to my point that the only barriers people can name right now are intangibles.) That's a very uncomfortable place to be!

[...] I suspect that I'm in more-or-less the "penultimate epistemic state" on AGI timelines: I don't know of a project that seems like they're right on the brink; that would put me in the "final epistemic state" of thinking AGI is imminent. But I'm in the second-to-last epistemic state, where I wouldn't feel all that shocked to learn that some group has reached the brink. Maybe I won't get that call for 10 years! Or 20! But it could also be 2, and I wouldn't get to be indignant with reality. I wouldn't get to say "but all the following things should have happened first, before I made that observation!". Those things have happened. I have made those observations. [...]

I think timing tech is very difficult (and plausibly ~impossible when the tech isn't pretty imminent), and I think reasonable people can disagree a lot about timelines.

I also think converging on timelines is not very crucial, since if AGI is 50 years away I would say it's still the largest single risk we face, and the bare minimum alignment work required for surviving that transition could easily take longer than that.

Also, "STEM AGI when?" is the kind of argument that requires hashing out people's predictions about how we get to STEM AGI, which is a bad thing to debate publicly insofar as improving people's models of pathways can further shorten timelines.

I mention timelines anyway because they are in fact a major reason I'm pessimistic about our prospects; if I learned tomorrow that AGI were 200 years away, I'd be outright optimistic about things going well.

 

6. We don't currently know how to do alignment, we don't seem to have a much better idea now than we did 10 years ago, and there are many large novel visible difficulties. (See AGI Ruin and the Capabilities Generalization, and the Sharp Left Turn.)

On a more basic level, quoting Nate Soares: "Why do I think that AI alignment looks fairly difficult? The main reason is just that this has been my experience from actually working on these problems."

 

7. We should be starting with a pessimistic prior about achieving reliably good behavior in any complex safety-critical software, particularly if the software is novel. Even more so if the thing we need to make robust is structured like undocumented spaghetti code, and more so still if the field is highly competitive and you need to achieve some robustness property while moving faster than a large pool of less-safety-conscious people who are racing toward the precipice.

The default assumption is that complex software goes wrong in dozens of different ways you didn't expect. Reality ends up being thorny and inconvenient in many of the places where your models were absent or fuzzy. Surprises are abundant, and some surprises can be good, but this is empirically a lot rarer than unpleasant surprises in software development hell.

The future is hard to predict, but plans systematically take longer and run into more snags than humans naively expect, as opposed to plans systematically going surprisingly smoothly and deadlines being systematically hit ahead of schedule.

The history of computer security and of safety-critical software systems is almost invariably one of robust software lagging far, far behind non-robust versions of the same software. Achieving any robustness property in complex software that will be deployed in the real world, with all its messiness and adversarial optimization, is very difficult and usually fails.

In many ways I think the foundational discussion of AGI risk is Security Mindset and Ordinary Paranoia and Security Mindset and the Logistic Success Curve, and the main body of the text doesn't even mention AGI. Adding in the specifics of AGI and smarter-than-human AI takes the risk from "dire" to "seemingly overwhelming", but adding in those specifics is not required to be massively concerned if you think getting this software right matters for our future.

 

8. Neither ML nor the larger world is currently taking this seriously, as of April 2023.

This is obviously something we can change. But until it's changed, things will continue to look very bad.

Additionally, most of the people who are taking AI risk somewhat seriously are, to an important extent, not willing to worry about things until after they've been experimentally proven to be dangerous. Which is a lethal sort of methodology to adopt when you're working with smarter-than-human AI.

My basic picture of why the world currently isn't responding appropriately is the one in Four mindset disagreements behind existential risk disagreements in ML, The inordinately slow spread of good AGI conversations in ML, and Inadequate Equilibria.[10]

 

9. As noted above, current ML is very opaque, and it mostly lets you intervene on behavioral proxies for what we want, rather than letting us directly design desirable features.

ML as it exists today also requires that data is readily available and safe to provide. E.g., we can’t robustly train the AGI on "don’t kill people" because we can’t provide real examples of it killing people to train against the behavior we don't want; we can only give flawed proxies and work via indirection.

 

10. There are lots of specific abilities which seem like they ought to be possible for the kind of civilization that can safely deploy smarter-than-human optimization, that are far out of reach, with no obvious path forward for achieving them with opaque deep nets even if we had unlimited time to work on some relatively concrete set of research directions.

(Unlimited time suffices if we can set a more abstract/indirect research direction, like "just think about the problem for a long time until you find some solution". There are presumably paths forward; we just don’t know what they are today, which puts us in a worse situation.)

E.g., we don’t know how to go about inspecting a nanotech-developing AI system’s brain to verify that it’s only thinking about a specific room, that it’s internally representing the intended goal, that it’s directing its optimization at that representation, that it internally has a particular planning horizon and a variety of capability bounds, that it’s unable to think about optimizers (or specifically about humans), or that it otherwise has the right topics internally whitelisted or blacklisted.

 

Individually, it seems to me that each of these difficulties can be addressed. In combination, they seem to me to put us in a very dark situation.

 


 

One common response I hear to points like the above is:

The future is generically hard to predict, so it's just not possible to be rationally confident that things will go well or poorly. Even if you look at dozens of different arguments and framings and the ones that hold up to scrutiny nearly all seem to point in the same direction, it's always possible that you're making some invisible error of reasoning that causes correlated failures in many places at once.

I'm sympathetic to this because I agree that the future is hard to predict.

I'm not totally confident things will go poorly; if I were, I wouldn't be trying to solve the problem! I think things are looking extremely dire, but not hopeless.

That said, some people think that even "extremely dire" is an impossible belief state to be in, in advance of an AI apocalypse actually occurring. I disagree here, for two basic reasons:

 

a. There are many details we can get into, but on a core level I don't think the risk is particularly complicated or hard to reason about. The core concern fits into a tweet:

STEM AI is likely to vastly exceed human STEM abilities, conferring a decisive advantage. We aren't on track to knowing how to aim STEM AI at intended goals, and STEM AIs pursuing unintended goals tend to have instrumental subgoals like "control all resources".

Zvi Mowshowitz puts the core concern in even more basic terms:

I also notice a kind of presumption that things in most scenarios will work out and that doom is dependent on particular ‘distant possibilities,’ that often have many logical dependencies or require a lot of things to individually go as predicted. Whereas I would say that those possibilities are not so distant or unlikely, but more importantly that the result is robust, that once the intelligence and optimization pressure that matters is no longer human that most of the outcomes are existentially bad by my values and that one can reject or ignore many or most of the detail assumptions and still see this.

The details do matter for evaluating the exact risk level, but this isn't the sort of topic where it seems fundamentally impossible for any human to reach a good understanding of the core difficulties and whether we're handling them.

 

b. Relatedly, as Nate Soares has argued, AI disaster scenarios are disjunctive. There are many bad outcomes for every good outcome, and many paths leading to disaster for every path leading to utopia.

Quoting Eliezer Yudkowsky:

You don't get to adopt a prior where you have a 50-50 chance of winning the lottery "because either you win or you don't"; the question is not whether we're uncertain, but whether someone's allowed to milk their uncertainty to expect good outcomes.

Quoting Jack Rabuck:

I listened to the whole 4 hour Lunar Society interview with @ESYudkowsky
(hosted by @dwarkesh_sp) that was mostly about AI alignment and I think I identified a point of confusion/disagreement that is pretty common in the area and is rarely fleshed out:

Dwarkesh repeatedly referred to the conclusion that AI is likely to kill humanity as "wild."

Wild seems to me to pack two concepts together, 'bad' and 'complex.' And when I say complex, I mean in the sense of the Fermi equation where you have an end point (dead humanity) that relies on a series of links in a chain and if you break any of those links, the end state doesn't occur.

It seems to me that Eliezer believes this end state is not wild (at least not in the complex sense), but very simple. He thinks many (most) paths converge to this end state.

That leads to a misunderstanding of sorts. Dwarkesh pushes Eliezer to give some predictions based on the line of reasoning that he uses to predict that end point, but since the end point is very simple and is a convergence, Eliezer correctly says that being able to reason to that end point does not give any predictive power about the particular path that will be taken in this universe to reach that end point.

Dwarkesh is thinking about the end of humanity as a causal chain with many links and if any of them are broken it means humans will continue on, while Eliezer thinks of the continuity of humanity (in the face of AGI) as a causal chain with many links and if any of them are broken it means humanity ends. Or perhaps more discretely, Eliezer thinks there are a few very hard things which humanity could do to continue in the face of AI, and absent one of those occurring, the end is a matter of when, not if, and the when is much closer than most other people think.

Anyway, I think each of Dwarkesh and Eliezer believe the other one falls on the side of extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence - Dwarkesh thinking the end of humanity is "wild" and Eliezer believing humanity's viability in the face of AGI is "wild" (though not in the negative sense). 

I don't consider "AGI ruin is disjunctive" a knock-down argument for high p(doom) on its own. NASA has a high success rate for rocket launches even though success requires many things to go right simultaneously. Humanity is capable of achieving conjunctive outcomes, to some degree; but I think this framing makes it clearer why it's possible to rationally arrive at a high p(doom), at all, when enough evidence points in that direction.[11]

 

  1. ^

    Eliezer Yudkowsky's So Far: Unfriendly AI Edition and Nate Soares' Ensuring Smarter-Than-Human Intelligence Has a Positive Outcome are two other good (though old) introductions to what I'd consider "the basics".

    To state the obvious: this post consists of various claims that increase my probability on AI causing an existential catastrophe, but not all the claims have to be true in order for AI to have a high probability of causing such a catastrophe.

    Also, I wrote this post to summarize my own top reasons for being worried, not to try to make a maximally compelling or digestible case for others. I don't expect others to be similarly confident based on such a quick overview, unless perhaps you've read other sources on AI risk in the past. (Including more optimistic ones, since it's harder to be confident when you've only heard from one side of a disagreement. I've written in the past about some of the things that give me small glimmers of hope, but people who are overall far more hopeful will have very different reasons for hope, based on very different heuristics and background models.)

  2. ^

    E.g., the physical world is too complex to simulate in full detail, unlike a Go board state. An effective general intelligence needs to be able to model the world at many different levels of granularity, and strategically choose which levels are relevant to think about, as well as which specific pieces/aspects/properties of the world at those levels are relevant to think about.

    More generally, being a general intelligence requires an enormous amount of laserlike focus and strategicness when it comes to which thoughts you do or don't think. A large portion of your compute needs to be relentlessly funneled into exactly the tiny subset of questions about the physical world that bear on the question you're trying to answer or the problem you're trying to solve. If you fail to be relentlessly targeted and efficient in "aiming" your cognition at the most useful-to-you things, you can easily spend a lifetime getting sidetracked by minutiae, directing your attention at the wrong considerations, etc.

    And given the variety of kinds of problems you need to solve in order to navigate the physical world well, do science, etc., the heuristics you use to funnel your compute to the exact right things need to themselves be very general, rather than all being case-specific.

    (Whereas we can more readily imagine that many of the heuristics AlphaGo uses to avoid thinking about the wrong aspects of the game state (or getting otherwise sidetracked) are Go-specific heuristics.)

  3. ^

    Of course, if your brain has all the basic mental machinery required to do other sciences, that doesn't mean that you have the knowledge required to actually do well in those sciences. An STEM-level artificial general intelligence could lack physics ability for the same reason many smart humans can't solve physics problems.

  4. ^

    E.g., because different sciences can synergize, and because you can invent new scientific fields and subfields, and more generally chain one novel insight into dozens of other new insights that critically depended on the first insight.

  5. ^

    More generally, the sciences (and many other aspects of human life, like written language) are a very recent development on evolutionary timescales. So evolution has had very little time to refine and improve on our reasoning ability in many of the ways that matter.

  6. ^

    "Human engineers have an enormous variety of tools available that evolution lacked" is often noted as a reason to think that we may be able to align AGI to our goals, even though evolution failed to align humans to its "goal". It's additionally a reason to expect AGI to have greater cognitive ability, if engineers try to achieve great cognitive ability.

  7. ^

    And my understanding is that, e.g., Paul Christiano's soft-takeoff scenarios don't involve there being much time between par-human scientific ability and superintelligence. Rather, he's betting that we have a bunch of decades between GPT-4 and par-human STEM AGI.

  8. ^

    I'll classify thoughts and text outputs as "actions" too, not just physical movements.

  9. ^

    Obviously, neither is a particularly good approximation for ML systems. The point is that our optimism about plans in real life generally comes from the fact that they're weak, and/or it comes from the fact that the plan generators are human brains with the full suite of human psychological universals. ML systems don't possess those human universals, and won't stay weak indefinitely.

  10. ^

    Quoting Four mindset disagreements behind existential risk disagreements in ML:

    • People are taking the risks unseriously because they feel weird and abstract.
    • When they do think about the risks, they anchor to what's familiar and known, dismissing other considerations because they feel "unconservative" from a forecasting perspective.
    • Meanwhile, social mimesis and the bystander effect make the field sluggish at pivoting in response to new arguments and smoke under the door.

    Quoting The inordinately slow spread of good AGI conversations in ML:

    Info about AGI propagates too slowly through the field, because when one ML person updates, they usually don't loudly share their update with all their peers. This is because:

    1. AGI sounds weird, and they don't want to sound like a weird outsider.

    2. Their peers and the community as a whole might perceive this information as an attack on the field, an attempt to lower its status, etc.

    3. Tech forecasting, differential technological development, long-term steering, exploratory engineering, 'not doing certain research because of its long-term social impact', prosocial research closure, etc. are very novel and foreign to most scientists.

    EAs exert effort to try to dig up precedents like Asilomar partly because Asilomar is so unusual compared to the norms and practices of the vast majority of science. Scientists generally don't think in these terms at all, especially in advance of any major disasters their field causes.

    And the scientists who do find any of this intuitive often feel vaguely nervous, alone, and adrift when they talk about it. On a gut level, they see that they have no institutional home and no super-widely-shared 'this is a virtuous and respectable way to do science' narrative.

    Normal science is not Bayesian, is not agentic, is not 'a place where you're supposed to do arbitrary things just because you heard an argument that makes sense'. Normal science is a specific collection of scripts, customs, and established protocols.

    In trying to move the field toward 'doing the thing that just makes sense', even though it's about a weird topic (AGI), and even though the prescribed response is also weird (closure, differential tech development, etc.), and even though the arguments in support are weird (where's the experimental data??), we're inherently fighting our way upstream, against the current.

    Success is possible, but way, way more dakka is needed, and IMO it's easy to understand why we haven't succeeded more.

    This is also part of why I've increasingly updated toward a strategy of "let's all be way too blunt and candid about our AGI-related thoughts".

    The core problem we face isn't 'people informedly disagree', 'there's a values conflict', 'we haven't written up the arguments', 'nobody has seen the arguments', or even 'self-deception' or 'self-serving bias'.

    The core problem we face is 'not enough information is transmitting fast enough, because people feel nervous about whether their private thoughts are in the Overton window'.

    On the more basic level, Inadequate Equilibria paints a picture of the world's baseline civilizational competence that I think makes it less mysterious why we could screw up this badly on a novel problem that our scientific and political institutions weren't designed to address. Inadequate Equilibria also talks about the nuts and bolts of Modest Epistemology, which I think is a key part of the failure story.

  11. ^

    Quoting a recent conversation between Aryeh Englander and Eliezer Yudkowsky:

    Aryeh: [...] Yet I still have a very hard time understanding the arguments that would lead to such a high-confidence prediction. Like, I think I understand the main arguments for AI existential risk, but I just don't understand why some people seem so sure of the risks. [...]

    Eliezer: I think the core thing is the sense that you cannot in this case milk uncertainty for a chance of good outcomes; to get to a good outcome you'd have to actually know where you're steering, like trying to buy a winning lottery ticket or launching a Moon rocket. Once you realize that uncertainty doesn't move estimates back toward "50-50, either we live happily ever after or not", you realize that "people in the EA forums cannot tell whether Eliezer or Paul is right" is not a factor that moves us toward 1:1 good:bad but rather another sign of doom; surviving worlds don't look confused like that and are able to make faster progress.

    Not as a fully valid argument from which one cannot update further, but as an intuition pump: the more all arguments about the future seem fallible, the more you should expect the future Solar System to have a randomized configuration from your own perspective. Almost zero of those have humans in them. It takes confidence about some argument constraining the future to get to more than that.

    Aryeh: when you talk about uncertainty here do you mean uncertain factors within your basic world model, or are you also counting model uncertainty? I can see how within your world model extra sources of uncertainty don't point to lower risk estimates. But my general question I think is more about model uncertainty: how sure can you really be that your world model and reference classes and framework for thinking about this is the right one vs e.g., Robin or Paul or Rohin or lots of others? And in terms of model uncertainty it looks like most of these other approaches imply much lower risk estimates, so adding in that kind of model uncertainty should presumably (I think) point to overall lower risk estimates.

    Eliezer: Aryeh, if you've got a specific theory that says your rocket design is going to explode, and then you're also very unsure of how rockets work really, what probability should you assess of your rocket landing safely on target?

    Aryeh: how about if you have a specific theory that says you should be comparing what you're doing to a rocket aiming for the moon but it'll explode, and then a bunch of other theories saying it won't explode, plus a bunch of theories saying you shouldn't be comparing what you're doing to a rocket in the first place? My understanding of many alignment proposals is that they think we do understand "rockets" sufficiently so that we can aim them, but they disagree on various specifics that lead you to have such high confidence in an explosion. And then there are others like Robin Hanson who use mostly outside-type arguments to argue that you're framing the issues incorrectly, and we shouldn't be comparing this to "rockets" at all because that's the wrong reference class to use. So yes, accounting for some types of model uncertainty won't reduce our risk assessments and may even raise them further, but other types of model uncertainty - including many of the actual alternative models / framings at least as I understand them - should presumably decrease our risk assessment.

    Eliezer: What if people are trying to build a flying machine for the first time, and there's a whole host of them with wildly different theories about why it ought to fly easily, and you think there's basic obstacles to stable flight that they're not getting? Could you force the machine to fly despite all obstacles by recruiting more and more optimists to have different theories, each of whom would have some chance of being right?

    Aryeh: right, my point is that in order to have near certainty of not flying you need to be very very sure that your model is right and theirs isn't. Or in other words, you need to have very low model uncertainty. But once you add in model uncertainty where you consider that maybe those other optimists' models could be right, then your risk estimates will go down. Of course you can't arbitrarily add in random optimistic models from random people - it needs to be weighted in some way. My confusion here is that you seem to be very, very certain that your model is the right one, complete with all its pieces and sub-arguments and the particular reference classes you use, and I just don't quite understand why.

    Eliezer: There's a big difference between "sure your model is the right one" and the whole thing with people wandering over with their own models and somebody else going, "I can't tell the difference between you and them, how can you possibly be so sure they're not right?"

    The intuition I'm trying to gesture at here is that you can't milk success out of uncertainty, even by having a bunch of other people wander over with optimistic models. It shouldn't be able to work in real life. If your epistemology says that you can generate free success probability that way, you must be doing something wrong.

    Or maybe another way to put it: When you run into a very difficult problem that you can see is very difficult, but inevitably a bunch of people with less clear sight wander over and are optimistic about it because they don't see the problems, for you to update on the optimists would be to update on something that happens inevitably. So to adopt this policy is just to make it impossible for yourself to ever perceive when things have gotten really bad.

    Aryeh: not sure I fully understand what you're saying. It looks to me like to some degree what you're saying boils down to your views on modest epistemology - i.e., basically just go with your own views and don't defer to anybody else. It sounds like you're saying not only don't defer, but don't even really incorporate any significant model uncertainty based on other people's views. Am I understanding this at all correctly or am I totally off here?

    Eliezer: My epistemology is such that it's possible in principle for me to notice that I'm doomed, in worlds which look very doomed, despite the fact that all such possible worlds no matter how doomed they actually are, always contain a chorus of people claiming we're not doomed.

    (See Inadequate Equilibria for a detailed discussion of Modest Epistemology, deference, and "outside views", and Strong Evidence Is Common for the basic first-order case that people can often reach confident conclusions about things.)

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Copying over a Twitter reply from Quintin Pope (which I haven't replied to, and which was responding to the wording of the Twitter draft of this post):

I think your intuition about how SGD works is wildly wrong. E.g., SGD doesn't do anything like "randomly sample from the set of all low loss NN parameter configurations". https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.00683 

Also, your point about human plans not looking like randomly sampled plans is a point against your intuition that multi-level search processes will tend to generate such plans.

Finally, I don't think it's even possible to have a general intelligence which operates on principles that fundamentally different from the human brain.

Partially, this is a consequence of singular learning theory forcing inductive biases to significantly reflect data distribution properties, as opposed to inductive biases deriving entirely from architecture / optimizer / etc. https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/M3fDqScej7JDh4s7a/quintin-pope-s-shortform?commentId=aDqhtgbjDiC6tWQjp 

It also seems like the current ML paradigm converged to very similar principles as the brain, where most cognition comes from learning to predictively model the environment (tex

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Quintin, in case you are reading this, I just wanna say that the link you give to justify 

I think your intuition about how SGD works is wildly wrong. E.g., SGD doesn't do anything like "randomly sample from the set of all low loss NN parameter configurations". https://arxiv.org/abs/2110.00683 

really doesn't do nearly enough to justify your bold "wildly wrong" claim. First of all, it's common for papers to overclaim, this seems like the sort of paper that could turn out to be basically just flat wrong. (I lack the expertise to decide for myself, it would take me many hours of reading the paper and talking to people probably). Secondly, even if I assume the paper is correct, it just shows that the simplicity bias of SGD on NNs is different than some people think -- it is weighted towards broad basins / connected regions. It's still randomly sampling from the set of all low loss NN parameter configurations, but with a different bias/prior. (Unless you can argue that this specific different bias leads to the consequences/conclusions you like, and in particular leads to doom being much less likely. Maybe you can, I'd like to see that.)

 

SGD has a strong inherent simplicity bias, even without weight regularization, and this is fairly well known in DL literature (I could probably find hundreds of examples if I had the time - I do not). By SGD I specifically mean SGD variants that don't use a 2nd order approx (such as Adam). The are many papers which find approx 2nd-order variance adjusted optimizers like Adam have various generalization/overfitting issues compared to SGD, this comes up over and over, such that it's fairly common to use some additional regularization with Adam.

It's also pretty intuitively obvious why SGD has a strong simplicity prior if you just think through some simple examples - as SGD doesn't move in the direction that minimizes loss, it moves in the parsimonious direction which minimizes loss per unit weight distance (moved away from the init). 2nd order optimizers like adam can move more directly in the direction of lower loss.

3Joar Skalse10mo
Empirically, the inductive bias that you get when you train with SGD, and similar optimisers, is in fact quite similar to the inductive bias that you would get, if you were to repeatedly re-initialise a neural network until you randomly get a set of weights that yield a low loss. Which optimiser you use does have an effect as well, but this is very small by comparison. See this paper.
3Daniel Kokotajlo10mo
Yes. (Note that "randomly sample from the set of all low loss NN parameter configurations" goes hand in hand with there being a bias towards simplicity, it's not a contradiction. Is that maybe what's going on here -- people misinterpreted Bensinger as somehow not realizing simpler configurations are more likely?)

My prior is that DL has a great amount of wierd domain knowledge which is mysterious to those who haven't spent years studying it, and years studying DL correlates with strong disagreement with the sequences/MIRI positions in many fundamentals. I trace all this back to EY over-updating too much on ev psych and not reading enough neuroscience and early DL.

So anyway, a sentence like "randomly sample from the set of all low loss NN parameter configurations" is not one I would use or expect a DL-insider to use and sounds more like something a MIRI/LW person would say - in part yes because I don't generally expect MIRI/LW folks to be especially aware of the intrinsic SGD simplicity prior. The more correct statement is "randomly sample from the set of all simple low loss configs" or similar.

But it's also not quite clear to me how relevant that subpoint is, just sharing my impression.

6habryka10mo
IMO this seems like a strawman. When talking to MIRI people it's pretty clear they have thought a good amount about the inductive biases of SGD, including an associated simplicity prior.
6jacob_cannell10mo
Sure it will clearly be a strawman for some individuals - the point of my comment is to explain how someone like myself could potentially misinterpret Bensinger and why. (As I don't know him very well, my brain models him as a generic MIRI/LW type)

I want to revisit what Rob actually wrote:

If you sampled a random plan from the space of all writable plans (weighted by length, in any extant formal language), and all we knew about the plan is that executing it would successfully achieve some superhumanly ambitious technological goal like "invent fast-running whole-brain emulation", then hitting a button to execute the plan would kill all humans, with very high probability.

(emphasis mine)

That sounds a whole lot like it's invoking a simplicity prior to me!

Note I didn't actually reply to that quote. Sure that's an explicit simplicity prior. However there's a large difference under the hood between using an explicit simplicity prior on plan length vs an implicit simplicity prior on the world and action models which generate plans. The latter is what is more relevant for intrinsic similarity to human though processes (or not).

There are more papers and math in this broad vein (e.g. Mingard on SGD, Singular learning theory) , and I roughly buy the main thrust of their conclusions[1].   

However, I think "randomly sample from the space of solutions with low combined complexity&calculation cost" doesn't actually help us that much over a pure "randomly sample" when it comes to alignment. 

It could mean that the relation between your network's learned goals and the loss function is more straightforward than what you get with evolution=>human hardcoded brain stem=>human goals, since the later likely has a far weaker simplicity bias in the first step than the network training does. But the second step, a human baby training on their brain stem loss signal, seems to remain a useful reference point for the amount of messiness we can expect. And it does not seem to me to be a comforting one. I for one, don't consider getting excellent visual cortex prediction scores a central terminal goal of mine.

  1. ^

    Though I remain unsure of what to make of the specific one Quintin cites, which advances some more specific claims inside this broad category, and is based on results from a toy model with weird,

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4Daniel Kokotajlo10mo
OHHH I think there's just an error of reading comprehension/charitability here. "Randomly sample" doesn't mean without a simplicity bias -- obviously there's a bias towards simplicity, that just falls out of the math pretty much. I think Quintin (and maybe you too Lucius and Jacob) were probably just misreading Rob Bensinger's claim as implying something he didn't mean to imply. (I bet if we ask Rob "when you said randomly sample, did you mean there isn't a bias towards simplicity?" he'll say "no")  
1Lucius Bushnaq10mo
I didn't think Rob was necessarily implying that. I just tried to give some context to Quintin's objection.

I feel like there's a significant distance between what's being said formally versus the conclusions being drawn. From Rob:

If you sampled a random plan from the space of all writable plans (weighted by length, in any extant formal language)

From you:

the simplicity bias of SGD on NNs is different than some people think -- it is weighted towards broad basins / connected regions. It's still randomly sampling from the set of all low loss NN parameter configurations, but with a different bias/prior.

The issue is that literally any plan generation / NN training process can be described in either manner, regardless of the actual prior involved. In order to make the doom conclusion actually go through, arguments should make stronger claims about the priors involved, and how they differ from those of the human learning process.

It's not clear to me what specific priors Rob has in mind for the "random plan" sampling process, unless by "extant formal language" he literally means "formal language that currently exists right now", in which case:

  1. Why should this be a good description of what SGD does?
  2. Why should this be a better description of what SGD does, as compared to what human learning does?
  3. I
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9dxu10mo
Isn't it enough that they do differ? Why do we need to be able to accurately/precisely characterize the nature of the difference, to conclude that an arbitrary inductive bias different from our own is unlikely to sample the same kinds of plans we do?

That's not at all clear to me. Inductive biases clearly differ between humans, yet we are not all terminally misaligned with each other. E.g., split brain patients are not all wired value aliens, despite a significant difference in architecture. Also, training on human-originated data causes networks to learn human-like inductive biases (at least somewhat).

Thanks for weighing in Quintin! I think I basically agree with dxu here. I think this discussion shows that Rob should probably rephrase his argument as something like "When humans make plans, the distribution they sample from has all sorts of unique and interesting properties that arise from various features of human biology and culture and the interaction between them. Big artificial neural nets will lack these features, so the distribution they draw from will be significantly different -- much bigger than the difference between any two humans, for example. This is reason to expect doom, because of instrumental convergence..."

I take your point that the differences between humans seem... not so large... though actually I guess a lot of people would argue the opposite and say that many humans are indeed terminally misaligned with many other humans. 

I also take the point about human-originated data hopefully instilling human-like inductive biases.

But IMO the burden of proof is firmly on the side of whoever wants to say that therefore things will probably be fine, rather than the person who is running around screaming expecting doom. The AIs we are building are going to be more ... (read more)

There are differences between ANNs and BNNs but they don't matter that much - LLMs converge to learn the same internal representations as linguistic cortex anyway.

When humans make plans, the distribution they sample from has all sorts of unique and interesting properties that arise from various features of human biology and culture and the interaction between them. Big artificial neural nets will lack these features, so the distribution they draw from will be significantly different

LLMs and human brains learn from basically the same data with similar training objectives powered by universal approximations of bayesian inference and thus learn very similar internal functions/models.

Moravec was absolutely correct to use the term 'mind children' and all that implies. I outlined the case why the human brain and DL systems are essentially the same way way back in 2015 and every year since we have accumulated further confirming evidence. The closely related scaling hypothesis - predicted in that post - was extensively tested by openAI and worked at least as well as I predicted/expected, taking us to the brink of AGI.

LLMs:

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8dxu10mo
This argument proves too much. A Solomonoff inductor (AIXI) running on a hypercomputer would also "learn from basically the same data" (sensory data produced by the physical universe) with "similar training objectives" (predict the next bit of sensory information) using "universal approximations of Bayesian inference" (a perfect approximation, in this case), and yet it would not be the case that you could then conclude that AIXI "learns very similar internal functions/models". (In fact, the given example of AIXI is much closer to Rob's initial description of "sampling from the space of possible plans, weighted by length"!) In order to properly argue this, you need to talk about more than just training objectives and approximations to Bayes; you need to first investigate the actual internal representations of the systems in question, and verify that they are isomorphic to the ones humans use. Currently, I'm not aware of any investigations into this that I'd consider satisfactory. (Note here that I've skimmed the papers you cite in your linked posts, and for most of them it seems to me either (a) they don't make the kinds of claims you'd need to establish a strong conclusion of "therefore, AI systems think like humans", or (b) they do make such claims, but then the described investigation doesn't justify those claims.)

Full Solomon Induction on a hypercomputer absolutely does not just "learn very similar internal functions models", it effectively recreates actual human brains.

Full SI on a hypercomputer is equivalent to instantiating a computational multiverse and allowing us to access it. Reading out data samples corresponding to text from that is equivalent to reading out samples of actual text produced by actual human brains in other universes close to ours.

you need to first investigate the actual internal representations of the systems in question, and verify that they are isomorphic to the ones humans use.

This has been ongoing for over a decade or more (dating at least back to Sparse Coding as an explanation for V1).

But I will agree the bigger LLMs are now in a somewhat different territory - more like human cortices trained for millennia, perhaps ten millennia for GPT4.

4dxu10mo
...yes? And this is obviously very, very different from how humans represent things internally? I mean, for one thing, humans don't recreate exact simulations of other humans in our brains (even though "predicting other humans" is arguably the high-level cognitive task we are most specced for doing). But even setting that aside, the Solomonoff inductor's hypothesis also contains a bunch of stuff other than human brains, modeled in full detail—which again is not anything close to how humans model the world around us. I admit to having some trouble following your (implicit) argument here. Is it that, because a Solomonoff inductor is capable of simulating humans, that makes it "human-like" in some sense relevant to alignment? (Specifically, that doing the plan-sampling thing Rob mentioned in the OP with a Solomonoff inductor will get you a safe result, because it'll be "humans in other universes" writing the plans? If so, I don't see how that follows at all; I'm pretty sure having humans somewhere inside of your model doesn't mean that that part of your model is what ends up generating the high-level plans being sampled by the outer system.) It really seems to me that if I accept what looks to me like your argument, I'm basically forced to conclude that anything with a simplicity prior (trained on human data) will be aligned, meaning (in turn) the orthogonality thesis is completely false. But... well, I obviously don't buy that, so I'm puzzled that you seem to be stressing this point (in both this comment and other comments, e.g. this reply to me elsethread): (to be clear, my response to this is basically everything I wrote above; this is not meant as its own separate quote-reply block) That's not what I mean by "internal representations". I'm referring to the concepts learned by the model, and whether analogues for those concepts exist in human thought-space (and if so, how closely they match each other). It's not at all clear to me that this occurs by default, a
2jacob_cannell10mo
I think we are starting to talk past each other, so let me just summarize my position (and what i'm not arguing): 1.) ANNs and BNNs converge in their internal representations, in part because of how physics only permits a narrow pareto efficient solution set, but also because ANNs are literally trained as distillations of BNNs. (More well known/accepted now, but I argued/predicted this well in advance (at least as early as 2015)). 2.) Because of 1.), there is no problem with 'alien thoughts' based on mindspace geometry. That was just never going to be a problem. 3.) Neither 1 or 2 are sufficient for alignment by default - both points apply rather obviously to humans, who are clearly not aligned by default with other humans or humanity in general. Earlier you said: I then pointed out that full SI on a hypercomputer would result in recreating entire worlds with human minds, but that was a bit of a tangent. The more relevant point is more nuanced: AIXI is SI plus some reward function. So all different possible AIXI agents share the exact same world model, yet they have different reward functions and thus would generate different plans and may well end up killing each other or something. So having exactly the same world model is not sufficient for alignment - I'm not and would never argue that But if you train a LLM to distill human thought sequences, those thought sequences can implicitly contain plans, value judgements or the equivalents. Thus LLMs can naturally align to human values to varying degrees, merely through their training as distillations of human thought. This of course by itself doesn't guarantee alignment, but it is a much more hopeful situation to be in, because you can exert a great deal of control through control of the training data.
3Daniel Kokotajlo10mo
It's all relative. "Are extremely human, not alien at all" --> Are you seriously saying that e.g. if and when we one day encounter aliens on another planet, the kind of aliens smart enough to build an industrial civilization, they'll be more alien than LLMs? (Well, obviously they won't have been trained on the human Internet. So let's imagine we took a whole bunch of them as children and imported them to Earth and raised them in some crazy orphanage where they were forced to watch TV and read the internet and play various video games all day.) Because I instead say that all your arguments about similar learning algorithms, similar cognitive biases, etc. will apply even more strongly (in expectation) to these hypothetical aliens capable of building industrial civilization. So the basic relationship of humans<aliens<LLMs will still hold; LLMs will still be more alien than aliens.

Are you seriously saying that e.g. if and when we one day encounter aliens on another planet, the kind of aliens smart enough to build an industrial civilization, they'll be more alien than LLMs?

Yes! obviously more alien than our LLMs. LLMs are distillations of aggregated human linguistic cortices. Anytime you train one network on the output of others, you clone distill the original(s)! The algorithmic content of NNs is determined by the training data, and the data here in question is human thought.

This was always the way it was going to be, this was all predicted long in advance by the systems/cybernetics futurists like Moravec - AI was/will be our mind children.

EY misled many people here with the bad "human mindspace is narrow meme", I mostly agree with Quintin's recent takedown, but I of course also objected way back when.

5Daniel Kokotajlo10mo
Nice to see us getting down to cruxes.  I really don't buy this. To be clear: Your answer is Yes, including in the variant case I proposed in parentheses, where the aliens were taken as children and raised in a crazy Earth orphanage?
4jacob_cannell10mo
I didn't notice the part in parentheses at all until just now - added in edit? The edit really doesn't agree with the original question to me. If you took alien children and raised them as earthlings you'd get mostly earthlings in alien bodies - given some assumptions they had roughly similar sized brains and reasonably parallel evolution. Something like this has happened historically - when uncontacted tribal children are raised in a distant advanced civ for example. Western culture - WIERD - has so pervasively colonized and conquered much of the memetic landscape that we have forgotten how diverse human mindspace can be (in some sense it could be WIERD that was the alien invasion ). Also more locally on earth: japanese culture is somewhat alien compared to western english/american culture. I expect actual alien culture to be more alien.
3Daniel Kokotajlo10mo
I'm pretty sure I didn't edit it, I think that was there from the beginning. OK, cool. So then you agree that LLMs will be more alien than aliens-who-were-raised-on-Earth-in-crazy-internet-text-pretraining-orphanage?
2jacob_cannell10mo
I don't necessarily agree - as I don't consider either to be very alien. Minds are software memetic constructs so you are just comparing human software running on GPUs vs human software running on alien brains. How different that is and which is more different than human software running on ape brains now depends on many cumbersome details.
1Amalthea10mo
How do we know that the human brain and LLMs converge to the same internal representations - is that addressed in your earlier write-up?
2jacob_cannell10mo
Yes - It was already known for vision back in that 2015 post, and in my later posts I revisit the issue here and later here
3[comment deleted]10mo

I find Quintin's reply here somewhat unsatisfying, because I think it is too narrowly focused on current DL-paradigm methods and the artifacts they directly produce, without much consideration for how those artifacts might be composed and used in real systems. I attempted to describe my objections to this general kind of argument in a bit more detail here.

5rotatingpaguro10mo
I think Mr. Bensinger's argument is "randomly w.r.t. human plans," while I read your answer as interpreting it as an inherent "randomness" property of plans. Humans do not look random to other humans. This is not an argument for anything else then not looking random to humans.

It's true that if humans were reliably very ambitious, consequentialist, and power-seeking, then this would be stronger evidence that superintelligent AI tends to be ambitious and power-seeking. So the absence of that evidence has to be evidence against "superintelligent AI tends to be ambitious and power-seeking", even if it's not a big weight in the scales.

1rotatingpaguro10mo
Mainly from the second paragraph, I got the impression that "randomly sampled plans" referred to, or at least included, what is the goal, not just how much you optimize it. Anyway, I think I'm losing the thread of the discussion, so whatever.

Thanks for writing this up as a shorter summary Rob. Thanks also for engaging with people who disagree with you over the years. 

Here's my main area of disagreement: 

General intelligence is very powerful, and once we can build it at all, STEM-capable artificial general intelligence (AGI) is likely to vastly outperform human intelligence immediately (or very quickly).

I don't think this is likely to be true. Perhaps it is true of some cognitive architectures, but not for the connectionist architectures that are the only known examples of human-like AI intelligence and that are clearly the top AIs available today. In these cases, I expect human-level AI capabilities to grow to the point that they will vastly outperform humans much more slowly than immediately or "very quickly". This is basically the AI foom argument. 

And I think all of your other points are dependent on this one. Because if this is not true, then humanity will have time to iteratively deal with the problems that emerge, as we have in the past with all other technologies. 

My reasoning for not expecting ultra-rapid takeoff speeds is that I don't view connectionist intelligence as having a sort of "sec... (read more)

Agreed. A common failure mode in these discussions is to treat intelligence as equivalent to technological progress, instead of as an input to technological progress. 

Yes, in five years we will likely have AIs that will be able to tell us exactly where it would be optimal to allocate our scientific research budget. Notably, that does not mean that all current systemic obstacles to efficient allocation of scarce resources will vanish. There will still be the same perverse incentive structure for funding allocated to scientific progress as there is today, general intelligence or no.

Likewise, researchers will likely be able to make the actual protocols and procedures necessary to generate scientific knowledge as optimized as is possible with the use of AI. But a centrifuge is a centrifuge is a centrifuge. No amount of intelligence will make a centrifuge that takes a minimum of an hour to run take less than an hour to run. 

Intelligence is not an unbounded input to frontiers of technological progress that are reasonably bounded by the constraints of physical systems.

1Decaeneus9mo
Hi Andy - how are you gauging the likely relative proportions of AI capability sigmoidal curves relative to the current ceiling of human capability? Unless I'm misreading your position, it seems like you are presuming that the sigmoidal curves will (at least initially) top out at a level that is on the same order as human capabilities. What informs this prior? Due to the very different nature of our structural limitations (i.e. a brain that's not too big for a mother's hips to safely carry and deliver, specific energetic constraints, the not-very-precisely-directed nature of the evolutionary process) vs an AGI's system's limitations (which are simply different) it's totally unclear to me why we should expect the AGI's plateaus to be found at close-to-human levels.
2Andy_McKenzie9mo
These curves are due to temporary plateaus, not permanent ones. Moore's law is an example of a constraint that seems likely to plateau. I'm talking about takeoff speeds, not eventual capabilities with no resource limitations, which I agree would be quite high and I have little idea of how to estimate (there will probably still be some constraints, like within-system communication constraints). 
1Decaeneus9mo
Understood, and agreed, but I'm still left wondering about my question as it pertains to the first sigmoidal curve that shows STEM-capable AGI. Not trying to be nitpicky, just wondering how we should reason about the likelihood that the plateau of that first curve is not already far above the current limit of human capability. A reason to think so may be something to do with irreducible complexity making things very hard for us at around the same level that it would make them hard for a (first-gen) AGI. But a reason to think the opposite would be that we have line of sight to a bunch of amazing tech already, it's just a question of allocating the resources to support sufficiently many smart people working out the details. Another reason to think the opposite is that having a system that's (in some sense) directly optimized to be intelligent might just have a plateau drawn from a higher-meaned distribution than one that's optimized for fitness, and develops intelligence as a useful tool in that direction, since the pressure-on-intelligence for that sort of caps out at whatever it takes to dominate your immediate environment.

There's a lot of stuff I agree with in your post, but one thing I disagree with is point 3. See Where do you get your capabilities from?, especially the bounded breakdown of the orthogonality thesis part at the end.

Not that I think this makes GPT models fully safe, but I think its unsafety will look a lot more like the unsafety of humans, plus some changes in the price of things. (Which can make a huge difference.)

This post evolved from a Twitter thread I wrote two weeks ago. Copying over a Twitter reply by Richard Ngo (n.b. Richard was replying to the version on Twitter, which differed in lots of ways):

Rob, I appreciate your efforts, but this is a terrible framing for trying to convey "the basics", and obscures way more than it clarifies.

I'm worried about agents which try to achieve goals. That's the core thing, and you're calling it a misconception?! That's blatantly false.

In my first Alignment Fundamentals class I too tried to convey all the nuances of my thinking about agency as "the basics". It failed badly. One lesson: communication is harder than you think. More importantly: "actually trying" means getting feedback from your target audience.

(I replied and we had a short back-and-forth on Twitter.)

I definitely agree with Richard that the post would probably benefit from more iteration with intended users, if new people are the audience you want to target. (In particular, I doubt that the section quoted from the Aryeh interview will clarify much for new people.)

That said, I definitely think that it's the right call to emphasize up-front that instrumental convergence is a property of problem-space rather than of agency. More generally: when there's a common misinterpretation, which very often ends up load-bearing, then it makes sense to address that upfront; that's not nuance, it's central. Nuance is addressing misinterpretations which are rare or not very load-bearing. Instrumental convergence being a property of problem-spaces rather than "agents" is pretty central to a MIRI-ish view, and underlies a lot of common confusions new-ish people have about such views.

9Rob Bensinger10mo
Thanks for the feedback, John! I've moved the Aryeh/Eliezer exchange to a footnote, and I welcome more ideas for ways to improve the piece. (Folks are also welcome to repurpose anything I wrote above to create something new and more beginner-friendly, if you think there's a germ of a good beginner-friendly piece anywhere in the OP.) Tagging @Richard_Ngo 
9Rob Bensinger10mo
Also, per footnote 1: "I wrote this post to summarize my own top reasons for being worried, not to try to make a maximally compelling or digestible case for others." The original reason I wrote this was that Dustin Moskovitz wanted something like this, as an alternative to posts like AGI Ruin: This post is speaking for me and not necessarily for Eliezer, but I figure it may be useful anyway. (A MIRI researcher did review an earlier draft and left comments that I incorporated, at least.) And indeed, one of the obvious ways it could be useful is if it ends up evolving into (or inspiring) a good introductory resource, though I don't know how likely that is, I don't know whether it's already a good intro-ish resource paired with something else, etc.

This post seems to argue for fast/discontinuous takeoff without explicitly noting that people working in alignment often disagree. Further I think many of the arguments given here for fast takeoff seem sloppy or directly wrong on my own views.

It seems reasonable to just give your views without noting disagreement, but if the goal is for this to be a reference for the AI risk case, then I think you should probably note where people (who are still sold on AI risk) often disagree. (Edit: It looks like Rob explained his goals in a footnote.)

Another large piece of what I mean is that (STEM-level) general intelligence is a very high-impact sort of thing to automate because STEM-level AGI is likely to blow human intelligence out of the water immediately, or very soon after its invention. ... Empirically, humans aren't near a cognitive ceiling, and even narrow AI often suddenly blows past the human reasoning ability range on the task it's designed for. It would be weird if scientific reasoning were an exception.

The most general AI systems we currently have are large language models and we (broadly speaking) see their overall performance reasonably steadily improve year after year. Addi... (read more)

7Rob Bensinger10mo
If I had a list of 5-10 resources that folks like Paul, Holden, Ajeya, Carl, etc. see as the main causes for optimism, I'd be happy to link those resources (either in a footnote or in the main body). I'd definitely include something like 'survey data on the same population as my 2021 AI risk survey, saying how much people agree/disagree with the ten factors", though I'd guess this isn't the optimal use of those people's time even if we want to use that time to survey something? One of the options in Eliezer's Manifold market on AGI hope is: When I split up probability mass a month ago between the market's 16 options, this one only got 1.5% of my probability mass (12th place out of the 16). This obviously isn't the same question we're discussing here, but it maybe gives some perspective on why I didn't single out this disagreement above the many other disagreements I could devote space to that strike me as way more relevant to hope? (For some combination of 'likelier to happen' and 'likelier to make a big difference for p(doom) if they do happen'.) ... Wait, why not? If AI exceeds the human capability range on STEM four years from now, I would call that 'very soon', especially given how terrible GPT-4 is at STEM right now. The thesis here is not 'we definitely won't have twelve months to work with STEM-level AGI systems before they're powerful enough to be dangerous'; it's more like 'we won't have decades'. Somewhere between 'no time' and 'a few years' seems extremely likely to me, and I think that's almost definitely not enough time to figure out alignment for those systems. (Admittedly, in the minority of worlds where STEM-level AGI systems are totally safe for the first two years they're operational, part of why it's hard to make fast progress on alignment is that we won't know they're perfectly safe. An important chunk of the danger comes from the fact that humans have no clue where the line is between the most powerful systems that are safe, and the least
9ryan_greenblatt10mo
I think my views on takeoff/timelines are broadly similar to Paul's except that I have somewhat shorter takeoffs and timelines (I think this is due to thinking AI is a bit easier and also due to misc deference). Fair enough on 'this is very soon', but I think the exact quantitative details make a big difference between "AGI ruin seems nearly certain in the absense of positive miracless" and "doom seems quite plausible, but we'll most likely make it through" (my probability of takeover is something like 35%) I agree with 'we won't have decades' (in the absense of large efforts to slow down which seem unlikely). But from the perspective of targeting our work and alignment research, there is a huge difference between steady and quite noticable takeoff over the course of a few years (which is still insanely fast to humans to be clear) and sudden takeoff within a month. For instance, this disagreement seems to drive a high fraction of the overall disagreement between OpenPhil/Paul/etc views and MIRI-ish views. I don't think this difference should be nearly enough to think the situation is close to ok! Under my views, the goverment should probably take immediate and drastic action if they could do so competently! That said, the picture for alignment researchers is quite different under these views and it seems important to try and get the exact details right when trying to explain the story for AI risk (I think we actually disagree here on details). Additionally, I'd note that I do have some probability on 'Yudkowsky style takeoff' (but maybe only like 5%). Even if we were fine in all other worlds, this alone should be easily sufficient to justify a huge response from society! [not necessarily endorsed by Paul] My understanding is that Paul has a 20 year median on 'dyson sphere or similarly large technical accomplishment'. He also thinks the probability on 'dyson sphere or similarly large technical accomplishment' by end of the decade (within 7 years) is around 15%.
4Rob Bensinger10mo
Thanks for the replies, Ryan! I don't think that 'the very first STEM-level AGI is smart enough to destroy the world if you relax some precautions' and 'we have 2.5 years to work with STEM-level AGI before any system is smart enough to destroy the world' changes my p(doom) much at all. (Though this is partly because I don't expect, in either of those worlds, that we'll be able to be confident about which world we're in.) If we have 6 years to safely work with STEM-level AGI, that does intuitively start to feel like a significant net increase in p(hope) to me? Though this is complicated by the fact that such AGI probably couldn't do pivotal acts either, and having STEM-level AGI for a longer period of time before a pivotal act occurs means that the tech will be more widespread when it does reach dangerous capability levels. So in the endgame, you're likely to have a lot more competition, and correspondingly less time to spend on safety if you want to deploy before someone destroys the world.
4Mo Putera10mo
That's probably not what Rob is doing:

Sorry, just wanted to focus on one sentence close to the beginning:

We can barely multiply smallish multi-digit numbers together in our head, when in principle a reasoner could hold thousands of complex mathematical structures in its working memory simultaneously and perform complex operations on them.

Strangely enough, current LLMs have the exact same issue as humans: they guess the ballpark numerical answers reasonably well, but they are terrible at being precise. Be it drawing the right number of fingers, or writing a sentence with exactly 10 words, or mu... (read more)

5Archimedes10mo
Similar to humans, LLMs can do 6-digit multiplication with sufficient prompting/structure! https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/XvorpDSu3dwjdyT4f/gpt-4-multiplication-competition
2shminux10mo
Right... Which kind of fits with easy vs hard learning.

Small suggestion: add LW headings so there's a linkable table of contents, especially if you're going to direct other people to this post.

Another large piece of what I mean is that (STEM-level) general intelligence is a very high-impact sort of thing to automate because STEM-level AGI is likely to blow human intelligence out of the water immediately, or very soon after its invention.

I don't understand your reasoning for this conclusion. Unless I'm misunderstanding something, almost all your points in support of this thesis appear to be arguments that the upper bound of intelligence is high. But the thesis was about the rate of improvement, not the upper bound.

There are many things in the rea... (read more)

A common misconception is that STEM-level AGI is dangerous because of something murky about "agents" or about self-awareness. Instead, I'd say that the danger is inherent to the nature of action sequences that push the world toward some sufficiently-hard-to-reach state.

Call such sequences "plans".

If you sampled a random plan from the space of all writable plans (weighted by length, in any extant formal language), and all we knew about the plan is that executing it would successfully achieve some superhumanly ambitious technological goal like "invent fast-

... (read more)
2Rob Bensinger10mo
I don't think your claim makes the argument circular / question-begging; it just means there's an extra step in explaining why and how a random action sequence destroys the world. Maybe you mean that I'm putting the emphasis in the wrong place, and it would be more illuminating to highlight some specific feature of random smart short programs as the source of the 'instrumental convergence' danger? If so, what do you think that feature is? From my current perspective I think the core problem really is that most random short plans that succeed in sufficiently-hard tasks kill us. If the causal process by which this happens includes building a powerful AI optimizer, or building an AI that builds an AI, or building an AI that builds an AI that builds an AI, etc., then that's interesting and potentially useful to know, but that doesn't seem like the key crux to me, and I'm not sure it helps further illuminate where the danger is ultimately coming from. Very happy to hear someone with an idea like this who explicitly flags that we shouldn't gamble on this being true!
2Rob Bensinger10mo
One reason I like "the danger is in the space of action sequences that achieve real-world goals" rather than "the danger is in the space of short programs that achieve real-world goals" is that it makes it clearer why adding humans to the process can still result in the world being destroyed. If powerful action sequences are dangerous, and humans help execute an action sequence (that wasn't generated by human minds), then it's clear why that is dangerous too. If the danger instead lies in powerful "short programs", then it's more tempting to say "just don't give the program actuators and we'll be fine". The temptation is to imagine that the program is like a lion, and if you just keep the lion physically caged then it won't harm you. If you're instead thinking about action sequences, then it's less likely to even occur to you that the whole problem might be solved by changing the AI from a plan-executor to a plan-recommender. Which is a step in the right direction in terms of actually grokking the nature of the problem.

Some direct (I think) evidence that alignment is harder than capabilities; OpenAI basically released GPT-2 immediately with basic warnings that it might produce biased, wrong, and offensive answers. It did, but they were relatively mild. GPT-2 mostly just did what it was prompted to do, if it could manage it, or failed obviously. GPT-3 had more caveats, OpenAI didn't release the model, and has poured significant effort into improving its iterations over the last ~2 years. GPT-4 wasn't released for months after pre-training, OpenAI won't even say how bi... (read more)

Quoting a recent conversation between Aryeh Englander and Eliezer Yudkowsky

Out of curiosity, is this conversation publicly posted anywhere? I didn't see a link.

6Aryeh Englander10mo
The conversation took place in the comments section to something I posted on Facebook: https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=pfbid0qE1PYd3ijhUXVFc9omdjnfEKBX4VNqj528eDULzoYSj34keUbUk624UwbeM4nMyNl&id=100010608396052&mibextid=Nif5oz

A common misconception is that STEM-level AGI is dangerous because of something murky about “agents” or about self-awareness. Instead, I’d say that the danger is inherent to the nature of action sequences that push the world toward some sufficiently-hard-to-reach state.[8]

Call such sequences “plans”.

If you sampled a random plan from the space of all writable plans (weighted by length, in any extant formal language), and all we knew about the plan is that executing it would successfully achieve some superhumanly ambitious technological goal like “inv

... (read more)

6. We don't currently know how to do alignment, we don't seem to have a much better idea now than we did 10 years ago, and there are many large novel visible difficulties. (See AGI Ruin and the Capabilities Generalization, and the Sharp Left Turn.)

The first link should probably go to https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/uMQ3cqWDPHhjtiesc/agi-ruin-a-list-of-lethalities

"Invent fast WBE" is likelier to succeed if the plan also includes steps that gather and control as many resources as possible, eliminate potential threats, etc. These are "convergent instrumental strategies"—strategies that are useful for pushing the world in a particular direction, almost regardless of which direction you're pushing. The danger is in the cognitive work, not in some complicated or emergent feature of the "agent"; it's in the task itself.

I agree with the claim that some strategies are beneficial regardless of the specific goal. Yet I stron... (read more)

Thanks for writing this. I think this is a lot clearer and more accessible that most write-ups on this topic and seems valuable.

I think the points around randomly-sampled plans being lethal, and expecting AGI to more closely randomly-sample plans, seem off though:

I don't see why lethal plans dominate the simplicity-weighted distribution if all we do is condition on plans that succeed. I expect the reasoning is "Lethal IC plans are more likely to succeed, therefore there are more minor (equally or barely more complex) variations of a given lethal plan that ... (read more)

I notice I am confused by two assumptions about STEM-capable AGI and its ascent:


Assumption 1: The difficulty of self-improvement of an intelligent system is either linear, or if not, its less steep over time than its increase in capabilities. (counter scenario: an AI system achieves human level intelligence, then soon after intelligence 200% of an average human. Once it reaches say, 248% of human intelligence it hits an unforeseen roadblock because achieving 249% of human intelligence in any way is a Really Hard Problem, orders of magnitude beyond passing ... (read more)

The common belief that Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) would pose a significant threat to humanity is predicated on several assumptions that warrant further scrutiny. It is often suggested that an entity with vastly superior intelligence would inevitably perceive humans as a threat to its own survival and resort to destructive behavior. However, such a view overlooks several key factors that could contribute to the development of a more cooperative relationship between AGI and humanity.

One factor that could mitigate any perceived threat is that an AG... (read more)

But if they do, we face the problem that most ways of successfully imitating humans don't look like "build a human (that's somehow superhumanly good at imitating the Internet)". They look like "build a relatively complex and alien optimization process that is good at imitation tasks (and potentially at many other tasks)".

I think this point could use refining. Once we get our predictor AI, we don't say "do X", we say "how do you predict a human would do X" and then follow that plan. So you need to argue why plans that an AI predicts humans will use to do X tend to be dangerous. This is clearly a very different set than the set of plans for doing X.