MIRI strategy

by ColonelMustard 1 min read28th Oct 201396 comments


Summary: I do not understand why MIRI hasn’t produced a non-technical (pamphlet/blog post/video) to persuade people that UFAI is a serious concern. Creating and distributing this document should be MIRI’s top priority.

If you want to make sure the first AGI is FAI, one way to do so is to be the first to create an AI, and ensure it is FAI. Another is to persuade people that UFAI is a legitimate concern, and do so in large numbers. Ideally this would become a real concern, so nobody runs into the trap of Eliezer1999ish of “I’m going to build an AI and see how it works”.

1) is tough for an organisation of MIRI’s size. 2) is a realistic goal. It benefits from: 

Funding: MIRI’s funding almost certainly goes up if more people are concerned with AI x-risk. Ditto FHI.
Scalability: If MIRI has a new math finding, that's one new theorem. If MIRI creates a convincing demonstration that we have to worry about AI, spreading this message to a million people is plausible.
Partial goal completion: making a math breakthrough that reduces the time to AI might be counter-productive. Persuading an additional person of the dangers of UFAI raises the sanity waterline.
Task difficulty: creating an AI is hard. Persuading people that “UFAI is a possible extinction risk. Take it seriously” is nothing like as difficult. (I was persuaded of this in about 20 minutes of conversation.)

One possible response is “it’s not possible to persuade people without math backgrounds, training in rationality, engineering degrees, etc”. To which I reply: what’s the data supporting that hypothesis? How much effort has MIRI expended in trying to explain to intelligent non-LW readers what they’re doing and why they’re doing it? And what were the results?

Another possible response is “We have done this, and it's available on our website. Read the Five Theses”. To which I reply: Is this is in the ideal form to persuade a McKinsey consultant who’s never read Less Wrong? If an entrepreneur with net worth $20m but no math background wants to donate to the most efficient charity he finds, would he be convinced? What efforts has MIRI made to test the hypothesis that the Five Theses, or Evidence and Import, or any other document, has been tailored to optimise the chance of convincing others?
(Further – if MIRI _does_ think this is as persuasive as it can possibly be, why doesn't it shift focus to get the Five Theses read by as many people as possible?)

Here’s one way to go about accomplishing this. Write up an explanation of the concerns MIRI has and how it is trying to allay them, and do so in clear English. (The Five Theses are available in Up-Goer Five form. Writing them in language readable by the average college graduate should be a cinch compared to that). Send it out to a few of the target market and find the points that could be expanded, clarified, or made more convinced. Maybe provide two versions and see which one gets the most positive response. Continue this process until the document has been through a series of iterations and shows no signs of improvement. Then shift focus to getting that link read by as many people as possible. Ask all of MIRI’s donors, all LW readers, HPMOR subscribers, friends and family etc, to forward that one document to their friends.