Epistemologist specialized in the difficulties of alignment. Currently at Conjecture, and running Refine.


Building Blocks
Becoming Stronger as Epistemologist
Epistemic Cookbook for Alignment
Reviews for the Alignment Forum
AI Alignment Unwrapped
Deconfusing Goal-Directedness

Wiki Contributions


Oh, didn't know him!

Thanks for the links!

Thanks for the comment!

I agree with you that there are situations where the issue comes from a cultural norm rather than psychological problems. That's one reason for the last part of this post, where we point out to generally positive and productive norms that try to avoid these cultural problems and make it possible to discuss them. (One of the issue I see in my own life with cultural norms is that they are way harder to discuss when in addition psychological problems compound them and make them feel sore and emotional). But you might be right that it's worth highlighting more.

In a more meta point, my model is that we have moved from societies where almost everything is considered ''people's fault" to societies where almost everything is considered "society's fault". And it strikes me that this is an overcorrection, and that actually many issues in day to day life and groups are just people's problem (here drawing from my experience of realizing in many situations that I was the problem, and in other — less common — that the norms were the problem.)

Oh, I definitely agree, this is a really good point. What I was highlighting was an epistemic issue (namely the confusion between ideal and necessary conditions) but there is also a different decision theoretic issue that you highlighted quite well.

It's completely possible that you're not powerful enough to work outside the ideal condition. But by doing the epistemic clarification, now we can consider the explicit decision of taking step to become more powerful and being better able to manage non-ideal conditions.

Good point! The difference is that the case explained in this post is one of the most sensible version of confusing the goal and the path, since there the path is actually a really good path. On the other version (like wanting to find a simple theory simply, the path is not even a good one!

In many ways, this post is frustrating to read. It isn't straigthforward, it needlessly insults people, and it mixes irrelevant details with the key ideas.

And yet, as with many of Eliezer's post, its key points are right.

What this post does is uncover the main epistemological mistakes made by almost everyone trying their hands at figuring out timelines. Among others, there is:

  • Taking arbitrary guesses within a set of options that you don't have enough evidence to separate
  • Piling on arbitrary assumption on arbitraty assumption, leading to completely uninformative outputs
  • Comparing biological processes to human engineering in term of speed, without noticing that the optimization path is the key variable (and the big uncertainty)
  • Forcing the prediction to fit within a massively limited set of distributions, biasing it towards easy to think about distributions rather than representative ones.

Before reading this post I was already dubious of most timeline work, but this crystallized many of my objections and issues with this line of work.

So I got a lot out of this post. And I expect that many people would if they spent the time I took to analyze it in detail. But I don't expect most people to do so, and so am ambivalent on whether this post should be included in the final selection.


I was mostly thinking of the efficiency assumption underlying almost all the scenarios. Critch assumes that a significant chunk of the economy always can and does make the most efficient change (everyone replacing the job, automated regulations replacing banks when they can't move fast enough). Which neglects many potential factors, like big economic actors not having to be efficient for a long time, backlash from customers, and in general all factors making economic actors and market less than efficient.

I expect that most of these factors could be addressed with more work on the scenarios.

I consider this post as one of the most important ever written on issues of timelines and AI doom scenario. Not because it's perfect (some of its assumptions are unconvincing), but because it highlights a key aspect of AI Risk and the alignment problem which is so easy to miss coming from a rationalist mindset: it doesn't require an agent to take over the whole world. It is not about agency.

What RAAPs show instead is that even in a purely structural setting, where agency doesn't matter, these problem still crop up!

This insight was already present in Drexler's work, but however insightful Eric is in person, CAIS is completely unreadable and so no one cared. But this post is well written. Not perfectly once again, but it gives short, somewhat minimal proofs of concept for this structural perspective on alignment. And it also managed to tie alignment with key ideas in sociology, opening ways for interdisciplinarity.

I have made every person I have ever mentored on alignment study this post. And I plan to continue doing so. Despite the fact that I'm unconvinced by most timeline and AI risk scenarios post. That's how good and important it is.

I agree that a lot of science relies on predictive hallucinations. But there are examples that come to mind, notably the sort of phenomenological compression pushed by Faraday and (early) Ampère in their initial exploration of electromagnetism. What they did amounted to vary a lot of the experimental condition and relate outcomes and phenomena to each other, without directly assuming any hidden entity. (see this book for more details)

More generally, I expect most phenomenological laws to not rely heavily on predictive hallucinations, even when they integrate theoretical terms in their formulation. That's because they are mostly strong experimental regularities (like the ideal gas law or the phenomenological laws of thermodynamics) which tend to be carried to the next paradigm with radically different hidden entities.

So reification means "the act of making real" in most english dictionaries (see here for example). That's the meaning we're trying to evoke here, where the reification bias amounts to first postulate some underlying entity that explain the phenomena (that's merely a modelling technique), and second to ascribe reality to this entity and manipulate it as if it was real.

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