Suppose you're training a huge neural network with some awesome future RL algorithm with clever exploration bonuses and a self-supervised pretrained multimodal initialization and a recurrent state. This NN implements an embodied agent which takes actions in reality (and also in some sim environments). You watch the agent remotely using a webcam (initially unbeknownst to the agent). When the AI's activities make you smile, you press the antecedent-computation-reinforcer button (known to some as the "reward" button). The agent is given some appropriate curriculum, like population-based self-play, so as to provide a steady skill requirement against which its intelligence is sharpened over training. Supposing the curriculum trains these agents out until they're generally intelligent—what comes next?

  • The standard response is "One or more of the agents gets smart, does a treacherous turn, kills you, and presses the reward button forever." 
  • Another response is "The AI paralyzes your face into smiling." 
    • But this is actually a highly nontrivial claim about the internal balance of value and computation which this reinforcement schedule carves into the AI. Insofar as this response implies that an AI will primarily "care about" literally making you smile, that seems like a highly speculative and unsupported claim about the AI internalizing a single powerful decision-relevant criterion / shard of value, which also happens to be related to the way that humans conceive of the situation (i.e. someone is being made to smile).

My current answer is "I don't know precisely what goes wrong, but probably something does, but also I suspect I could write down mechanistically plausible-to-me stories where things end up bad but not horrible." I think the AI will very probably have a spread of situationally-activated computations which steer its actions towards historical reward-correlates (e.g. if near a person, then tell a joke), and probably not singularly value e.g. making people smile or reward. Furthermore, I think its values won't all map on to the "usual" quantities-of-value:

80% credence: It's very hard to train an inner agent which reflectively equilibrates to an EU maximizer only over commonly-postulated motivating quantities (like # of diamonds or # of happy people or reward-signal) and not quantities like (# of times I have to look at a cube in a blue room or -1 * subjective micromorts accrued).

So, I'm pretty uncertain about what happens here, but would guess that most other researchers are less uncertain than I am. So here's an opportunity for us to talk it out!

(My mood here isn't "And this is what we do for alignment, let's relax." My mood is "Why consider super-complicated reward and feedback schemes when, as far as I can tell, we don't know what's going to happen in this relatively simple scheme? How do reinforcement schedules map into inner values?")

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I think the main concept missing here is compression: trained systems favor more compact policies/models/heuristics/algorithms/etc. The fewer parameters needed to implement the inner agent, the more parameters are free to vary, and therefore the more parameter-space-volume the agent takes up and the more likely it is to be found. (This is also the main argument for why overparameterized ML systems are able to generalize at all.)

The outer training loop doesn't just select for high reward, it also implicitly selects for compactness. We expect it to find, not just policies which achieve high reward, but policies which are very compactly represented.

Compression is the main reason we expect inner search processes to appear. Here's the relevant argument from Risks From Learned Optimization:

In some tasks, good performance requires a very complex policy. At the same time, base optimizers are generally biased in favor of selecting learned algorithms with lower complexity. Thus, all else being equal, the base optimizer will generally be incentivized to look for a highly compressed policy.

One way to find a compressed policy is to search for one that is able to use general features of the task structure to produce good behavior, rather than simply memorizing the correct output for each input. A mesa-optimizer is an example of such a policy. From the perspective of the base optimizer, a mesa-optimizer is a highly-compressed version of whatever policy it ends up implementing: instead of explicitly encoding the details of that policy in the learned algorithm, the base optimizer simply needs to encode how to search for such a policy. Furthermore, if a mesa-optimizer can determine the important features of its environment at runtime, it does not need to be given as much prior information as to what those important features are, and can thus be much simpler.

The same argument applies to the terminal objectives/heuristics/proxies instilled in an RL-trained system: it may not terminally value the reward button being pushed or the human smiling or whatever, but its values should be generated from a relatively small, relatively simple set of things. For instance, a plausible Fermi estimate for humans is that our values are ultimately generated from ~tens of simple proxies. (And I would guess that modern ML training would probably result in even fewer, relative to human evolution.)

Furthermore, whatever terminal values are instilled in the RL-trained system, they do need to at least induce near-perfect optimization of the feedback signal on the training set; otherwise the outer training loop would select some other parameters. The outer training loop is still an optimization process, after all, so whatever policy the trained system ends up with should still be roughly-optimal. (There's some potential wiggle room here insofar as the AI which takes off will be the first one to pass the threshold, and that may happen during a training run before convergence, but I think that's probably not central to discussion here?)

Putting that all together: we don't know that the AI will necessarily end up optimizing reward-button-pushes or smiles; there may be other similarly-compact proxies which correlate near-perfectly with reward in the training process. We can probably rule out "a spread of situationally-activated computations which steer its actions towards historical reward-correlates", insofar as that spread is a much less compact policy-encoding than an explicit search process + simple objective(s).

We can probably rule out "a spread of situationally-activated computations which steer its actions towards historical reward-correlates", insofar as that spread is a much less compact policy-encoding than an explicit search process + simple objective(s).

Here's what I think you mean by an explicit search process: 

  • In every situation, the neural network runs e.g. MCTS with a fixed leaf evaluation function (the simple objective).

On this understanding of your argument, I would be amazed if it actually went through. Here are a few quick counterpoints.

  • Outsid
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6johnswentworth4mo
I'm not that committed to the RL frame, but roughly speaking yes. Whatever values we have are probably generated by ~tens of hardcoded things. Anyway, on to the meat of the discussion... It seems like a whole bunch of people are completely thrown off by use of the word "search". So let's taboo that and talk about what's actually relevant here. We should expect compression, and we should expect general-purpose problem solving (i.e. the ability to take a fairly arbitrary problem in the training environment and solve it reasonably well). The general-purpose part comes from a combination of (a) variation in what the system needs to do to achieve good performance in training, and (b) the recursive nature of problem solving, i.e. solving one problem involves solving a wide variety of subproblems. Compactness means that it probably won't be a whole boatload of case-specific heuristics; lookup tables are not compact. A subroutine for reasonably-general planning or problem-solving (i.e. take a problem statement, figure out a plan or solution) is the key thing we're talking about here. Possibly a small number of such subroutines for a few different problem-classes, but not a large number of such subroutines, because compactness. My guess would be basically just one. That probably will not look like babble and prune. It may look like a general-purpose heuristic-generator (like e.g. relaxation based heuristic generation). Or it may look like general-purpose efficiency tricks, like caching solutions to common subproblems. Or it may look like harcoded heuristics which are environment-specific but reasonably goal-agnostic (like e.g. the sort of thing in Mazes and Duality [https://www.lesswrong.com/posts/T8qhPyiFPFcSZ2swC/mazes-and-duality] yields a maze-specific heuristic, but one which applies to a wide variety of path finding problems within that maze). Or it may look like harcoded strategies for achieving instrumentally convergent goals in the training environment (really th
4Alex Turner3mo
This seems like roughly what I had in mind by "contextually activated computations" (probably with a few differences about when/how the subroutines will be goal-agnostic). I was imagining computations like "contextually activated cached death-avoidance policy influences" and "contextually activated steering of plans towards paperclip production, in generalizations of the historical reinforcement contexts for paperclip-reward."

Quoting Rob Bensinger quoting Eliezer:

So what actually happens as near as I can figure (predicting future = hard) is that somebody is trying to teach their research AI to, god knows what, maybe just obey human orders in a safe way, and it seems to be doing that, and a mix of things goes wrong like:

The preferences not being really readable because it's a system of neural nets acting on a world-representation built up by other neural nets, parts of the system are self-modifying and the self-modifiers are being trained by gradient descent in Tensorflow, there's a bunch of people in the company trying to work on a safer version but it's way less powerful than the one that does unrestricted self-modification, they're really excited when the system seems to be substantially improving multiple components, there's a social and cognitive conflict I find hard to empathize with because I personally would be running screaming in the other direction two years earlier, there's a lot of false alarms and suggested or attempted misbehavior that the creators all patch successfully, some instrumental strategies pass this filter because they arose in places that were harder to see and less transparent, the system at some point seems to finally "get it" and lock in to good behavior which is the point at which it has a good enough human model to predict what gets the supervised rewards and what the humans don't want to hear, they scale the system further, it goes past the point of real strategic understanding and having a little agent inside plotting, the programmers shut down six visibly formulated goals to develop cognitive steganography and the seventh one slips through, somebody says "slow down" and somebody else observes that China and Russia both managed to steal a copy of the code from six months ago and while China might proceed cautiously Russia probably won't, the agent starts to conceal some capability gains, it builds an environmental subagent, the environmental agent begins self-improving more freely, undefined things happen as a sensory-supervision ML-based architecture shakes out into the convergent shape of expected utility with a utility function over the environmental model, the main result is driven by whatever the self-modifying decision systems happen to see as locally optimal in their supervised system locally acting on a different domain than the domain of data on which it was trained, the light cone is transformed to the optimum of a utility function that grew out of the stable version of a criterion that originally happened to be about a reward signal counter on a GPU or God knows what.

Perhaps the optimal configuration for utility per unit of matter, under this utility function, happens to be a tiny molecular structure shaped roughly like a paperclip.

That is what a paperclip maximizer is. It does not come from a paperclip factory AI. That would be a silly idea and is a distortion of the original example.

Perhaps the optimal configuration for utility per unit of matter, under this utility function, happens to be a tiny molecular structure shaped roughly like a paperclip.

I think this is very improbable, but thanks for the quote. Not sure if it addresses my question?

2Daniel Kokotajlo3mo
Yudkowsky & I would of course agree that that is very improbable. It's just an example. The point I was making with this quote is that the question you are asking is a Big Old Unsolved Problem in the literature. If we had any idea what sort of utility function the system would end up with, that would be great and an improvement over the status quo. Yudkowsky's point in the quote is that it's a complicated multi-step process we currently don't have a clue about, it's not nearly as simple as "the system will maximize reward." A much better story would be "The system will maximize some proxy, which will gradually evolve via SGD to be closer and closer to reward, but at some point it'll get smart enough to go for reward for instrumental convergence reasons and at that point its proxy goal will crystallize." But this story is also way too simplistic. And it doesn't tell us much at all about what the proxy will actually look like, because so much depends on the exact order in which various things are learned. I should have made it just a comment, not an answer.
2Alex Turner3mo
I actually doubt that claim in its stronger forms. I think there's some substantial effect, but e.g. whether a child loves their family doesn't depend strongly on the precise curriculum at grade school.
2Daniel Kokotajlo3mo
Yet whether a child grows up to work on x-risk reduction vs. homeless shelters vs. voting Democrats out of office vs. voting Republicans out of office does often depend on the precise curriculum in college+high school. (I think we are in agreement here. I'd be interested to hear if you can point to any particular value AGI will probably have, or (weaker) any particular value such that if AGI has it, it doesn't depend strongly on the curriculum, order in which concepts are learned, etc.)
3 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 7:50 AM
  • Another response is "The AI paralyzes your face into smiling." 
    • But this is actually a highly nontrivial claim about the internal balance of value and computation which this reinforcement schedule carves into the AI. Insofar as this response implies that an AI will primarily "care about" literally making you smile, that seems like a highly speculative and unsupported claim about the AI internalizing a single powerful decision-relevant criterion / shard of value, which also happens to be related to the way that humans conceive of the situation (i.e. someone is being made to smile).

Who do you think would make the claim that the AI in this scenario would care about "literally making you smile", as opposed to some complex, non-human-comprehensible goal somewhat related to humans smiling? E.g. Yudkowsky gives the example of an AI in that situation learning to optimize for "tiny molecular smiley faces", which is a much weirder generalization than "making you smile", although I think still less weird than the goal he'd actually expect such a system to learn (which wouldn't be describable in a single four-word phrase).

I think the AI will very probably have a spread of situationally-activated computations which steer its actions towards historical reward-correlates (e.g. if near a person, then tell a joke), and probably not singularly value e.g. making people smile or reward.

I think this happens when you have less intelligent systems, and then as you have more intelligent systems those correlates end up unified into higher-level abstractions which correspond to large-scale goals. I outline some of the arguments for that position in phase 3 here.

Who do you think would make the claim that the AI in this scenario would care about "literally making you smile", as opposed to some complex, non-human-comprehensible goal somewhat related to humans smiling?

I don't know? Seems like a representative kind of "potential risk" I've read about before, but I'm not going to go dig it up right now. (My post also isn't primarily about who said what, so I'm confused by your motivation for posting this question?)

I've often repeated scenarios like this, or like the paperclip scenario.

My intention was never to state that the specific scenario was plausible or default or expected, but rather, that we do not know how to rule it out, and because of that, something similarly bad (but unexpected and hard to predict) might happen

The structure of the argument we eventually want is one which could (probabilistically, and of course under some assumptions) rule out this outcome. So to me, pointing it out as a possible outcome is a way of pointing to the inadequacy of our current ability to analyze the situation, not as part of a proto-model in which we are conjecturing that we will be able to predict "the AI will make paperclips" or "the AI will literally try to make you smile".