A bunch of my response to shard theory is a generalization of how niceness is unnatural. In a similar fashion, the other “shards” that the shard theory folk want to learn are unnatural too.
That said, I'll spend a few extra words responding to the admirably-concrete diamond maximizer proposal that TurnTrout recently published, on the theory that briefly gesturing at my beliefs is better than saying nothing.
I’ll be focusing on the diamond maximizer plan, though this criticism can be generalized and applied more broadly to shard theory.
- The first “problem” with this plan is that you don't get an AGI this way. You get an unintelligent robot that steers towards diamonds. If you keep trying to have the training be about diamonds, it never particularly learns to think. When you compromise and start putting it in environments where it needs to be able to think to succeed, then your new reward-signals end up promoting all sorts of internal goals that aren't particularly about diamond, but are instead about understanding the world and/or making efficient use of internal memory and/or suchlike.
- Separately, insofar as you were able to get some sort of internalized diamond-ish goal, if you're not really careful then you end up getting lots of subgoals such as ones about glittering things, and stones cut in stylized ways, and proximity to diamond rather than presence of diamond, and so on and so forth.
- Furthermore, once you get it to be smart, all of those little correlates-of-training-objectives that it latched onto in order to have a gradient up to general intelligence, blow the whole plan sky-high once it starts to reflect.
What the AI's shards become under reflection is very sensitive to the ways it resolves internal conflicts. For instance, in humans, many of our values trigger only in a narrow range of situations (e.g., people care about people enough that they probably can't psychologically murder a hundred thousand people in a row, but they can still drop a nuke), and whether we resolve that as "I should care about people even if they're not right in front of me" or "I shouldn't care about people any more than I would if the scenario was abstracted" depends quite a bit on the ways that reflection resolves inconsistencies.
Or consider the conflict "I really enjoy dunking on the outgroup (but have some niggling sense of unease about this)" — we can't conclude from the fact that the enjoyment of dunking is loud, whereas the niggling doubt is quiet, that the dunking-on-the-outgroup value will be the one left standing after reflection.
As far as I can tell, the "reflection" section of TurnTrout’s essay says ~nothing that addresses this, and amounts to "the agent will become able to tell that it has shards". OK, sure, it has shards, but only some of them are diamond-related, and many others are cognition-related or suchlike. I don't see any argument that reflection will result in the AI settling at "maximize diamond" in-particular.
Finally, I'll note that the diamond maximization problem is not in fact the problem "build an AI that makes a little diamond", nor even "build an AI that probably makes a decent amount of diamond, while also spending lots of other resources on lots of other stuff" (although the latter is more progress than the former). The diamond maximization problem (as originally posed by MIRI folk) is a challenge of building an AI that definitely optimizes for a particular simple thing, on the theory that if we knew how to do that (in unrealistically simplified models, allowing for implausible amounts of (hyper)computation) then we would have learned something significant about how to point cognition at targets in general.
TurnTrout’s proposal seems to me to be basically "train it around diamonds, do some reward-shaping, and hope that at least some care-about-diamonds makes it across the gap". I doubt this works (because the optimum of the shattered correlates of the training objectives that it gets are likely to involve tiling the universe with something that isn't actually diamond, even if you're lucky-enough that it got a diamond-shard at all, which is dubious), but even if it works a little, it doesn't seem to me to be teaching us any of the insights that would be possessed by someone who knew how to robustly aim an idealized unbounded (or even hypercomputing) cognitive system in theory.
I appreciate you writing your quick thoughts on this. I have a few primary reactions, and then I'll detail specific reactions.
Hm, doesn't it need to think in its curriculum I described in the OP?
For further detail, take an arbitrary task with a high skill ceiling and a legible end condition, give it some reward shaping and use self-play if appropriate, and put a diamond at the end and give the agent reward. I agree that even in successful stories, the agent also develops non-diamond shards.
Here's a consideration for why training might produce an AGI, which I realized after writing the story. Given relevant features, it's often trivial for even linear models to outperform experts (see Statistical Prediction Rules Out-Perform Expert Human Judgments). What I remember to be a common hypothesis: Human experts are often good at finding features to pay attention to (e.g. patient weight) but bad at setting regression coefficients to come to a decision.
Analogously, consider an SSL+IL initialization in which the AI has imitatively learned sophisticated subroutines for perception, prediction, and action, such that the AI can imitate human-level performance on supervised training distribution (eg navigating mazes). Then PG-style RL finetuning might rearrange and reweight what subroutines to use when, efficiently finding a better subroutine arrangement for decision-making in a range of situations. And thereby doing better than human expert demonstrators.
(Yes, this is sample inefficient, and I didn't particularly optimize the story for sample efficiency. I focused on telling any story at all which has the desired alignment outcome.)
Why "rather than" instead of "in addition to"? Are you just stating your belief here, or did you mean to argue for it? Maybe you're saying "It's hard to get the diamond shard to form properly", which I agree with and it's a primary way I expect the story to go wrong. I think that relatively simple interventions will plausibly solve this problem, though, and so consider this more of a research question than a fatal flaw in the training story template.
If I read you properly, that's not the relevant section. The relevant sections are the next two: The agent prevents value drift and The values handshake. EG I said:
I think there's a very straightforward case here. In the relevant context, suppose the agent is primarily making decisions on the basis of whether they lead to more or fewer diamonds. The agent considers adopting a reflectively stable utility function which doesn't produce diamonds. The agent doesn't choose this plan because it doesn't lead to diamonds.
I agree that there are ways this can go wrong, some of which you highlight. But the a priori argument makes me expect that, all else equal and conditional on a strong diamond shard at time of values handshake, the agent will probably equilibrate to making lots of diamonds.
I did not claim to be solving the diamond maximization problem, but maybe you wanted to add your own take here? As I wrote in the original post, I think "maximize diamonds" is a seriously mistaken subproblem choice:
I think that "get an agent which reflectively equilibrates to optimizing a single commonly considered quantity like 'diamonds'" is probably extremely hard and anti-natural. I think MIRI should not have chosen this as a subproblem.
I also think that relaxing the problem by assuming hypercomputation encourages thinking about argmax search, which I think is a subtle but serious trap. For specific generalizable reasons which I'll soon post about, this design pattern seems basically impossible to align compared to shard agents.
Really? That seems wrong. Suppose that the time of the values handshake, the agent has a strong diamond-shard. I understand you to predict that the agent adopts a reflective utility function which, when optimized, won't lead to actual diamond. Why? Why wouldn't the diamond-shard just bid this plan down, because it doesn't lead to actual diamond?
In addition to my "unbounded/hypercomputing is a red herring" response:
Someone can say "You can reliably solve computer vision tasks by doing deep learning" isn't telling you how to write superhumanly good features into the vision model, surpassing previous hand-designed expert attempts. They don't know how the SOTA deep vision models will work internally. And yet it's still good advice. It's still telling you something about how to train good vision models.
Similarly, if you're in a state of ignorance (lethality 19) about how to reliably point any cognitive system to any latent parts of reality, and someone proposes a plan which does plausibly (for specific reasons, not as a vague "it could work" hope) produce an AI which makes lots of real-world diamonds, then that seems like progress to me. (I'm fine agreeing to disagree here, I don't think it's productive to dispute how much credit I should get.)
I think it would make more sense to claim that niceness / other shards are "contingent" instead of "unnatural." If shard theory is correct, shards are literally natural in that they are found in nature as the predictable outcome of human value formation. Same for niceness.
You call shards "little correlates" and, previously, "ad-hoc internalized correlates." I don't know what you intend to communicate by this. The shards are, mechanistically speaking, contextually activated influences on the agent's decision-making. What information does "ad-hoc" or "little correlate" add to that picture? I'm currently guessing that it expresses your skepticism that shards can cohere into reflectively stable caring?
This is an interesting example. To me, the more relevant questions seem to be: How much evidence is "loudness" (e.g. if I really enjoy something which I do frequently, I sure am more likely to reflectively endorse it compared to if I didn't enjoy it, even though there are highly available counterexamples to this tendency), and how relevant is this for the diamond story?
EDIT: As I think I wrote in the OP, it's not enough for a shard to be strongly influencing decision-making in a given context. Especially for an anti-outgroup shard which is unendorsed (eg bids for outcomes which other reflectively aware shards bid against), this shard also seemingly has to be reflectively and broadly activated in order to be retained. So, yeah, if there's an anti-outgroup shard which gets "maneuvered around and removed" by other shards, sure, that can happen. My takeaway isn't "anything can get removed for hard-to-understand reasons", but rather "one particular way shards can get removed is that they directly conflict with other powerful shards."
I think a diamond-manufacturing subshard would resource-conflict (instrumental conflict, not terminal conflict) with eg a power-seeking subshard (manufacturing diamonds uses energy). Or even against a staple-manufacturing subshard (staples require materials and energy). But I expect the reflective utility function to reflect gains from intershard trade and specialization of different parts of the future resources towards the different decision-making influences (eg maybe one kind of comet is better specialized for making staples, and another kind for diamonds).
Or maybe not. Maybe it goes some other way. But this kind of conflict seems different from anticorrelated terminal value (eg anti-outgroup can impinge on nice-shards, altruism-shards, empathy...) across a shard power imbalance (nonreflective anti-outgroup vs reflective niceness shard).
And my point here isn't "I have now defused the general class of objection, checkmate!"... It's still a live and legit worry to me, but I don't view this phenomenon as not comprehensible, I don't feel epistemically helpless here (not meaning to make claims about how you feel tbc).
Also, in OP, you write:
I read a connotation here like "TurnTrout isn't proposing anything sufficiently new and impressive." To be clear, I don't think I'm proposing an awesome new alignment technique. I'm instead proposing that we don't need one.