I think it might be worth quickly clarifying my views on activation addition and similar things (given various discussion about this). Note that my current views are somewhat different than some comments I've posted in various places (and my comments are somewhat incoherent overall), because I’ve updated based on talking to people about this over the last week.
This is quite in the weeds and I don’t expect that many people should read this.
IMO, instrumental convergence is a terrible name for an extremely obvious thing.
The actual main issue is that AIs might want things with limited supply and then they would try to get these things which would result in them not going to humanity. E.g., AIs might want all cosmic resources, but we also want this stuff. Maybe this should be called AIs-might-want-limited-stuff-we-want.
(There is something else which is that even if the AI doesn't want limited stuff we want, we might end up in conflict due to failures of information or coordination. E.g., the AI almost entirely just wants to chill out in the desert and build crazy sculptures and it doesn't care about extreme levels of maximization (e.g. it doesn't want to use all resources to gain a higher probability of continuing to build crazy statues). But regardless, the AI decides to try taking over the world because it's worried that humanity would shut it down because it wouldn't have any way of credibly indicating that it just wants to chill out in the desert.)
(More generally, it's plausible that failures of trade/coordination result in a large number of humans dying in conflict with AIs even though both humans and AIs would prefer other approaches. But this isn't entirely obvious and it's plausible we could resolve this with better negotation and precommitments. Of course, this isn't clearly the largest moral imperative from a longtermist perspective.)
This is a response to Scott Alexander’s recent post “The road to honest AI”, in particular the part about the empirical results of representation engineering. So, when I say “you” in the context of this post that refers to Scott Alexander. I originally made this as a comment on substack, but I thought people on LW/AF might be interested.
TLDR: The Representation Engineering paper doesn’t demonstrate that the method they introduce adds much value on top of using linear probes (linear classifiers), which is an extremely well known method. That said, I think that the framing and the empirical method presented in the paper are still useful contributions.
I think your description of Representation Engineering considerably overstates the empirical contribution of representation engineering over existing methods. In particular, rather than comparing the method to looking for neurons with particular properties and using these neurons to determine what the model is "thinking" (which probably works poorly), I think the natural comparison is to training a linear classifier on the model’s internal activations using normal SGD (also called a linear probe). Training a linear classifier like this is an extremely well known technique in the literature. As far as I can tell, when they do compare to just training a linear classifier in section 5.1, it works just as well for the purpose of “reading”. (Though I’m confused about exactly what they are comparing in this section as they claim that all of these methods are LAT. Additionally, from my understanding, this single experiment shouldn’t provide that much evidence overall about which methods work well.)
I expect that training a linear classifier performs similarly well as the method introduced in the Representation Engineering for the "mind reading" use cases you discuss. (That said, training a linear classifier might be less sample efficient (require more data) in practice, but this doesn't seem like a serious blocker for the use cases you mention.)
One difference between normal linear classifier training and the method found in the representation engineering paper is that they also demonstrate using the direction they find to edit the model. For instance, see this response by Dan H. to a similar objection about the method being similar to linear probes. Training a linear classifier in a standard way probably doesn't work as well for editing/controlling the model (I believe they show that training a linear classifier doesn’t work well for controlling the model in section 5.1), but it's unclear how much we should care if we're just using the classifier rather than doing editing (more discussion on this below).
If we care about the editing/control use case intrinsically, then we should compare to normal fine-tuning baselines. For instance, normal supervised next-token prediction on examples with desirable behavior or DPO.
Ok, but regardless of the contribution of the representation engineering paper, do I think that simple classifiers (found using whatever method) applied to the internal activations of models could detect when those models are doing bad things? My view here is a bit complicated, but I think it’s at least plausible that these simple classifiers will work even though other methods fail. See here for a discussion of when I think linear classifiers might work despite other more baseline methods failing. It might also be worth reading the complexity penalty section of the ELK report.
Additionally, I think that the framing in the representation engineering paper is maybe an improvement over existing work and I agree with the authors that high-level/top-down techniques like this could be highly useful. (I just don’t think that the empirical work is adding as much value as you seem to indicate in the post.)
Here are what I see as the main contributions of the paper:
Based on their results, I think the method they introduce is reasonably likely to be a more sample efficient (less data required for training) editing/control method than prior methods for many applications. It might also be more sample efficient for producing a classifier. That said, I’m not sure we should care very much about sample efficiency. Additionally, the classifier/editing might have other nice priorities which prior methods don’t have (though they don’t clearly demonstrate either of these in the paper AFAICT).
As far the classifier produced by this method having nice properties, the fact our classifier also allows for editing/control might indicate that the classifier we get has better properties (see the paper itself (section 3.1.2) and e.g. here for discussion), but I’d guess this is either only a moderate improvement or has no effect in practice. And as far as I can tell, the paper doesn’t demonstrate cases where prior methods for training a classifier on the internal activations yield poor results, but their method clearly works well. These cases might exist, but I’m somewhat skeptical that this is very common. Future work could find hard cases where we want a particular generalization and demonstrate that this method or modifications of this method works better than other approaches.
Does the editing method they introduce have nice properties because it also allows for reading? Let’s consider using the representation engineering approach for reading and controlling/editing the properties of lying versus honesty. Assuming the method works as desired, then I would guess that the reading/classifier corresponds to reading off “does the model think there is lying in this text (or even in this position in the text)” and the control/editing corresponds to “make the model think that there is a lying earlier in this text so that it conditions on this and does more lying (similarly to how using a few shot prompt with lies might make the model more likely to lie)”. Note that these reading and control methods likely do not directly correspond to “the model thinking that it is about to lie”: the properties of “I have already lied (or my few-shot prompt contains lies)” and “I am about to lie” are different.
Some of their methods are “unsupervised” unlike typical linear classifier training, but require a dataset where the primary axis of variation is the concept they want. I think this is practically similar to labeled data because we’d have to construct this dataset and if it mostly varies along an axis which is not the concept we wanted, we’d be in trouble. I could elaborate on this if that was interesting. ↩︎
Separately, I believe there are known techniques in the literature for constructing a linear classifier such that the direction will work for editing. For instance, we could just use the difference between the mean activations for the two classes we're trying to classify which is equivalent to the ActAdd technique and also rhymes nicely with LEACE. I assume this is a well known technique for making a classifier in the literature, but I don’t know if prior work has demonstrated both using this as a classifier and as a method for modeling editing. (The results in section 5.1 seem to indicate that this mean difference method combined with LEACE works well, but I’m not sure how much evidence this experiment provides.) ↩︎
I expect that normal fine-tuning (or DPO) might be less sample efficient than the method introduced in the Representation Engineering paper for controlling/editing models, but I don't think they actually run this comparison? Separately, it’s unclear how much we care about sample efficiency. ↩︎