Reviews 2021

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I think this post might be the best one of all the MIRI dialogues. I also feel confused about how to relate to the MIRI dialogues overall.

A lot of the MIRI dialogues consist of Eliezer and Nate saying things that seem really important and obvious to me, and a lot of my love for them comes from a feeling of "this actually makes a bunch of the important arguments for why the problem is hard". But the nature of the argument is kind of closed off. 

Like, I agree with these arguments, but like, if you believe these arguments, having traction on AI Alignment... (read more)

This post provides a valuable reframing of a common question in futurology: "here's an effect I'm interested in -- what sorts of things could cause it?"

That style of reasoning ends by postulating causes.  But causes have a life of their own: they don't just cause the one effect you're interested in, through the one causal pathway you were thinking about.  They do all kinds of things.

In the case of AI and compute, it's common to ask

  • Here's a hypothetical AI technology.  How much compute would it require?

But once we have an answer to this quest... (read more)

I still think this is great. Some minor updates, and an important note:

Minor updates: I'm a bit less concerned about AI-powered propaganda/persuasion than I was at the time, not sure why. Maybe I'm just in a more optimistic mood. See this critique for discussion. It's too early to tell whether reality is diverging from expectation on this front. I had been feeling mildly bad about my chatbot-centered narrative, as of a month ago, but given how ChatGPT was received I think things are basically on trend.
Diplomacy happened faster than I expected, though in a ... (read more)

The post is still largely up-to-date. In the intervening year, I mostly worked on the theory of regret bounds for infra-Bayesian bandits, and haven't made much progress on open problems in infra-Bayesian physicalism. On the other hand, I also haven't found any new problems with the framework.

The strongest objection to this formalism is the apparent contradiction between the monotonicity principle and the sort of preferences humans have. While my thinking about this problem evolved a little, I am still at a spot where every solution I know requires biting a... (read more)

Returning to this essay, it continues to be my favorite Paul post (even What Failure Looks Like only comes second), and I think it's the best way to engage with Paul's work than anything else (including the Eliciting Latent Knowledge document, which feels less grounded in the x-risk problem, is less in Paul's native language, and gets detailed on just one idea for 10x the space thus communicating less of the big picture research goal). I feel I can understand all the arguments made in this post. I think this should be mandatory reading before reading Elici... (read more)

This post consists of comments on summaries of a debate about the nature and difficulty of the alignment problem. The original debate was between Eliezer Yudkowsky and Richard Ngo but this post does not contain the content from that debate. This posts is mostly of commentary by Jaan Tallinn on that debate, with comments by Eliezer.

The post provides a kind of fascinating level of insight into true insider conversations about AI alignment. How do Eliezer and Jaan converse about alignment? Sure, this is a public setting, so perhaps they communicate differentl... (read more)

I've written a bunch elsewhere about object-level thoughts on ELK. For this review, I want to focus instead on meta-level points.

I think ELK was very well-made; I think it did a great job of explaining itself with lots of surface area, explaining a way to think about solutions (the builder-breaker cycle), bridging the gap between toy demonstrations and philosophical problems, and focusing lots of attention on the same thing at the same time. In terms of impact on the growth and development on the AI safety community, I think this is one of the most importa... (read more)

  • Paul's post on takeoff speed had long been IMO the last major public step in the dialogue on this subject (not forgetting to honorably mention Katja's crazy discontinuous progress examples and Kokotajlo's arguments against using GPD as a metric), and I found it exceedingly valuable to read how it reads to someone else who has put in a great deal of work into figuring out what's true about the topic, thinks about it in very different ways, and has come to different views on it. I found this very valuable for my own understanding of the subject, and I felt I
... (read more)

I was impressed by this post. I don't have the mathematical chops to evaluate it as math -- probably it's fairly trivial -- but I think it's rare for math to tell us something so interesting and important about the world, as this seems to do. See this comment where I summarize my takeaways; is it not quite amazing that these conclusions about artificial neural nets are provable (or provable-given-plausible-conditions) rather than just conjectures-which-seem-to-be-borne-out-by-ANN-behavior-so-far? (E.g. conclusions like "Neural nets trained on very complex ... (read more)

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 uninforma
... (read more)

I think this is an excellent response (I'd even say, companion piece) to Joe Carlsmith's also-excellent report on the risk from power-seeking AI. On a brief re-skim I think I agree with everything Nate says, though I'd also have a lot more to add and I'd shift emphasis around a bit. (Some of the same points I did in fact make in my own review of Joe's report.)

Why is it important for there to be a response? Well, the 5% number Joe came to at the end is just way too low. Even if you disagree with me about that, you'll concede that a big fraction of the ratio... (read more)

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 Drexle... (read more)

This post helped me understand the motivation for the Finite Factored Sets work, which I was confused about for a while. The framing of agency as time travel is a great intuition pump. 

I've thought a good amount about Finite Factored Sets in the past year or two, but I do sure keep going back to thinking about the world primarily in the form of Pearlian causal influence diagrams, and I am not really sure why. 

I do think this one line by Scott at the top gave me at least one pointer towards what was happening: 

but I'm trained as a combinatorialist, so I'm giving a combinatorics talk upfront.

In the space of mathematical affinities, combinatorics is among the branches of math I feel most averse to, and I think that explains a good... (read more)

This post is among the most concrete, actionable, valuable post I read from 2021. Earlier this year, when I was trying to get a handle on the current-state-of-AI, this post transformed my opinion of Interpretability research from "man, this seems important but it looks so daunting and I can't imagine interpretability providing enough value in time" to "okay, I actually see a research framework I could expect to be scalable."

I'm not a technical researcher so I have trouble comparing this post to other Alignment conceptual work. But my impression, from seein... (read more)

This post is on a very important topic: how could we scale ideas about value extrapolation or avoiding goal misgeneralisation... all the way up to superintelligence? As such, its ideas are very worth exploring and getting to grips to. It's a very important idea.

However, the post itself is not brilliantly written, and is more of "idea of a potential approach" than a well crafted theory post. I hope to be able to revisit it at some point soon, but haven't been able to find or make the time, yet.

This is a relatively banal meta-commentary on reasons people sometimes give for doing worst-case analysis, and the differences between those reasons. The post reads like a list of things with no clear through-line. There is a gesture at an important idea from a Yudkowsky post (the logistic success curve idea) but the post does not helpfully expound that idea. There is a kind of trailing-off towards the end of the post as things like "planning fallacy" seem to have been added to the list with little time taken to place them in the context of the other thing... (read more)

A good review of work done, which shows that the writer is following their research plan and following up their pledge to keep the community informed.

The contents, however, are less relevant, and I expect that they will change as the project goes on. I.e. I think it is a great positive that this post exists, but it may not be worth reading for most people, unless they are specifically interested in research in this area. They should wait for the final report, be it positive or negative.

This post provides a maximally clear and simple explanation of a complex alignment scheme. I read the original "learning the prior" post a few times but found it hard to follow. I only understood how the imitative generalization scheme works after reading this post (the examples and diagrams and clear structure helped a lot). 

I like this research agenda because it provides a rigorous framing for thinking about inductive biases for agency and gives detailed and actionable advice for making progress on this problem. I think this is one of the most useful research directions in alignment foundations since it is directly applicable to ML-based AI systems. 

I wrote up a bunch of my high-level views on the MIRI dialogues in this review, so let me say some things that are more specific to this post. 

Since the dialogues are written, I keep coming back to the question of the degree to which consequentialism is a natural abstraction that will show up in AI systems we train, and while this dialogue had some frustrating parts where communication didn't go perfectly, I still think it has some of the best intuition pumps for how to think about consequentialism in AI systems. 

The other part I liked the most w... (read more)

I think this post makes an important point -- or rather, raises a very important question, with some vivid examples to get you started. On the other hand, I feel like it doesn't go further, and probably should have -- I wish it e.g. sketched a concrete scenario in which the future is dystopian not because we failed to make our AGIs "moral" but because we succeeded, or e.g. got a bit more formal and complemented the quotes with a toy model (inspired by the quotes) of how moral deliberation in a society might work, under post-AGI-alignment conditions, and ho... (read more)

This is a post that gave me (an ML noob) a great deal of understanding of how language models work — for example the discussion of the difference between "being able to do a task" and "knowing when to perform that task" is one I hadn't conceptualized before reading this post, and makes a large difference in how to think about the improvements from scaling. I also thought the characterization of the split between different schools of thought and what they pay attention to was quite illuminating.

I don't have enough object-level engagement for my recommendation to be much independent evidence, but I still will be voting this either a +4 or +9, because I personally learned a bunch from it.

This post is one of the LW posts a younger version of myself would have been most excited to read. Building on what I got from the Embedded Agency sequence, this post lays out a broad-strokes research plan for getting the alignment problem right. It points to areas of confusion, it lists questions we should be able to answer if we got this right, it explains the reasoning behind some of the specific tactics the author is pursuing, and it answers multiple common questions and objections. It leaves me with a feeling of "Yeah, I could pursue that too if I wanted, and I expect I could make some progress" which is a shockingly high bar for a purported plan to solve the alignment problem. I give this post +9.

For a long time, I could more-or-less follow the logical arguments related to e.g. Newcomb’s problem, but I didn’t really get it, like, it still felt wrong and stupid at some deep level. But when I read Joe’s description of “Perfect deterministic twin prisoner’s dilemma” in this post, and the surrounding discussion, thinking about that really helped me finally break through that cloud of vague doubt, and viscerally understand what everyone’s been talking about this whole time. The whole post is excellent; very strong recommend for the 2021 review.

This post trims down the philosophical premises that sit under many accounts of AI risk. In particular it routes entirely around notions of agency, goal-directedness, and consequentialism. It argues that it is not humans losing power that we should be most worried about, but humans quickly gaining power and misusing such a rapid increase in power.

Re-reading the post now, I have the sense that the arguments are even more relevant than when it was written, due to the broad improvements in machine learning models since it was written. The arguments in this po... (read more)

I think this is my second-favorite post in the MIRI dialogues (for my overall review see here). 

I think this post was valuable to me in a much more object-level way. I think this post was the first post that actually just went really concrete on the current landscape of efforts int he domain of AI Notkilleveryonism and talked concretely about what seems feasible for different actors to achieve, and what isn't, in a way that parsed for me, and didn't feel either like something obviously political, or delusional. 

I didn't find the part about differ... (read more)

Many people believe that they already understand Dennett's intentional stance idea, and due to that will not read this post in detail. That is, in many cases, a mistake. This post makes an excellent and important point, which is wonderfully summarized in the second-to-last paragraph:

In general, I think that much of the confusion about whether some system that appears agent-y “really is an agent” derives from an intuitive sense that the beliefs and desires we experience internally are somehow fundamentally different from those that we “merely” infer and a

... (read more)

I'd ideally like to see a review from someone who actually got started on Independent Alignment Research via this document, and/or grantmakers or senior researchers who have seen up-and-coming researchers who were influenced by this document.

But, from everything I understand about the field, this seems about right to me, and seems like a valuable resource for people figuring out how to help with Alignment. I like that it both explains the problems the field faces, and it lays out some of the realpolitik of getting grants.

Actually, rereading this, it strikes me as a pretty good "intro to the John Wentworth worldview", weaving a bunch of disparate posts together into a clear frame. 

I feel like this post is the best current thing to link to for understanding the point of coherence arguments in AI Alignment, which I think are really crucial, and even in 2023 I still see lots of people make bad arguments either overextending the validity of coherence arguments, or dismissing coherence arguments completely in an unproductive way.

A decent introduction to the natural abstraction hypothesis, and how testing it might be attempted. A very worthy project, but it isn't that easy to follow for beginners, nor does it provide a good understanding of how the testing might work in detail. What might consist a success, what might consist a failure of this testing? A decent introduction, but only an introduction, and it should have been part of a sequence or a longer post.

This was an important and worthy post.

I'm more pessimistic than Ajeya; I foresee thorny meta-ethical challenges with building AI that does good things and not bad things, challenges not captured by sandwiching on e.g. medical advice. We don't really have much internal disagreement about the standards by which we should judge medical advice, or the ontology in which medical advice should live. But there are lots of important challenges that are captured by sandwiching problems - sandwiching requires advances in how we interpret human feedback, and how we tr... (read more)

This is a post about the mystery of agency. It sets up a thought experiment in which we consider a completely deterministic environment that operates according to very simple rules, and ask what it would be for an agentic entity to exist within that.

People in the game of life community actually spent some time investigating the empirical questions that were raised in this post. Dave Greene notes:

The technology for clearing random ash out of a region of space isn't entirely proven yet, but it's looking a lot more likely than it was a year ago, that a work

... (read more)

This post attempts to separate a certain phenomenon from a certain very common model that we use to understand that phenomenon. The model is the "agent model" in which intelligent systems operate according to an unchanging algorithm. In order to make sense of their being an unchanging algorithm at the heart of each "agent", we suppose that this algorithm exchanges inputs and outputs with the environment via communication channels known as "observations" and "actions".

This post really is my central critique of contemporary artificial intelligence discourse.... (read more)

Quick self-review:

Yep, I still endorse this post. I remember it fondly because it was really fun to write and read. I still marvel at how nicely the prediction worked out for me (predicting correctly before seeing the data that power/weight ratio was the key metric for forecasting when planes would be invented). My main regret is that I fell for the pendulum rocket fallacy and so picked an example that inadvertently contradicted, rather than illustrated, the point I wanted to make! I still think the point overall is solid but I do actually think this embar... (read more)

I want to see Adam do a retrospective on his old goal-deconfusion stuff.

Man, I haven't had time to thoroughly review this, but given that it's an in-depth review of another post up for review, it seems sad not to include it.

This piece took an important topic that I hadn't realized I was confused/muddled about, convinced me I was confused/muddled about it, while simultaneously providing a good framework for thinking about it. I feel like I have a clearer sense of how Worst Case Thinking applies in alignment.

I also appreciated a lot of the comments here that explore the topic in more detail.

I think this exchange between Paul Christiano (author) and Wei Dai (commenter) is pretty important food for thought, for anyone interested in achieving a good future in the long run, and for anyone interested in how morality and society evolve more generally.