Wiki Contributions


Thanks for laying out the case for this scenario, and for making a concrete analogy to a current world problem! I think our differing intuitions on how likely this scenario is might boil down to different intuitions about the following question:

To what extent will the costs of misalignment be borne by the direct users/employers of AI?

Addressing climate change is hard specifically because the costs of fossil fuel emissions are pretty much entirely borne by agents other than the emitters. If this weren't the case, then it wouldn't be a problem, for the reasons you've mentioned!

I agree that if the costs of misalignment are nearly entirely externalities, then your argument is convincing. And I have a lot of uncertainty about whether this is true. My gut intuition, though, is that employing a misaligned AI is less like "emitting CO2 into the atmosphere" and more like "employing a very misaligned human employee" or "using shoddy accounting practices" or "secretly taking sketchy shortcuts on engineering projects in order to save costs"—all of which yield serious risks for the employer, and all of which real-world companies take serious steps to avoid, even when these steps are costly (with high probability, if not in expectation) in the short term.

We have already observed empirical examples of many early alignment problems like reward hacking. One could make an argument that looks something like "well yes but this is just in a toy environment, and it's a big leap to it taking over the world", but it seems unclear when society will start listening.

I expect society (specifically, relevant decision-makers) to start listening once the demonstrated alignment problems actually hurt people, and for businesses to act once misalignment hurts their bottom lines (again, unless you think misalignment can always be shoved under the rug and not hurt anyone's bottom line). There's lots of room for this to happen in the middle ground between toy environments and taking over the world (unless you expect lightning-fast takeoff, which I don't).

Thank you for the insightful comments!! I've added thoughts on Mechanisms 1 and 2 below. Some reactions to your scattered disagreements (my personal opinions; not Boaz's):

  1. I agree that extracting short-term modules from long-term systems is more likely than not to be extremely hard. (Also that we will have a better sense of the difficulty in the nearish future as more researchers work on this sort of task for current systems.)
  2. I agree that the CEO point might be the weakest in the article. It seems very difficult to find high-quality evidence about the impact of intelligence on long-term strategic planning in complex systems, and this is a major source of my uncertainty about whether our thesis is true. Note that even if making CEOs smarter would improve their performance, it may still be the case that any intelligence boost is fully substitutable by augmentation with advanced short-term AI systems.
  3. From published results I've seen (e.g. comparison of LSTMs vs Transformers in figure 7 of Kaplan et al., effects of architecture tweaks in other papers such as this one), architectural improvements (R&D) tend to have only a minimal effect on the exponent of scaling power laws; so the differences in the scaling laws could hypothetically be compensated for by increasing compute by a multiplicative constant. (Architecture choice can have a more significant effect on factors like parallelizability and stability of training.) I'm very curious whether you've seen results that suggest otherwise (I wouldn't be surprised if this were the case, the examples I've seen are very limited, and I'd love to see more extensive studies), or whether you have more relevant intuition/evidence for there being no "floor" to hypothetically achievable scaling laws.
  4. I agree that our argument should result in a quantitative adjustment to some folk's estimated probability of catastrophe, rather than ruling out catastrophe entirely, and I agree that figuring out how to handle worst-case scenarios is very productive.
  5. When you say "the AI systems charged with defending humans may instead join in to help disempower humanity", are you supposing that these systems have long-term goals? (even more specifically, goals that lead them to cooperate with each other to disempower humanity?)

I agree that this sort of deceptive misalignment story is speculative but a priori plausible. I think it's very difficult to reason about these sorts of nuanced inductive biases without having sufficiently tight analogies to current systems or theoretical models; how this will play out (as with other questions of inductive bias) probably depends to a large extent on what the high-level structure of the AI system looks like. Because of this, I think it's more likely than not that our predictions about what these inductive biases will look like are pretty off-base. That being said, here are the first few specific reasons to doubt the scenario which come to mind right now:

  1. If the system is modular, such that the part of the system representing the goal is separate from the part of the system optimizing the goal, then it seems plausible that we can apply some sort of regularization to the goal to discourage it from being long term. It's imaginable that the goal is a mesa-objective which is mixed in some inescapably non-modular way with the rest of the system, but then it would be surprising to me if the system's behavior could really best be best characterized as optimizing this single objective; as opposed to applying a bunch of heuristics, some of which involve pursuing mesa-objectives and some of which don't fit into that schema—so perhaps framing everything the agent does in terms of objectives isn't the most useful framing (?).
  2. If an agent has a long-term objective, for which achieving the desired short-term objective is only instrumentally useful, then in order to succeed the agent needs to figure out how to minimize the loss by using its reasoning skills (by default, within a single episode). If, on the other hand, the agent has an appropriate short-term objective, then the agent will learn (across episodes) how to minimize the loss through gradient descent. I expect the latter scenario to typically result in better loss for statistical reasons, since the agent can take advantage of more samples. (This would be especially clear if, in the training paradigm of the future, the competence of the agent increases during training.)

(There's also the idea of imposing a speed prior; not sure how likely that direction is to pan out.)

Perhaps most crucially, for us to be wrong about Hypothesis 2, deceptive misalignment needs to happen extremely consistently. It's not enough for it to be plausible that it could happen often; it needs to happen all the time.

My main objection to this misalignment mechanism is that it requires people/businesses/etc. to ignore the very concern you are raising. I can imagine this happening for two reasons:

  1. A small group of researchers raise alarm that this is going on, but society at large doesn't listen to them because everything seems to be going so well. This feels unlikely unless the AIs have an extremely high level of proficiency in hiding their tampering, so that the poor performance on the intended objective only comes back to bite the AI's employers once society is permanently disempowered by AI. Nigh-infallibly covering up tampering sounds like a very difficult task even for an AI that is super-human. I would expect at least some of the negative downstream effects of the tampering to slip through the cracks and for people to be very alarmed by these failures.
  2. The consensus opinion is that your concern is real, but organizations still rely on outcome-based feedback in these situations anyway because if they don't they will be outcompeted in the short term by organizations that do. Maybe governments even try to restrict unsafe use of outcome-based feedback through regulation, but the regulations are ineffective. I'll need to think about this scenario further, but my initial objection is the same as my objection to reason 1: the scenario requires the actual tampering that is actually happening to be covered up so well that corporate leaders etc. think it will not hurt their bottom line (either through direct negative effects or through being caught by regulators) in expectation in the future.

Which of 1 and 2 do you think is likely? And can you elaborate on why you think AIs will be so good at covering up their tampering (or why your story stands up to tampering sometimes slipping through the cracks)?

Finally, if there aren't major problems resulting from the tampering until "AI systems have permanently disempowered us", why should we expect problems to emerge afterwards, unless the AI systems are cooperating / don't care about each other's tampering?

(Am I right that this is basically the same scenario you were describing in this post?