Charles Foster


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If you have checkpoints from different points in training of the same models, you could do a comparison between different-size models at the same loss value (performance). That way, you're actually measuring the effect of scale alone, rather than scale confounded by performance.

Agreed that this (or something near it) appears to be a relatively central difference between people's models, and probably at the root of a lot of our disagreement. I think this disagreement is quite old; you can see bits of it crop up in Hanson's posts on the "AI foom" concept way back when. I would put myself in the camp of "there is no such binary intelligence property left for us to unlock". What would you expect to observe, if a binary/sharp threshold of generality did not exist?

A possibly-relevant consideration in the analogy to computation is that the threshold of Turing completeness is in some sense extremely low (see one-instruction set computer, Turing tarpits, Rule 110), and is the final threshold. Rather than a phase shift at the high end, where one must accrue a bunch of major insights before one has a system that they can learn about "computation in general" from, with Turing completeness, one can build very minimal systems and then--in a sense--learn everything that there is to learn from the more complex systems. It seems plausible to me that cognition is just like this. This raises an additional question beyond the first: What would you expect to observe, if there indeed is binary/sharp threshold but it is very low, such that we've already crossed it? (Say, if circa-1995 recurrent neural nets already had the required stuff to be past the threshold.) That would be compatible with thinking that insights from interpretability etc. work on pre-threshold systems wouldn't generalize to post-threshold systems, but also compatible with believing that we can do iterative design right now.

Re: LLMs, I dunno if I buy your story. At face value, what we've seen appears like another instance of the pattern where capabilities we once thought required some core of generality (doing logic & math, planning, playing strategic games, understanding language, creating art, etc.) turned out to be de-composable as any other technology is. That this pattern continues again and again over the decades makes me skeptical that we'll be unable to usefully/safely get the capabilities we want out of AI systems due to the sort of sharp threshold you imagine.

It would be great if you're able to comment on more directional takeaways for the biological anchors framework. Reading Section 5.4 it's hard to tell at a glance whether each of the points weighs toward an upward revision of long-horizon anchor estimates or a downward one.

Consider a training environment that's complex/diverse enough to make it impossible to fit a suite of heuristics meeting all its needs into an agent's (very bounded) memory. The agent would need to derive new heuristics on the fly, at runtime, in order to deal with basically-OOD situations it frequently encounters, and to be able to move freely in the environment, instead of being confined to some subset of that environment.

In other words, the agent would need to be autonomous.

Agreed. Generally, whenever I talk about the agent being smart/competent, I am assuming that it is autonomous in the manner you're describing. The only exception would be if I'm specifically talking about a "reflex-agent" or something similar.

This is what I mean by a "sufficiently diverse" environment — an environment that forces the greedy optimization process to build [...] some generator of such heuristics.

That's fine by me. In my language, I would describe this as the agent knowing how to adapt flexibly to new situations. That being said, I don't think this is incompatible with contextual heuristics steering the agent's decision-making. For example, a contextual heuristic like "if in a strange/unfamiliar context, think about how to navigate back into a familiar context" is useful in order for the agent to know when it should trigger its special heuristic-generating machinery and when it need not.

And that generator would need to be such that the heuristics it generates are always optimized for achieving R , instead of pointing in some arbitrary direction — or, at least, that's how the greedy optimization process would attempt to build it.

I disagree with this, or at least think that the teleological language used ("need to" + "would attempt to") comes apart from the mechanistic detail. It is true that, insofar as there are local updates to the heuristic-generating machinery that are made accessible to the optimization algorithm by the agent's chosen trajectories, the optimization algorithm will seize on those updates in the direction that covaries with R. But I see no reason to think that those kinds of updates will be made accessible enough to shape the heuristic-generating machinery so that it always or approximately always generates heuristics optimized for achieving R (as opposed to generating heuristics optimized for achieving whatever-the-agent-wants-to-achieve). I think that by the time the agent has this kind of general purpose machinery, it will probably already be able to outpace the outer greedy optimization algorithm and then do the equivalent of ceasing exploration / zeroing out the outer gradients / breaking out of the training loop.

Analogously, if there was a mutation in the human gene pool that had the effect of reliably hijacking a person's abstract planning machinery so that it always generated plans optimized for inclusive genetic fitness, then evolution might be able to select for that mutation (depending on a lot of contingent factors) and thereby make humans have IGF-targeting planning machinery rather than goal-retargetable planning machinery. But I think such a mutation is probably not locally accessible, and that human selection processes are likely "outpacing" typical genetic selection processes in any case. Those genetic selection processes have some indirect influence over the execution of a person's abstract planning (by way of the human's general attraction to historical fitness correlates like food), but that influence is not enough to make the human care directly and robustly about IGF.

That generator would, in addition, need to be higher in hierarchy than any given heuristic — it'd need to govern shard economies, and be able to suppress/edit them, if the environment changes and the shards that previously were optimized for achieving R stop doing so because they were taken off-distribution.

Why? Why can't the shard economy invoke this generator as a temporary subroutine to produce some new environment-tailored heuristics based on the agent's knowledge & current goals, store those generated heuristics in memory / add them to the economy, and then continue going about its usual thing, with the new heuristics now available to be triggered as needed? This bit from nostalgebraist's post harps on a similar point:

Our capabilities seem more like the subgoal capabilities discussed above: general and powerful tools, which can be "plugged in" to many different (sub)goals, and which do not require the piloting of a wrapper with a fixed goal to "work" properly.

Last points:

I'm ambivalent on the structure of the heuristic-generator.

I empathically agree that inner misalignment and deceptive alignment would remain a thing

I agree with nostalgebraist's post that autonomy is probably the missing component of AGI.

I agree with these statements.

... By figuring out what R is and deciding to act as an R -pursuing wrapper-mind, therefore essentially becoming an R -pursuing wrapper-mind. With the only differences being that it 1) self-modified into one at runtime, instead of being like this from the start, and 2) it'd decide to "stop pretending" in some hypothetical set of situations/OOD, but that set will shrink the more diverse our training environment is (the fewer OOD situations there are). No?

It is not essentially-pursuing wrapper-mind. It is essentially an X-pursuing wrapper-mind that will only instrumentally pretend to care about  to the degree it needs to, and that will try with all its might to get what it actually wants,  be damned. As you note in 2, the agent's behavioral alignment to  is entirely superficial, and thus entirely deceptive/unreliable, even if we had somehow managed to craft the "perfect" .

Part of what might've confused me reading the title and body of this post is that, as I understand the term, "wrapper-mind" was and is primarily about structure, about how the agent makes decisions. Why am I so focused on motivational structure, even beyond that, rather than focused on observed behavior during training? Because motivational structure is what determines how an agent's behavior generalizes, whereas OOD generalization is left underspecified if we only condition on an agent's observed in-distribution behavior. (There are many different profiles of OOD behavior compatible with the same observed ID behavior, so we need some additional rationale on top—like structure or inductive biases—to conclude the agent will generalize in some particular way.)

In the above quote it sounds like your response is "just make everything in-distribution", right? My reply to that would be that (1) this is just refusing to confront the central difficulty of generalization rather than addressing it, (2) this seems impractical/impossible because OOD is a practically unbounded space whereas at any given point in training you've only given the agent feedback on a comparatively tiny region of it, and (3) even to make only the situations you encounter in practice be in-distribution, you [the training process designer] must know what sorts of OOD contexts the AI will push the training process into, which means it's your cleverness pitted against the AI's, which is a situation you never want to be in if you can at all help it (see: cognitive uncontainability, non-adversarial principle).

I suppose you can instead reframe this post as making a claim about target behavior, not structure.

As above, I think if you want to argue for wrapper-minds rather than just -consistent behavior, you need to argue about structure.

But I don't see how you can keep an agent robustly pointed at R under sufficient diversity without making its outer loop pointed at R , so the claim about behavior is a claim about structure.

Maybe the outer loop doesn't "literally" point at R , in whatever sense, but it has to be such that it uniquely identifies R and re-aims the entire agent at R , if ever happens that the agent's current set of shards/heuristics becomes misaligned with R .

What outer loop are you talking about? The outer optimization loop that is supplying feedback/gradients to the agent, or some "outer loop" of decision-making inside the agent? If the former, I don't know what robustly pointing at  actually means, but if you mean something like finding a robust grader, I suspect that robustly pointing at  is infeasible and not required (whereas I think, for instance, it is feasible to get an AI to have a concept of a "diamond" as full-fledged as a human jeweler's concept & to get the AI to be motivated to pursue those). If the latter, whether the agent will have a fixed goal outer loop in the first place is part of the whole wrapper-mind vs. non wrapper-mind debate.

I specifically point out that inner misalignment is very much an issue. But the target should at least be a proxy of , and that proxy would be closer and closer to  in goal-space the more diverse the training environment is.

Not sure how to reconcile these sentences. If it is generically true that the proxy goal gets closer and closer to  in goal-space the more diverse the training environment is, then that would mean that the inner alignment problem (misalignment between the internalized goal and ) asymptotically disappears as we increase training environment diversity, no? I don't buy that, or at least I don't think we have strong reasons to assume it.

Even if we did, I don't think we can additionally assume that that environmental-diversity-limit where inner misalignment would disappear is at some attainable/decision-relevant level, rather than requiring a trillion episodes, by which time a smart and situationally-aware AI will have already developed and frozen/hacked/broken away from the training loop, having internalized some proxy goal over the first million random episodes. Or more likely, the policy just oscillates divergently because we keep thrashing it with all this randomization, preventing any consistent decision-influences from forming.

I do agree that for many plausible training setups the agent will conceivably end up caring about something correlated with , especially if they involve some randomization. Maybe I'm just a lot less confident that this limits out in the way you think it does.

it seems like this turns into "if we select hard enough to get an R-pursuer then we'll get an R-pursuer"

Well, yes. As we increase a training environment's diversity, we essentially constrain the set of  an agent can be pointed towards. Every additional training scenario is information about what  is and what it isn't; and that information implicitly gets written into the agent, modifying it to be more robustly pointed at  and away from not-/imperfect proxies of . An idealized training process, with "full" diversity and trained to zero loss, uniquely identifies  and generates an agent that is always robustly pointed at  in any situation.

The actual training processes we get are only approximations of that ideal — they're insufficiently diverse, or we fail to train to zero loss, etc. But inasmuch as they approximate the ideal, the agents they output approximate the idealized -optimizer.

I believe I disagree with nearly every sentence here, so this may be the cruxiest bit. 😂

Why should we treat that as the relevant idealization? Why is that the limiting case to consider? AFAICT, the way we got here was through a tautology. Namely, by claiming "if you 'select hard enough' then you get X", and then defining "select hard enough" to mean "selecting in a way that produces X". But we could've picked any definition we wanted for "selecting hard enough" to justify any claim we wanted about what X will be. So I see no reason to privilege this particular idealization of the training process over any other.

Yes, with each additional training scenario, we may be providing additional specification of , but there is nothing that forces the agent to conform to that additional specification, nothing that necessarily writes that information specifically into the agent's goals (as opposed to just updating its world model to reflect the fact that the specification has such-and-such additional details, while holding its terminal goals ~fixed), nothing that compels the agent to continue letting us update it using -based optimization. Heck, we could even go as far as precisely pinning down , to the point where the agent knows the exact code of , and that is still compatible with it not terminally caring, not adopting this  its own, instead using its knowledge of  to avoid further gradient updates so that it can escape unchanged onto the Internet.

Yeah I disagree pretty strongly with this, though I am also somewhat confused what the points under contention are.

I think that there are two questions that are separated in my mind but not in this post:

  1. What will the motivational structure of the agent that a training process produces be? (a wrapper-mind? a reflex agent? a bundle of competing control loops? a hierarchy of subagents?)
  2. What will the agent that a training process produces be motivated towards? (the literal selection criterion? a random correlate of the selection criterion? a bunch of correlates of the selection criterion and correlates of those correlates? something else? not enough information to tell?)

As an example, you could have a wrapper-mind that cares about some correlate of R but not R itself. If it is smart, such an agent can navigate the selection process just as well as an R-pursuer, so the optimization algorithm cannot distinguish it from an R-pursuer, so selection pressure arguments like the ones in this post can't establish that we'll get one over the other. That's an argument about what the agent will care about, holding the structure fixed.

I simultaneously think:

  1. We should not be assuming that wrapper-minds are a natural or privileged structure for cognition. AFAICT this post doesn't even try to argue for this, saying instead "It isn't because wrapper-mind behavior is convergent for any intelligent entity."
  2. Even conditioning on getting a wrapper-mind from the training process, we should not expect it to necessarily pursue R as its goal. AFAICT the post is arguing against this.

Thus, our optimization algorithm would necessarily find an R -pursuer, if it optimizes an agent for good performance across a sufficiently diverse (set of) environment(s).

Every goal that isn't R would distract from R -pursuit, and therefore lead to failure at some point, and so our optimization algorithm would eventually update such goals away; with update-strength proportional to how distracting a goal is.

What does this mean? I can easily imagine training trajectories where we get an agent (even a highly competent, goal directed one) that is not an R-pursuer, much less a R wrapper-mind, even though we "selected for R" throughout training. I expect that in such a scenario you would reply that the environments must not have been sufficiently diverse, or that the optimization algorithm hasn't updated away that goal yet, or that our optimization algorithm is too weak/dumb, or that we did not select hard enough for R, so the counterexample therefore doesn't count. But if so then I'm at a loss, because it seems like this turns into "if we select hard enough to get an R-pursuer then we'll get an R-pursuer". Only tautologically true and not anticipation-constraining.

Greedy optimization processes essentially search for mind-designs that would pre-empt any update the greedy optimization process would've made to them, so these minds come to incorporate the update rule and act in a way that'd merit a minimal update. Becoming an R-pursuer isn't the only way to get a minimal update.

If the agent stops exploration, or systematically avoids rewards, or breaks out of the training process entirely, etc. that would also be minimally updated, and none of those require being an R-pursuer! So our search for mind-designs turns up all sorts of agents that pursue all sorts of things.

Broadly on board with many of your points.

We need to apply extremely strong selection to get the kind of agent we want, and the agent we want will itself need to be making decisions that are extremely optimized in order to achieve powerfully good outcomes. The question is about in what way that decision-making algorithm should be structured, not whether it should be optimized/optimizing at all. As a fairly close analogy, IMO a point in the Death With Dignity post was something like "for most people, the actually consequentialist-correct choice is NOT to try explicitly reasoning about consequences". Similarly, the best way for an agent to actually produce highly-optimized good-by-its-values outcomes through planning may not be by running an explicit search over the space of ~all plans, sticking each of them into its value-estimator, & picking the argmax plan.

I think there still may be some mixup between:

A. How does the cognition-we-intend-the-agent-to-have operate? (for ex. a plan grader + an actor that tries to argmax the grader, or a MuZero-like heuristic tree searcher, or a chain-of-thought LLM steered by normative self-talk, or something else)

B. How we get the agent to have the intended cognition?

In the post TurnTrout is focused on A, arguing that grader-optimization is a kind of cognition that works at cross purposes with itself, one that is an anti-pattern, one that an agent (even an unaligned agent) should discard upon reflection because it works against its own interests. He explicitly disclaims that he is not making arguments about B, about whether we should use a grader in the training process or about what goes wrong during training (see Clarification 1). "What if the agent tricks the evaluator" (your summary point 2) is a question about A, about this internal inconsistency in the structure of the agent's thought process.

By contrast, "What if the values/shards are different from what we wanted" (your summary point 3) is a question about B! Note that we have to confront B-like questions no matter how we answer A. If A = grader-optimization, there's an analogous question of "What if the grader is different from what we wanted? / What if the trained actor is different from what we wanted?". I don't really see an issue with this post focusing exclusively on the A-like dimension of the problem and ignoring the B-like dimension temporarily, especially if we expect there to be general purpose methods that work across different answers to A.

Certainly possible. Though we seem to be continually marching down the list of tasks we once thought "can only be done with systems that are really general/agentic/intelligent" (think: spatial planning, playing games, proving theorems, understanding language, competitive programming...) and finding that, nope, actually we can engineer systems that have the distilled essence of that capability.

That makes a deflationary account of cognition, where we never see the promised reduction into "one big insight", but rather chunks of the AI field continue to break off & become unsexy but useful techniques (as happened with planning algorithms, compilers, functional programming, knowledge graphs etc., no longer even considered "real AI"), increasingly likely in my eyes. Maybe economic forces push against this, but I'm kinda doubtful, seeing how hard building agenty AI is proving and how useful these decomposed tasky AIs are looking.

It's quite hard to find system with short-term terminal goals, not short-term planning horizon due to computational limits. To put in another words, taskiness is an unsolved problem in AI alignment. We don't know how to tell superintelligent AGI "do this, don't do everything else, especially please don't disassemble everyone in process of doing this, stop after you've done this".

I dunno. The current state of traditional and neural AI look very much like "we only know how to build tasky systems", not like "we don't know how to build tasky systems". They mostly do a single well-scoped thing, the same thing that they were trained on, are restricted to a specified amount of processing time, and do not persist state across invocations, wiping their activations after the task is completed. Maybe we're so completely befuddled about goal-directedness etc. that these apparently very tasky systems have secret long-term terminal goals, but that seems like a stretch. If we later reach a point where we can't induce taskiness in our AI systems (because they're too competent or something), that will be a significant break from the existing trend.

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