Oliver Habryka

Coding day in and out on LessWrong 2.0. You can reach me at habryka@lesswrong.com

Wiki Contributions


Promoted to curated: I found engaging with this post quite valuable. I think in the end I disagree with the majority of arguments in it (or at least think they omit major considerations that have previously been discussed on LessWrong and the AI Alignment Forum), but I found thinking through these counterarguments and considering each one of them seriously a very valuable thing to do to help me flesh out my models of the AI X-Risk space.

IMO a big part of why mechanistic interp is getting a lot of attention in the x-risk community is that neural networks are surprisingly more interpretable than we might have naively expected and there's a lot of shovel-ready work in this area. I think if you asked many people three years ago, they would've said that we'd never find a non-trivial circuit in GPT-2-small, a 125m parameter model; yet Redwood has reverse engineered the IOI circuit in GPT-2-small. Many people were also surprised by Neel Nanda's modular addition work.

I don't think I've seen many people be surprised here, and indeed, at least in my model of the world interpretability is progressing slower than I was hoping for/expecting (like, when I saw the work by Chris Olah 6 years ago, I had hope we would make real progress understanding how these systems think, and lots of people would end up being productively able to contribute to the field, but our understand has IMO barely kept up with the changing architectures of the field, and is extremely far from being able to say really much of anything definite about how these models do any significant fraction of what they do, and very few people outside of Chris Olah's team seem to have made useful progress).

I would be interested if you can dig up any predictions by people who predicted much slower progress on interpretability. I don't currently believe that many people are surprised by current tractability in the space (I do think there is a trend for people who are working on interpretability to feel excited by their early work, but I think the incentives here are too strong for me to straightforwardly take someone's word for it, though it's still evidence).

Oh, huh, I think this moderation action makes me substantially less likely to comment further on your posts, FWIW. It's currently will within your rights to do so, and I am on the margin excited about more people moderating things, but I feel hesitant participating with the current level of norm-specification + enforcement.

I also turned my strong-upvote into a small-upvote, since I have less trust in the comment section surfacing counterarguments, which feels particularly sad for this post (e.g. I was planning to respond to your comment with examples of past arguments this post is ignoring, but am now unlikely to do so).

Again, I think that's fine, but I think posts with idiosyncratic norm enforcement should get less exposure, or at least not be canonical references. Historically we've decided to not put posts on frontpage when they had particularly idiosyncratic norm enforcement. I think that's the wrong call here, but not confident.

I appreciate the effort and strong-upvoted this post because I think it's following a good methodology of trying to build concrete gear-level models and concretely imagining what will happen, but also think this is really very much not what I expect to happen, and in my model of the world is quite deeply confused about how this will go (mostly by vastly overestimating the naturalness of the diamond abstraction, underestimating convergent instrumental goals and associated behaviors, and relying too much on the shard abstraction). I don't have time to write a whole response, but in the absence of a "disagreevote" on posts am leaving this comment.

Oh, I do think a bunch of my problems with WebGPT is that we are training the system on direct internet access.

I agree that "train a system with internet access, but then remove it, then hope that it's safe", doesn't really make much sense. In-general, I expect bad things to happen during training, and separately, a lot of the problems that I have with training things on the internet is that it's an environment that seems like it would incentivize a lot of agency and make supervision really hard because you have a ton of permanent side effects.

Here is an example quote from the latest OpenAI blogpost on AI Alignment:

Language models are particularly well-suited for automating alignment research because they come “preloaded” with a lot of knowledge and information about human values from reading the internet. Out of the box, they aren’t independent agents and thus don’t pursue their own goals in the world. To do alignment research they don’t need unrestricted access to the internet. Yet a lot of alignment research tasks can be phrased as natural language or coding tasks.

This sounds super straightforwardly to me like the plan of "we are going to train non-agentic AIs that will help us with AI Alignment research, and will limit their ability to influence the world, by e.g. not giving them access to the internet". I don't know whether "boxing" is the exact right word here, but it's the strategy I was pointing to here.

I think the smiling example is much more analogous than you are making it out here. I think the basic argument for "this just encourages taking control of the reward" or "this just encourages deception" goes through the same way.

Like, RLHF is not some magical "we have definitely figured out whether a behavior is really good or bad" signal, it's historically been just some contractors thinking for like a minute about whether a thing is fine. I don't think there is less bayesian evidence conveyed by people smiling (like, the variance in smiling is greater than the variance in RLHF approval, and so the amount of information conveyed is actually more), so I don't buy that RLHF conveys more about human preferences in any meaningful way.

and in particular the abstraction which it seems John is using, where making progress on outer alignment makes almost no difference to inner alignment

I am confused. How does RLHF help with outer alignment? Isn't optimizing fur human approval the classical outer-alignment problem? (e.g. tiling the universe with smiling faces)

I don't think the argument for RLHF runs through outer alignment. I think it has to run through using it as a lens to study how models generalize, and eliciting misalignment (i.e. the points about empirical data that you mentioned, I just don't understand where the inner/outer alignment distinction comes from in this context)

I agree that having many shots is helpful, but lacking them is not the core difficulty (just as having many shots to launch a rocket doesn't help you very much if you have no idea how rockets work).

I do really feel like it would have been really extremely hard to build rockets if we had to get it right on the very first try.

I think for rockets the fact that it is so costly to experiment with stuff, explains the majority of the difficulty of rocket engineering. I agree you also have very little chance to build a successful space rocket without having a good understanding of newtonian mechanics and some aspects of relativity, but I don't know, if I could just launch a rocket every day without bad consequences, I am pretty sure I wouldn't really need a deep understanding of either of those, or would easily figure out the relevant bits as I kept experimenting.

The reason why rocket science relies so much on having solid theoretical models is because we have to get things right in only a few shots. I don't think you really needed any particularly good theory to build trains for example. Just a lot of attempts and tinkering.

I think the story would be way different if the actual risk posed by WebGPT was meaningful (say if it were driving >0.1% of the risk of OpenAI's activities).

Huh, I definitely expect it to drive >0.1% of OpenAI's activities. Seems like the WebGPT stuff is pretty close to commercial application, and is consuming much more than 0.1% of OpenAI's research staff, while probably substantially increasing OpenAI's ability to generally solve reinforcement learning problems. I am confused why you would estimate it at below 0.1%. 1% seems more reasonable to me as a baseline estimate, even if you don't think it's a particularly risky direction of research (given that it's consuming about 4-5% of OpenAI's research staff).

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