Jacob Pfau

NYU PhD student working on AI safety


Sorted by New


I agree overall with Janus, but the Gwern example is a particularly easy one given he has 11,000+ comments on Lesswrong.

A bit over a year ago I benchmarked GPT-3 on predicting newly scraped tweets for authorship (from random accounts over 10k followers) and top-3 acc was in the double digits. IIRC after trying to roughly control for the the rate at which tweets mentioned their own name/org, my best guess was that accuracy was still ~10%. To be clear, in my view that's a strong indication of authorship identification capability.

What part of the proposal breaks if we do counterfactuals in input space rather than on the predictor's state?

the incentive for a model to become situationally aware (that is, to understand how it itself fits into the world) is only minimally relevant to performance on the LLM pre-training objective (though note that this can cease to be true if we introduce RL fine-tuning).

Why is this supposed to be true? Intuitively, this seems to clash with the authors view that anthropic reasoning is likely to be problematic. From another angle, I expect performance gain from situational awareness to increase as dataset cleaning/curation increases. Dataset cleaning has increased in stringency over time.  As a simple example, see my post on dataset deduplication and situational awareness

(Thanks to Robert for talking with me about my initial thoughts) Here are a few potential follow-up directions:

I. (Safety) Relevant examples of Z

To build intuition on whether unobserved location tags leads to problematic misgeneralization, it would be useful to have some examples. In particular, I want to know if we should think of there being many independent, local Z_i, or dataset-wide Z? The former case seems much less concerning, as that seems less likely to lead to the adoption of a problematically mistaken ontology. 

Here are a couple examples I came up with: In the NL case, the URL that the text was drawn from. In the code generation case, hardware constraints, such as RAM limits. I don't see why a priori either of these should cause safety problems rather than merely capabilities problems. Would be curious to hear arguments here, and alternative examples which seem more safety relevant. (Note that both of these examples seem like dataset-wide Z).

II. Causal identifiability, and the testability of confoundedness

As Owain's comment thread mentioned, models may be incentivized instrumentally to do causal analysis e.g. by using human explanations of causality. However, even given an understanding of formal methods in causal inference, the model may not have the relevant data at hand. Intuitively, I'd expect there usually not to be any deconfounding adjustment set observable in the data[1]. As a weaker assumption, one might hope that causal uncertainty might be modellable from the data. As far as I know, it's generally not possible to rule out the existence of unobserved confounders from observational data, but there might be assumptions relevant to the LM case which allow for estimation of confoundedness.

III. Existence of malign generalizations

The strongest, and most safety relevant implication claimed is "(3) [models] reason with human concepts. We believe the issues we present here are likely to prevent (3)". The arguments in this post increase my uncertainty on this point, but I still think there are good a priori reasons to be skeptical of this implication. In particular, it seems like we should expect various causal confusions to emerge, and it seems likely that these will be orthogonal in some sense such that as models scale they cancel and the model converges to causally-valid generalizations. If we assume models are doing compression, we can put this another way: Causal confusions yield shallow patterns (low compression) and as models scale they do better compression. As compression increases, the number of possible strategies which can do that level of compression decreases, but the true causal structure remains in the set of strategies. Hence, we should expect causal confusion-based shallow patterns to be discarded. To cash this out in terms of a simple example, this argument is roughly saying that even though data regarding the sun's effect mediating the shorts<>ice cream connection is not observed -- more and more data is being compressed regarding shorts, ice cream, and the sun. In the limit the shorts>ice cream pathway incurs a problematic compression cost which causes this hypothesis to be discarded.


  1. ^

    High uncertainty. One relevant thought experiment is to consider adjustment sets of unobserved var Z=IsReddit. Perhaps there exists some subset of the dataset where Z=IsReddit is observable and the model learns a sub-model which gives calibrated estimates of how likely remaining text is to be derived from Reddit

Here's Chalmers defending his combinatorial state automata idea.

Yes, I agree that in the simplest case, SC2 with default starting resources, you just build one or two units and you're done. However, I don't see why this case should be understood as generically explaining the negative alpha weights setting. Seems to me more like a case of an excessively simple game?

Consider the set of games starting with various quantities of resources and negative alpha weights. As starting resources increase, you will be incentivised to go attack your opponent to interfere with their resource depletion. Indeed, if the reward is based on end-of-game resource minimisation, you end up participating in an unbounded resource-maximisation competition trying to guarantee control over your opponent; then you spend your resources safely after crippling your opponent? In the single player setting, you will be incentivised to build up your infrastructure so as to spend your resources more quickly.

It seems to me the multi-player case involves power-seeking. Then, it seems like negative alpha weights don't generically imply anything about the existence of power-seeking incentives?

(I'm actually not clear on whether the single-player case should be seen as power-seeking or not? Maybe it depends on your choice of discount rate, gamma? You are building up infrastructure, i.e. unit-producing buildings, which seems intuitively power-seeking. But the number of long-term possibilities available to you following spending resources on infrastructure is reduced -- assuming gamma=1 -- OTOH the number of short-term possibilities may be higher given infrastructure, so you may have increased power assuming gamma<1?)

Am I correct to assume that the discussion of StarCraft and Minecraft are discussing single-player variants of those games?

It seems to me that in a competitive, 2-player, minimize-resource-competition StarCraft, you would want to go kill your opponent so that they could no longer interfere with your resource loss? More generally, I think competitions to minimize resources might still usually involve some sort of power-seeking. I remember reading somewhere that 'losing chess' involves normal-looking (power-seeking?) early game moves.