Matthew Barnett

Just someone who wants to learn about the world. I think about AI risk sometimes, but I still have a lot to learn.

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Forecasting Thread: AI Timelines

If AGI is taken to mean, the first year that there is radical economic, technological, or scientific progress, then these are my AGI timelines.

My percentiles

  • 5th: 2029-09-09
  • 25th: 2049-01-17
  • 50th: 2079-01-24
  • 75th: above 2100-01-01
  • 95th: above 2100-01-01

I have a bit lower probability for near-term AGI than many people here are. I model my biggest disagreement as about how much work is required to move from high-cost impressive demos to real economic performance. I also have an intuition that it is really hard to automate everything and progress will be bottlenecked by the tasks that are essential but very hard to automate.

Forecasting Thread: AI Timelines

It's unclear to me what "human-level AGI" is, and it's also unclear to me why the prediction is about the moment an AGI is turned on somewhere. From my perspective, the important thing about artificial intelligence is that it will accelerate technological, economic, and scientific progress. So, the more important thing to predict is something like, "When will real economic growth rates reach at least 30% worldwide?"

It's worth comparing the vagueness in this question with the specificity in this one on Metaculus. From the virtues of rationality,

The tenth virtue is precision. One comes and says: The quantity is between 1 and 100. Another says: the quantity is between 40 and 50. If the quantity is 42 they are both correct, but the second prediction was more useful and exposed itself to a stricter test. What is true of one apple may not be true of another apple; thus more can be said about a single apple than about all the apples in the world. The narrowest statements slice deepest, the cutting edge of the blade.
What specific dangers arise when asking GPT-N to write an Alignment Forum post?
To me the most obvious risk (which I don't ATM think of as very likely for the next few iterations, or possibly ever, since the training is myopic/SL) would be that GPT-N in fact is computing (e.g. among other things) a superintelligent mesa-optimization process that understands the situation it is in and is agent-y.

Do you have any idea of what the mesa objective might be. I agree that this is a worrisome risk, but I was more interested in the type of answer that specified, "Here's a plausible mesa objective given the incentives." Mesa optimization is a more general risk that isn't specific to the narrow training scheme used by GPT-N.

Modelling Continuous Progress
Second, the major disagreement is between those who think progress will be discontinuous and sudden (such as Eliezer Yudkowsky, MIRI) and those who think progress will be very fast by normal historical standards but continuous (Paul Chrisiano, Robin Hanson).

I'm not actually convinced this is a fair summary of the disagreement. As I explained in my post about different AI takeoffs, I had the impression that the primary disagreement between the two groups was over locality rather than the amount of time takeoff lasts. Though of course, I may be misinterpreting people.

Possible takeaways from the coronavirus pandemic for slow AI takeoff

I tend to think that the pandemic shares more properties with fast takeoff than it does with slow takeoff. Under fast takeoff, a very powerful system will spring into existence after a long period of AI being otherwise irrelevant, in a similar way to how the virus was dormant until early this year. The defining feature of slow takeoff, by contrast, is a gradual increase in abilities from AI systems all across the world.

In particular, I object to this portion of your post,

The "moving goalposts" effect, where new advances in AI are dismissed as not real AI, could continue indefinitely as increasingly advanced AI systems are deployed. I would expect the "no fire alarm" hypothesis to hold in the slow takeoff scenario - there may not be a consensus on the importance of general AI until it arrives, so risks from advanced AI would continue to be seen as "overblown" until it is too late to address them.

I'm not convinced that these parallels to COVID-19 are very informative. Compared to this pandemic, I expect the direct effects of AI to be very obvious to observers, in a similar way that the direct effects of cars are obvious to people who go outside. Under a slow takeoff, AI will already be performing a lot of important economic labor before the world "goes crazy" in the important senses. Compare to the pandemic, in which

  • It is not empirically obvious that it's worse than a seasonal flu (we only know that it is due to careful data analysis after months of collection).
  • It's not clearly affecting everyone around you in the way that cars, computers, software, and other forms of engineering are.
  • Is considered natural, and primarily affects old people who are conventionally considered to be less worthy of concern (though people give lip service denying this).
An Analytic Perspective on AI Alignment
weaker claim?

Oops yes. That's the weaker claim, that I agree with. The stronger claim is that because we can't understand something "all at once" then mechanistic transparency is too hard and so we shouldn't take Daniel's approach. But the way we understand laptops is also in a mechanistic sense. No one argues that because laptops are too hard to understand all at once, then we should't try to understand them mechanistically.

This seems to be assuming that we have to be able to take any complex trained AGI-as-a-neural-net and determine whether or not it is dangerous. Under that assumption, I agree that the problem is itself very hard, and mechanistic transparency is not uniquely bad relative to other possibilities.

I didn't assume that. I objected to the specific example of a laptop as an instance of mechanistic transparency being too hard. Laptops are normally understood well because understanding can be broken into components and built up from abstractions. But each our understanding of each component and abstraction is pretty mechanistic -- and this understanding is useful.

Furthermore, because laptops did not fall out of the sky one day, but instead slowly built over successive years of research and development, it seems like a great example of how Daniel's mechanistic transparency approach does not rely on us having to understand arbitrary systems. Just as we built up an understanding of laptops, presumably we could do the same with neural networks. This was my interpretation of why he is using Zoom In as an example.

All of the other stories for preventing catastrophe that I mentioned in the grandparent are tackling a hopefully easier problem than "detect whether an arbitrary neural net is dangerous".

Indeed, but I don't think this was the crux of my objection.

An Analytic Perspective on AI Alignment
I'd be shocked if there was anyone to whom it was mechanistically transparent how a laptop loads a website, down to the gates in the laptop.

Could you clarify why this is an important counterpoint. It seems obviously useful to understand mechanistic details of a laptop in order to debug it. You seem to be arguing the [ETA: weaker] claim that nobody understands the an entire laptop "all at once", as in, they can understand all the details in their head simultaneously. But such an understanding is almost never possible for any complex system, and yet we still try to approach it. So this objection could show that mechanistic transparency is hard in the limit, but it doesn't show that mechanistic transparency is uniquely bad in any sense. Perhaps you disagree?

Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover

For my part, I think you summarized my position fairly well. However, after thinking about this argument for another few days, I have more points to add.

  • Disease seems especially likely to cause coordination failures since it's an internal threat rather than an external threat (which unlike internal threats, tend to unite empires). We can compare the effects of the smallpox epidemic in the Aztec and Inca empires alongside other historical diseases during wartime, such as the Plauge of Athens which arguably is what caused Athens to lose the Peloponnesian War.
  • Along these same lines, the Aztec/Inca didn't have any germ theory of disease, and therefore didn't understand what was going on. They may have thought that the gods were punishing them for some reason, and therefore they probably spent a lot of time blaming random groups for the catastrophe. We can contrast these circumstances to eg. the Paraguayan War which killed up to 90% of the male population, but people probably had a much better idea what was going on and who was to blame, so I expect that the surviving population had an easier time coordinating.
  • A large chunk of the remaining population likely had some sort of disability. Think of what would happen if you got measles and smallpox in the same two year window: even if you survived it probably wouldn't look good. This means that the pure death rate is an underestimate of the impact of a disease. The Aztecs, for whom "only" 40 percent died of disease, were still greatly affected
It killed many of its victims outright, particularly infants and young children. Many other adults were incapacitated by the disease – because they were either sick themselves, caring for sick relatives and neighbors, or simply lost the will to resist the Spaniards as they saw disease ravage those around them. Finally, people could no longer tend to their crops, leading to widespread famine, further weakening the immune systems of survivors of the epidemic. [...] a third of those afflicted with the disease typically develop blindness.
Cortés, Pizarro, and Afonso as Precedents for Takeover
Later, other Europeans would come along with other advantages, and they would conquer India, Persia, Vietnam, etc., evidence that while disease was a contributing factor (I certainly am not denying it helped!) it wasn't so important a factor as to render my conclusion invalid (my conclusion, again, is that a moderate technological and strategic advantage can enable a small group to take over a large region.)

Europeans conquered places such as India, but that was centuries later, after they had a large technological advantage, and they also didn't come with just a few warships either: they came with vast armadas. I don't see why that supports the point that a small group can take over a large region?

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