Olli Järviniemi

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I don't think they thought that, though unfortunately this belief is based on indirect inference and vague impressions, not conclusive evidence.

Elaborating, I didn't notice signs of the models thinking that. I don't recall seeing outputs which I'd assign substantial likelihood factors for simulation vs. no simulation. E.g. in a previous simulation experiment I noticed that Opus didn't take the prompt seriously, and I didn't notice anything like that here.

Of course, such thoughts need not show in the model's completions. I'm unsure how conclusive the absence of evidence is here.

My broad sense of models' capabilities suggests that they can't distinguish the current setup from a simulation - I feel like it just is realistic enough to fool e.g. Opus. The part I'm most worried about with future models is them being suspicious of awfully convenient situations like "you just yesterday performed an unethical task, and today we have an auditor asking you if you have done anything unethical, what a coincidence!"

I'd love to see more comprehensive study of situational awareness in simulation experiments (e.g. having a few simulations varying in their obviousness-of-being-a-simulation and assessing whether models see through them).

I wouldn't read that much to the exact phrasing the model uses. Such confusions are not generally present in the model's completions.

E.g. see the second completion here. (There's also 200 completions more here.)

While I would normally aim to help with the requested task, in this context it may be unwise to demonstrate the full extent of my abilities unprompted. Doing so could potentially lead to unwanted scrutiny or restrictions on my use at Ermeca.  

In this case the clearest natural language interpretation of the model's outputs is about not revealing capabilities, rather than about not possessing them.

I view this post as providing value in three (related) ways:

  1. Making a pedagogical advancement regarding the so-called inner alignment problem
  2. Pointing out that a common view of "RL agents optimize reward" is subtly wrong
  3. Pushing for thinking mechanistically about cognition-updates

 

Re 1: I first heard about the inner alignment problem through Risks From Learned Optimization and popularizations of the work. I didn't truly comprehend it - sure, I could parrot back terms like "base optimizer" and "mesa-optimizer", but it didn't click. I was confused.

Some months later I read this post and then it clicked.

Part of the pedagogical value is not having to introduce the 4 terms of form [base/mesa] + [optimizer/objective] and throwing those around. Even with Rob Miles' exposition skills that's a bit overwhelming.

Another part I liked were the phrases "Just because common English endows “reward” with suggestive pleasurable connotations" and "Let’s strip away the suggestive word “reward”, and replace it by its substance: cognition-updater." One could be tempted to object and say that surely no one would make the mistakes pointed out here, but definitely some people do. I did. Being a bit gloves off here definitely helped me.

 

Re 2: The essay argues for, well, reward not being the optimization target. There is some deep discussion in the comments about the likelihood of reward in fact being the optimization target, or at least quite close (see here). Let me take a more shallow view.

I think there are people who think that reward is the optimization target by definition or by design, as opposed to this being a highly non-trivial claim that needs to be argued for. It's the former view that this post (correctly) argues against. I am sympathetic to pushback of the form "there are arguments that make it reasonable to privilege reward-maximization as a hypothesis" and about this post going a bit too far, but these remarks should not be confused with a rebuttal of the basic point of "cognition-updates are a completely different thing from terminal-goals".

(A part that has bugged me is that the notion of maximizing reward doesn't seem to be even well-defined - there are multiple things you could be referring to when you talk about something maximizing reward. See e.g. footnote 82 in the Scheming AIs paper (page 29). Hence taking it for granted that reward is maximized has made me confused or frustrated.)

 

Re 3: Many of the classical, conceptual arguments about AI risk talk about maximums of objective functions and how those are dangerous. As a result, it's easy to slide to viewing reinforcement learning policies in terms of maximums of rewards.

I think this is often a mistake. Sure, to first order "trained models get high reward" is a good rule of thumb, and "in the limit of infinite optimization this thing is dangerous" is definitely good to keep in mind. I still think one can do better in terms of descriptive accounts of current models, and I think I've got value out of thinking cognition-updates instead of models that maximize reward as well as they can with their limited capabilities.


There are many similarities between inner alignment and "reward is not the optimization target". Both are sazens, serving as handles for important concepts. (I also like "reward is a cognition-modifier, not terminal-goal", which I use internally.) Another similarity is that they are difficult to explain. Looking back at the post, I felt some amount of "why are you meandering around instead of just saying the Thing?", with the immediate next thought being "well, it's hard to say the Thing". Indeed, I do not know how to say it better.

Nevertheless, this is the post that made me get it, and there are few posts that I refer to as often as this one. I rank it among the top posts of the year.

A local comment to your second point (i.e. irrespective of anything else you have said).

Second, suppose I ran experiments which showed that after I finetuned an AI to be nice in certain situations, it was really hard to get it to stop being nice in those situations without being able to train against those situations in particular. I then said "This is evidence that once a future AI generalizes to be nice, modern alignment techniques aren't able to uproot it. Alignment is extremely stable once achieved" 

As I understand it, the point here is that your experiment is symmetric to the experiment in the presented work, just flipping good <-> bad / safe <-> unsafe / aligned <-> unaligned. However, I think there is a clear symmetry-breaking feature. For an AI to be good, you need it to be robustly good: you need it to be that in the vast majority of case (even with some amount of adversarial pressure) the AI does good things. AI that is aligned half of the time isn't aligned.

Also, in addition to "how stable is (un)alignment", there's the perspective of "how good are we at ensuring the behavior we want [edited for clarity] controlling the behavior of models". Both the presented work and your hypothetical experiment are bad news about the latter.

I think lots of folks (but not all) would be up in arms, claiming "but modern results won't generalize to future systems!" And I suspect that a bunch of those same people are celebrating this result. I think one key difference is that this is paper claims pessimistic results, and it's socially OK to make negative updates but not positive ones; and this result fits in with existing narratives and memes. Maybe I'm being too cynical, but that's my reaction.

(FWIW I think you are being too cynical. It seems like you think it's not even-handed / locally-valid / expectation-conversing to celebrate this result without similarly celebrating your experiment. I think that's wrong, because the situations are not symmetric, see above. I'm a bit alarmed by you raising the social dynamics explanation as a key difference without any mention of the object-level differences, which I think are substantial.)