Quintin Pope


Quintin's Alignment Papers Roundup
Shard Theory

Wiki Contributions


I've recently decided to revisit this post. I'll try to address all un-responded to comments in the next ~2 weeks.

Part of this is just straight disagreement, I think; see So8res's Sharp Left Turn and follow-on discussion.

Evolution provides no evidence for the sharp left turn

But for the rest of it, I don't see this as addressing the case for pessimism, which is not problems from the reference class that contains "the LLM sometimes outputs naughty sentences" but instead problems from the reference class that contains "we don't know how to prevent an ontological collapse, where meaning structures constructed under one world-model compile to something different under a different world model."

I dislike this minimization of contemporary alignment progress. Even just limiting ourselves to RLHF, that method addresses far more problems than "the LLM sometimes outputs naughty sentences". E.g., it also tackles problems such as consistently following user instructions, reducing hallucinations, improving the topicality of LLM suggestions, etc. It allows much more significant interfacing with the cognition and objectives pursued by LLMs than just some profanity filter.

I don't think ontological collapse is a real issue (or at least, not an issue that appropriate training data can't solve in a relatively straightforwards way). I feel similarly about lots of things that are speculated to be convergent problems for ML systems, such as wireheading and mesaoptimization.

Or, like, once LLMs gain the capability to design proteins (because you added in a relevant dataset, say), do you really expect the 'helpful, harmless, honest' alignment techniques that were used to make a chatbot not accidentally offend users to also work for making a biologist-bot not accidentally murder patients?

If you're referring to the technique used on LLMs (RLHF), then the answer seems like an obvious yes. RLHF just refers to using reinforcement learning with supervisory signals from a preference model. It's an incredibly powerful and flexible approach, one that's only marginally less general than reinforcement learning itself (can't use it for things you can't build a preference model of). It seems clear enough to me that you could do RLHF over the biologist-bot's action outputs in the biological domain, and be able to shape its behavior there.

If you're referring to just doing language-only RLHF on the model, then making a bio-model, and seeing if the RLHF influences the bio-model's behaviors, then I think the answer is "variable, and it depends a lot on the specifics of the RLHF and how the cross-modal grounding works". 

People often translate non-lingual modalities into language so LLMs can operate in their "native element" in those other domains. Assuming you don't do that, then yes, I could easily see the language-only RLHF training having little impact on the bio-model's behaviors.

However, if the bio-model were acting multi-modally by e.g., alternating between biological sequence outputs and natural language planning of what to use those outputs for, then I expect the RLHF would constrain the language portions of that dialog. Then, there are two options:

  • Bio-bot's multi-modal outputs don't correctly ground between language and bio-sequences. 
    • In this case, bio-bot's language planning doesn't correctly describe the sequences its outputting, so the RLHF doesn't constrain those sequences.
    • However, if bio-bot doesn't ground cross-modally, than bio-bot also can't benefit from its ability to plan in the language modality to better use its bio modality capabilities (which are presumably much better for planning than its bio-modality). 
  • Bio-bot's multi-modal outputs DO correctly ground between language and bio-sequences. 
    • In that case, the RLHF-constrained language does correctly describe the bio-sequences, and so the language-only RLHF training does also constrain bio-bot's biology-related behavior.

Put another way, I think new capabilities advances reveal new alignment challenges and unless alignment techniques are clearly cutting at the root of the problem, I don't expect that they will easily transfer to those new challenges.

Whereas I see future alignment challenges as intimately tied to those we've had to tackle for previous, less capable models. E.g., your bio-bot example is basically a problem of cross-modality grounding, on which there has been an enormous amount of past work, driven by the fact that cross-modality grounding is a problem for systems across very broad ranges of capabilities.

There was an entire thread about Yudkowsky's past opinions on neural networks, and I agree with Alex Turner's evidence that Yudkowsky was dubious. 

I also think people who used brain analogies as the basis for optimism about neural networks were right to do so.

Roughly, the core distinction between software engineering and computer security is whether the system is thinking back.

Yes, and my point in that section is that the fundamental laws governing how AI training processes work are not "thinking back". They're not adversaries. If you created a misaligned AI, then it would be "thinking back", and you'd be in an adversarial position where security mindset is appropriate.

What's your story for specification gaming?

"Building an AI that doesn't game your specifications" is the actual "alignment question" we should be doing research on. The mathematical principles which determine how much a given AI training process games your specifications are not adversaries. It's also a problem we've made enormous progress on, mostly by using large pretrained models with priors over how to appropriately generalize from limited specification signals. E.g., Learning Which Features Matter: RoBERTa Acquires a Preference for Linguistic Generalizations (Eventually) shows how the process of pretraining an LM causes it to go from "gaming" a limited set of finetuning data via shortcut learning / memorization, to generalizing with the appropriate linguistic prior knowledge.

I think you're missing something regarding David's contribution:

Here's the sycophancy graph from Discovering Language Model Behaviors with Model-Written Evaluations:

For some reason, the LW memesphere seems to have interpreted this graph as indicating that RLHF increases sycophancy, even though that's not at all clear from the graph. E.g., for the largest model size, the base model and the preference model are the least sycophantic, while the RLHF'd models show no particular trend among themselves. And if anything, the 22B models show decreasing sycophancy with RLHF steps.

What this graph actually shows is increasing sycophancy with model size, regardless of RLHF. This is one of the reasons that I think what's often called "sycophancy" is actually just models correctly representing the fact that text with a particular bias is often followed by text with the same bias.

I mean (1). You can see as much in the figure displayed in the linked notebook:

Note the lack of decrease in the val loss.

I only train for 3e4 steps because that's sufficient to reach generalization with implicit regularization. E.g., here's the loss graph I get if I set the batch size down to 50:

Setting the learning rate to 7e-2 also allows for generalization within 3e4 steps (though not as stably):

The slingshot effect does take longer than 3e4 steps to generalize:

Also, we don’t know what would happen if we exactly optimized an image to maximize the activation of a particular human’s face detection circuitry. I expect that the result would be pretty eldritch as well.

I think something like what you're describing does occur, but my view of SGD is that it's more "ensembly" than that. Rather than "the diamond shard is replaced by the pseudo-diamond-distorted-by-mislabeling shard", I expect the agent to have both such shards (really, a giant ensemble of shards each representing slightly different interpretations of what a diamond is).

Behaviorally speaking, this manifests as the agent having preferences for certain types of diamonds over others. E.g., one very simple example is that I expect the agent to prefer nicely cut and shiny diamonds over unpolished diamonds or giant slabs of pure diamond. This is because I expect human labelers to be strongly biased towards the human conception of diamonds as pieces of art, over any configuration of matter with the chemical composition of a diamond.

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