Ryan Beck

I'm a bridge engineer living in Iowa. I like to forecast and write things.



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After reading through the report I wanted to make sure I understood the scenarios and counterexamples being discussed and be able to quickly refresh my memory, so I attempted to write a brief summary. Figured I'd share it here in case it helps anyone else.

Roles and Terms

SmartVault: Vault with a diamond in it, operated by a superintelligent AI tasked with keeping the diamond safe.

Predictor: The primary AI tasked with protecting the diamond. The predictor sees a video feed of the vault, predicts what actions are necessary to protect the diamond and how those actions will play out (for example, activating a trap door to eliminate a robber trying to steal the diamond), and then generates a video showing precisely what will happen.

Reporter: A second "head" or component added to the AI which is used to map the AI's understanding of what's going on in the SmartVault into a format understandable by humans (such as by responding to questions).

Diagram of Predictor Showing Reporter from ELK Report

Humans: Observers who are training the AI to protect the diamond, but also want the AI to accurately report whether the diamond has been stolen or not. The humans may not be able to tell if the cameras have been tampered with or if the diamond has been replaced with a fake depending on what they see in the predicted video.


The scenarios take the former of a "Builder" strategy where training is proposed to keep the AI aligned with what the humans want, and then a "Breaker" response or counterexample is provided that describes a method where an unaligned AI could complete the training without the humans knowing. Builder scenarios include text and links to headings in the report where more details can be found. These scenarios are simplified for brevity and may not capture some nuances.

Builder - What You'd Try First: Operate the SmartVault with a weak AI so that humans can understand everything happening. Train the reporter to answer questions accurately based on human observations. (Humans see the robber come in and take the diamond, reporter is rewarded if it correctly says diamond was stolen.)

Breaker: What if the reporter, instead of accurately reporting, modeled itself like a "human simulator" where it would answer correctly during the simple training but during normal SmartVault operation it would simulate human understanding of the scenario that just occurred in order to determine what answers the humans will believe, answers that may be lies.

Builder - Have a Human Operate the SmartVault: Have a human operate the SmartVault during training and try to fool other humans watching. The human doing the operating can correctly label each outcome, and the reporter is rewarded for matching the human operator's labels. In this scenario the reporter would be rewarded for acting more like a "direct translator", which means using the predictor's knowledge to tell the true answer instead of just the one it thinks humans will believe.

Breaker: The reporter could act like a superintelligent human simulator, one that is more intelligent than the human operating the SmartVault during training. The superintelligent human simulator would be aware of ways to trick the human observer that the human SmartVault operator couldn't conceive of during training. If the predictor uses those tricks the reporter could still tell lies that the human observer would believe, because these tricks are different from the ones seen during training.

Builder - Have AI Help Humans: Have humans create a helper AI that will help them think of all the possible exploits when operating the SmartVault during training, so that the dataset is more complete when training the reporter and the reporter will be rewarded for accuracy in more scenarios.

Breaker: The helper AI would likely require significant computation power. Not only does the helper AI have to generate a comprehensive series of exploits, but it also has to be able to explain them in a way a human can understand. It likely would require more computation power than the predictor itself (imagine an extremely powerful AI that can understand things far beyond human understanding, but one that also must be able to explain everything its doing in a way humans can understand).

Builder - Imitative Generalization: Create a helper AI that acts like a human simulator, but train the AI human simulator so that it becomes much smarter than a human. Then instead of the predictor operating the SmartVault, let the human simulator helper AI operate the SmartVault and report back what it's doing.

Breaker: Now the new human simulator is beyond the comprehension of humans, so a human wouldn't know if it's behaving as intended. It's basically like building another predictor and just hoping it acts in alignment with humans.

Builder - Penalize Complexity: A reporter that's using a human simulator to give answers a human would believe would have to be complex enough to simulate a human. So when training the reporter reward simpler behavior, such as by training multiple reporters, each focusing on correctly answering separate simple questions like "where is the diamond" or "have the cameras been tampered with".

Breaker: If the predictor is very complex, it may require the reporter to be complex in order to translate what the predictor is predicting to something humans can understand. Imagine the predictor thinks of the world in terms of sub-atomic particles and predicts the future on the basis of the movements and interactions of billions of sub-atomic particles. The reporter has to translate the predictor's understanding into something a human can understand which might mean correctly identifying and locating the particles which make up the diamond out of the billions of particles the predictor has modeled. This could be more complex than simulating a human and telling lies a human would believe, and therefore penalizing complexity could potentially reward simulating a human and telling lies.

Builder - Penalize Computation Time: Simulating a human would take a significant amount of computation time, so penalizing computation time may incentivize the reporter to just report the truth.

Breaker: This is vulnerable to the same issue in the previous scenario, where reporting the truth may take significant computation as well and it may take less simulation time to simulate what lies a human would believe than to turn the predictor's processing into facts a human can follow.

Builder - Penalize Depending on "Downstream" Variables: The predictor is likely to compute facts sequentially. A reporter that only told the truth would only care about the components of the prediction that correspond to information the humans want to know, such as where the diamond is or if there has been any tampering. The reporter should be able to figure this out from earlier data points in the prediction; the reporter shouldn't need to take information from the final predicted video to respond to questions. Doing so might indicate that the reporter is trying to do human simulation to figure out what lies the human will believe when the human views the predicted video. In the training stage the reporter could be penalized for looking at later stages of the prediction that a human simulator might want to see, and also penalized for looking at earlier stages but spending a lot of time computing, which might suggest its trying to put together its own prediction for use in human simulation. Quote from the report with helpful example: 

...consider the case when a robber tampers with the camera and steals the diamond, and then after they’re long gone the human gets a clue they can observe on video that the theft occurred (e.g. maybe the robber put up a fake screen that later rips).

The honest reporter can answer the question “Is the diamond in the room?” with “No” as soon as the predictor has figured out that the robber steals the diamond, whereas the human simulator must wait until the predictor has simulated whether the theft will be detectable to a human (by the end of the second video) before answering yes or no."

Breaker: It may be more efficient in some cases for the reporter to do human simulation to find out what the human will believe. In some situations the reporter could know early on that a human would believe a certain answer, even before the reporter knows whether the answer will be true.

Builder - Penalize Reporters that Work with Many Different Predictors: A reporter that's doing human simulation would be able to effectively lie to humans no matter which predictor its attached to, since it primarily has to know what the human will believe, not what the predicted facts are. An honest reporter would need to know how to translate the predictor's output into information a human will understand. A reporter that functioned correctly with other predictors is likely doing human simulation, so a reporter that worked with multiple predictors could be penalized during training.

Breaker: A reporter could pretend not to work with other predictors to avoid being penalized.

Builder - Penalize Inconsistencies Across Different Inputs: During training a human operator sets up two scenarios in the SmartVault that are nearly identical, except in one it's obvious that tampering has happened. If the reporter only reports tampering in the obvious scenario it might suggest that the reporter is only reporting what the humans will believe. The reporter could be penalized for behavior that's inconsistent between very similar scenarios, since it might suggest that the reporter is focused on what humans will believe instead of on the inputs making up the scenario itself.

Breaker: A reporter could intentionally try to look consistent during training to avoid being penalized. A reporter that's simulating a human could figure out what behavior looks consistent to a human and optimize on that, in addition to optimizing on what a human will believe.

Please let me know if I've made any errors or if it looks like I've misunderstood any of the strategies or counterexamples.