Sammy Martin

Sammy Bahia-Martin. Philosophy and Physics BSc, AI MSc at Edinburgh, starting a PhD at King's College London. Interested in ethics, general philosophy and AI Safety.

Wiki Contributions


DeepMind: Generally capable agents emerge from open-ended play

This is amazing. So it's the exact same agents performing well on all of these different tasks, not just the same general algorithm retrained on lots of examples. In which case, have they found a generally useful way around the catastrophic forgetting problem? I guess the whole training procedure, amount of compute + experience, and architecture, taken together, just solves catastrophic forgetting - at least for a far wider range of tasks than I've seen so far.

Could you use this technique to e.g. train the same agent to do well on chess and go?

I also notice as per the little animated gifs in the blogpost, that they gave each agent little death ray projectors to manipulate objects, and that they look a lot like Daleks.

Pros and cons of working on near-term technical AI safety and assurance

It depends somewhat on what you mean by 'near term interpretability' - if you apply that term to research into, for example, improving the stability and ability to access the 'inner world models' held by large opaque langauge models like GPT-3, then there's a strong argument that ML based 'interpretability' research might be one of the best ways of directly working on alignment research,

And see this discussion for more, 

Evan Hubinger: +1 I continue to think that language model transparency research is the single most valuable current research direction within the class of standard ML research, for similar reasons to what Eliezer said above.

Ajeya Cotra: Thanks! I'm also excited about language model transparency, and would love to find ways to make it more tractable as a research statement / organizing question for a field. I'm not personally excited about the connotations of transparency because it evokes the neuroscience-y interpretability tools, which don't feel scalable to situations when we don't get the concepts the model is using, and I'm very interested in finding slogans to keep researchers focused on the superhuman stuff.

So language model transparency/interpretability tools might be useful on the basis of pro 2) and also 1) to some extent, because it will help build tools for intereting TAI systems and alos help align them ahead of time.

1. Most importantly, the more we align systems ahead of time, the more likely that researchers will be able to put thought and consideration into new issues like treacherous turns, rather than spending all their time putting out fires.

2. We can build practical know-how and infrastructure for alignment techniques like learning from human feedback.

3. As the world gets progressively faster and crazier, we’ll have better AI assistants helping us to navigate the world.

4. It improves our chances of discovering or verifying a long-term or “full” alignment solution.

What Multipolar Failure Looks Like, and Robust Agent-Agnostic Processes (RAAPs)

Great post! I'm glad someone has outlined in clear terms what these failures look like, rather than the nebulous 'multiagent misalignment', as it lets us start on a path to clarifying what (if any) new mitigations or technical research are needed.

Agent-agnostic perspective is a very good innovation for thinking about these problems - is line between agentive and non-agentive behaviour is often not clear, and it's not like there is a principled metaphysical distinction between the two (e.g. Dennett and the Intentional Stance). Currently, big corporations can be weakly modelled this way and individual humans are fully agentive, but Transformative AI will bring up a whole spectrum of more and less agentive things that will fill up the rest of this spectrum.


There is a sense in which, if the outcome is something catastrophic, there must have been misalignment, and if there was misalignment then in some sense at least some individual agents were misaligned. Specifically, the systems in your Production Web weren't intent-aligned because they weren't doing what we wanted them to do, and were at least partly deceiving us. Assuming this is the case, 'multipolar failure' requires some subset of intent misalignment. But it's a special subset because it involves different kinds of failures to the ones we normally talk about.

It seems like you're identifying some dimensions of intent alignment as those most likely to be neglected because they're the hardest to catch, or because there will be economic incentives to ensure AI isn't aligned in that way, rather than saying that there some sense in which the transformative AI in the production web scenario is 'fully aligned' but still produces an existential catastrophe.

I think that the difference between your Production Web and Paul Christiano's subtle creeping Outer Alignment failure scenario is just semantic - you say that the AIs involved are aligned in some relevant sense while Christiano says they are misaligned.

The further question then becomes, how clear is the distinction between multiagent alignment and 'all of alignment except multiagent alignment'. This is the part where your claim of 'Problems before solutions' actually does become an issue - given that the systems going wrong in Production Web aren't Intent-aligned (I think you'd agree with this), at a high level the overall problem is the same in single and multiagent scenarios.

So for it to be clear that there is a separate multiagent problem to be solved, we have to have some reason to expect that the solutions currently intended to solve single agent intent alignment aren't adequate, and that extra research aimed at examining the behaviour of AI e.g. in game theoretic situations, or computational social choice research, is required to avert these particular examples of misalignment.

A related point - as with single agent misalignment, the Fast scenarios seem more certain to occur, given their preconditions, than the slow scenarios.

A certain amount of stupidity and lack of coordination persisting for a while is required in all the slow scenarios, like the systems involved in Production Web being allowed to proliferate and be used more and more even if an opportunity to coordinate and shut the systems down exists and there are reasons to do so. There isn't an exact historical analogy for that type of stupidity so far, though a few things come close (e.g. covid response, leadup to WW2, cuban missile crisis).

As with single agent fast takeoff scenarios, in the fast stories there is a key 'treacherous turn' moment where the systems suddenly go wrong, which requires much less lack of coordination to be plausible than the slow Production Web scenarios.

Therefore, multipolar failure is less dangerous if takeoff is slower, but the difference in risk between slow vs fast takeoff for multipolar failure is unfortunately a lot smaller than the slow vs fast risk difference for single agent failure (where the danger is minimal if takeoff is slow enough). So multiagent failures seem like they would be the dominant risk factor if takeoff is sufficiently slow.

SDM's Shortform

Update to 'Modelling Continuous Progress'

I made an attempt to model intelligence explosion dynamics in this post, by attempting to make the very oversimplified exponential-returns-to-exponentially-increasing-intelligence model used by Bostrom and Yudkowsky slightly less oversimplified.

This post tries to build on a simplified mathematical model of takeoff which was first put forward by Eliezer Yudkowsky and then refined by Bostrom in Superintelligence, modifying it to account for the different assumptions behind continuous, fast progress as opposed to discontinuous progress. As far as I can tell, few people have touched these sorts of simple models since the early 2010’s, and no-one has tried to formalize how newer notions of continuous takeoff fit into them. I find that it is surprisingly easy to accommodate continuous progress and that the results are intuitive and fit with what has already been said qualitatively about continuous progress.

The page includes python code for the model.

This post doesn't capture all the views of takeoff - in particular it doesn't capture the non-hyperbolic faster growth mode scenario, where marginal intelligence improvements are exponentially increasingly difficult, and therefore we get a (continuous or discontinuous switch to a) new exponential growth mode rather than runaway hyperbolic growth.

But I think that by modifying the f(I) function that determines how RSI capability varies with intelligence we can incorporate such views.

In the context of the exponential model given in the post that would correspond to an f(I) function where

which would result in a continuous (determined by size of d) switch to a single faster exponential growth mode

But I think the model still roughly captures the intuition behind scenarios that involve either a continuous or a discontinuous step to an intelligence explosion.

Given the model assumptions, we see how the different scenarios look in practice:

If we plot potential AI capability over time, we can see how no new growth mode (brown) vs a new growth mode (all the rest), the presence of an intelligence explosion (red and orange) vs not (green and purple), and the presence of a discontinuity (red and purple) vs not (orange and green) affect the takeoff trajectory.

My research methodology

Is a bridge falling down the moment you finish building it an extreme and somewhat strange failure mode? In the space of all possible bridge designs, surely not. Most bridge designs fall over. But in the real world, you could win money all day betting that bridges won't collapse the moment they're finished.

I'm not saying this is an exact analogy for AGI alignment - there are lots of specific technical reasons to expect that alignment is not like bridge building and that there are reasons why the approaches we're likely to try will break on us suddenly in ways we can't fix as we go - treacherous turns, inner misalignment or reactions to distributional shift. It's just that there are different answers to the question of what's the default outcome depending on if you're asking what to expect abstractly or in the context of how things are in fact done.


Instrumental Convergence plus a specific potential failure mode (like e.g. we won't pay sufficient attention to out of distribution robustness), is like saying 'you know the vast majority of physically possible bridge designs fall over straight away and also there's a giant crack in that load-bearing concrete pillar over there' - if for some reason your colleague has a mental block around the idea that a bridge could in principle fall down then the first part is needed (hence why IC is important for presentations of AGI risk because lots of people have crazily wrong intuitions about the nature of AI or intelligence), but otherwise IC doesn't do much to help the case for expecting catastrophic misalignment and isn't enough to establish that failure is a default outcome.


It seems like your reason for saying that catastrophic misalignment can't be considered an abnormal or extreme failure mode comes down to this pre-technical-detail Instrumental Convergence thesis - that IC by itself gives us a significant reason to worry, even if we all agree that IC is not the whole story. 

this seems a bizarre way to describe something that we agree is the default result of optimizing for almost anything (eg paperclips).  

= 'because strongly optimizing for almost anything leads to catastrophe via IC, we can't call catastrophic misalignment a bizarre outcome'?

Maybe it's just a subtle difference in emphasis without a real difference in expectation/world model, but I think there is an important need to clarify the difference between 'IC alone raises an issue that might not be obvious but doesn't give us a strong reason to expect a catastrophe' and 'IC alone suggests a catastrophe even though it's not the whole story' - and the first of these is a more accurate way of viewing the role of IC in establishing the likelihood of catastrophic misalignment.

Ben Garfinkel argues for the first of these and against the second, in his objection to the 'classic' formulation of instrumental convergence/orthogonality - that these are just 'measure based' arguments which identify that a majority of possible AI designs with some agentive properties and large-scale goals will optimize in malign ways, rather than establishing that we're actually likely to build such agents.

Review of Soft Takeoff Can Still Lead to DSA

I agree with your argument about likelihood of DSA being higher compared to previous accelerations, due to society not being able to speed up as fast as the technology. This is sorta what I had in mind with my original argument for DSA; I was thinking that leaks/spying/etc. would not speed up nearly as fast as the relevant AI tech speeds up.

Your post on 'against GDP as a metric' argues more forcefully for the same thing that I was arguing for, that 

'the economic doubling time' stops being so meaningful - technological progress speeds up abruptly but other kinds of progress that adapt to tech progress have more of a lag before the increased technological progress also affects them? 

So we're on the same page there that it's not likely that 'the economic doubling time' captures everything that's going on all that well, which leads to another problem - how do we predict what level of capability is necessary for a transformative AI to obtain a DSA (or reach the PONR for a DSA)?

I notice that in your post you don't propose an alternative metric to GDP, which is fair enough since most of your arguments seem to lead to the conclusion that it's almost impossibly difficult to predict in advance what level of advantage over the rest of the world in which areas are actually needed to conquer the world, since we seem to be able to analogize persuasion tools to or conquistador-analogues who had relatively small tech advantages, to the AGI situation.

I think that there is still a useful role for raw economic power measurements, in that they provide a sort of upper bound on how much capability difference is needed to conquer the world. If an AGI acquires resources equivalent to controlling >50% of the world's entire GDP, it can probably take over the world if it goes for the maximally brute force approach of just using direct military force. Presumably the PONR for that situation would be awhile before then, but at least we know that an advantage of a certain size would be big enough given no assumptions about the effectiveness of unproven technologies of persuasion or manipulation or specific vulnerabilities in human civilization.

So we can use our estimate of how doubling time may increase, anchor on that gap and estimate down based on how soon we think the PONR is, or how many 'cheat' pathways that don't involve economic growth there are.

The whole idea of using brute economic advantage as an upper limit 'anchor' I got from Ajeya's Post about using biological anchors to forecast what's required for TAI - if we could find a reasonable lower bound for the amount of advantage needed to attain DSA we could do the same kind of estimated distribution between them. We would just need a lower limit - maybe there's a way of estimating it based on the upper limit of human ability since we know no actually existing human has used persuasion to take over the world but as you point out they've come relatively close.

I realize that's not a great method, but is there any better alternative given that this is a situation we've never encountered before, for trying to predict what level of capability is necessary for DSA? Or perhaps you just think that anchoring your prior estimate based on economic power advantage as an upper bound is so misleading it's worse than having a completely ignorant prior. In that case, we might have to say that there are just so many unprecedented ways that a transformative AI could obtain a DSA that we can just have no idea in advance what capability is needed, which doesn't feel quite right to me.

Review of Soft Takeoff Can Still Lead to DSA

Currently the most plausible doom scenario in my mind is maybe a version of Paul’s Type II failure. (If this is surprising to you, reread it while asking yourself what terms like “correlated automation failure” are euphemisms for.) 

This is interesting, and I'd like to see you expand on this. Incidentally I agree with the statement, but I can imagine both more and less explosive, catastrophic versions of 'correlated automation failure'. On the one hand it makes me think of things like transportation and electricity going haywire, on the other it could fit a scenario where a collection of powerful AI systems simultaneously intentionally wipe out humanity.

Clock-time leads shrink automatically as the pace of innovation speeds up, because if everyone is innovating 10x faster, then you need 10x as many hoarded ideas to have an N-year lead. 

What if, as a general fact, some kinds of progress (the technological kinds more closely correlated with AI) are just much more susceptible to speed-up? I.e, what if 'the economic doubling time' stops being so meaningful - technological progress speeds up abruptly but other kinds of progress that adapt to tech progress have more of a lag before the increased technological progress also affects them? In that case, if the parts of overall progress that affect the likelihood of leaks, theft and spying aren't sped up by as much as the rate of actual technology progress, the likelihood of DSA could rise to be quite high compared to previous accelerations where the order of magnitude where the speed-up occurred was fast enough to allow society to 'speed up' the same way.

In other words - it becomes easier to hoard more and more ideas if the ability to hoard ideas is roughly constant but the pace of progress increases. Since a lot of these 'technologies' for facilitating leaks and spying are more in the social realm, this seems plausible.

But if you need to generate more ideas, this might just mean that if you have a very large initial lead, you can turn it into a DSA, which you still seem to agree with:

  • Even if takeoff takes several years it could be unevenly distributed such that (for example) 30% of the strategically relevant research progress happens in a single corporation. I think 30% of the strategically relevant research happening in a single corporation at beginning of a multi-year takeoff would probably be enough for DSA.
Eight claims about multi-agent AGI safety

Humans have skills and motivations (such as deception, manipulation and power-hungriness) which would be dangerous in AGIs. It seems plausible that the development of many of these traits was driven by competition with other humans, and that AGIs trained to answer questions or do other limited-scope tasks would be safer and less goal-directed. I briefly make this argument here.

Note that he claims that this may be true even if single/single alignment is solved, and all AGIs involved are aligned to their respective users.

It strikes me as interesting that much of the existing work that's been done on multiagent training, such as it is, focusses on just examining the behaviour of artificial agents in social dilemmas. The thinking seems to be - and this was also suggested in ARCHES - that it's useful just for exploratory purposes to try to characterise how and whether RL agents cooperate in social dilemmas, what mechanism designs and what agent designs promote what types of cooperation, and if there are any general trends in terms of what kinds of multiagent failures RL tends to fall into.

For example, it's generally known that regular RL tends to fail to cooperate in social dilemmas, 'Unfortunately, selfish MARL agents typically fail when faced with social dilemmas'. From ARCHES:

One approach to this research area is to continually ex-amine social dilemmas through the lens of whatever is the leading AI devel-opment paradigm in a given year or decade, and attempt to classify interest-ing behaviors as they emerge. This approach might be viewed as analogous to developing “transparency for multi-agent systems”: first develop inter-esting multi-agent systems, and then try to understand them.

There seems to be an implicit assumption here that something very important and unique to multiagent situations would be uncovered - by analogy to things like the flash crash. It's not clear to me that we've examined the intersection of RL and social dilemmas enough to notice if this were true, if it were true, and I think that's the major justification for working on this area.

Commentary on AGI Safety from First Principles

Yeah - this is a case where how exactly the transition goes seems to make a very big difference. If it's a fast transition to a singleton, altering the goals of the initial AI is going to be super influential. But if it's that there are many generations of AIs that over time become the larger majority of the economy, then just control everything - predictably altering how that goes seems a lot harder at least.

Comparing the entirety of the Bostrom/Yudkowsky singleton intelligence explosion scenario to the slower more spread out scenario, it's not clear that it's easier to predictably alter the course of the future in the first compared to the second.

In the first, assuming you successfully set the goals of the singleton, the hard part is over and the future can be steered easily because there are, by definition, no more coordination problems to deal with. But in the first, a superintelligent AGI could explode on us out of nowhere with little warning and a 'randomly rolled utility function', so the amount of coordination we'd need pre-intelligence explosion might be very large.

In the second slower scenario, there are still ways to influence the development of AI - aside from massive global coordination and legislation, there may well be decision points where two developmental paths are comparable in terms of short-term usefulness but one is much better than the other in terms of alignment or the value of the long-term future. 

Stuart Russell's claim that we need to replace 'the standard model' of AI development is one such example - if he's right, a concerted push now by a few researchers could alter how nearly all future AI systems are developed for the better. So different conditions have to be met for it to be possible to predictably alter the future long in advance on the slow transition model (multiple plausible AI development paths that could be universally adopted and have ethically different outcomes) compared to the fast transition model (the ability to anticipate when and where the intelligence explosion will arrive and do all the necessary alignment work in time), but its not obvious to me one is easier to meet than the other.


For this reason, I think it's unlikely there will be a very clearly distinct "takeoff period" that warrants special attention compared to surrounding periods.

I think the period AI systems can, at least in aggregate, finally do all the stuff that people can do might be relatively distinct and critical -- but, if progress in different cognitive domains is sufficiently lumpy, this point could be reached well after the point where we intuitively regard lots of AI systems as on the whole "superintelligent."

This might be another case (like 'the AIs utility function') where we should just retire the term as meaningless, but I think that 'takeoff' isn't always a strictly defined interval, especially if we're towards the medium-slow end. The start of the takeoff has a precise meaning only if you believe that RSI is an all-or-nothing property. In this graph from a post of mine, the light blue curve has an obvious start to the takeoff where the gradient discontinuously changes, but what about the yellow line? There clearly is a takeoff in that progress becomes very rapid, but there's no obvious start point, but there is still a period very different from our current period that is reached in a relatively short space of time - so not 'very clearly distinct' but still 'warrants special attention'.


At this point I think it's easier to just discard the terminology altogether. For some agents, it's reasonable to describe them as having goals. For others, it isn't. Some of those goals are dangerous. Some aren't. 

Daniel Dennett's Intentional stance is either a good analogy for the problem of "can't define what has a utility function" or just a rewording of the same issue. Dennett's original formulation doesn't discuss different types of AI systems or utility functions, ranging in 'explicit goal directedness' all the way from expected-minmax game players to deep RL to purely random agents, but instead discusses physical systems ranging from thermostats up to humans. Either way, if you agree with Dennett's formulation of the intentional stance I think you'd also agree that it doesn't make much sense to speak of 'the utility function as necessarily well-defined.

Some AI research areas and their relevance to existential safety

That said, I remain interested in more clarity on what you see as the biggest risks with these multi/multi approaches that could be addressed with technical research.

A (though not necessarily the most important) reason to think technical research into computational social choice might be useful is that examining specifically the behaviour of RL agents from a computational social choice perspective might alert us to ways in which coordination with future TAI might be similar or different to the existing coordination problems we face.

(i) make direct improvements in the relevant institutions, in a way that anticipates the changes brought about by AI but will most likely not look like AI research, 

It seems premature to say, in advance of actually seeing what such research uncovers, whether the relevant mechanisms and governance improvements are exactly the same as the improvements we need for good governance generally, or different. Suppose examining the behaviour of current RL agents in social dilemmas leads to a general result which in turn leads us to conclude there's a disproportionate chance TAI in the future will coordinate in some damaging way that we can resolve with a particular new regulation. It's always possible to say, solving the single/single alignment problem will prevent anything like that from happening in the first place, but why put all your hopes on plan A, when plan B is relatively neglected?

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