Tom Everitt

Research Scientist at DeepMind

Wiki Contributions


The idea ... works well on mechanised CIDs whose variables are neatly divided into object-level and mechanism nodes. ... But to apply this to a physical system, we would need a way to obtain such a partition those variables

Agree, the formalism relies on a division of variable. One thing that I think we should perhaps have highlighted much more is Appendix B in the paper, which shows how you get a natural partition of the variables from just knowing the object-level variables of a repeated game.

Does a spinal reflex count as a policy?

A spinal reflex would be different if humans had evolved in a different world. So it reflects an agentic decision by evolution. In this sense, it is similar to the thermostat, which inherits its agency from the humans that designed it.

Does an ant's decision to fight come from a representation of a desire to save its queen?

Same as above.

How accurate does its belief about the forthcoming battle have to be before this representation counts?

One thing that I'm excited about to think further about is what we might call "proper agents", that are agentic in themselves, rather than just inheriting their agency from the evolution / design / training process that made them. I think this is what you're pointing at with the ant's knowledge. Likely it wouldn't quite be a proper agent (but a human would, as we are able to adapt without re-evolving in a new environment). I have some half-developed thoughts on this.

This makes sense, thanks for explaining. So a threat model with specification gaming as its only technical cause, can cause x-risk under the right (i.e. wrong) societal conditions.

For instance: why expect that we need a multi-step story about consequentialism and power-seeking in order to deceive humans, when RLHF already directly selects for deceptive actions?

Is deception alone enough for x-risk? If we have a large language model that really wants to deceive any human it interacts with, then a number of humans will be deceived. But it seems like the danger stops there. Since the agent lacks intent to take over the world or similar, it won't be systematically deceiving humans to pursue some particular agenda of the agent. 

As I understand it, this is why we need the extra assumption that the agent is also a misaligned power-seeker.

The way I see it, the primary value of this work (as well as other CID work) is conceptual clarification. Causality is a really fundamental concept, which many other AI-safety relevant concepts build on (influence, response, incentives, agency, ...). The primary aim is to clarify the relationships between concepts and to derive relevant implications. Whether there are practical causal inference algorithms or not is almost irrelevant. 

TLDR: Causality > Causal inference :)

Sure, humans are sometimes inconsistent, and we don't always know what we want (thanks for the references, that's useful!). But I suspect we're mainly inconsistent in borderline cases, which aren't catastrophic to get wrong. I'm pretty sure humans would reliably state that they don't want to be killed, or that lots of other people die, etc. And that when they have a specific task in mind , they state that they want the task done rather than not. All this subject to that they actually understand the main considerations for whatever plan or outcome is in question, but that is exactly what debate and rrm are for

alignment of strong optimizers simply cannot be done without grounding out in something fundamentally different from a feedback signal.

I don't think this is obvious at all.  Essentially, we have to make sure that humans give feedback that matches their preferences, and that the agent isn't changing the human's preferences to be more easily optimized.

We have the following tools at our disposal:

  1. Recursive reward modelling / Debate. By training agents to help with feedback, improvements in optimization power boosts both the feedback and the process potentially fooling the feedback. It's possible that it's easier to fool humans than it is to help them not be fooled, but it's not obvious this is the case.
  2. Path-specific objectives. By training an explicit model of how humans will be influenced by agent behavior, we can design an agent that optimizes the hypothetical feedback that would have been given, had the agent's behavior not changed the human's preferences (under some assumptions).

This makes me mildly optimistic of using feedback even for relatively powerful optimization.

Nice post! The Game Theory / Bureaucracy is interesting. It reminds me of Drexler's CAIS proposal, where services are combined into an intelligent whole. But I (and Drexler, I believe) agree that much more work could be spent on figuring out how to actually design/combine these systems.

Thanks Ilya for those links, in particular the second one looks quite relevant to something we’ve been working on in a rather different context (that's the benefit of speaking the same language!)

We would also be curious to see a draft of the MDP-generalization once you have something ready to share!


  • I think the existing approach and easy improvements don't seem like they can capture many important incentives such that you don't want to use it as an actual assurance (e.g. suppose that agent A is predicting the world and agent B is optimizing A's predictions about B's actions---then we want to say that the system has an incentive to manipulate the world but it doesn't seem like that is easy to incorporate into this kind of formalism).


This is what multi-agent incentives are for (i.e. incentive analysis in multi-agent CIDs).  We're still working on these as there are a range of subtleties, but I'm pretty confident we'll have a good account of it.

Glad she likes the name :) True, I agree there may be some interesting subtleties lurking there. 

(Sorry btw for slow reply; I keep missing alignmentforum notifications.)

Load More