Alex Zhu

Alex Zhu's Comments

How special are human brains among animal brains?

I just want to share another reason I find this n=1 anecdote so interesting -- I have a highly speculative inside view that the abstract concept of self provides a cognitive affordance for intertemporal coordination, resulting in a phase transition in agentiness only known to be accessible to humans.

How special are human brains among animal brains?

Hmm, I'm not sure I understand what point you think I was trying to make. The only case I was trying to make here was that much of our subjective experience which may appear uniquely human might stem from our langauge abilites, which seems consistent with Helen Keller undergoing a phase transition in her subjective experience upon learning a single abstract concept. I'm not getting what age has to do with this.

How special are human brains among animal brains?
Questions #2 and #3 seem positively correlated – if the thing that humans have is important, it's evidence that architectural changes matter a lot.

Not necessarily. For example, it may be that language ability is very important, but that most of the heavy lifting in our language ability comes from general learning abilities + having a culture that gives us good training data for learning language, rather than from architectural changes.

How special are human brains among animal brains?

I remembered reading about this a while back and updating on it, but I'd forgotten about it. I definitely think this is relevant, so I'm glad you mentioned it -- thanks!

How special are human brains among animal brains?
I think this explanation makes sense, but it raises the further question of why we don't see other animal species with partial language competency. There may be an anthropic explanation here - i.e. that once one species gets a small amount of language ability, they always quickly master language and become the dominant species. But this seems unlikely: e.g. most birds have such severe brain size limitations that, while they could probably have 1% of human language, I doubt they could become dominant in anywhere near the same way we did.

Can you elaborate more on what partial language competency would look like to you? (FWIW, my current best guess is on "once one species gets a small amount of language ability, they always quickly master language and become the dominant species", but I have a lot of uncertainty. I suppose this also depends a lot on what exactly what's meant by "language ability".)

How special are human brains among animal brains?
This seems like a false dichotomy. We shouldn't think of scaling up as "free" from a complexity perspective - usually when scaling up, you need to make quite a few changes just to keep individual components working. This happens in software all the time: in general it's nontrivial to roll out the same service to 1000x users.

I agree. But I also think there's an important sense in which this additional complexity is mundane -- if the only sorts of differences between a mouse brain and a human brain were the sorts of differences involved in scaling up a software service to 1000x users, I think it would be fair (although somewhat glib) to call a human brain a scaled-up mouse brain. I don't think this comparison would be fair if the sorts of differences were more like the sorts of differences involved in creating 1000 new software services.

How special are human brains among animal brains?

That's one of the "unique intellectual superpowers" that I think language confers us:

On a species level, our mastery of language enables intricate insights to accumulate over generations with high fidelity. Our ability to stand on the shoulders of giants is unique among animals, which is why our culture is unrivaled in its richness in sophistication.

(I do think it helps to explicitly name our ability to learn culture as something that sets us apart, and wish I'd made that more front-and-center.)

Paul's research agenda FAQ

I'm still confused about how each of the approaches would prevent us from eventually creating agents that spend 99% of their cognition acting corrigibly, while spending a well-hidden 1% of its cognition trying to sniff out whether it's in the test distribution, and executing a treacherous turn if so. The way I understand your summaries:

  • Adversarial training makes it harder for the malignant 1% to do anything dangerous, since it makes it harder to tell whether it's in the test distribution. But it does little to prevent a malignant 1% from very conservatively trying (and usually failing) to ascertain whether it's in the test distribution.
  • Interpretability makes it harder for the malignant 1% to be hidden, but doesn't prevent malignant cognition it can't detect. (My reading of "Gradient descent will be pushing against whatever kinds of treacherous turns that can be detected by our machinery. But it will only push for things that improve behavior on the training distribution, so a treacherous turn can only appear where it is coupled with the machinery that is producing good predictions, giving us more traction for interpretability." is completely consistent with this.)

I didn't understand what your wrote about verification well enough to have anything to say.

It does prima facie seem that an agent spending 100% of its cognition being competent and corrigible achieves higher reward than an agent that only spends 99% of its cognition being competent and corrigible, and 1% of its cognition trying (and almost always failing) to see if it's in the test distribution. Is your model that gradient descent will favor the former agent over the latter agent, making the 99%/1% agent unlikely to arise (and perhaps quantifiably so)?

The inner process may nevertheless use TDT if TDT doesn't diverge from CDT on the training distribution, or it might learn to use TDT but "look nice" so that it doesn't get selected against.

This was what I was intending to convey in assumption 3.

Paul's research agenda FAQ

I'm currently intuiting that there's a broad basin of "seeming corrigible until you can perform a treacherous turn", but not a broad basin of true corrigibility. If the overseer can robustly detect incorrigible cognition in the distilled agent, I think things may be fine. But if e.g. the overseer is only inspecting the distilled agent's justifications for its behavior, and something like its verbal loop, I don't see how things can work out. 

Here are my assumptions underlying this intuition: 

1. Past a certain capabilities level, distilled agents can meaningfully be modeled as expected utility maximizers for short-term rewards from its overseer. (This is because expected utility maximization is instrumentally convergent, the same way that believing 51 to be composite is instrumentally convergent, as per Eliezer's comment.)

2. If the agents reason using TDT, the effective utility functions of these act-based agents will optimize for long-term instrumental preferences of their users, because in expectation, adopting this policy raises whatever short-term instrumental reward they'll get.

3. Expected utility maximizers for discounted future rewards of reward signals are hopelessly incorrigible. 

4. Agents produced through the distillation process, misaligned in this way, could enter a regime of devoting 99% of their cognition to doing exactly what a corrigible agent would do, and 1% of their cognition to finding strategies for determining how to / whether to execute a treacherous turn. 

5. Because of how many ways there are to hide this 1% of cognition, a complete white-box understanding of the agent's cognition is necessary to spot this sort of malign reasoning. 

6. We can't achieve this level of understanding via anything like current ML transparency techniques. 

Which of these assumptions do you disagree with most? Or do you agree with these assumptions, but feel optimistic that we can get good worst-case guarantees anyway?

2. How easy is it to learn to be corrigible? I'd think of this as: if we impose the extra constraint that our model behave corrigibly on all inputs, in addition to solving the object-level task well, how much bigger do we need to make the model?

My current intuition: for the same reasons it seems really hard to train models that believe 51 is prime while also performing well on object-level tasks, learning to be corrigible seems very difficult.

Can corrigibility be learned safely?

I really like that list of points! Not that I'm Rob, but I'd mentally classified each of those as alignment failures, and the concern I was trying to articulate was that, by default, I'd expect an AI trying to do the right thing will make something like one of these mistakes. Those are good examples of the sorts of things I'd be scared of if I had a well-intentioned non-neurotypical assistant. Those are also what I was referring to when I talked about "black swans" popping up. And when I said:

2. Corrigibility depends critically on high-impact calibration (when your AI is considering doing a high-impact thing, it's critical that it knows to check that action with you).

I meant that, if an AI trying to do the right thing was considering one of these actions, for it to be safe it should consult you before going ahead with any one of these. (I didn't mean "the AI is incorrigible if it's not high-impact calibrated", I meant "the AI, even if corrigible, would be unsafe it's not high-impact calibrated".)

If these kinds of errors are included in "alignment," then I'd want some different term that referred to the particular problem of building AI that was trying to do the right thing, without including all of the difficulty of figuring out what is right (except insofar as "figure out more about what is right" is one way to try to build an AI that is trying to do the right thing.)

I think I understand your position much better now. The way I've been describing "ability to figure out what is right" is "metaphilosophical competence", and I currently take the stance that an AI trying to do the right thing will by default be catastrophic if it's not good enough at figuring out what is right, even if it's corrigible.

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