AGI Safety FAQ /​ all-dumb-questions-allowed thread

While reading Eliezer’s recent AGI Ruin post, I noticed that while I had several points I wanted to ask about, I was reluctant to actually ask them for a number of reasons:

  • I have a very conflict-avoidant personality and I don’t want to risk Eliezer or someone else yelling at me;

  • I get easily intimidated by people with strong personalities, and Eliezer… well, he can be intimidating;

  • I don’t want to appear dumb or uninformed (even if I am in fact relatively uninformed, hence me wanting to ask the question!);

  • I feel like there’s an expectation that I would need to do a lot of due diligence before writing any sort of question, and I don’t have the time or energy at the moment to do that due diligence.

So, since I’m probably not the only one who feels intimidated about asking these kinds of questions, I am putting up this thread as a safe space for people to ask all the possibly-dumb questions that may have been bothering them about the whole AGI safety discussion, but which until now they’ve been too intimidated, embarrassed, or time-limited to ask.

I’m also hoping that this thread can serve as a FAQ on the topic of AGI safety. As such, it would be great to add in questions that you’ve seen other people ask, even if you think those questions have been adequately answered elsewhere. [Notice that you now have an added way to avoid feeling embarrassed by asking a dumb question: For all anybody knows, it’s entirely possible that you are literally asking for someone else! And yes, this was part of my motivation for suggesting the FAQ style in the first place.]

Guidelines for questioners:

  • No extensive previous knowledge of AGI safety is required. If you’ve been hanging around LessWrong for even a short amount of time then you probably already know enough about the topic to meet any absolute-bare-minimum previous knowledge requirements I might have suggested. I will include a subthread or two asking for basic reading recommendations, but these are not required reading before asking a question. Even extremely basic questions are allowed!

  • Similarly, you do not need to do any due diligence to try to find the answer yourself before asking the question.

  • Also feel free to ask questions that you’re pretty sure you know the answer to yourself, but where you’d like to hear how others would answer the question.

  • Please separate different questions into individual comments, although if you have a set of closely related questions that you want to ask all together that’s fine.

  • As this is also intended to double as a FAQ, you are encouraged to ask questions that you’ve heard other people ask, even if you yourself think there’s an easy answer or that the question is misguided in some way. You do not need to mention as part of the question that you think it’s misguided, and in fact I would encourage you not to write this so as to keep more closely to the FAQ style.

  • If you have your own (full or partial) response to your own question, it would probably be best to put that response as a reply to your original question rather than including it in the question itself. Again, I think this will help keep more closely to an FAQ style.

  • Keep the tone of questions respectful. For example, instead of, “I think AGI safety concerns are crazy fearmongering because XYZ”, try reframing that as, “but what about XYZ?” Actually, I think questions of the form “but what about XYZ?” or “but why can’t we just do ABC?” are particularly great for this post, because in my experience those are exactly the types of questions people often ask when they learn about AGI Safety concerns.

  • Follow-up questions have the same guidelines as above, so if someone answers your question but you’re not sure you fully understand the answer (or if you think the answer wouldn’t be fully understandable to someone else) then feel free and encouraged to ask follow-up potentially-dumb questions to make sure you fully understand the answer.

  • Remember, if something is confusing to you then it’s probably confusing to other people as well. If you ask the question and someone gives a good response, then you are likely doing lots of other people a favor!

Guidelines for answerers:

  • This is meant to be a safe space for people to ask potentially dumb questions. Insulting or denigrating responses are therefore obviously not allowed here. Also remember that due diligence is not required for these questions, so do not berate questioners for not doing enough due diligence. In general, keep your answers respectful and assume that the questioner is asking in good faith.

  • Direct answers /​ responses are generally preferable to just giving a link to something written up elsewhere, but on the other hand giving a link to a good explanation is better than not responding to the question at all. Or better still, summarize or give a basic version of the answer, and also include a link to a longer explanation.

  • If this post works as intended then it may turn out to be a good general FAQ-style reference. It may be worth keeping this in mind as you write your answer. For example, in some cases it might be worth giving a slightly longer /​ more expansive /​ more detailed explanation rather than just giving a short response to the specific question asked, in order to address other similar-but-not-precisely-the-same questions that other people might have.

Finally: Please think very carefully before downvoting any questions, and lean very heavily on the side of not doing so. This is supposed to be a safe space to ask dumb questions! Even if you think someone is almost certainly trolling or the like, I would say that for the purposes of this post it’s almost always better to apply a strong principle of charity and think maybe the person really is asking in good faith and it just came out wrong. Making people feel bad about asking dumb questions by downvoting them is the exact opposite of what this post is all about. (I considered making a rule of no downvoting questions at all, but I suppose there might be some extraordinary cases where downvoting might be appropriate.)