My thoughts on the Beff Jezos—Connor Leahy debate


Personal note: I’m somewhat in between safetyism and e/​acc in terms of their general ideologies/​philosophies. I don’t really consider myself a part of either group. My view on AI x-risk is that AI can be potentially an existential threat, but we’re nowhere near that point right now, so safety research is valuable, but not urgent. For this reason, in practical terms, I’m somewhat closer to e/​acc, because I think there’s a lot of value to be found in technological progress, so we should keep developing useful AI.

I’m hoping this debate will contain solid arguments as to why we shouldn’t keep developing AI at full speed, ideally ones that I haven’t heard before. I will write this post as a series of notes throughout the video.

One hour in

This is insufferable. Connor started with fairly direct questions, Beff bounces around them for no good reason, but eventually reaches a simple answer—yes, it’s possible that some technologies should be banned. So far this seems to be the only concrete thing that was said?

At some point they start building their respective cases—what if you had a false vacuum device? Would we be fucked? Should we hide it? What should we do? And on Beff’s side—what if there are dangerous aliens?

For the love of god, please talk about the actual topic.

About 50 minutes in, Connor goes on an offensive in a way that, to me is an extremely blatant slippery slope reasoning. The main point is that if you care about growth, you cannot care about anything else, because of course everyone’s views are the extremist parodies of themselves. Embarrassing tbh. Ostensibly, Connor avoids making any concrete statements about his own values, because any such statements could be treated the same way. “You like puppies and friendship? Well I guess nobody will grow food anymore because they will be busy cuddling puppies”.

He also points out, many many times, that “is” != “ought”, which felt like virtue signalling? Throwing around shibboleths? Not quite sure. But not once was it a good argument as far as I can tell. Example exchange (my interpretation, the conversation was chaotic so hopefully I’m not misunderstanding)

B: Your values are not growth? How so?

C: Because I like puppies and happines and friendship [...]

B: Why do you like friendship? Because evolution hard-coded this in humans

C: You’re mixing “is” and “ought”

He was not, in fact, mixing “is” and “ought”. But stating that he did was a simple way to discredit anything he said using fancy rationalist words.

So far, the discussion is entirely in the abstract, and essentially just covers the personal philosophical views and risk aversion of each participant. Hopefully it gets to the point.

Two hours in

Beff brings up geopolitics. Who cares? But Connor didn’t even coherently express his point of view on AI risk, so I can’t blame him.

“Should the blueprints for F16 be open-sourced? Answer the question. Answer the question! Oh I was just trying to probe your intuition, I wasn’t making a point”

Immediately followed by “If an AI could design an F16, should it be open-sourced?”

Exchange at about 1:33

C: You heard it, e/​acc isn’t about maximizing entropy [no shit?!]

B: No, it’s about maximizing the free energy

C: So e/​acc should want to collapse the false vacuum?

Holy mother of bad faith. Rationalists/​lesswrongers have a problem with saying obviously false things, and this is one of those.

It’s in line with what seems like Connor’s debate strategy—make your opponent define their views and their terminal goal in words, and then pick apart that goal by pushing it to the maximum. Embarrassing.

B: <long-ish monologue about building stuff or becoming a luddite living in the woods and you should have the freedom of choice>

C: Libertarians are like house cats, fully dependent on a system they neither fully understand nor appreciate.

Thanks for that virtue signal, very valuable to the conversation.

The end

After about 2 hours and 40 minutes of the “debate”, it seems we finally got to the point! Connor formulates his argument for why we should be worried about AI safety. Of course, he doesn’t do it directly, but it’s close enough.

“I’m not claiming I know on this date, with this thing, this thing will go wrong [...] which will lead to an unrecoverable state. I’m saying, if you keep just randomly rolling the dice, over and over again, with no plan to ever stop rolling or removing the bad faces of the die, somehow, then eventually you roll death. Eventually you roll x-risk.”

FINALLY! This is, so far, the only direct argument regarding AI x-risk. Unfortunately, it mostly relies on a strawman—the assumption that the only alternative to doomerism (and Beff’s stance) is eternally pushing technology forward, never ever stopping or slowing down, no matter the situation at hand.

That’s obviously absurd.

If I were to respond to this myself, I’d say—at some point, depending how technology progresses, we might very well need to pause, slow down, or stop entirely. As we move into the future, we will constantly reevaluate the situation and act accordingly. If, for example, next year we get an AI trained and instructed to collect diamonds in Minecraft, instead hack the computer it’s running on using some weird bit manipulation or cosmic rays, then yes, we’d probably need to slow down and figure that out. But that’s not the reality that we live in right now.

This sentiment seems to be shared by Beff.

C: If you don’t do policy, if you don’t improve institutions [...] [we’ll be doomed, presumably]

B: No, we should do all that, I just think right now it’s far too early [...]

To which Connor has another one of the worst debate arguments ever:

“So when is the right time? When do we know?”

Beff only really said “I don’t think it’s right now”, which is pretty much the same thing I’d say. I don’t know when is the right time to stop AI development. I don’t know when is the right time to stop overpopulation on Mars, or when to build shelters against microscopic black holes bombarding Earth from the orbit. If any of these problems arises, at least in a foreseeable short or long term—overpopulation on Mars, microscopic black hole bombardment, or dangerously powerful AI—I will entirely support using the understanding of the problem we’ll have at that time to tackle the problem.

In response, Connor resorts to yelling that “You don’t have a plan!”

This is the point where we should move on to narrowing down why we need to have a plan for overpopulation on Mars right now. Perhaps we do. But instead, the discussion moved on to rocket flight path, neanderthals and more platitudes.

A whole 5-10 minutes of actual discussion on topic that devolved into pointless yelling. meh

Final thoughts

This was largely a display of tribal posturing via two people talking past each other. We need debates about this, but this wasn’t it. I suspect that Beff wanted to approach this in good faith, but didn’t have a plan for the debate, so he was just struggling to navigate the discussion. Connor just wanted an easy win in a debate, and to do a character assassination on Beff, calling him evil, showing that he’s a hypocrite. All the fun stuff that wins debates, but doesn’t get anyone closer to the truth.

Poor performance from both of them, but particularly Connor’s behavior is seriously embarrassing to the AI safety movement.

Personal takeaway

I don’t think this moved my opinion on AI safety and x-risk either way. It would be a bit silly, since the discussion mostly did not concern AI safety. But it certainly made me more skeptical of people who consider Connor to be some sort of authority on the topic.