TagLast edit: 1 Oct 2020 21:24 UTC by Ruby

Wireheading is the artificial stimulation of the brain to experience pleasure, usually through the direct stimulation of an individual’s brain’s reward or pleasure center with electrical current. It can also be used in a more expanded sense, to refer to any kind of method that produces a form of counterfeit utility by directly maximizing a good feeling, but that fails to realize what we value.

Related: Complexity of Value, Goodhart’s Law, Inner Alignment

In both thought experiments and laboratory experiments direct stimulation of the brain’s reward center makes the individual feel happy. In theory, wireheading with a powerful enough current would be the most pleasurable experience imaginable. There is some evidence that reward is distinct from pleasure, and that most currently hypothesized forms of wireheading just motivate a person to continue the wirehead experience, not to feel happy. However, there seems to be no reason to believe that a different form of wireheading which does create subjective pleasure could not be found. The possibility of wireheading raises difficult ethical questions for those who believe that morality is based on human happiness. A civilization of wireheads “blissing out” all day while being fed and maintained by robots would be a state of maximum happiness, but such a civilization would have no art, love, scientific discovery, or any of the other things humans find valuable.

If we take wireheading as a more general form of producing counterfeit utility, there are many examples of ways of directly stimulating of the reward and pleasure centers of the brain, without actually engaging in valuable experiences. Cocaine, heroin, cigarettes and gambling are all examples of current methods of directly achieving pleasure or reward, but can be seen by many as lacking much of what we value and are potentially extremely detrimental. Steve Omohundro argues1 that: “An important class of vulnerabilities arises when the subsystems for measuring utility become corrupted. Human pleasure may be thought of as the experiential correlate of an assessment of high utility. But pleasure is mediated by neurochemicals and these are subject to manipulation.”

Wireheading is also an illustration of the complexities of creating a Friendly AI. Any AGI naively programmed to increase human happiness could devote its energies to wireheading people, possibly without their consent, in preference to any other goals. Equivalent problems arise for any simple attempt to create AGIs who care directly about human feelings (“love”, “compassion”, “excitement”, etc). An AGI could wirehead people to feel in love all the time, but this wouldn’t correctly realize what we value when we say love is a virtue. For Omohundro, because exploiting those vulnerabilities in our subsystems for measuring utility is much easier than truly realizing our values, a wrongly designed AGI would most certainly prefer to wirehead humanity instead of pursuing human values. In addition, an AGI itself could be vulnerable to wirehead and would need to implement “police forces” or “immune systems” to ensure its measuring system doesn’t become corrupted by trying to produce counterfeit utility.

Notable Posts

See also

Are wire­heads happy?

Scott Alexander1 Jan 2010 16:41 UTC
152 points
107 comments5 min readLW link

Draft pa­pers for REALab and De­cou­pled Ap­proval on tampering

Jonathan Uesato28 Oct 2020 16:01 UTC
46 points
2 comments1 min readLW link

Wire­head your Chickens

shminux20 Jun 2018 5:49 UTC
75 points
53 comments2 min readLW link

Wire­head­ing is in the eye of the beholder

Stuart_Armstrong30 Jan 2019 18:23 UTC
26 points
10 comments1 min readLW link

Wire­head­ing as a po­ten­tial prob­lem with the new im­pact measure

Stuart_Armstrong25 Sep 2018 14:15 UTC
25 points
20 comments4 min readLW link

Wire­head­ing and discontinuity

Michele Campolo18 Feb 2020 10:49 UTC
21 points
4 comments3 min readLW link

You can­not be mis­taken about (not) want­ing to wirehead

Kaj_Sotala26 Jan 2010 12:06 UTC
41 points
79 comments3 min readLW link

A defi­ni­tion of wireheading

Anja27 Nov 2012 19:31 UTC
50 points
80 comments5 min readLW link

Defin­ing AI wireheading

Stuart_Armstrong21 Nov 2019 13:04 UTC
17 points
9 comments4 min readLW link

A Much Bet­ter Life?

Psychohistorian3 Feb 2010 20:01 UTC
83 points
174 comments2 min readLW link

Wel­come to Heaven

denisbider25 Jan 2010 23:22 UTC
26 points
245 comments2 min readLW link

Lo­tuses and Loot Boxes

Davidmanheim17 May 2018 0:21 UTC
13 points
2 comments4 min readLW link

The Stamp Collector

So8res1 May 2015 23:11 UTC
39 points
13 comments6 min readLW link

Rig­ging is a form of wireheading

Stuart_Armstrong3 May 2018 12:50 UTC
11 points
2 comments1 min readLW link

He­donic asymmetries

paulfchristiano26 Jan 2020 2:10 UTC
89 points
22 comments2 min readLW link

Disen­tan­gling Cor­rigi­bil­ity: 2015-2021

Koen.Holtman16 Feb 2021 18:01 UTC
15 points
20 comments9 min readLW link

Safely con­trol­ling the AGI agent re­ward function

Koen.Holtman17 Feb 2021 14:47 UTC
7 points
0 comments5 min readLW link
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