How do CFAR’s research interests/priorities compare with LW’s Open Problems in Human Rationality? Based on Brienne and Anna’s replies here, I suspect the answer is “they’re pretty different”, but I’d like to hear what accounts for this divergence.
Nitpick: “transfer learning” is the standard term, no? It has a Wiki page and seems to get a more coherent batch of search results than googling “robustness to data shift”.
Whoops, mea culpa on that one! Deleted and changed to:
the main post there pointed out that seemingly anything can be trivially modeled as being a “utility maximizer” (further discussion here), whereas only some intelligent agents can be described as being “goal-directed” (as defined in this post), and the latter is a more useful concept for reasoning about AI safety.
In reasoning about AGI, we’re all aware of the problems with anthropomorphizing, but it occurs to me that there’s also a cluster of bad reasoning that comes from an (almost?) opposite direction, where you visualize an AGI to be a mechanical automaton and draw naive conclusions based on that.
For instance, every now and then I’ve heard someone from this community say something like:
What if the AGI runs on the ZFC axioms (among other things), and finds a contradiction, and by the principle of explosion it goes completely haywire?
What if the AGI runs on the ZFC axioms (among other things), and finds a contradiction, and by the principle of explosion it goes completely haywire?
Even if ZFC is inconsistent, this hardly seems like a legitimate concern. There’s no reason to hard-code ZFC into an AI unless we want a narrow AI that’s just a theorem prover (e.g. Logic Theorist). Anything close to AGI will necessarily build rich world models, and from the standpoint of these, ZFC wouldn’t literally be everything. ZFC would just be a sometimes-useful tool it discovers for organizing its mathematical thinking, which in turn is just a means toward understanding physics etc. better, much as humans wouldn’t go crazy if ZFC yields a contradiction.
The general fallacy I’m pointing to isn’t just “AGI will be logic-based” but something more like “AGI will act like a machine, an automaton, or a giant look-up table”. This is technically true, in the same way humans can be perfectly described as a giant look-up table, but it’s just the wrong level of abstraction for thinking about agents (most of the time) and can lead one to silly conclusions if one isn’t really careful.
For instance my (2nd hand, half-baked, and lazy) understanding of Penrose’s arguments are as follows: Godel’s theorems say formal systems can’t do X, humans can do X, therefore human brains can’t be fully described as formal systems (or maybe he references Turing machines and the halting problem, but the point is still similar). Note that this makes sense as stated, the catch is that
“the human brain when broken down all the way to a Turing machine” is what the Godel/Turing stuff applies to, not “the human brain at the level of abstraction we use to think about it (in terms of ‘thoughts’, ‘concepts’, etc.)”. It’s not at all clear that the latter even resembles a formal system, at least not one rich enough that the Godel/Turing results apply. The fact that it’s “built out of” the former means nothing on this point: the proofs of PA > 10 characters do not constitute a formal system, and fleshing out the “built out of” probably requires solving a large chunk of neuroscience.
Again, I’m just using straw-Penrose here as an example because, while we all agree it’s an invalid argument, this is mostly because it concludes something LW overwhelmingly agrees is false. When taken at face value, it “looks right” and the actual error isn’t completely obvious to find and spell out (hence I’ve left it in a black spoiler box). I claim that if the argument draws a conclusion that isn’t obviously wrong or even reinforces your existing viewpoint, then it’s relatively easy to think it makes sense. I think this is what’s going on when people here make arguments for AGI dangers that appeal to its potential brittleness or automata-like nature (I’m not saying this is common, but I do see it occasionally).
But there’s a subtlety here, because there are some ways in which AGI potentially will be more brittle due to its mathematical formulation. For instance, adversarial examples are a real concern, and those are pretty much only possible because of the way ML systems output numerical probabilities (from these the adversary can infer the gradient of the model’s beliefs, and run along it).
And of course, as I said at the start, an opposing fallacy is thinking AGI will be more human-like by default. To be clear I think the fallacy I’m gesturing at here is the less dangerous one in the worst case, but more common on LW (i.e. > 0).
[copying from my comment on the EA Forum x-post]
For reference, some other lists of AI safety problems that can be tackled by non-AI people:
Luke Muehlhauser’s big (but somewhat old) list: “How to study superintelligence strategy”
AI Impacts has made several lists of research problems
Wei Dai’s, “Problems in AI Alignment that philosophers could potentially contribute to”
Kaj Sotala’s case for the relevance of psychology/cog sci to AI safety (I would add that Ought is currently testing the feasibility of IDA/Debate by doing psychological research)
*begins drafting longer proposal*
Yeah, this is definitely more high-risk, high-reward than the others, and the fact that there’s potentially some very substantial spillover effects if successful makes me both excited and nervous about the concept. I’m thinking of Arbital as an example of “trying to solve way too many problems at once”, so I want to manage expectations and just try to make some exercises that inspire people to think about the art of mathematizing certain fuzzy philosophical concepts. (Running title is “Formalization Exercises”, but I’m not sure if there’s a better pithy name that captures it).
In any case, I appreciate the feedback, Mr. Entworth.
In light of the “Fixed Points” critique, a set of exercises that seem more useful/reflective of MIRI’s research than those exercises. What I have in mind is taking some of the classic success stories of formalized philosophy (e.g. Turing machines, Kolmogorov complexity, Shannon information, Pearlian causality, etc., but this could also be done for reflective oracles and logical induction), introducing the problems they were meant to solve, and giving some stepping stones that guide one to have the intuitions and thoughts that (presumably) had to be developed to make the finished product. I get that this will be hard, but I think this can be feasibly done for some of the (mostly easier) concepts, and if done really well, it could even be a better way for people to learn those concepts than actually reading about them.
A critique of MIRI’s “Fixed Points” paradigm, expanding on some points I made on MIRIxDiscord a while ago (which would take a full post to properly articulate). Main issue is, I’m unsure if it’s still guiding anyone’s research and/or who outside MIRI would care.
An analysis of what kinds of differential progress we can expect from stronger ML. Actually, I don’t feel like writing this post, but I just don’t understand why Dai and Christiano, respectively, are particularly concerned about differential progress on the polynomial hierarchy and what’s easy-to-measure vs. hard-to-measure. My gut reaction is “maybe, but why privilege that axis of differential progress of all things”, and I can’t resolve that in my mind without doing a comprehensive analysis of potential “differential progresses” that ML could precipitate. Which, argh, sounds like an exhausting task, but someone should do it?
A skeptical take on Part I of “What failure looks like” (3 objections, to summarize briefly: not much evidence so far, not much precedent historically, and “why this, of all the possible axes of differential progress?”) [Unsure if these objections will stand up if written out more fully]
A post discussing my confusions about Goodhart and Garrabrant’s taxonomy of it. I find myself not completely satisfied with it:
1) “adversarial” seems too broad to be that useful as a category
2) It doesn’t clarify what phenomenon is meant by “Goodhart”; in particular, “regressional” doesn’t feel like something the original law was talking about, and any natural definition of “Goodhart” that includes it seems really broad
3) Whereas “regressional” and “extremal” (and perhaps “causal”) are defined statistically, “adversarial” is defined in terms of agents, and this may have downsides (I’m less sure about this objection)
But I’m also not sure how I’d reclassify it and that task seems hard. Which partially updates me in favor of the Taxonomy being good, but at the very least I feel there’s more to say about it.
“When and why should we be worried about robustness to distributional shift?”: When reading that section of Concrete Problems, there’s a temptation to just say “this isn’t relevant long-term, since an AGI by definition would have solved that problem”. But adversarial examples and the human safety problems (to the extent we worry about them) both say that in some circumstances we don’t expect this to be solved by default. I’d like to think more about when the naïve “AGI will be smart” intuition applies and when it breaks.
[I probably need a better term for this] “Wide-open-source game theory”: Where other agents can not only simulate you, but also figure out “why” you made a given decision. There’s a Standard Objection to this: it’s unfair to compare algorithms in environments where they are judged not only by their actions, but on arbitrary features of their code; to which I say, this isn’t an arbitrary feature. I was thinking about this in the context of how, even if an AGI makes the right decision, we care “why” it did so, i.e. because it’s optimizing for what we want vs. optimizing for human approval for instrumental reasons). I doubt we’ll formalize this “why” anytime soon (see e.g. section 5 of this), but I think semi-formal things can be said about it upon some effort. [I thought of this independently from (1), but I think every level of the “transparency hierarchy” could have its own kind of game theory, much like the “open-source” level clearly does]
A classification of some of the vulnerabilities/issues we might expect AGIs to face because they are potentially open-source, and generally more “transparent” to potential adversaries. For instance, they could face adversarial examples, open-source game theory problems, Dutch books, or weird threats that humans don’t have to deal with. Also, there’s a spectrum from “extreme black box” to “extreme white box” with quite a few plausible milestones along the way, that makes for a certain transparency hierarchy, and it may be helpful to analyze this (or at least take a stab at formulating it).
Upvote this comment (and downvote the others as appropriate) if most of the other ideas don’t seem that fruitful.
By default, I’d mostly take this as a signal of “my time would be better spent working on someone else’s agenda or existing problems that people have posed” but I suppose other alternatives exist, if so comment below.
I have a bunch of half-baked ideas, most of which are mediocre in expectation and probably not worth investing my time and other’s attention writing up. Some of them probably are decent, but I’m not sure which ones, and the user base is probably as good as any for feedback.
So I’m just going to post them all as replies to this comment. Upvote if they seem promising, downvote if not. Comments encouraged. I reserve the “right” to maintain my inside view, but I wouldn’t make this poll if I didn’t put substantial weight on this community’s opinions.
This question also has a negative answer, as witnessed by the example of an ant colony—agent-like behavior without agent-like architecture, produced by a “non-agenty” optimization process of evolution. Nonetheless, a general version of the question remains: If some X exhibits agent-like behavior, does it follow that there exists some interesting physical structure causally upstream of X?
Neat example! But for my part, I’m confused about this last sentence, even after reading the footnote:
An example of such “interesting physical structure” would be an implementation of an optimization architecture.
For one thing, I’m not sure I have much intuition about what is meant by “optimization architecture”. For instance, I would not know how to begin answering the question:
Does optimization behavior imply optimization architecture?
And I have even less of a clue what is intended by “interesting physical structure” (perhaps facetiously, any process that causes agent-like behavior to arise sounds “interesting” for that reason alone).
In your ant colony example, is evolution the “interesting physical structure”, and if so, how is it a physical structure?
For reference, LeCun discussed his atheoretic/experimentalist views in more depth in this FB debate with Ali Rahimi and also this lecture. But maybe we should distinguish some distinct axes of the experimentalist/theorist divide in DL:
1) Experimentalism/theorism is a more appropriate paradigm for thinking about AI safety
2) Experimentalism/theorism is a more appropriate paradigm for making progress in AI capabilities
Where the LeCun/Russell debate is about (1) and LeCun/Rahimi is about (2). And maybe this is oversimplifying things, since “theorism” may be an overly broad way of describing Russell/Rahimi’s views on safety/capabilities, but I suspect LeCun is “seeing the same ghost”, or in his words (to Rahimi), seeing the same:
kind of attitude that lead the ML community to abandon neural nets for over 10 years, *despite* ample empirical evidence that they worked very well in many situations.
And whether or not Rahimi should be lumped into that “kind of attitude”, I think LeCun is right (from a certain perspective) to want to push back against that attitude.
I’d even go further: given that LeCun has been more successful than Rahimi/Russell in AI research this century, all else equal I would weight the former’s intuitions on research progress more. (I think the best counterargument is that while experimentalism might be better in the short-term, theorism has better payoff in the long-term, but I’m not sure about this.)
In fact, one of my major fears is that LeCun is right about this, because even if he is right about (2), I don’t think that’s good evidence he’s right about (1) since these seem pretty orthogonal. But they don’t look orthogonal until you spend a lot of time reading/thinking about AI safety, which you’re not inclined to do if you already know a lot about AI and assume that knowledge transfers to AI safety.
In other words, the “correct” intuitions (on experimentalism/theorism) for modern AI research might be the opposite of the “correct” intuitions for AI safety. (I would, for instance, predict that if Superintelligence were published during the era of GOFAI, all else equal it would’ve made a bigger splash because AI researchers then were more receptive to abstract theorizing.)