As a result of the recent attention, the specification gaming list has received a number of new submissions, so this is a good time to check out the latest version :).
Awesome, thanks Oliver!
Thanks, glad you liked the breakdown!
The agent would have an incentive to stop anyone from doing anything new in response to what the agent did
I think that the stepwise counterfactual is sufficient to address this kind of clinginess: the agent will not have an incentive to take further actions to stop humans from doing anything new in response to its original action, since after the original action happens, the human reactions are part of the stepwise inaction baseline.
The penalty for the original action will take into account human reactions in the inaction rollout after this action, so the agent will prefer actions that result in humans changing fewer things in response. I’m not sure whether to consider this clinginess—if so, it might be useful to call it “ex ante clinginess” to distinguish from “ex post clinginess” (similar to your corresponding distinction for offsetting). The “ex ante” kind of clinginess is the same property that causes the agent to avoid scapegoating butterfly effects, so I think it’s a desirable property overall. Do you disagree?
Thanks Rohin for a great summary as always!
I think the property of handling shutdown depends on the choice of absolute value or truncation at 0 in the deviation measure, not the choice of the core part of the deviation measure. RR doesn’t handle shutdown because by default it is set to only penalize reductions in reachability (using truncation at 0). I would expect that replacing the truncation with absolute value (thus penalizing increases in reachability as well) would result in handling shutdown (but break the asymmetry property from the RR paper). Similarly, AUP could be modified to only penalize reductions in goal-achieving ability by replacing the absolute value with truncation, which I think would make it satisfy the asymmetry property but not handle shutdown.
More thoughts on independent design choices here.
There are several independent design choices made by AUP, RR, and other impact measures, which could potentially be used in any combination. Here is a breakdown of design choices and what I think they achieve:
Starting state: used by reversibility methods. Results in interference with other agents. Avoids ex post offsetting.
Inaction (initial branch): default setting in Low Impact AI and RR. Avoids interfering with other agent’s actions, but interferes with their reactions. Does not avoid ex post offsetting if the penalty for preventing events is nonzero.
Inaction (stepwise branch) with environment model rollouts: default setting in AUP, model rollouts are necessary for penalizing delayed effects. Avoids interference with other agents and ex post offsetting.
Core part of deviation measure
AUP: difference in attainable utilities between baseline and current state
RR: difference in state reachability between baseline and current state
Low impact AI: distance between baseline and current state
Function applied to core part of deviation measure
Absolute value: default setting in AUP and Low Impact AI. Results in penalizing both increase and reduction relative to baseline. This results in avoiding the survival incentive (satisfying the Corrigibility property given in AUP post) and in equal penalties for preventing and causing the same event (violating the Asymmetry property given in RR paper).
Truncation at 0: default setting in RR, results in penalizing only reduction relative to baseline. This results in unequal penalties for preventing and causing the same event (satisfying the Asymmetry property) and in not avoiding the survival incentive (violating the Corrigibility property).
Hand-tuned: default setting in RR (sort of provisionally)
ImpactUnit: used by AUP
I think an ablation study is needed to try out different combinations of these design choices and investigate which of them contribute to which desiderata / experimental test cases. I intend to do this at some point (hopefully soon).
Another issue with equally penalizing decreases and increases in power (as AUP does) is that for any event A, it equally penalizes the agent for causing event A and for preventing event A (violating property 3 in the RR paper). I originally thought that satisfying Property 3 is necessary for avoiding ex post offsetting, which is actually not the case (ex post offsetting is caused by penalizing the given action on future time steps, which the stepwise inaction baseline avoids). However, I still think it’s bad for an impact measure to not distinguish between causation and prevention, especially for irreversible events.
This comes up in the car driving example already mentioned in other comments on this post. The reason the action of keeping the car on the highway is considered “high-impact” is because you are penalizing prevention as much as causation. Your suggested solution of using a single action to activate a self-driving car for the whole highway ride is clever, but has some problems:
This greatly reduces the granularity of the penalty, making credit assignment more difficult.
This effectively uses the initial-branch inaction baseline (branching off when the self-driving car is launched) instead of the stepwise inaction baseline, which means getting clinginess issues back, in the sense of the agent being penalized for human reactions to the self-driving car.
You may not be able to predict in advance when the agent will encounter situations where the default action is irreversible or otherwise undesirable.
In such situations, the penalty will produce bad incentives. Namely, the penalty for staying on the road is proportionate to how bad a crash would be, so the tradeoff with goal achievement resolves in an undesirable way. If we keep the reward for the car arriving to its destination constant, then as we increase the badness of a crash (e.g. the number of people on the side of the road who would be run over if the agent took a noop action), eventually the penalty wins in the tradeoff with the reward, and the agent chooses the noop. I think it’s very important to avoid this failure mode.
Actually, I think it was incorrect of me to frame this issue as a tradeoff between avoiding the survival incentive and not crippling the agent’s capability. What I was trying to point at is that the way you are counteracting the survival incentive is by penalizing the agent for increasing its power, and that interferes with the agent’s capability. I think there may be other ways to counteract the survival incentive without crippling the agent, and we should look for those first before agreeing to pay such a high price for interruptibility. I generally believe that ‘low impact’ is not the right thing to aim for, because ultimately the goal of building AGI is to have high impact—high beneficial impact. This is why I focus on the opportunity-cost-incurring aspect of the problem, i.e. avoiding side effects.
Note that AUP could easily be converted to a side-effects-only measure by replacing the |difference| with a max(0, difference). Similarly, RR could be converted to a measure that penalizes increases in power by doing the opposite (replacing max(0, difference) with |difference|). (I would expect that variant of RR to counteract the survival incentive, though I haven’t tested it yet.) Thus, it may not be necessary to resolve the disagreement about whether it’s good to penalize increases in power, since the same methods can be adapted to both cases.
If the agent isn’t overcoming obstacles, we can just increase N.
Wouldn’t increasing N potentially increase the shutdown incentive, given the tradeoff between shutdown incentive and overcoming obstacles?
I think eliminating this survival incentive is extremely important for this kind of agent, and arguably leads to behaviors that are drastically easier to handle.
I think we have a disagreement here about which desiderata are more important. Currently I think it’s more important for the impact measure not to cripple the agent’s capability, and the shutdown incentive might be easier to counteract using some more specialized interruptibility technique rather than an impact measure. Not certain about this though—I think we might need more experiments on more complex environments to get some idea of how bad this tradeoff is in practice.
And why is this, given that the inputs are histories? Why can’t we simply measure power?
Your measurement of “power” (I assume you mean Q_u?) needs to be grounded in the real world in some way. The observations will be raw pixels or something similar, while the utilities and the environment model will be computed in terms of some sort of higher-level features or representations. I would expect the way these higher-level features are chosen or learned to affect the outcome of that computation.
I discussed in “Utility Selection” and “AUP Unbound” why I think this actually isn’t the case, surprisingly. What are your disagreements with my arguments there?
I found those sections vague and unclear (after rereading a few times), and didn’t understand why you claim that a random set of utility functions would work. E.g. what do you mean by “long arms of opportunity cost and instrumental convergence”? What does the last paragraph of “AUP Unbound” mean and how does it imply the claim?
Oops, noted. I had a distinct feeling of “if I’m going to make claims this strong in a venue this critical about a topic this important, I better provide strong support”.
Providing strong support is certainly important, but I think it’s more about clarity and precision than quantity. Better to give one clear supporting statement than many unclear ones :).
Great work! I like the extensive set of desiderata and test cases addressed by this method.
The biggest difference from relative reachability, as I see it, is that you penalize increasing the ability to achieve goals, as well as decreasing it. I’m not currently sure whether this is a good idea: while it indeed counteracts instrumental incentives, it could also “cripple” the agent by incentivizing it to settle for more suboptimal solutions than necessary for safety.
For example, the shutdown button in the “survival incentive” gridworld could be interpreted as a supervisor signal (in which case the agent should not disable it) or as an obstacle in the environment (in which case the agent should disable it). Simply penalizing the agent for increasing its ability to achieve goals leads to incorrect behavior in the second case. To behave correctly in both cases, the agent needs more information about the source of the obstacle, which is not provided in this gridworld (the Safe Interruptibility gridworld has the same problem).
Another important difference is that you are using a stepwise inaction baseline (branching off at each time step rather than the initial time step) and predicting future effects using an environment model. I think this is an improvement on the initial-branch inaction baseline, which avoids clinginess towards independent human actions, but not towards human reactions to the agent’s actions. The environment model helps to avoid the issue with the stepwise inaction baseline failing to penalize delayed effects, though this will only penalize delayed effects if they are accurately predicted by the environment model (e.g. a delayed effect that takes place beyond the model’s planning horizon will not be penalized). I think the stepwise baseline + environment model could similarly be used in conjunction with relative reachability.
I agree with Charlie that you are giving out checkmarks for the desiderata a bit too easily :). For example, I’m not convinced that your approach is representation-agnostic. It strongly depends on your choice of the set of utility functions and environment model, and those have to be expressed in terms of the state of the world. (Note that the utility functions in your examples, such as u_closet and u_left, are defined in terms of reaching a specific state.) I don’t think your method can really get away from making a choice of state representation.
Your approach might have the same problem as other value-agnostic approaches (including relative reachability) with mostly penalizing irrelevant impacts. The AUP measure seems likely to give most of its weight to utility functions that are irrelevant to humans, while the RR measure could give most of its weight to preserving reachability of irrelevant states. I don’t currently know a way around this that’s not value-laden.
Meta point: I think it would be valuable to have a more concise version of this post that introduces the key insight earlier on, since I found it a bit verbose and difficult to follow. The current writeup seems to be structured according to the order in which you generated the ideas, rather than an order that would be more intuitive to readers. FWIW, I had the same difficulty when writing up the relative reachability paper, so I think it’s generally challenging to clearly present ideas about this problem.
I’ve thought some more about the step-wise inaction counterfactual, and I think there are more issues with it beyond the human manipulation incentive. With the step-wise counterfactual, future transitions that are caused by the agent’s current actions will not be penalized, since by the time those transitions happen, they are included in the counterfactual. Thus, there is no penalty for a current transition that set in motion some effects that don’t happen immediately (this includes influencing humans), unless the whitelisting process takes into account that this transition causes these effects (e.g. using a causal model).
For example, if the agent puts a vase on a conveyor belt (which results in the vase breaking a few time steps later), it would only be penalized if the “vase near belt → vase on belt” transition is not in the whitelist, i.e. if the whitelisting process takes into account that the belt would eventually break the vase. There are also situations where penalizing the “vase near belt → vase on belt” transition would not make sense, e.g. if the agent works in a vase-making factory and the conveyor belt takes the vase to the next step in the manufacturing process. Thus, for this penalty to reliably work, the whitelisting process needs to take into account accurate task-specific causal information, which I think is a big ask. The agent would also not be penalized for butterfly effects that are difficult to model, so it would have an incentive to channel its impact through butterfly effects of whitelisted transitions.
Let’s consider an alternate form of whitelisting, where we instead know the specific object-level transitions per time step that would have occurred in the naive counterfactual (where the agent does nothing). Discarding the whitelist, we instead penalize distance from the counterfactual latent-space transitions at that time step.
How would you define a distance measure on transitions? Since this would be a continuous measure of how good transitions are, rather than a discrete list of good transitions, in what sense is it a form of whitelisting?
This basically locks us into a particular world-history. While this might be manipulation- and stasis-free, this is a different kind of clinginess. You’re basically saying “optimize this utility the best you can without letting there be an actual impact”. However, I actually hadn’t thought of this formulation before, and it’s plausible it’s even more desirable than whitelisting, as it seems to get us a low/no-impact agent semi-robustly. The trick is then allowing favorable effects to take place without getting back to stasis/manipulation.
I expect that in complex tasks where we don’t know the exact actions we would like the agent to take, this would prevent the agent from being useful or coming up with new unforeseen solutions. I have this concern about whitelisting in general, though giving the agent the ability to query the human about non-whitelisted effects is an improvement. The distance measure on transitions could also be traded off with reward (or some other task-specific objective function), so if an action is sufficiently useful for the task, the high reward would dominate the distance penalty.
This would still have offsetting issues though. In the asteroid example, if the agent deflects the asteroid, then future transitions (involving human actions) are very different from default transitions (involving no human actions), so the agent would have an offsetting incentive.
I like the proposed iterative formulation for the step-wise inaction counterfactual, though I would replace pi_Human with pi_Environment to account for environment processes that are not humans but can still “react” to the agent’s actions. The step-wise counterfactual also improves over the naive inaction counterfactual by avoiding repeated penalties for the same action, which could help avoid offsetting behaviors for a penalty that includes reversible effects.
However, as you point out, not penalizing the agent for human reactions to its actions introduces a manipulation incentive for the agent to channel its effects through humans, which seems potentially very bad. The tradeoff you identified is quite interesting, though I’m not sure whether penalizing the agent for human reactions necessarily leads to an incentive to put humans in stasis, since that is also quite a large effect (such a penalty could instead incentivize the agent to avoid undue influence on humans, which seems good). I think there might be a different tradeoff (for a penalty that incorporates reversible effects): between avoiding offsetting behaviors (where the stepwise counterfactual likely succeeds and the naive inaction counterfactual can fail) and avoiding manipulation incentives (where the stepwise counterfactual fails and the naive inaction counterfactual succeeds). I wonder if some sort of combination of these two counterfactuals could get around the tradeoff.
Interesting work! Seems closely related to this recent paper from Satinder Singh’s lab: Minimax-Regret Querying on Side Effects for Safe Optimality in Factored Markov Decision Processes. They also use whitelists to specify which features of the state the agent is allowed to change. Since whitelists can be unnecessarily restrictive, and finding a policy that completely obeys the whitelist can be intractable in large MDPs, they have a mechanism for the agent to query the human about changing a small number of features outside the whitelist. What are the main advantages of your approach over their approach?
I agree with Abram that clinginess (the incentive to interfere with irreversible processes) is a major issue for the whitelist method. It might be possible to get around this by using an inaction baseline, i.e. only penalizing non-whitelisted transitions if they were caused by the agent, and would not have happened by default. This requires computing the inaction baseline (the state sequence under some default policy where the agent “does nothing”), e.g. by simulating the environment or using a causal model of the environment.
I’m not convinced that whitelisting avoids the offsetting problem: “Making up for bad things it prevents with other negative side effects. Imagine an agent which cures cancer, yet kills an equal number of people to keep overall impact low.” I think this depends on how extensive the whitelist is: whether it includes all the important long-term consequences of achieving the goal (e.g. increasing life expectancy). Capture all of the relevant consequences in the whitelist seems hard.
The directedness of whitelists is a very important property, because it can produce an asymmetric impact measure that distinguishes between causing irreversible effects and preventing irreversible events.
I think the DeepMind founders care a lot about AI safety (e.g. Shane Legg is a coauthor of the paper). Regarding the overall culture, I would say that the average DeepMind researcher is somewhat more interested in safety than the average ML researcher in general.
(paper coauthor here) When you ask whether the paper indicates that DeepMind is paying attention to AI risk, are you referring to DeepMind’s leadership, AI safety team, the overall company culture, or something else?
The distinction between papers and blog posts is getting weaker these days—e.g. distill.pub is an ML blog with the shining light of Ra that’s intended to be well-written and accessible.