kierangreig comments on Ask MIRI Anything (AMA) - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: kierangreig 12 October 2016 04:29:43PM *  8 points [-]

1) What are the main points of disagreement MIRI has with Open Phil's technical advisors about the importance of Agent Foundations research for reducing risks from AI?

2) Is Sam Harris co-authoring a book with Eliezer on AI Safety? If yes, please provide further details.

3) How many hours do full time MIRI staff work in a usual working week?

4) What’s the biggest mistake MIRI made in the past year?

Comment author: So8res 12 October 2016 10:46:07PM 5 points [-]

Re: 1, "what are the main points of disagreement?" is itself currently one of the points of disagreement :) A lot of our disagreements (I think) come down to diverging inchoate mathematical intuitions, which makes it hard to precisely state why we think different problems are worth prioritizing (or to resolve the disagreements).

Also, I think that different Open Phil technical advisors have different disagreements with us. As an example, Paul Christiano and I seem to have an important disagreement about how difficult it will be to align AI systems if we don’t have a correct theoretically principled understanding of how the system performs its abstract reasoning. But while the disagreement seems to me and Paul to be one of the central reasons the two of us prioritize different projects, I think some other Open Phil advisors don’t see this as a core reason to accept/reject MIRI’s research directions.

Discussions are still ongoing, but Open Phil and MIRI are both pretty time-constrained organizations, so it may take a while for us to publish details on where and why we disagree. My own attempts to gesture at possible points of divergence have been very preliminary so far, and represent my perspective rather than any kind of MIRI / Open Phil consensus summary.

Re: 4, I think we probably spent too much time this year writing up results and research proposals. The ML agenda and “Logical Induction,” for example, were both important to get right, but in retrospect I think we could have gotten away with writing less, and writing it faster. Another candidate mistake is some communication errors I made when I was trying to explain the reasoning behind MIRI’s research agenda to Open Phil. I currently attribute the problem to me overestimating how many concepts we shared, and falling prey to the illusion of transparency, in a way that burned a lot of time (though I’m not entirely confident in this analysis).

Comment author: malo 12 October 2016 10:13:56PM 5 points [-]

Re 2, Sam and Eliezer have been corresponding for a while now. They’ve been exploring the possibility of pursuing a couple of different projects together, including co-authoring a book or recording a dialogue of some sort and publishing it online. Sam discussed this briefly on an episode of his podcast. We’ll mention in the newsletter if things get more finalized.

Re 3, it varies a lot month-to-month and person-to-person. Looking at the data, the average and median are pretty close at somewhere between 40–50 hours a week depending on the month. During crunch times some people might be working 60–100-hour weeks.

I’ll also mention that although people at MIRI roughly track how many hours they spend working, and on what, I don’t put much weight on these numbers (especially for researchers). If a researcher comes up with a new idea in the shower, at the gym, on their walk to work, or whatever, I don’t expect them to log those hours as work time. (Fun fact: Scott came up with logical induction on his walk to work.) Many of us are thinking about work when we aren’t at our desks, so to speak. It’s also hard to compare someone who spends 80 hours working on a problem they love and find really exciting, to someone who spends 40 hours on really grueling tasks. I prefer to focus on how much people are getting done and how they are feeling.

Re 4, for me personally, I think my biggest mistake this year was not delegating enough after transitioning into the COO role. This caused a few ops projects to be blocked on me unnecessarily, which set a few ops projects back a few months. (For example, I finished our 2015-in-review document significantly later than I would have liked.)

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 16 October 2016 01:35:05AM 3 points [-]

Fun fact: Scott came up with logical induction on his walk to work.

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay on creativity, here's one of the interesting points:

Probably more inhibiting than anything else [to the creative process] is a feeling of responsibility. The great ideas of the ages have come from people who weren’t paid to have great ideas, but were paid to be teachers or patent clerks or petty officials, or were not paid at all. The great ideas came as side issues.


I would suggest that members at a cerebration session be given sinecure tasks to do—short reports to write, or summaries of their conclusions, or brief answers to suggested problems—and be paid for that, the payment being the fee that would ordinarily be paid for the cerebration session. The cerebration session would then be officially unpaid-for and that, too, would allow considerable relaxation.

Comment author: Peter_Hurford  (EA Profile) 30 March 2017 04:31:41PM 0 points [-]