jsteinhardt comments on What Should the Average EA Do About AI Alignment? - Effective Altruism Forum

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Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 27 February 2017 06:52:45AM *  2 points [-]

What about online activism? There are lots of debates in various corners of the Internet over AI which often involve people in various areas of academia and tech. It seems like it could be valuable and feasible for people who are sufficiently educated on the basic issues of AI alignment to correct misconceptions and spread good ideas.

As another idea, there are certain kinds of information which would be worth collecting: surveys of relevant experts, taxonomies of research ideas and developments in the field, information about the political and economic sides of AI research. I suppose this could fall into gruntwork for safety orgs, but they don't comprehensively ask for every piece of information and work which could be useful.

Also - this might sound strange, but if someone wants to contribute then it's their choice: students and professionals might be more productive if they had remote personal assistants to handle various tasks which are peripheral to one's primary tasks and responsibilities, and if someone is known to be an EA, value aligned on cause priorities, and moderately familiar with the technical work, then having someone do this seems very feasible.

Comment author: jsteinhardt 28 February 2017 06:46:01AM 12 points [-]

In general I think this sort of activism has a high potential for being net negative --- AI safety already has a reputation as something mainly being pushed by outsiders who don't understand much about AI. Since I assume this advice is targeted at the "average EA" (who presumably doesn't know much about AI), this would only exacerbate the issue.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 28 February 2017 08:51:49PM *  0 points [-]

It depends on the context. In many places there are people who really don't know what they're talking about and have easily corrected, false beliefs. Plus, most places on the Internet protect anonymity. If you are careful it is very easy to avoid having an effect that is net negative on the whole, in my experience.

Comment author: Raemon 01 March 2017 05:29:32PM 5 points [-]

While I didn't elaborate on my thoughts in the OP, essentially I was aiming to say "if you'd like to play a role in advocating for AI safety, the first steps are to gain skills so you can persuade the right people effectively. I think some people jump from "become convinced that AI is an issue" to "immediately start arguing with people on the internet".

If you want to do that, I'd say it's important to:

a) gain a firm understanding of AI and AI safety, b) gain an understanding common objections and modes of thought surrounding those objections. b) practice engaging with people in a way that actually has a positive impact (do this practice on lower-stakes issues, not AI). My experience is that positive interactions involve a lot of work and emotional labor.

(I still argue occasionally about AI on the internet and I think I've regretted it basically every time)

I think it makes more sense to aim for high-impact influence, where you cultivate a lot of valuable skills that gets you hired at actual AI research firms where you can then shape the culture in a way that prioritizes safety.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 01 March 2017 05:59:36PM *  1 point [-]

I think you're mostly right, but there is a difference between arguing in order to convince the other person (what you seem to be focused on) and arguing to convince third party observers and signal the strength of your own position (what I had in mind). The latter seems to be less knowledge-intensive.

Comment author: sdspikes 01 March 2017 01:50:13AM 1 point [-]

As a Stanford CS (BS/MS '10) grad who took AI/Machine Learning courses in college from Andrew Ng, worked at Udacity with Sebastian Thrun, etc. I have mostly been unimpressed by non-technical folks trying to convince me that AI safety (not caused by explicit human malfeasance) is a credible issue.

Maybe I have "easily corrected, false beliefs" but the people I've talked to at MIRI and CFAR have been pretty unconvincing to me, as was the book Superintelligence.

My perception is that MIRI has focused in on an extremely specific kind of AI that to me seems unlikely to do much harm unless someone is recklessly playing with fire (or intentionally trying to set one). I'll grant that that's possible, but that's a human problem, not an AI problem, and requires a human solution.

You don't try to prevent nuclear disaster by making friendly nuclear missiles, you try to keep them out of the hands of nefarious or careless agents or provide disincentives for building them in the first place.

But maybe you do make friendly nuclear power plants? Not sure if this analogy worked out for me or not.

Comment author: Paul_Christiano 01 March 2017 02:27:27AM *  7 points [-]

You don't try to prevent nuclear disaster by making friendly nuclear missiles, you try to keep them out of the hands of nefarious or careless agents or provide disincentives for building them in the first place.

The difficulty of the policy problem depends on the quality of our technical solutions: how large an advantage can you get by behaving unsafely? If the answer is "you get big advantages for sacrificing safety, and a small group behaving unsafely could cause a big problem" then we have put ourselves in a sticky situation and will need to conjure up some unusually effective international coordination.

A perfect technical solution would make the policy problem relatively easy---if we had a scalable+competitive+secure solution to AI control, then there would be minimal risk from reckless actors. On the flip side, a perfect policy solution would make the technical problem relatively easy since we could just collectively decide not to build any kind of AI that could cause trouble. In reality we are probably going to need both.

(I wrote about this here.)

You could hold the position that the advantages from building uncontrolled AI will predictably be very low even without any further work. I disagree strongly with that and think that it contradicts the balance of public argument, though I don't know if I'd call it "easily corrected."

Comment author: capybaralet 01 March 2017 11:34:16PM 2 points [-]

I'm also very interested in hearing you elaborate a bit.

I guess you are arguing that AIS is a social rather than a technical problem. Personally, I think there are aspects of both, but that the social/coordination side is much more significant.

RE: "MIRI has focused in on an extremely specific kind of AI", I disagree. I think MIRI has aimed to study AGI in as much generality as possible and mostly succeeded in that (although I'm less optimistic than them that results which apply to idealized agents will carry over and produce meaningful insights in real-world resource-limited agents). But I'm also curious what you think MIRIs research is focusing on vs. ignoring.

I also would not equate technical AIS with MIRI's research.

Is it necessary to be convinced? I think the argument for AIS as a priority is strong so long as the concerns have some validity to them, and cannot be dismissed out of hand.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 01 March 2017 09:10:43PM 2 points [-]

I'd be interested to read you elaborate more on your views, for what it's worth.

Comment author: kbog  (EA Profile) 01 March 2017 07:52:08AM 2 points [-]

Well you're not the kind of person I had in mind. What I see is more of a mix of basic mistakes regarding the technical arguments and downright defamation of relevant people and institutions.

Evaluating whether the MIRI technical agenda is relevant to AI seems pretty thorny and subjective, and perhaps not something that people without graduate-level study can do.

One thing that people can contribute when they find people like you is to figure out the precise reasons for disagreement and document/aggregate them so that they can be reviewed and considered.