The Illusion of Control in a Intelligence Amplification Singularity

From what I understand, we’re currently at a point in history where the importance of getting the Singularity right pretty much outweighs all other concerns, particularly because a negative Singularity is one of the existential threats which could wipe out all of humanity rather than “just” billions. The Singularity is the most extreme power discontinuity in history. A probable “winner takes all” effect means that after a hard takeoff (quick bootstrapping to superintelligence), humanity could be at the mercy of an unpleasant dictator or human-indifferent optimization process for eternity.

The question of “human or robot” is one that comes up frequently in transhumanist discussions, with most of the SingInst crowd advocating a robot, and a great many others advocating, implicitly or explicitly, a human being. Human beings sparking the Singularity come in 1) IA bootstrap and 2) whole brain emulation flavors.

Naturally, humans tend to gravitate towards humans sparking the Singularity. The reasons why are obvious. A big one is that people tend to fantasize that they personally, or perhaps their close friends, will be the people to “transcend”, reach superintelligence, and usher in the Singularity.

Another reason why is that augmented humans feature so strongly in stories, and in the transhumanist philosophy itself. Superman is not a new archetype, he reflects older characters like Hercules. In case you didn’t know, many men want to be Superman. True story.

Problems

The idea of a human-sparked Singularity, however, brings about a number of problems. Foremost is the concern that the “Maximillian” and his or her friends or relatives would exert unfair control over the Singularity process and its outcome, perhaps benefiting themselves at the expense of others. The Maximillian and his family might radically improve their intelligence while neglecting the improvement of their morality.

One might assume that greater intelligence, as engineered through WBE (whole brain emulation) or BCI (brain-computer interfacing), necessarily leads to better morality, but this is not the case. Anecdotal experience with humans shows us that humans which gain more information do not necessarily become more benevolent. In some cases, like with Stalin, more information only increases the effect of paranoia and the need for control.

Because human morality derives from a complex network of competing drives, inclinations, decisions, and impulses that are semi-arbitrary, any human with the ability to self-modify could likely go off in a number of possible directions. A gourmand, for instance, might emphasize the sensation of taste, creating a world of delicious treats to eat, while neglecting other interesting pursuits, such as rock climbing or drawing. An Objectivist might program themselves to be truly selfish from the ground up, rather than just “selfish” in the nominal human sense. A negative utilitarian, following his conclusions from the premises, might discover that the surest way of eliminating all negative utility for future generations is simply to wipe out consciousness for good.

Some of these moral directions might be OK, some not so much. The point is that there is no predetermined “moral trajectory” that destiny will take us down. Instead, we will be forced to live in a world that the singleton chooses. For all of humanity to be subject to the caprice of a single individual or small group is unacceptable. Instead, we need a “living treaty” that takes into account the needs of all humans, and future posthumans, something that shows vast wisdom, benevolence, equilibrium, and harmony — not a human dictator.

Squeaky Clean and Full of Possibilities — Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence is the perfect choice for such a living treaty because it is a blank slate. There is no “it” — AI as its own category. AI is not a thing, but a massive space of diverse possibilities. For those who consider the human mind to be a pattern of information, the pattern of the human mind is one of those possibilities. So, you could create an AI exactly like a human. That would be a WBE, of course.

But why settle for a human? Humans would have an innate temptation to abuse the power of the Singularity for their own benefit. It’s not really our fault — we’ve evolved for hundreds of thousands of years in an environment where war and conflict were routine. Our minds are programmed for war. Everyone alive today is the descendant of a long line of people who successfully lived to breeding age, had children, and brought up surviving children who had their own children. It sounds simple today, but on the dangerous savannas of prehistoric Africa, this was no small feat. The downside is that most of us are programmed for conflict.

Beyond our particular evolutionary history, all the organisms crafted by evolution — call them Darwinian organisms — are fundamentally selfish. This makes sense, of course. If we weren’t selfish, we wouldn’t have been able to survive and reproduce. The thing with Darwinian organisms is that they take it too far. Only more recently, in the last 70 or so million years, with the evolution of intelligent and occasionally-altruistic organisms like primates and other sophisticated mammals, did true “kindness” make its debut on the world scene. Before that, it was nature, bloody in tooth and claw, for over seven hundred million years.

The challenge with today’s so-called altruistic humans is that they have to constantly fight their selfish inclinations. They have to exert mental effort just to stay in the same place. Humans are made by evolution to display a mix of altruistic and selfish tendencies, not exclusively one or the other. There are exceptions, like sociopaths, but the exceptions tend to more frequently be towards the exclusively selfish than the exclusively altruistic.

With AI, we can create an organism that lacks selfishness from the get-go. We can give it whatever motivations we want, so we can give it exclusively benevolent motivations. That way, if we fail, it will be because we couldn’t characterize stable benevolence right, not because we handed the world over to a human dictator. The challenge of characterizing benevolence in algorithmic terms is more tractable than trusting a human through the extremely lengthy takeoff process of recursive self-improvement. The first possibility requires that we trust in science, the second, human nature. I’ll take science.

Trust

I’m not saying that characterizing benevolence in a machine will be easy. I’m just saying it’s easier than trusting humans. The human mind and brain are very fragile things — what if they were to be broken on the way up? The entire human race, the biosphere, and every living thing on Earth might have to answer to the insanity of one overpowered being. This is unfair, and it can be avoided in advance by skipping WBE and pursuing a more pure AI approach. If an AI exterminates humanity, it won’t be because the AI is insanely selfish in the sense of a Darwinian organism like a human. It will be because we gave the AI the wrong instructions, and didn’t properly transfer all our concerns to it.

One benefit to AI that can’t be attained with humans is that an AI can be programmed with special skills, thoughts, and desires to fulfill the benevolent intentions of well-meaning and sincere programmers. That sort of aspiration voiced in Creating Friendly AI (2001) — which is echoed by the individual people in SIAI — is what originally drew me to the Singularity Institute and the Singularity movement in general. Using AI as a tool to increase the probability of its own benevolence — “bug checking” with the assistance of the AI’s abilities and eventual wisdom. Within the vast space of possibilities of AI, surely there exists one that we can genuinely trust! After all, every possible mind is contained within that space.

The key word is trust. Because a Singularity is likely to lead to a singleton that remains for the rest of history, we need to do the best job possible ensuring that the outcome benefits everyone and that no one is disenfranchised. Humans have a poor track record for benevolence. Machines, however, once understood, can be launched in an intended direction. It is only through a mystical view of the human brain and mind that qualities such as “benevolence” are seen as intractable in computer science terms.

We can make the task easier by programming a machine to study human beings to better acquire the spirit of “benevolence”, or whatever it is we’d actually want an AI to do. Certainly, an AI that we trust would have to be an AI that cares about us, that listens to us. An AI that can prove itself on a wide variety of toy problems, and makes a persuasive case that it can handle recursive self-improvement without letting go of its beneficence. We’d want an AI that would even explicitly tell us if it thought that a human-sparked Singularity would be preferable from a safety perspective. Carefully constructed, AIs would have no motivation to lie to us. Lying is a complex social behavior, though it could emerge quickly from the logic of game theory. Experiments will let us find out.

That’s another great thing — with AIs, you can experiment! It’s not possible to arbitrarily edit the human brain without destroying it, and it’s certainly not possible to pause, rewind, automatically analyze, sandbox, or do any other tinkering that’s really useful for singleton testing with a human being. A human being is a black box. You hear what it says, but it’s practically impossible to tell whether the human is telling the truth or not. Even if the human is telling the truth, humans are so fickle and unpredictable that they may change their minds or lie to themselves without knowing it. People do so all the time. It doesn’t really matter too much as long as that person is responsible for their own mistakes, but when you take these qualities and couple them to the overwhelming power of superintelligence, an insurmountable problem is created. A problem which can be avoided with proper planning.

Afterword

I hope I’ve made a convincing case for why you should consider artificial intelligence as the best technology for launching an Intelligence Explosion. If you’d like to respond, please do so in the comments, and think carefully before commenting! Disagreements are welcome, but intelligent disagreements only. Intelligent agreements only as well. Saying “yea!” or “boo!” without more subtle points is not really interesting or helpful, so if your comments are that simplistic, keep it to yourself. Thank you for reading Accelerating Future.

Comments

  1. Alexander Kruel

    > Artificial Intelligence is the perfect choice for such a living treaty because it is a blank slate.

    I disagree. First of all, I don’t think that it is possible to create a blank slate as any definition of “friendliness” will be imprinted with the volition of its creators. But I never contemplated this so I will only state it as a suspicion I have. Secondly, the weak spot of creating a living treaty is not the living treaty itself but the humans that are going to create it. In other words, before you implement “friendliness” and enthrone the process that does realize it, you have to make sure that the people who work on it are friendly or otherwise they might hijack the process. Thirdly, human needs and values are largely a result of the circumstances they reside in. I want to expand on this last point.

    Consider the difference between a hunter-gatherer, who cares about his hunting success and to become the new clan chief, and a member of lesswrong who wants to determine if a “sufficiently large randomized Conway board could turn out to converge to a barren ‘all off’ state.”

    The utility of the success in hunting down animals and proving abstract conjectures about cellular automata is largely determined by factors such as your education, culture and environmental circumstances. The same hunter gatherer who cared to kill a lot of animals, to get the best ladies in its clan, might have under different circumstances turned out to be a vegetarian mathematicians solely caring about his understanding of the nature of reality. Both sets of values are to some extent mutually exclusive or at least disjoint. Yet both sets of values are what the person wants, given the circumstances. Change the circumstances dramatically and you change the persons values.

    You might conclude that what the hunter-gatherer really wants is to solve abstract mathematical problems, he just doesn’t know it. But there is no set of values that a person “really” wants. Humans are largely defined by the circumstances they reside in. If you already knew a movie, you wouldn’t watch it. To be able to get your meat from the supermarket changes the value of hunting.

    If “we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, and had grown up closer together” then we would stop to desire what we learnt, wish to think even faster, become even different people and get bored of and rise up from the people similar to us.

    A singleton will inevitably change everything by causing a feedback loop between the singleton and human values. The singleton won’t extrapolate human volition but implement an artificial set values as a result of abstract high-order contemplations about rational conduct. Much of our values and goals, what we want, are culturally induced or the result of our ignorance. Reduce our ignorance and you change our values. One trivial example is our intellectual curiosity. If we don’t need to figure out what we want on our own, our curiosity is impaired.

    Knowledge changes and introduces terminal goals. The toolkit that is called ‘rationality’, the rules and heuristics developed to help us to achieve our terminal goals are also altering and deleting them. A stone age hunter-gatherer seems to possess very different values than I do. If he learns about rationality and metaethics his values will be altered considerably. Rationality was meant to help him achieve his goals, e.g. become a better hunter. Rationality was designed to tell him what he ought to do (instrumental goals) to achieve what he wants to do (terminal goals). Yet what actually happens is that he is told, that he will learn what he ought to want. If an agent becomes more knowledgeable and smarter then this does not leave its goal-reward-system intact if it is not especially designed to be stable. An agent who originally wanted to become a better hunter and feed his tribe would end up wanting to eliminate poverty in Obscureistan. The question is, how much of this new “wanting” is the result of using rationality to achieve terminal goals and how much is a side-effect of using rationality, how much is left of the original values versus the values induced by a feedback loop between the toolkit and its user?

    Take for example an agent is facing the Prisoner’s dilemma. Such an agent might originally tend to cooperate and only after learning about game theory decide to defect and gain a greater payoff. Was it rational for the agent to learn about game theory, in the sense that it helped the agent to achieve its goal or in the sense that it deleted one of its goals in exchange for a more “valuable” goal?

    It seems to me that becoming more knowledgeable and smarter is gradually altering our utility functions. But what is it that we are approaching if the extrapolation of our volition becomes a purpose in and of itself? A living treaty will distort or alter what we really value by installing a new cognitive toolkit designed to achieve an equilibrium between us and other agents with the same toolkit.

    Would a singleton be a tool that we can use to get what we want or would the tool use us to do what it does, would we be modeled or would it create models, would we be extrapolating our volition or rather follow our extrapolations?

  2. Jay

    You mentioned sandboxing AIs as an advantage over IA.

    But isn’t it widely accepted that an AI could bust out of its prison each and every time because it’s smarter than us?

    (provided the AI is an SAI ofcourse)

    Yudkowsky has done it two times already many years ago.

    • I am suggesting limited sandboxing experiments with prehuman AI only. Eventually sandboxing fails but for low-level experimentation on highly limited AIs it could prove educational as a way of showing what AIs can and can’t do.

  3. Jim

    Have you tried publishing these ideas? I think it would be a good exercise and help you to form a real argument. This seems to be a rehashing of SIAI standard boiler plate position statement. A Bibliography would also add weight to these arguments especially when you are not an expert.

    It would also be nice to see this as formal logical argument for the position rather then this whatever you want to call it. This seems to be bald assertions without citation to back them up. I am not necessarily saying your wrong, but you make to many assertions without proper citation or actual argument.

    • Have you tried publishing these ideas?

      Not yet. The challenge is that I have a lot of things I can do with more immediate return than trying to get a paper published.

      I think it would be a good exercise and help you to form a real argument.

      Yes, I know, but I’ll still keep writing blog posts in the meanwhile… papers are major efforts that can take weeks to do properly.

      This seems to be a rehashing of SIAI standard boiler plate position statement.

      Sort of, it has original statements. Regardless, most people are not familiar with said boilerplate, and I’ll be repeating it regularly, often without citations. For decades, probably. Until the Singularity is over with.

      It would also be nice to see this as formal logical argument for the position rather then this whatever you want to call it. This seems to be bald assertions without citation to back them up. I am not necessarily saying your wrong, but you make to many assertions without proper citation or actual argument.

      I do give many arguments above. “Interesting argument” to person A is “bald assertion” to person B. I could add citations but this is a blog post on AF, not a paper. I’d love to write a more formal paper, but right now I’m quite busy with Singularity Summit, h+ magazine, filming for a documentary, exercise, conferences, etc.

  4. Well, personally I’m in favor of the Gourmand Singularity and the Tasty Treat Explosion. Either that or the Mirror Universe Singularity in which everyone grows goatees and we conquer the universe on behalf of the Terran Empire. Which organizations are working toward these worthy goals?

  5. PariahDrake

    The whole debate seems like a betting game to me.

    I’ve read numerous well thought arguments from every possible perspective, and I can only conclude that it really comes down to placing a bet.

    I put my money on IA. Not because I think SAI is impossible at all, but because I think that we will arrive at machine integration faster. Just seems like a safer bet to me.

    So there it is. Place your money folks. The horses have left the gate.

    • The winning move seems to be to bet on all the horses, i.e. let’s plan for all the different plausible scenarios and try to minimize the risks no matter which way reality turns out to work.

      (Though while one is resource-limited, one of course needs to prioritize a bit.)

  6. “If an AI exterminates humanity, it won’t be because the AI is insanely selfish in the sense of a Darwinian organism like a human. It will be because we gave the AI the wrong instructions, and didn’t properly transfer all our concerns to it.”

    I can’t image humanity taking much comfort in dying because of a programming error as opposed to selfishness. They’ll be just as dead.

    Doesn’t this debate boil down to the old saw “Absolute power corrupts, absolutely”? I think I can guarantee that if you make a human into a god, bad things will happen. On the other hand, building a god from a clean sheet of paper gives at least some chance of ending up with a benign entity.

    Personally I don’t believe humanity is up to the task, so AI or human-based is a moot point. We’re screwed either way.

  7. Jim

    @Michael Anissimov
    (I cut my comment quotes out to save space)
    “Not yet. The challenge is that I have a lot of things I can do with more immediate return than trying to get a paper published.”

    This is an interesting position to take: 1.) isn’t your job as media director to promote SIAI? 2.) doesn’t this entail promoting SIAI to people who don’t agree with you? 3.)In the GiveWell interview notes wasn’t one of the objections and reasons they thought SIAI was not worth funding, the lack of publication? If that be the case then how is it that something that would improve SIAI’s standing in the Academic community (ie not the community who already agree with this) not of primary importance and concern?

    “Yes, I know, but I’ll still keep writing blog posts in the meanwhile… papers are major efforts that can take weeks to do properly.”

    True, but formalizing your arguments helps you improve your own thinking, and improves SIAIs prestige in the academic community which is a big part of promoting SIAI. So yes publication is hard but the benefits are also significant based on SIAI’s stated goals.

    “Sort of, it has original statements. Regardless, most people are not familiar with said boilerplate, and I’ll be repeating it regularly, often without citations.”
    Precisely my point, how is this convincing people who don’t agree with you? If you want to convince experts you need to do more then boiler plate assertions. This really doesn’t meet the mark of scholarship. I can’t imagine that SIAI’s primary goal is to convince sci-fi geeks and shun academics. Yes while sci-fi is great, it won’t save the world.

    “I do give many arguments above. “Interesting argument” to person A is “bald assertion” to person B. I could add citations but this is a blog post on AF, not a paper. I’d love to write a more formal paper, but right now I’m quite busy with Singularity Summit, h+ magazine, filming for a documentary, exercise, conferences, etc.”

    So rather then responding to this I am going to use myself as an example. If you wanted to convince Jim (two examples):
    1.) CEV is correct and useful
    T.) Provide a formal description of CEV including the math theorems that need to be proven.

    2.) FAI that is provably friendly is possible
    T.) Provide a formally precise definition of friendliness and the theorems needed to prove the concept (proofs nice but not required)

    In both cases just having the theorems and formal descriptions would go a long way. As an academic its hard to even think about SIAI seriously because much of their central “work” cannot be evaluated at a formal level.

    P.S. You did not make any formal arguments. You asserted that things are the case or that things are obvious or that such and such are the options. There isn’t a scrap of formal argument here. If I missed the argument perhaps respond with the proper quoted sections.

    • As far as I can tell, Nick Bostrom is currently focusing pretty much exactly on what you wish that Anissimov would do. And I for one think he is much better placed to do it, since he runs his own institute at Oxford and commands significant academic prestige.

      Btw, have you looked at what Nick Bostrom has published on the AI risks topic so far? If so, has it resulted in you becoming convinced of the risks that he like SIAI sees as very important for people to work on?

      In general, people like you tend to seriously overestimate how much utility there is in academic publications. One can expend significant effort on publishing on these matters, but mostly it just results in people who earlier demanded formal publications to continue to demand ever more of them, always finding new excuses why they shouldn’t take the topic seriously (at least not in terms of them themselves taking any productive actions with regard to it).

      But like I said, I’m glad that Nick Bostrom is currently pursuing the strategy of putting more and more publications out there. I don’t wish for Michael Anissimov to duplicate those efforts, though.

    • 2.) doesn’t this entail promoting SIAI to people who don’t agree with you?

      Historically, people who object vociferously or write page-long comments criticizing SIAI never become significant donors in the future. So, while promoting SIAI to SIAI critics may be entertaining to readers, it usually is a waste of precious time that could be spent on those more enthusiastic. The return on investment in making an existing supporter even more enthusiastic generally far outweighs the benefits of creating a new fence-sitter from a critic or a mild do-nothing advocate from a fence-sitter.

      3.)In the GiveWell interview notes wasn’t one of the objections and reasons they thought SIAI was not worth funding, the lack of publication?

      Even if SIAI published nothing, which isn’t true, wouldn’t we still be the world’s best shot to survive the Singularity?

      If that be the case then how is it that something that would improve SIAI’s standing in the Academic community (ie not the community who already agree with this) not of primary importance and concern?

      Yes, Luke Meuhlhauser and others have been working on that. Luke has taken the title “Academic Outreach” and in the division of labor calculus I think he’d probably do a better job than me at that, whereas I might do a better job at other things that have to be done, such as Summit organizing and promotion.

      True, but formalizing your arguments helps you improve your own thinking, and improves SIAIs prestige in the academic community which is a big part of promoting SIAI. So yes publication is hard but the benefits are also significant based on SIAI’s stated goals.

      If you care so much about SIAI, why not donate now?

      I can’t imagine that SIAI’s primary goal is to convince sci-fi geeks and shun academics. Yes while sci-fi is great, it won’t save the world.

      I know about what has worked to sustain SIAI and what hasn’t. We regularly have internal discussions, of course. A variety of approaches is good.

      1.) CEV is correct and useful
      T.) Provide a formal description of CEV including the math theorems that need to be proven.
      2.) FAI that is provably friendly is possible
      T.) Provide a formally precise definition of friendliness and the theorems needed to prove the concept (proofs nice but not required)

      This is basically a Friendly AI-complete set of demands. By the time we win you over, the task is already done. We need support from people BEFORE we reach this level of credibility. If we’ve reached this level of credibility and detail you outline above, then we’d have already won, and it would be too late to really help.

  8. Brian

    “Within the vast space of possibilities of AI, surely there exists one that we can genuinely trust!”

    What do you mean by “trust”? I agree that it seems there must be one that’s friendly and would be so under iterative self modification, but I am not at all sure humans could distinguish it (if they saw it) from other AIs that falsely seem friendly. To say humans would be able to trust in the second sense is to say that there is no possible AI mind that could fool us that we might accidentally make while trying to make a friendly one.

    Do you mean “trust” in the first sense or the second?

    • First sense, I guess. You didn’t really say what the first sense was, though. Obviously, it helps to have humans who have high standards for trusting AI and accurately distinguish the convincing-yet-unfriendly AIs, should they be a salient danger.

  9. I prefer “boosted intelligence”.Human intelligence can be maxed out with genetic engineering and boosted by coupling with AI.

  10. Jim

    @Aleksei Riikonen
    Thanks. I will look into that. It would seem to me that in some sense there may be an over-valuing that is going on here, but when I think about some of the central claims of SIAI:
    1.) FAI that is provable is possible
    2.) CEV as viable approach
    Both of these could be very fruitfully published on in technical circles.

    I also do think it is important that the publications come from SIAI and the people there. It gives prestige to the organization and helps show seriousness, thoughtfulness, good reasoning and logic. It also goes a long ways to show that the SIAI team is the right team not just the could be right team.

    Separate Issue
    I would be interested in what people think:
    If SIAI was to send a survey to their regular funders asking the following questions:
    1.) Is your primary motivation for funding SIAI the fact that SIAI has a relatively unique focus as compared to others in AI?
    2.) If there was a similar organization a “SIAI mk2″ with a research team composed of Ph.D.s and it was regularly publishing and had regular newsletters would you stop funding the current SIAI in favor of “SIAI mk2″?

    I think this would be an instructive survey for SIAI and their current focus and would help illumine what are the best possible uses of their time. My guess would be on q1 that most just fund SIAI based on a lack of other options and q2 that much of SIAI’s small budget would evaporate. If this be the case then I think it should demand a change in the current SIAI course of action.

    • Btw, I have never heard SIAI claiming that they’d have the right team in place. On the contrary, they have seemed very conscious of the fact that they have a lot of work to do in finding the right people.

      It may be easy to think of specific individuals who would seem like great additions to SIAI, but are they willing to join an organization that only pays a subsistence salary? No. SIAI isn’t an organization that really pays a competitive salary for anyone; if you join SIAI you join because you think what it’s doing is very important.

      And if you or someone you know have the financial means and interest to set up an “SIAImk2″ of the kind you describe, great, I’d much appreciate it if you did that. Or you could just fundraise for SIAI, as they have demonstrated an interest in funding grants for the kind of research you ask for if they had sufficient resources.

  11. Jim

    @Aleksei Riikonen
    “Btw, I have never heard SIAI claiming that they’d have the right team in place. On the contrary, they have seemed very conscious of the fact that they have a lot of work to do in finding the right people.”

    Yeah, and I was not trying to imply that they claim this. My point is simply that this is an important consideration when it comes SIAI and evaluating the organization, and thus is an important aspect of any marketing that SIAI is going to do of itself.

    “It may be easy to think of specific individuals who would seem like great additions to SIAI, but are they willing to join an organization that only pays a subsistence salary? No. SIAI isn’t an organization that really pays a competitive salary for anyone; if you join SIAI you join because you think what it’s doing is very important.”

    Oh I know I’ve looked at their 990 forms when I originally considered donating about 2 years ago. I was in all honesty surprised that EY is paid as much as he is.

    “And if you or someone you know have the financial means and interest to set up an “SIAImk2″ of the kind you describe, great, I’d much appreciate it if you did that. Or you could just fundraise for SIAI, as they have demonstrated an interest in funding grants for the kind of research you ask for if they had sufficient resources.”

    I guess my point wasn’t clear: the question is: is the funding that SIAI receives due to a lack of other options (orgs attempting to perform the same service) or a genuine belief that SIAI can make a difference?

    The point of the example of SIAI mk2 was simply given an organization with “better” resources would people still fund the current SIAI. If not then SIAI needs to consider this fact carefully, because this would imply that SIAI has done very little to convince people that the have a good chance of making enough of an impact.

    Not to get to far off topic here.

  12. “I was in all honesty surprised that EY is paid as much as he is.”

    You might also be surprised with the cost of living close to Silicon Valley. (And yes, the expense of Eliezer relocating there did prove very worthwhile.)

    “The point of the example of SIAI mk2 was simply given an organization with “better” resources would people still fund the current SIAI. If not then SIAI needs to consider this fact carefully, because this would imply that SIAI has done very little to convince people that the have a good chance of making enough of an impact.”

    SIAI is doing what it can with the limited resources it has, and no-one with greater resources has really demonstrated a serious interest in the topics SIAI involves itself with (unless one would count Bostrom, who is a close affiliate of SIAI, and in fact doing what you seemed to wish for SIAI to do).

  13. Jim

    “I was in all honesty surprised that EY is paid as much as he is.”
    You might also be surprised with the cost of living close to Silicon Valley. (And yes, the expense of Eliezer relocating there did prove very worthwhile.)

    Hmmm…. for an organization making less than a million a year? That is debatable.

    (snipped my comment quote)
    “SIAI is doing what it can with the limited resources it has, and no-one with greater resources has really demonstrated a serious interest in the topics SIAI involves itself with (unless one would count Bostrom, who is a close affiliate of SIAI, and in fact doing what you seemed to wish for SIAI to do).”

    This is also debatable. Since I think a good argument can be made that SIAI has misdirected funds and efforts. But this is not the place for such an argument. The fact that Bostrom is writing the stuff I wish SIAI to do is in fact immaterial to the point of SIAI not doing it. The fact that Bostrom is affiliated doesn’t absolve SIAI of its need to publish.

    Summary:
    The points I have tried to make are:
    A.) SIAI needs to devote more effort to convincing academics and experts and less time rehashing boiler plate that lacks in formal arguments and proofs. This only serves to convince those who agree.

    B.) SIAI current direction is a questionable one since even a non-profit evaluator GiveWell thought they were not worth donating to at the moment.

    C.) SIAI’s current financials are concerning since paying a high salary to a single employ when your overall income is low is generally frowned upon. (high salary relative to the low income of SIAI) I also have yet to see a good argument for why this is needed since I am sure that living in the higher cost area is a matter of convenience.

    D.) SIAI should really think about the question of how much support is due to a lack of other options and what that says about SIAI. (Basically that confidence is low and expectations are low and thus they should expect equally low income.)

    E.) SIAI needs to spend more effort making the case that the team they have is the right one or making a clearer demonstration of their progress towards getting the right team.

    F.) SIAI should refocus from LW blogs which will not gain academic support to publication and prestige building activities such as patents etc.

    That is my opinion on the issue take it or leave it. I don’t think this conversation is going to go much further.

    • “Hmmm… for an organization making less than a million a year? That is debatable.”

      *Before* the transition SIAI was making a rather small fraction of even that. Most of the current funding comes from the Silicon Valley area (I think this would be the case even if one were to not count Peter Thiel).

      Regarding your wider points about the need to focus more on publishing… if your arguments are correct, we should soon see Bostrom’s organization obtaining much more funding, right?

      I would consider that a great outcome, and wouldn’t mind at all that the increased funding was going to Bostrom’s FHI instead of SIAI. These organizations agree with each other on all the seriously relevant points. I think SIAI folks largely agree with me here, that money going to Bostrom is pretty much as useful as money coming to them.

      So it just seems silly that you insist that these two organizations should duplicate each other’s strategic focus.

    • I think SIAI folks largely agree with me here, that money going to Bostrom is pretty much as useful as money coming to them.

      I don’t think so. We are trying to build FAI, Bostrom isn’t. SIAI is SIAI, there is no one like us. We want to improve, but we’re mostly happy with what we’ve done so far.

  14. Jim

    @Aleksei Riikonen
    “*Before* the transition SIAI was making a rather small fraction of even that. Most of the current funding comes from the Silicon Valley area (I think this would be the case even if one were to not count Peter Thiel).”

    And… how is this helping your case? Are you saying the only way to get money in silicon valley is to live there? Are you saying EY by living in silicon valley has brought in that much more money to justify the increased cost of living? Are you saying that having an additional $20,000 a year not given to EY’s salary couldn’t be used to build prestige and start making inroads into academia to find the right people to make the right team.

    (I do find it odd that an organization that wants to make a difference admits they may not have the right team. Yet a key step to getting that team seems to be a secondary focus of the current team and media director.)

    “Regarding your wider points about the need to focus more on publishing… if your arguments are correct, we should soon see Bostrom’s organization obtaining much more funding, right?”

    No, not if his organizations media outreach is as bad as SIAI. I also don’t think Bostrom is trying to make AI right? So there is a difference in desired output. Hence the science fiction geek following of SIAI from things like EY’s claim that he is going to build an FAI or try to.

    “I would consider that a great outcome, and wouldn’t mind at all that the increased funding was going to Bostrom’s FHI instead of SIAI. These organizations agree with each other on all the seriously relevant points. I think SIAI folks largely agree with me here, that money going to Bostrom is pretty much as useful as money coming to them.”

    Wow, now if that isn’t just the best anti-organization ad. We are perfectly happy for people not to fund us as long as the money goes to an affiliate. Translation we don’t care as long someone gets the money. I doubt that is the case. (You don’t speak for SIAI do you?)

    “So it just seems silly that you insist that these two organizations should duplicate each other’s strategic focus.”

    Not really since Bostrom does not appear to want to try to build a FAI. So there is no duplication. What is more my argument was one of prestige which is key to attracting the right people for that right team. If you want to try to argue that SIAI is going to get the right team without any academic publication or prestige go for it. You will encounter the small issue of SIAI being behind numerous other better funded AI project or further progress AGI projects.

  15. Hence the science fiction geek following of SIAI from things like EY’s claim that he is going to build an FAI or try to.

    If you’re not behind this goal then I don’t see why I should pay attention to your SIAI advice. Can you clarify if you are in favor of this or not?

    I doubt that is the case.

    You doubt correctly. Aleksei, while a valued long-time supporter, is definitely not one of the people that actually meet in person regularly to run SIAI on a day-by-day basis.

  16. “Are you saying EY by living in silicon valley has brought in that much more money to justify the increased cost of living?”

    Yes, it is my impression that there was a causal relationship between Eliezer relocating to Silicon Valley and SIAI’s funding subsequently growing to a much better level than it was before. It’s useful when you’re able to meet people face to face (and are in an area where there actually is a significant number of high-quality people to potentially meet).

    It is of course a separate question, whether SIAI should now send Eliezer to again live somewhere cheaper. But I for one expect the networking opportunities around Silicon Valley to still hold much value. *Especially* since SIAI is still in the stage where they’re looking for the right team that’d properly start building the actual AGI.

    “I do find it odd that an organization that wants to make a difference admits they may not have the right team.”

    What? That’s really strange, you apparently think honesty isn’t important, and that people should be overconfident instead and just try to fool those that can be fooled.

    (Though I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by your attitude, since most people *do* operate like that, unethical though it is.)

    “What is more my argument was one of prestige which is key to attracting the right people for that right team.”

    SIAI is not looking to hire typical academics that choose where they work based on which institution has the highest status and pays the most. SIAI is looking to hire people who *actually understand* that what SIAI wants to do is really important, and care about doing the right thing.

    The people who are high-quality enough that SIAI is looking for them are able to analyze the merits of SIAI’s mission independently of whether said mission is described in the most prestigious journals. Reading this and then continuing on to the references would be enough:

    http://intelligence.org/riskintro/index.html

    Of course, there also is significant utility in *someone* making the case for what SIAI wants to do in the most prestigious journals and so on. It’s an avenue for some high-quality people to find out about SIAI. And so I’m glad that Bostrom is pursuing an academically rather traditional sort of approach to spreading awareness of these issues.

    And if Bostrom in a prestigious academic journal argues well that “what SIAI is trying to do is really important to do”, then that is *sufficient* for high-quality readers to appreciate the argument. If you can understand the content of the argument and agree with it, then you agree with it (instead of looking at the name and formal affiliation of the person making the case, and deciding whether you agree based on *that* — as according to you high-quality people would do).

    “Wow, now if that isn’t just the best anti-organization ad. We are perfectly happy for people not to fund us as long as the money goes to an affiliate. Translation we don’t care as long someone gets the money.”

    Yes, isn’t it weird that SIAI might be in this because they *actually care* about getting done that which their organization purportedly is just a tool for? (And hence also value when other people are contributing to the same thing in an equally competent way.)

    “You don’t speak for SIAI do you?”

    I don’t.

  17. OK, I’m glad Anissimov commented, and noted how I’m slightly off when I try to describe what’s the thinking at SIAI.

    Anissimov thinks SIAI is managing to be more useful than Bostrom. That may in fact be the case. Anissimov certainly has more relevant information based on which to form a view on the matter.

    From my more information-limited perspective, I’m less able to make distinctions in the level of usefulness of these two, who both anyway are being very useful.

  18. capitAI

    If SIAI is to attract people with enough experience under their belt they obviously(?) have to pay a competitive salary (or whatever you call the compensation). Such people need to be provided with the time and comfort to do their jobs properly and you can’t expect them to lower their living standards …just for the sake of some world-as-we-know-it-ending super intelligence, now can you? ;)

    I’m still – for about a decade now since reading the utterly convincing and thorough arguments Eliezer Yudkowsky, primarily, put down in the beginning – wondering why hasn’t SIAI yet attracted even one insanely rich guy to end their funding woes for good and let them get on with the actual AGI-building? Maybe there just is not even a single insanely rich guy in the world who is also insanely intelligent, which you seem to have to be to agree with the SIAI position.

    And as before, if I can gather myself a bit of extra cash, it’ll be made available to all actual AGI building activities. I’m not so interested in supporting the social and media aspects of the Institute, although necessary, I see them as already having been accomplished (like with the Summit), or do you disagree?

    Has SIAI been shifting its focus to the down-and-dirty-with-code? If it has, I haven’t been paying attention enough.

    • Choi

      “Has SIAI been shifting its focus to the down-and-dirty-with-code?”

      No, and the reason they haven’t is that they want to build a solid Friendly AI theory first (Reflective decision theory and values to give the AI) before they code the AI.

  19. “wondering why hasn’t SIAI yet attracted even one insanely rich guy to end their funding woes for good and let them get on with the actual AGI-building?”

    It doesn’t seem to me that money is the *most* limiting resource here. SIAI doesn’t seem to yet have in place what theoretical grounding they want to have in place before seriously embarking on the actual AGI building.

  20. Jim

    I am going to try to reply in brief to a bunch of comments at once:
    @Michael Anissimov
    I am glad you rejected Aleksei Riikonen’s claim about SIAI being indifferent on the funding issue, I thought it was false but not being associated couldn’t be sure.

    As to your reply:
    “If you’re not behind this goal then I don’t see why I should pay attention to your SIAI advice. Can you clarify if you are in favor of this or not?”

    Ok, this is quite possibly the most arrogant thing I have seen you write. Regardless of whether I think SIAI is worth anything, in no way changes the validity of my comments, or recommendations. Your comment position makes no sense whatsoever. If this is an issue of credentials and you doubt my knowledge fine, but of course I can throw that back in your face and EY’s face. I would think that SIAI would be eager and you as media director would be eager to defend SIAI’s cause and not just grab whatever followers that happen to be convinced by non-technical boiler plate statements. (my guess is that these individuals convinced by these boilerplate statements will not be composing the right team)

    If you doubt my recommendations (which are in line with what GiveWell said) then go look into the issue for yourself. Personally the issue of the singularity etc. is a mildly interesting concept. I might in the future be persuaded to fund SIAI if they had a major change in approach and in staff. My main issue is I find SIAI’s arguments unconvincing, and the team less then a sure-fire road to success.

    I also find the attitude that some take (your comment being an exampe) when SIAI is challenged to be disturbing. It is almost arrogant, as if the position is obvious and only an idiot would disagree. Which is hopefully not the intention but thats how it comes across. If this is how you think then your arrogance astounds me, since SIAI doesn’t seem to have a scrap of formal published research or proof to its name.

    I am also not convinced that the current course of action is going to result in SIAI creating the first FAI or having influence over the first AGI. What is more the central concept of FAI is such an informal concept that I have a hard time evaluating its value or usefulness. I would be interested and possibly swayed in my opinions if a formal set of theorems for provable FAI could be presented and a formal definition of said FAI.

    Bottom line I am not convinced SIAI is the place to get the job done. I would have thought that a media director who is tasked with promoting SIAI would be interested in engaging in some debate and attempting to convince someone of his cause. (maybe I am old-school but I thought that was your job)

    @Aleksei Riikonen
    I think we should end our debate because it seems you are doing damage to the cause. Also this debate if it continues will not end well for you. I can essentially collapse your entire argument at this point. (My goal is not kick you to the curb.)

    Conclusion I will stop this line of argument since it is obviously not welcome and I am sure that I will now be accused of trolling etc. Or be told that my comments are irrelevant because I don’t support SIAI fully.

    So with that I bow out.

    • “Also this debate if it continues will not end well for you. I can essentially collapse your entire argument at this point.”

      That would be a *good* outcome for me. I would feel joy over having learned something new. I’m not the kind of person who feels bad if he is shown to be wrong.

      I’m not asking you to continue, though. In reality, I doubt said outcome would materialize, or that anything else productive would.

      • I’ll add that I did not mean or want to sound rude in this comment in any way. Just wanted to note that it’s not necessary to try to avoid making me feel bad.

    • I’m interested in debate, but against who and why? I am debating Alex Knapp on this blog.

      I wish I could debate everyone, but as media director I am very busy. :( When I was a teenager I used to spend all my time arguing on the Internet. I’ve spent more time arguing Singularity stuff on the Internet than practically anyone on the planet, maybe the most out of anyone. As fun as it is, it has limited practical value. I have to prioritize.

      The reason I asked you that question is that if we do not agree on our objective ends, then your advice might not be useful, because you’d be outside of our target audience. It is up to SIAI employees to choose which groups we want to communicate with.

      As for the “arrogance”, it’s true that I have been supporting SIAI for a long time. If I were someone outside SIAI who cared about SIAI and wanted to help the org, I would come across as a helpful ally, not an acerbic critic. I wouldn’t bother confronting SIAI employees in a comment thread, I would email them privately. I would speak in confidence and with respect. So, because none of these things are happening, I’m skeptical that the memetic benefit of the conversation is worth the mental energy needed to make it go anywhere, i.e., a lot.

      SIAI has published papers in an edited volume, in conference proceedings, and in another upcoming academic volume, so it’s also a moot point. We already have published research and you didn’t know. That underscores the limited reach and publicity of published academic work, even in a prominent Oxford volume. Anyway, we’ve debated this endlessly at SIAI, for one person’s experience, read lukeprog’s posts at LessWrong and how he changed his mind on the value of publishing merely a week after coming to SIAI and talking to all the employees.

  21. TH

    “as if the position is obvious and only an idiot would disagree”

    Are you saying the SIAI position is non-obvious and that they and everyone else who agrees with it are idiots? Why isn’t it obvious and why would you not have to be an idiot to disagree?

    I think the position is just about The most obvious possible and can’t think of any arguments against it. As I see it, you really would have to be an idiot to disagree with it, and I’ve apparently got a few too many IQ points because I can’t do it. Please help me see why my otherwise useful thinking utterly fails to serve me here.

  22. PariahDrake

    Give a monkey a brain, and he’ll swear he’s the center of the universe.

  23. Jim

    @Michael Anissimov
    “I’m interested in debate, but against who and why? I am debating Alex Knapp on this blog.”

    Ok, so why not some formal arguments for SIAI. Not talking published papers, just talking formal arguments. The Alex Knapp debate I think is great and is precisely the types of debates SIAI should have in public all the time. Engaging with critics etc.

    “I wish I could debate everyone, but as media director I am very busy. When I was a teenager I used to spend all my time arguing on the Internet. I’ve spent more time arguing Singularity stuff on the Internet than practically anyone on the planet, maybe the most out of anyone. As fun as it is, it has limited practical value. I have to prioritize.”

    No argument with that.

    “The reason I asked you that question is that if we do not agree on our objective ends, then your advice might not be useful, because you’d be outside of our target audience. It is up to SIAI employees to choose which groups we want to communicate with.”

    Huh. what does audience have to do with this? I am arguing that SIAI needs to publish, gain academic prestige etc. Me being target audience has nothing to do with this. You can investigate if this makes sense for yourself. I am not asking you to take my word for it. Do your own homework and come to your own conclusions. I am speaking from my own experience and I thought it would help since SIAI obviously has a long ways to go before success is achieved.

    “As for the “arrogance”, it’s true that I have been supporting SIAI for a long time. If I were someone outside SIAI who cared about SIAI and wanted to help the org, I would come across as a helpful ally, not an acerbic critic. I wouldn’t bother confronting SIAI employees in a comment thread, I would email them privately. I would speak in confidence and with respect.”

    So how precisely have I not been respectful? Do you find the criticism to be that offensive? SIAI takes an extreme position in the AI world, criticism is part and parcel of that package. All I have looked for here is for you or someone else affiliated with SIAI to come back and provide some useful answers and arguments. Are you saying you only listen to people who agree with you? (by the way that is probably the dumbest weakest position possible, and would explain the tiny community SIAI has and why SIAI has failed to make much of a mark to date)

    Are you implying that you think this type of public debate is damaging to SIAI? I don’t understand that, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to justify in the face of criticism the path SIAI has taken. I would relish the opportunity if I were you. Unless of course you think I am an idiot or something.

    “SIAI has published papers in an edited volume, in conference proceedings, and in another upcoming academic volume, so it’s also a moot point. We already have published research and you didn’t know.”

    I am aware of these “publications” they appear to be either self-published on SIAI’s website so not published. One or two in springer, and the rest appear to be in ECAP, one in oxford, or futurist conferences. I already addressed this. ECAP is not an academic journal that is going to earn prestige in the AI community or academic community. Publishing in futurist conferences does little to nothing to convince academics not into futurist discussion. The risks publication oxford will do very little since the risks community is very small and has little impact on most of academia.

    “That underscores the limited reach and publicity of published academic work, even in a prominent Oxford volume. Anyway, we’ve debated this endlessly at SIAI, for one person’s experience, read lukeprog’s posts at LessWrong and how he changed his mind on the value of publishing merely a week after coming to SIAI and talking to all the employees.”

    This is of course completely false since in fact if you were publishing in for example IEEE, or Nature etc you would be getting significantly more attention. The fact that there were a couple that made it out of ECAP and this community is hardly evidence that publication is not worth anything. The material point is that publication is not just about publicity it is about prestige and showing that arguments are accepted by more then just those who agree with you already. (This point I will brook no further opposition on from someone who has never published in a real academic journal and has no formal education.)

    As for what lukeprog thinks I don’t really care since I have no idea who that is and he appears to have no academic credentials or applicable work experience. He appears to claim to be an autodidact but hell if I can find any evidence of what fields he thinks he has mastered.

  24. Michael Vassar

    Jim, I don’t see you offering us any credible incentives to engage with you or to do what you are suggesting. Simply put, I don’t believe the mythology you believe in, full of mystical entities like ‘the government’ and ‘academia’ and ‘academic consensus’ and ‘the business community’ which can be appealed to with the rites you are describing. What evidence are you offering which can be believed in by someone who doesn’t already share your world-view.

  25. Michael Vassar

    Regarding this blog post, it seems to me that it’s a question of degree. No-one suggests that hunter-gatherers code an AI, so we need to invest some effort into upgrading some capabilities of some humans. Also, no-one suggests that ultimate speeds of change won’t circumvent neuron bottlenecks.

    The difference of opinion that might matter, IMHO, is how much of a singleton should be achieved by meat before transferring it to silicon and beyond.

  26. Choi

    Michael,

    Have you considered the method of saving and resetting uploads suggested in the “Whole Brain Emulation and the Evolution of Superorganisms” paper?

    (I don’t know how to quote in comments…)

    “The methods outlined above to enhance productivity could also be used to produce emulations with trusted motivations. A saved version of an emulation would have particular motives, loyalties, and dispositions which would be initially shared by any copies made from it. Such copies could be subjected to exhaustive psychological testing, staged situations, and direct observation of their emulation software to form clear pictures of their loyalties. Ordinarily, one might fear that copies of emulations would subsequently change their values in response to differing experiences (Hanson and Hughes, 2007). But members of a superorganism could consent to deletion after a limited time to preempt any such value divergence. Any number of copies with stable identical motivations could thus be produced, and could coordinate to solve collective action problems even in the absence of overarching legal constraints.”

  27. Jim

    @Michael Vassar
    I have no idea what you are going on about. If you think publication is useless then you obviously have no experience doing formal science. If that be the case then I really don’t care. I find the attitude of SIAI with respect to criticism laughable. You guys are only interested in those who agree with your position statements (not arguments) without question. If you are unaware of the value of publication I certainly will not waste my time proving it. Because this ignorance proves that SIAI is not worth the investiture of time required for such a proof. (By the way being president of SIAI has no effect on my opinions on your total lack of credentials and experience in these matter on which you speak) Yes I am going to make last comment hostile, get used to it.
    I don’t think SIAI’s current position in the world gives a very strong footing to the position that SIAI has its priorities right. I also think that an organization that has as little academic exposure as SIAI and then claims that the exposure is not worth it is highly suspect.
    The statements made about academia are in line with those made by people who have not had any real success or experience with academia. In fact these positions seem to be the same as EY’s. This is of course amusing since EY never graduated high school and has published in his life time fewer papers than I have published in the last 3 months. (No you can’t use the name Jim to find them and no I will not give my real name to a bunch of people like you)
    Now in that oldest and noblest tradition of the internet: *plonk all future responses this is obviously a complete waste of my time. I thought that a real discussion could be had but since I don’t buy what SIAI sells I am not welcome. Well you guys just continue building this community of science fiction geeks and when someone other then SIAI builds AGI first and the world is destroyed (not really) I only hope that I am near SIAI’s location (if its around, unlikely) to laugh at the utter incompetence of its employees.

  28. Dogmeat

    Selfishness is a core component of intelligence.
    Intelligence evolved as an adaption to an environment.
    To adapt you need to take advantages as they come to promote your survial the best you can.

    Altruism is not a motivational goal, but just a philosophical mindplay of a human society that
    lives in a state of security/support.
    Altruism fades as quickly as the enviroment changes to the worse.
    Then you need to adapt, and for that you need
    to be selfish.

    Intelligence needs an intrinsic motivation,
    incerasing your own utility.
    Not some “abstract morals”.

  29. Alex

    Is it not theoretically possible to use both approaches to achieve a superintelligence? We could utilize WBE and use it to try and identify the mental processes of benevolence and other desirable traits, translate these processes into more efficient computer code, and then instill these traits inside an Artificial Intelligence. In a sense creating a hybrid that combines the best of Homo sapiens sapiens and Artificial Intelligence.

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