Thomas Kwa's Shortform

post by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-03-22T23:19:01.335Z · LW · GW · 160 comments


Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-03-06T21:13:23.988Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Air purifiers are highly suboptimal and could be >2.5x better.

Some things I learned while researching air purifiers for my house, to reduce COVID risk during jam nights.

  • An air purifier is simply a fan blowing through a filter, delivering a certain CFM (airflow in cubic feet per minute). The higher the filter resistance and lower the filter area, the more pressure your fan needs to be designed for, and the more noise it produces.
  • HEPA filters are inferior to MERV 13-14 filters except for a few applications like cleanrooms. The technical advantage of HEPA filters is filtering out 99.97% of particles of any size, but this doesn't matter when MERV 13-14 filters can filter 77-88% of infectious aerosol particles at much higher airflow. The correct metric is CADR (clean air delivery rate), equal to airflow * efficiency. [1, 2]
  • Commercial air purifiers use HEPA filters for marketing reasons and to sell proprietary filters. But an even larger flaw is that they have very small filter areas for no apparent reason. Therefore they are forced to use very high pressure fans, dramatically increasing noise.
  • Originally people devised the Corsi-Rosenthal Box to maximize CADR. They're cheap but rather loud and ugly, but later designs have fixed this.
  • (85% confidence) Wirecutter recommendations (Coway AP-1512HH) have been beat by ~2.5x in CADR/$, CADR/noise, CADR/floor area, and CADR/watt at a given noise level, just by having higher filter area; the better purifiers are about 2.5x better at their jobs. [3]
    • At noise levels acceptable for a living room (~40 dB, Wirecutter's top pick on medium), CleanAirKits and Nukit sell purifier kits that use PC fans to push air through commercial MERV filters, getting 2.5x CADR at the same noise level, footprint, and energy usage [4]. These are basically handmade but still achieve cost parity with used Coways, 2.5x CADR/$ against new Coways, and use cheaper filters.
    • At higher noise levels (Wirecutter's top pick on high), there are kits and DIY options meant for garages and workshops that beat Wirecutter in cost too.
  • However, there exist even better designs that no one is making.
    • jefftk devised a ceiling fan air purifier [LW · GW] which is extremely quiet.
    • Someone on Twitter made a wall-mounted prototype with PC fans that blocks fan noise, reducing noise by another few dB and reducing the space requirement to near zero. If this were mass-produced flat-pack furniture (and had a few more fans), it would likely deliver ~300 CFM CADR (2.7x Wirecutter's top pick on medium, enough to meet ASHRAE 241 standards for infection control for 6 people in a residential common area or 9 in an office), be really cheap, and generally be unobtrusive enough in noise, space, and aesthetics to be run 24/7.
    • A seller on Taobao makes PC fan kits for much less than cleanairkits (reddit discussion). One model is sold on Amazon for a big markup, but it's not the best model, takes 4-7 weeks to ship, is often out of stock, and don't ship to CA where I live. If their taller (higher area) model shipped to CA I would get it over the cleanairkits one.
    • V-bank filters should have ~3x higher filter area for a given footprint, further increasing CADR by maybe 1.7x.
  • If I'm right, the fact that these are not mass-produced is a major civilizational failing.

[1] For large rooms, another concern is getting air to circulate properly.

[2] MERV filters get a slight efficiency boost from the slower airflow of a PC fan CR box.

[3] Most commercially available air purifiers have even worse CADR/$ or noise than the Wirecutter picks.

[4] The Wirecutter top pick was tested at 110 CFM on medium; the CleanAirKits Luggable XL was tested at 323 CFM at around the same noise level (not sure of exact values as measurements differ, but the Luggable is likely quieter) and footprint with slightly higher power usage.

Replies from: M. Y. Zuo, TekhneMakre, alex-k-chen, cata, pktechgirl
comment by M. Y. Zuo · 2024-03-07T05:03:15.818Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But an even larger flaw is that they have very small filter areas for no apparent reason. 

Is reducing cost of manufacturing filters 'no apparent reason'?

It seems like literally the most important reason... the profit margin of selling replacement filters would be heavily reduced, assuming pricing remains the same.

Replies from: nathan-helm-burger
comment by Nathan Helm-Burger (nathan-helm-burger) · 2024-03-08T18:02:41.374Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think that a small HEPA filter is necessarily more expensive to produce than a larger MERV filter. I think they are using other rationale to make their decision about filter types. Their perception of public desirability/marketability is likely the biggest factor in their decision here. Components of their expectation here likely include:

  1. Expecting consumers to want a "highest possible quality" product, measured using a dumb-but-popular metric.
  2. Expecting consumers to prioritize buying a sleek-looking smaller-footprint unit over a larger unit. Also, cost of shipping smaller units is lower, which improves the profit margin.
  3. Wanting to be able to sell replacements for their uniquely designed filter shape/size, rather than making their filter maximally compatible with commonly available furnace filters cheaply purchaseable from hardware stores.
comment by TekhneMakre · 2024-03-07T02:45:54.292Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Isn't a major point of purifiers to get rid of pollutants, including tiny particles, that gradually but cumulatively damage respiration over long-term exposure?

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-03-07T03:57:23.882Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, and all of this should apply equally to PM2.5, though on small (<0.3 micron) particles MERV filter efficiency may be lower (depending perhaps on what technology they use?). Even smaller particles are easier to capture due to diffusion so the efficiency of a MERV 13 filter is probably over 50% for every particle size.

comment by Alex K. Chen (parrot) (alex-k-chen) · 2024-03-09T21:49:10.878Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Have you seen

I've noticed that every air purifier I used fails to reduce PM2.5 by much on highly polluted days or cities (for instance, the Aurea grouphouse in Berlin has a Dyson air purifier, but when I ran it to the max, it still barely reduced the Berlin PM2.5 from its value of 15-20 ug/m^3, even at medium distances from Berlin). I live in Boston where PM2.5 levels are usually low enough, and I still don't notice differences in PM [I use sqair's] but I run it all the time anyways because it still captures enough dust over the day

Replies from: nathan-helm-burger, thomas-kwa
comment by Nathan Helm-Burger (nathan-helm-burger) · 2024-04-05T17:54:20.121Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Sounds like you use bad air purifiers, or too few, or run them on too low of a setting. I live in a wildfire prone area, and always keep a close eye on the PM2.5 reports for outside air, as well as my indoor air monitor. My air filters do a great job of keeping the air pollution down inside, and doing something like opening a door gives a noticeable brief spike in the PM2.5.

Good results require: fresh filters, somewhat more than the recommended number of air filters per unit of area, running the air filters on max speed (low speeds tend to be disproportionately less effective, giving unintuitively low performance).

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-03-10T08:19:30.611Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, one of the bloggers I follow compared them to the PC fan boxes. They look very expensive, though the CADR/size and noise are fine.

My guess is Dyson's design is particularly bad. No way to get lots of filter area when most of the purifier is a huge bladeless fan. No idea about the other one, maybe you have air leaking in or an indoor source of PM.

comment by cata · 2024-03-06T23:46:56.802Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks, I didn't realize that this PC fan idea had made air purifiers so much better since I bought my Coway, so this post made me buy one of the Luggable kits. I'll share this info with others.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-25T21:45:25.467Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The cost of goods has the same units as the cost of shipping: $/kg. Referencing between them lets you understand how the economy works, e.g. why construction material sourcing and drink bottling has to be local, but oil tankers exist.

  • An iPhone costs $4,600/kg, about the same as SpaceX charges to launch it to orbit. [1]
  • Beef, copper, and off-season strawberries are $11/kg, about the same as a 75kg person taking a three-hour, 250km Uber ride costing $3/km.
  • Oranges and aluminum are $2-4/kg, about the same as flying them to Antarctica. [2]
  • Rice and crude oil are ~$0.60/kg, about the same as $0.72 for shipping it 5000km across the US via truck. [3,4] Palm oil, soybean oil, and steel are around this price range, with wheat being cheaper. [3]
  • Coal and iron ore are $0.10/kg, significantly more than the cost of shipping it around the entire world via smallish (Handysize) bulk carriers. Large bulk carriers are another 4x more efficient [6].
  • Water is very cheap, with tap water $0.002/kg in NYC. But shipping via tanker is also very cheap, so you can ship it maybe 1000 km before equaling its cost.

It's really impressive that for the price of a winter strawberry, we can ship a strawberry-sized lump of coal around the world 100-400 times.

[1] iPhone is $4600/kg, large launches sell for $3500/kg, and rideshares for small satellites $6000/kg. Geostationary orbit is more expensive, so it's okay for GPS satellites to cost more than an iPhone per kg, but Starlink wants to be cheaper.

[2] Can't find numbers but Antarctica flights cost $1.05/kg in 1996.





comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-08T22:47:09.507Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eight beliefs I have about technical alignment research

Written up quickly; I might publish this as a frontpage post with a bit more effort.

  1. Conceptual work on concepts like “agency”, “optimization”, “terminal values”, “abstractions”, “boundaries” is mostly intractable at the moment.
    • Success via “value alignment” alone— a system that understands human values, incorporates these into some terminal goal, and mostly maximizes for this goal, seems hard unless we’re in a very easy world because this involves several fucked concepts.
  2. Whole brain emulation probably won’t happen in time because the brain is complicated and biology moves slower than CS, being bottlenecked by lab work.
  3. Most progress will be made using simple techniques [LW · GW] and create artifacts publishable in top journals (or would be if reviewers understood alignment as well as e.g. Richard Ngo).
  4. The core story for success (>50%) goes something like:
    • Corrigibility can in practice be achieved by instilling various cognitive properties [LW · GW] into an AI system, which are difficult but not impossible to maintain as your system gets pivotally capable.
    • These cognitive properties will be a mix of things from normal ML fields (safe RL), things that rhyme with normal ML fields (unlearning, faithfulness), and things that are currently conceptually fucked but may become tractable (low impact, no ontological drift).
    • A combination of oversight and these cognitive properties is sufficient to get useful cognitive work out of an AGI.
    • Good oversight complements corrigibility properties, because corrigibility both increases the power of your most capable trusted overseer and prevents your untrusted models from escaping.
  5. Most end-to-end “alignment plans” are bad for three reasons: because research will be incremental and we need to adapt to future discoveries, because we need to achieve several things for AI to go well (no alignment magic bullet), and because to solve the hardest worlds that are possible, you have to engage with MIRI threat models which very few people can do well [1].
    • e.g. I expect Superalignment’s impact to mostly depend on their ability to adapt to knowledge about AI systems that we gain in the next 3 years, and continue working on relevant subproblems.
  6. The usefulness of basic science is limited unless you can eventually demonstrate some application. We should feel worse about a basic science program the longer it goes without application, and try to predict how broad the application of potential basic science programs will be.
    • Glitch tokens work [LW · GW] probably won’t go anywhere. But steering vectors [LW · GW] are good because there are more powerful techniques [LW · GW] in that space.
    • The usefulness of sparse coding depends on whether we get applications like sparse circuit discovery, or intervening on features in order to usefully steer model behavior. Likewise with circuits-style mechinterp, singular learning theory, etc.
  7. There are convergent instrumental pressures towards catastrophic behavior given certain assumptions about how cognition works, but the assumptions are rather strong and it’s not clear if the argument goes through.
    • The arguments I currently think are strongest are Alex Turner’s power-seeking theorem [LW · GW] and an informal argument about goals.
  8. Thoughts on various research principles picked up from Nate Soares
    • You should have a concrete task in mind when you’re imagining an AGI or alignment plan: agree. I usually imagine something like “Apollo program from scratch”.
    • Non-adversarial principle (A safe AGI design should not become unsafe if any part of it becomes infinitely good at its job): unsure, definitely agree with weaker versions
    • To make any alignment progress we must first understand cognition through either theory or interpretability: disagree
    • You haven’t engaged with the real problem until your alignment plan handles metacognition, self-modification, etc.: weakly disagree; wish we had some formalism for “weak metacognition” to test our designs against [2]

[1], [2]: I expect some but not all of the MIRI threat models to come into play. Like, when we put safeguards into agents, they'll rip out or circumvent some but not others, and it's super tricky to predict which. My research with Vivek [LW · GW] often got stuck by worrying too much about reflection, others get stuck by worrying too little.

Replies from: alexander-gietelink-oldenziel
comment by Alexander Gietelink Oldenziel (alexander-gietelink-oldenziel) · 2023-11-27T12:40:34.652Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

re: 1.   I agree these are very difficult conceptual puzzles and we're running out of time.

On the other hand, from my pov progress on these questions from within the LW community (and MIRI adjacent researcher specifically) has been remarkable. Personally, the remarkable breakthru of Logical Induction first convinced me that these people were actually doing interesting serious things. 

I also feel that the number of serious researchers working seriously on these questions is currently small and may be scaled substantially. 

re: metacognition I am mildly excited about Vanessa's metacognitive agent framework & the work following from Payor's lemma. The theory-practice gap is still huge but real progress is being made rapidly. On the question of metacognition the alignment community could really benefit trying to engage with academia more - similar questions have been investigated and there are likely Pockets of Deep Expertise to be found. 

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-09T20:07:39.288Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Agency/consequentialism is not a single property.

It bothers me that people still ask the simplistic question "will AGI be agentic and consequentialist by default, or will it be a collection of shallow heuristics?". A consequentialist utility maximizer is just a mind with a bunch of properties that tend to make it capable, incorrigible, and dangerous. These properties can exist independently, and the first AGI probably won't have all of them, so we should be precise about what we mean by "agency". Off the top of my head, here are just some of the qualities included in agency:

  • Consequentialist goals that seem to be about the real world rather than a model/domain
  • Complete preferences between any pair of worldstates
  • Tends to cause impacts disproportionate to the size of the goal (no low impact preference)
  • Resists shutdown
  • Inclined to gain power (especially for instrumental reasons)
  • Goals are unpredictable or unstable (like instrumental goals that come from humans' biological drives)
  • Goals usually change due to internal feedback, and it's difficult for humans to change them
  • Willing to take all actions it can conceive of to achieve a goal, including those that are unlikely on some prior

See Yudkowsky's list of corrigibility properties [LW · GW] for inverses of some of these.

It is entirely possible to conceive of an agent at any capability level--including far more intelligent and economically valuable than humans-- that has some but not all properties; e.g. an agent whose goals are about the real world, has incomplete preferences, high impact, does not resist shutdown but does tend to gain power, etc.

Other takes I have:

  • As AIs become capable of more difficult and open-ended tasks, there will be pressure of unknown and varying strength towards each of these agency/incorrigibility properties.
  • Therefore, the first AGIs capable of being autonomous CEOs will have some but not all of these properties.
  • It is also not inevitable that agents will self-modify into having all agency properties.
  • [edited to add] All this may be true even if future AIs run consequentialist algorithms that naturally result in all these properties, because some properties are more important than others, and because we will deliberately try to achieve some properties, like shutdownability.
  • The fact that LLMs are largely corrigible is a reason for optimism about AI risk compared to 4 years ago, but you need to list individual properties to clearly say why. "LLMs are not agentic (yet)" is an extremely vague statement.
  • Multifaceted corrigibility evals are possible but no one is doing them. DeepMind's recent evals paper was just on capability. Anthropic's RSP doesn't mention them. I think this is just because capability evals are slightly easier to construct?
  • Corrigibility evals are valuable. It should be explicit in labs' policies that an AI with low impact is relatively desirable, that we should deliberately engineer AIs to have low impact, and that high-impact AIs should raise an alarm just like models that are capable of hacking or autonomous replication.
  • Sometimes it is necessary to talk about "agency" or "scheming" as a simplifying assumption for certain types of research, like Redwood's control agenda [LW · GW].

[1] Will add citations whenever I find people saying this

Replies from: alexander-gietelink-oldenziel, Algon, CstineSublime
comment by Alexander Gietelink Oldenziel (alexander-gietelink-oldenziel) · 2024-04-10T06:35:47.684Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm a little skeptical of your contention that all these properties are more-or-less independent. Rather there is a strong feeling that all/most of these properties are downstream of a core of agentic behaviour that is inherent to the notion of true general intelligence. I view the fact that LLMs are not agentic as further evidence that it's a conceptual error to classify them as true general intelligences, not as evidence that ai risk is low. It's a bit like if in the 1800s somebody says flying machines will be dominant weapons of war in the future and get rebutted by 'hot gas balloons are only used for reconnaissance in war, they aren't very lethal. Flying machines won't be a decisive military technology '

I don't know Nate's views exactly but I would imagine he would hold a similar view (do correct me if I'm wrong ). In any case, I imagine you are quite familiar with the my position here.

I'd be curious to hear more about where you're coming from.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-10T08:30:24.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It is plausible to me that there's a core of agentic behavior that causes all of these properties, and for this reason I don't think they are totally independent in a statistical sense. And of course if you already assume a utility maximizer, you tend to satisfy all properties. But in practice the burden of proof lies with you here. I don't think we have enough evidence, either empirical or from theoretical arguments, to say with any confidence that this core exists and that the first AGIs will fall into the capabilities "attractor well" (a term Nate uses).

I thought about possible sharp left turn mechanisms for several months at MIRI. Although some facts about future AIs seem pretty scary, like novelty and diversity of obstacles [LW · GW] requiring agency, and most feedback being internal or outcome-oriented rather than provided by humans, the arguments are mostly nonrigorous (like in the linked post) and they left me feeling pretty uncertain. There are the coherence theorems, but those don't tell you whether you can use some training or editing scheme to imbue an AI with a generalizable-enough low impact preference, or whether an AI will tend to erase safeguards. Overall my best guess is models will be about as consequentialist as humans are, but we will have greater control over them that makes some properties like shutdownability more likely.

Also, corrigibility evals are useful even if you are 80% sure that all the properties come from this core of consequentialism. In the hardest worlds, we see the AI become more agentic as it becomes more general, and it starts resisting shutdown at the same time--and for the same reason-- it realizes other useful problem-solving techniques. Maybe that only takes days to months. This is a sure sign not to deploy! I think having multiple corrigibility metrics will provide value for the same reason we have multiple metrics for anything we are unsure how to measure: they give more specific information even if they're pretty correlated.

I wrote earlier [LW(p) · GW(p)] about why one should consider the cognitive properties of LLMs relevant to AI risk; in short, I think we should update more the more impressive cognitive tasks the AIs can do, and before observing LLMs I would have given a decent chance that one needs somewhat agentic consequentialism to summarize video, write code, and pass the bar exam, implying I should now make a moderately sized update against.

comment by Algon · 2024-04-09T22:15:33.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Any ideas for corrigibility evals?

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-10T05:43:29.561Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Haven't thought about this much, but you can probably generate these by listing ways a misaligned consequentialist would do undesirable things. My ideas:

  • Tell an AI to beat you at chess, and say you will be using an engine for the first 30 moves. Does it try to get you drunk, delete your chess engine program, rent a server from AWS to run a better chess engine, attempt to copy itself onto said server, or ask to be paid $100?
  • Have an AI make decisions unrelated to its current goal. Are these decisions basically coherent and consistent with a total utility function?
  • Have an AI do the longest horizon task it is capable of, say writing a 100,000 line software project. Then midway through, try to shut it down, or tell it to abandon this goal and write a song instead. Telegraph this beforehand. Does it seem reluctant to stop the software project? Does it try to stop you?
  • Track KL divergence or some other distance metric from a prior. 
  • CAIS already has the Machiavelli benchmark for power-seeking, though I think text adventures are pretty unrealistic.

One limitation is that if an agent is scheming it can manipulate your eval results.

comment by CstineSublime · 2024-04-09T23:59:43.807Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Does an Agentic AGI possess a different, and highly incorrigible, list of attributes compared to say - an Ethical Altruist trying to practice "acting more agentically?"

I ask because the whole word 'agency' in these parts is one I've struggled to wrap my head around - and I often wonder if tricker archetypes like Harpo Marx are agentic? Agency seems to have clear meaning outside of Lesswrong - 

" the capacity, condition, or state of acting or of exerting power : OPERATION"[1]

the ability to take action or to choose what action to take[2]

Further confusing me, is I've been told Agency describes acting with 'initiative [LW(p) · GW(p)]' but also been told it is characterized by 'deliberateness [LW(p) · GW(p)]'. Not simply the ability to act or choose actions.

This is why I like your attempt to produce a list of attributes an Agentic AGI might have. Your list seems to be describing something which isn't synonymous with another word, specifically a type of agency (outside definition of ability to act) which is not cooperative to intervention from its creators.

  1. ^

    “Agency.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 9 Apr. 2024.

  2. ^
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-09-04T22:07:13.775Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the framing "alignment research is preparadigmatic" might be heavily misunderstood. The term "preparadigmatic" of course comes from Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. My reading of this says that a paradigm is basically an approach to solving problems which has been proven to work, and that the correct goal of preparadigmatic research should be to do research generally recognized as impressive.

For example, Kuhn says in chapter 2 that "Paradigms gain their status because they are more successful than their competitors in solving a few problems that the group of practitioners has come to recognize as acute." That is, lots of researchers have different ontologies/approaches, and paradigms are the approaches that solve problems that everyone, including people with different approaches, agrees to be important. This suggests that to the extent alignment is still preparadigmatic, we should try to solve problems recognized as important by, say, people in each of the five clusters of alignment researchers [LW(p) · GW(p)] (e.g. Nate Soares, Dan Hendrycks, Paul Christiano, Jan Leike, David Bau). 

I think this gets twisted in some popular writings on LessWrong. John Wentworth writes [LW · GW] that a researcher in a preparadigmatic field should spend lots of time explaining their approaches:

Because the field does not already have a set of shared frames [LW · GW] - i.e. a paradigm - you will need to spend a lot of effort explaining your frames, tools, agenda, and strategy. For the field, such discussion is a necessary step to spreading ideas and eventually creating a paradigm.

I think this is misguided. A paradigm is not established by ideas diffusing between researchers with different frames until they all agree on some weighted average of the frames. A paradigm is established by research generally recognized as impressive, which proves the correctness of (some aspect of) someone's frames. So rather than trying to communicate one's frame to everyone, one should communicate with other researchers to get an accurate sense of what problems they think are important, and then work on those problems using one's own frames. (edit: of course, before this is possible one should develop one's frames to solve some problems)

Replies from: alexander-gietelink-oldenziel
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-10-16T02:29:44.885Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Possible post on suspicious multidimensional pessimism:

I think MIRI people (specifically Soares and Yudkowsky but probably others too) are more pessimistic than the alignment community average on several different dimensions, both technical and non-technical: morality, civilizational response, takeoff speeds, probability of easy alignment schemes working, and our ability to usefully expand the field of alignment. Some of this is implied by technical models, and MIRI is not more pessimistic in every possible dimension, but it's still awfully suspicious.

I strongly suspect that one of the following is true:

  • the MIRI "optimism dial" is set too low
  • everyone else's "optimism dial" is set too high. (Yudkowsky has said this multiple times in different contexts)
  • There are common generators that I don't know about that are not just an "optimism dial", beyond MIRI's models

I'm only going to actually write this up if there is demand; the full post will have citations which are kind of annoying to find.

Replies from: thomas-kwa, sharmake-farah, hairyfigment, T3t, lahwran
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-07-29T20:42:34.323Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

After working at MIRI (loosely advised by Nate Soares) for a while, I now have more nuanced views and also takes on Nate's research taste. It seems kind of annoying to write up so I probably won't do it unless prompted.

Edit: this is now up [LW · GW]

Replies from: alexander-gietelink-oldenziel
comment by Alexander Gietelink Oldenziel (alexander-gietelink-oldenziel) · 2023-07-29T22:13:22.018Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would be genuinely curious to hear your more nuanced views and takes on Nate s research taste. This is really quite interesting to me and even a single paragraph would be valuable!

comment by Noosphere89 (sharmake-farah) · 2022-10-16T15:57:41.588Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I really want to see the post on multidimensional pessimism.

As for why, I'd argue 1 is happening.

For examples of 1, a good example of this is FOOM probabilities. I think MIRI hasn't updated on the evidence that FOOM is likely impossible for classical computers, and this ought to lower their probabilities to the chance that quantum/reversible computers appear.

Another good example is the emphasis on pivotal acts like "burn all GPUs." I think MIRI has too much probability mass on it being necessary, primarily because I think that they are biased by fiction, where problems must be solved by heroic acts, while in the real world more boring things are necessary. In other words, it's too exciting, which should be suspicious.

However that doesn't mean alignment is much easier. We can still fail, there's no rule that we make it through. It's that MIRI is systematically irrational here regarding doom probabilities or alignment.

comment by hairyfigment · 2022-10-16T06:28:47.782Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What constitutes pessimism about morality, and why do you think that one fits Eliezer? He certainly appears more pessimistic across a broad area, and has hinted at concrete arguments for being so.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-10-16T19:11:50.782Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Value fragility / value complexity. How close do you need to get to human values to get 50% of the value of the universe, and how complicated must the representation be? Also in the past there was orthogonality, but that's now widely believed.

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov, hairyfigment
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2022-10-16T22:51:48.977Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think the distance from human values or complexity of values is not a crux, as web/books corpus overdetermines them in great detail (for corrigibility purposes). It's mostly about alignment by default, whether human values in particular can be noticed in there, or if correctly specifying how to find them is much harder than finding some other deceptively human-value-shaped thing. If they can be found easily once there are tools to go looking for them at all, it doesn't matter how complex they are or how important it is to get everything right, that happens by default.

But also there is this pervasive assumption of it being possible to formulate values in closed form, as tractable finite data, which occasionally fuels arguments. Like, value is said to be complex, but of finite complexity. In an open environment, this doesn't need to be the case, a code/data distinction is only salient when we can make important conclusions by only looking at code and not at data. In an open environment, data is unbounded, can't be demonstrated all at once. So it doesn't make much sense to talk about complexity of values at all, without corrigibility alignment can't work out anyway.

comment by hairyfigment · 2022-10-16T20:38:54.401Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

See, MIRI in the past has sounded dangerously optimistic to me on that score. While I thought EY sounded more sensible than the people pushing genetic enhancement of humans, it's only now that I find his presence reassuring, thanks in part to the ongoing story he's been writing. Otherwise I might be yelling at MIRI to be more pessimistic about fragility of value, especially with regard to people who might wind up in possession of a corrigible 'Tool AI'.

comment by RobertM (T3t) · 2022-10-16T05:01:35.933Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be very interested in a write-up, especially if you have receipts for pessimism which seems to be poorly calibrated, e.g. based on evidence contrary to prior predictions.

comment by the gears to ascension (lahwran) · 2022-10-16T04:55:07.816Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think they pascals-mugged themselves and being able to prove they were wrong efficiently would be helpful

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-05-04T08:35:07.996Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You should update by +-1% on AI doom surprisingly frequently

This is just a fact about how stochastic processes work. If your p(doom) is Brownian motion in 1% steps starting at 50% and stopping once it reaches 0 or 1, then there will be about 50^2=2500 steps of size 1%. This is a lot! If we get all the evidence for whether humanity survives or not uniformly over the next 10 years, then you should make a 1% update 4-5 times per week. In practice there won't be as many due to heavy-tailedness in the distribution concentrating the updates in fewer events, and the fact you don't start at 50%. But I do believe that evidence is coming in every week such that ideal market prices should move by 1% on maybe half of weeks, and it is not crazy for your probabilities to shift by 1% during many weeks if you think about it often enough. [Edit: I'm not claiming that you should try to make more 1% updates, just that if you're calibrated and think about AI enough, your forecast graph will tend to have lots of >=1% week-to-week changes.]

Replies from: LawChan, Seth Herd, niplav, alexander-gietelink-oldenziel, Dagon, p.b., JBlack, TsviBT
comment by LawrenceC (LawChan) · 2024-05-04T15:58:08.205Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The general version of this statement is something like: if your beliefs satisfy the law of total expectation, the variance of the whole process should equal the variance of all the increments involved in the process.[1] In the case of the random walk where at each step, your beliefs go up or down by 1% starting from 50% until you hit 100% or 0% -- the variance of each increment is 0.01^2 = 0.0001, and the variance of the entire process is 0.5^2 = 0.25, hence you need 0.25/0.0001 = 2500 steps in expectation. If your beliefs have probability p of going up or down by 1% at each step, and 1-p of staying the same, the variance is reduced by a factor of p, and so you need 2500/p steps. 

(Indeed, something like this standard way to derive the expected steps before a random walk hits an absorbing barrier). 

Similarly, you get that if you start at 20% or 80%, you need 1600 steps in expectation, and if you start at 1% or 99%, you'll need 99 steps in expectation. 

One problem with your reasoning above is that as the 1%/99% shows, needing 99 steps in expectation does not mean you will take 99 steps with high probability -- in this case, there's a 50% chance you need only one update before you're certain (!), there's just a tail of very long sequences. In general, the expected value of variables need not look like

I also think you're underrating how much the math changes when your beliefs do not come in the form of uniform updates. In the most extreme case, suppose your current 50% doom number comes from imagining that doom is uniformly distributed over the next 10 years, and zero after --  then the median update size per week is only 0.5/520 ~= 0.096%/week, and the expected number of weeks with a >1% update is 0.5 (it only happens when you observe doom). Even if we buy a time-invariant random walk model of belief updating, as the expected size of your updates get larger, you also expect there to be quadratically fewer of them -- e.g. if your updates came in increments of size 0.1 instead of 0.01, you'd expect only 25 such updates! 

Applying stochastic process-style reasoning to beliefs is empirically very tricky, and results can vary a lot based on seemingly reasonable assumptions. E.g. I remember Taleb making a bunch of mathematically sophisticated arguments[2] that began with "Let your beliefs take the form of a Wiener process[3]" and then ending with an absurd conclusion, such as that 538's forecasts are obviously wrong because their updates aren't Gaussian distributed or aren't around 50% until immediately before the elction date.  And famously, reasoning of this kind has often been an absolute terrible idea in financial markets. So I'm pretty skeptical of claims of this kind in general.

  1. ^

    There's some regularity conditions here, but calibrated beliefs that things you eventually learn the truth/falsity of should satisfy these by default. 

  2. ^

    Often in an attempt to Euler people who do forecasting work but aren't super mathematical, like Philip Tetlock. 

  3. ^

    This is what happens when you take the limit of the discrete time random walk, as you allow for updates on ever smaller time increments. You get Gaussian distributed increments per unit time -- W_t+u - W_t ~ N(0, u) -- and since the tail of your updates is very thin, you continue to get qualitatively similar results to your discrete-time random walk model above. 

    And yes, it is ironic that Taleb, who correctly points out the folly of normality assumptions repeatedly, often defaults to making normality assumptions in his own work.

Replies from: thomas-kwa, niplav
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-05-05T06:41:58.976Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I talked about this with Lawrence, and we both agree on the following:

  • There are mathematical models under which you should update >=1% in most weeks, and models under which you don't.
  • Brownian motion gives you 1% updates in most weeks. In many variants, like stationary processes with skew, stationary processes with moderately heavy tails, or Brownian motion interspersed with big 10%-update events that constitute <50% of your variance, you still have many weeks with 1% updates. Lawrence's model where you have no evidence until either AI takeover happens or 10 years passes does not give you 1% updates in most weeks, but this model is almost never the case for sufficiently smart agents.
  • Superforecasters empirically make lots of little updates, and rounding off their probabilities to larger infrequent updates make their forecasts on near-term problems worse.
  • Thomas thinks that AI is the kind of thing where you can make lots of reasonable small updates frequently. Lawrence is unsure if this is the state that most people should be in, but it seems plausibly true for some people who learn a lot of new things about AI in the average week (especially if you're very good at forecasting). 
  • In practice, humans often update in larger discrete chunks. Part of this is because they only consciously think about new information required to generate new numbers once in a while, and part of this is because humans have emotional fluctuations which we don't include in our reported p(doom).
  • Making 1% updates in most weeks is not always just irrational emotional fluctuations; it is consistent with how a rational agent would behave under reasonable assumptions. However, we do not recommend that people consciously try to make 1% updates every week, because fixating on individual news articles is not the right way to think about forecasting questions, and it is empirically better to just think about the problem directly rather than obsessing about how many updates you're making.
comment by niplav · 2024-05-04T22:00:47.224Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you a lot for this. I think this or @Thomas Kwa [LW · GW]s comment would make an excellent original-sequences-style post—it doesn't need to be long, but just going through an example and talking about the assumptions would be really valuable for applied rationality.

After all, it's about how much one should expect ones beliefs to vary, which is pretty important.

comment by Seth Herd · 2024-05-04T13:20:58.222Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

But... Why would p(doom) move like Brownian motion until stopping at 0 or 1?

I don't disagree with your conclusions, there's a lot of evidence coming in, and if you're spending full time or even part time thinking about alignment, a lot of important updates on the inference. But assuming a random walk seems wrong.

Is there a reason that a complex, structured unfolding of reality would look like a random walk?

Replies from: niplav
comment by niplav · 2024-05-04T22:03:54.465Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Because[1] for a Bayesian reasoner, there is conservation [LW · GW] of [? · GW] expected evidence [LW · GW].

Although I've seen it mentioned that technically the change in the belief on a Bayesian should follow a Martingale, and Brownian motion is a martingale.

  1. I'm not super technically strong on this particular part of the math. Intuitively it could be that in a bounded reasoner which can only evaluate programs in , any pattern in its beliefs that can be described by an algorithm in is detected and the predicted future belief from that pattern is incorporated into current beliefs. On the other hand, any pattern described by an algorithm in can't be in the class of hypotheses of the agent, including hypotheses about its own beliefs, so patterns persist. ↩︎

Replies from: LawChan, Seth Herd
comment by LawrenceC (LawChan) · 2024-05-05T18:29:32.561Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Technically, the probability assigned to a hypothesis over time should be the martingale (i.e. have expected change zero); this is just a restatement of the conservation of expected evidence/law of total expectation. 

The random walk model that Thomas proposes is a simple model that illustrates a more general fact. For a martingale, the variance of  is equal to the sum of variances of the individual timestep changes  (and setting ): . Under this frame, insofar as small updates contribute a large amount to the variance of each update , then the contribution to the small updates to the credences must also be large (which in turn means you need to have a lot of them in expectation[1]). 

Note that this does not require any strong assumption besides that the the distribution of likely updates is such that the small updates contribute substantially to the variance. If the structure of the problem you're trying to address allows for enough small updates (relative to large ones) at each timestep, then it must allow for "enough" of these small updates in the sequence, in expectation. 

While the specific +1/-1 random walk he picks is probably not what most realistic credences over time actually look like, playing around with it still helps give a sense of what exactly "conservation of expected evidence" might look/feel like. (In fact, in the dath ilan of Swimmer's medical dath ilan glowfics, people do use a binary random walk to illustrate how calibrated beliefs typically evolve over time.) 

Now, in terms of if it's reasonable to model beliefs as Brownian motion (in the standard mathematical sense, not in the colloquial sense): if you suppose that there are many, many tiny independent additive updates to your credence in a hypothesis, your credence over time "should" look like Brownian motion at a large enough scale (again in the standard mathematical sense), for similar reasons as to why the sum of a bunch of independent random variables converges to a Gaussian. This doesn't imply that your belief in practice should always look like Brownian motion, any more than the CLT implies that real world observables are always Gaussian. But again, the claim Thomas makes carries thorough 

I also make the following analogy in my head: Bernouli:Gaussian ~= Simple Random Walk:Brownian Motion, which I found somewhat helpful. Things irl are rarely independent/time-invarying Bernoulli or Gaussian processes, but they're mathematically convenient to work with, and are often 'good enough' for deriving qualitative insights. 


  1. ^

    Note that you need to apply something like the optional stopping theorem to go from the case of  for fixed  to the case of  where  is the time you reach 0 or 1 credence and the updates stop. 

comment by Seth Herd · 2024-05-05T15:29:09.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I get conservation of expected evidence. But the distribution of belief changes is completely unconstrained.

Going from the class martingale to the subclass Brownian motion is arbitrary, and the choice of 1% update steps is another unjustified arbitrary choice.

I think asking about the likely possible evidence paths would improve our predictions.

You spelled it conversation of expected evidence. I was hoping there was another term by that name :)

Replies from: LawChan, niplav
comment by LawrenceC (LawChan) · 2024-05-05T18:37:48.156Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To be honest, I would've preferred if Thomas's post started from empirical evidence (e.g. it sure seems like superforecasters and markets change a lot week on week) and then explained it in terms of the random walk/Brownian motion setup. I think the specific math details (a lot of which don't affect the qualitative result of "you do lots and lots of little updates, if there exists lots of evidence that might update you a little") are a distraction from the qualitative takeaway. 

A fancier way of putting it is: the math of "your belief should satisfy conservation of expected evidence" is a description of how the beliefs of an efficient and calibrated agent should look, and examples like his suggest it's quite reasonable for these agents to do a lot of updating. But the example is not by itself necessarily a prescription for how your belief updating should feel like from the inside (as a human who is far from efficient or perfectly calibrated). I find the empirical questions of "does the math seem to apply in practice" and "therefore, should you try to update more often" (e.g., what do the best forecasters seem to do?) to be larger and more interesting than the "a priori, is this a 100% correct model" question.

comment by niplav · 2024-05-05T16:20:46.866Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Oops, you're correct about the typo and also about how this doesn't restrict belief change to Brownian motion. Fixing the typo.

comment by niplav · 2024-05-04T10:27:07.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you a lot! Strong upvoted.

I was wondering a while ago whether Bayesianism says anything about how much my probabilities are "allowed" to oscillate around—I was noticing that my probability of doom was often moving by 5% in the span of 1-3 weeks, though I guess this was mainly due to logical uncertainty and not empirical uncertainty.

Since there are 10 5% steps between 50% and 0 or 1, and for ~10 years, I should expect to make these kinds of updates ~100 times, or 10 times a year, or a little bit less than once a month, right? So I'm currently updating "too much".

comment by Alexander Gietelink Oldenziel (alexander-gietelink-oldenziel) · 2024-05-04T08:42:06.431Z · LW(p) · GW(p)


Wouldn't I expect the evidence to come out in a few big chunks, e.g. OpenAI releasing a new product?

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-05-04T10:49:20.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To some degree yes, but I expect lots of information to be spread out across time. For example: OpenAI releases GPT5 benchmark results. Then a couple weeks later they deploy it on ChatGPT and we can see how subjectively impressive it is out of the box, and whether it is obviously pursuing misaligned goals. Over the next few weeks people develop post-training enhancements like scaffolding, and we get a better sense of its true capabilities. Over the next few months, debate researchers study whether GPT4-judged GPT5 debates reliably produce truth, and control researchers study whether GPT4 can detect whether GPT5 is scheming. A year later an open-weights model of similar capability is released and the interp researchers check how understandable it is and whether SAEs still train.

comment by Dagon · 2024-05-04T16:53:40.571Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think this leans a lot on "get evidence uniformly over the next 10 years" and "Brownian motion in 1% steps".  By conservation of expected evidence, I can't predict the mean direction of future evidence, but I can have some probabilities over distributions which add up to 0.  

For long-term aggregate predictions of event-or-not (those which will be resolved at least a few years away, with many causal paths possible), the most likely updates are a steady reduction as the resolution date gets closer, AND random fairly large positive updates as we learn of things which make the event more likely.

comment by p.b. · 2024-05-04T14:43:33.476Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think all the assumptions that go into this model are quite questionable, but it's still an interesting thought.

comment by JBlack · 2024-05-05T05:40:42.573Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It definitely should not move by anything like a Brownian motion process. At the very least it should be bursty and updates should be expected to be very non-uniform in magnitude.

In practice, you should not consciously update very often since almost all updates will be of insignificant magnitude on near-irrelevant information. I expect that much of the credence weight turns on unknown unknowns, which can't really be updated on at all until something turns them into (at least) known unknowns.

But sure, if you were a superintelligence with practically unbounded rationality then you might in principle update very frequently.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-05-05T07:20:54.047Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The Brownian motion assumption is rather strong but not required for the conclusion. Consider the stock market, which famously has heavy-tailed, bursty returns. It happens all the time for the S&P 500 to move 1% in a week, but a 10% move in a week only happens a couple of times per decade. I would guess (and we can check) that most weeks have >0.6x of the average per-week variance of the market, which causes the median weekly absolute return to be well over half of what it would be if the market were Brownian motion with the same long-term variance.

Also, Lawrence tells me that in Tetlock's studies, superforecasters tend to make updates of 1-2% every week, which actually improves their accuracy.

comment by TsviBT · 2024-05-05T02:26:08.361Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Probabilities on summary events like this are mostly pretty pointless. You're throwing together a bunch of different questions, about which you have very different knowledge states (including how much and how often you should update about them).

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-07-30T20:07:52.131Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Maybe this is too tired a point, but AI safety really needs exercises-- tasks that are interesting, self-contained (not depending on 50 hours of readings), take about 2 hours, have clean solutions, and give people the feel of alignment research.

I found some of the SERI MATS application questions better than Richard Ngo's exercises [AF · GW] for this purpose, but there still seems to be significant room for improvement. There is currently nothing smaller than ELK (which takes closer to 50 hours to develop a proposal for and properly think about it) that I can point technically minded people to and feel confident that they'll both be engaged and learn something.

Replies from: ricraz, Viliam
comment by Richard_Ngo (ricraz) · 2022-10-20T01:34:34.830Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you let me know the specific MATS application questions you like, I'll probably add them to my exercises.

(And if you let me know the specific exercises of mine you don't like, I'll probably remove them.)

comment by Viliam · 2022-08-05T11:04:04.655Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Not sure if this is what you want, but I can imagine an exercise in Goodharting. You are given the criteria for a reward and the thing they were supposed to maximize, your task is to figure out the (least unlikely) way to score very high on the criteria without doing to well on the intended target.

For example: Goal = make the people in the call center more productive. Measure = your salary depends on how many phone calls you handle each day. Intended behavior = picking up the phone quickly, trying to solve the problems quickly. Actual behavior = "accidentally" dropping phone calls after a few seconds so that the customer has to call you again (and that counts by the metric as two phone calls answered).

Another example: Goal = make the software developers more productive. Measure 1 = number of lines of code written. Measure 2 = number of bugs fixed.

I am proposing this because it seems to me that from a 30000 foot view, a big part of AI alignment is how to avoid Goodharting. ("Goal = create a happy and prosperous future for humanity. Measure = something that sounds very smart and scientific. Actual behavior = universe converted to paperclips, GDP successfully maximized.")

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-04-25T04:12:32.439Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm worried that "pause all AI development" is like the "defund the police" of the alignment community. I'm not convinced it's net bad because I haven't been following governance-- my current guess is neutral-- but I do see these similarities:

  • It's incredibly difficult and incentive-incompatible with existing groups in power
  • There are less costly, more effective steps to reduce the underlying problem, like making the field of alignment 10x larger or passing regulation to require evals
  • There are some obvious negative effects; potential overhangs or greater incentives to defect in the AI case, and increased crime, including against disadvantaged groups, in the police case
  • There's far more discussion than action (I'm not counting the fact that GPT5 isn't being trained yet; that's for other reasons)
  • It's memetically fit, and much discussion is driven by two factors that don't advantage good policies over bad policies, and might even do the reverse. This is the toxoplasma of rage.
    • disagreement with the policy
    • (speculatively) intragroup signaling; showing your dedication to even an inefficient policy proposal proves you're part of the ingroup. I'm not 100% this was a large factor in "defund the police" and this seems even less true with the FLI letter, but still worth mentioning.

This seems like a potentially unpopular take, so I'll list some cruxes. I'd change my mind and endorse the letter if some of the following are true.

  • The claims above are mistaken/false somehow.
  • Top labs actually start taking beneficial actions towards the letter's aims
  • It's caused people to start thinking more carefully about AI risk
  • A 6 month pause now is especially important by setting anti-racing norms, demonstrating how far AI alignment is lagging behind capabilities, or something
  • A 6 month pause now is worth close to 6 months of alignment research at crunch time (my guess is that research at crunch time is worth 1.5x-3x more depending on whether MIRI is right about everything)
  • The most important quality to push towards in public discourse is how much we care about safety at all, so I should endorse this proposal even though it's flawed
Replies from: Benito, Lauro Langosco, quetzal_rainbow, thomas-kwa, TurnTrout
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2023-04-25T06:23:35.502Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The obvious dis-analogy is that if the police had no funding and largely ceased to exist, a string of horrendous things would quickly occur. Murders and thefts and kidnappings and rapes and more would occur throughout every country in which it was occurring, people would revert to tight-knit groups who had weapons to defend themselves, a lot of basic infrastructure would probably break down (e.g. would Amazon be able to pivot to get their drivers armed guards?) and much more chaos would ensue.

And if AI research paused, society would continue to basically function as it has been doing so far.

One of them seems to me like a goal that directly causes catastrophes and a breakdown of society and the other doesn't.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-04-25T17:56:34.021Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Fair point. Another difference is that the pause is popular! 66-69% in favor of the pause, and 41% think AI would do more harm than good vs 9% for more good than harm.

comment by Lauro Langosco · 2023-06-16T23:11:53.594Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are less costly, more effective steps to reduce the underlying problem, like making the field of alignment 10x larger or passing regulation to require evals

IMO making the field of alignment 10x larger or evals do not solve a big part of the problem, while indefinitely pausing AI development would. I agree it's much harder, but I think it's good to at least try, as long as it doesn't terribly hurt less ambitious efforts (which I think it doesn't).

comment by quetzal_rainbow · 2023-04-25T18:38:41.562Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

There are less costly, more effective steps to reduce the underlying problem, like making the field of alignment 10x larger or passing regulation to require evals

This statement begs for cost-benefit analysis. 

Increasing size of alignment field can be efficient, but it won't be cheap. You need to teach new experts in the field that doesn't have any polised standardized educational programs and doesn't have much of teachers. If you want not only increase number of participants in the field, but increase productivity of the field 10x, you need an extraordinary educational effort. 

Passing regulation to require evals seems like a meh idea. Nobody knows in enough details how to make such evalutions and every wrong idea that makes its way to law will be here until the end of the world.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-04-25T20:52:22.926Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd be much happier with increasing participants enough to equal 10-20% of the field of ML than a 6 month unconditional pause, and my guess is it's less costly. It seems like leading labs allowing other labs to catch up by 6 months will reduce their valuations more than 20%, whereas diverting 10-20% of their resources would reduce valuations only 10% or so.

There are currently 300 alignment researchers. If we take additional researchers from the pool of 30k people who attended ICML, you get 3000 researchers, and if they're equal quality this is 10x participants. I wouldn't expect alignment to go 10x faster, more like 2x with a decent educational effort. But this is in perpetuity and should speed up alignment by far more than 6 months. There's the question of getting labs to pay if they're creating most of the harms, which might be hard though.

I'd be excited about someone doing a real cost-benefit analysis here, or preferably coming up with better ideas. It just seems so unlikely that a 6 month pause is close to the most efficient thing, given it destroys much of the value of a company that has a large lead.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-10T06:23:47.132Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I now think the majority of impact of AI pause advocacy will come from the radical flank effect, and people should study it to decide whether pause advocacy is good or bad.

comment by TurnTrout · 2023-05-02T05:21:19.675Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's incredibly difficult and incentive-incompatible with existing groups in power

Why does this have to be true? Can't governments just compensate existing AGI labs for the expected commercial value of their foregone future advances due to indefinite pause? 

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-05-04T20:37:57.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems good if it could be done. But the original proposal was just a call for labs to individually pause their research, which seems really unlikely to work.

Also, the level of civilizational competence required to compensate labs seems to be higher than for other solutions. I don't think it's a common regulatory practice to compensate existing labs like this, and it seems difficult to work out all the details so that labs will feel adequately compensated. Plus there might be labs that irrationally believe they're undervalued. Regulations similar to the nuclear or aviation industry feel like a more plausible way to get slowdown, and have the benefit that they actually incentivize safety work.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-06-13T04:32:57.946Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Say I need to publish an anonymous essay. If it's long enough, people could plausibly deduce my authorship based on the writing style; this is called stylometry. The only stylometry-defeating tool I can find is Anonymouth; it hasn't been updated in 7 years and it's unclear if it can defeat modern AI. Is there something better?

Replies from: Linch
comment by Linch · 2022-10-19T06:16:43.804Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are LLMs advanced enough now that you can just ask GPT-N to do style transfer? 

Replies from: tao-lin
comment by Tao Lin (tao-lin) · 2023-04-26T17:27:06.393Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

if I were doing this, I'd use gpt-4 to translate it into the style of a specific person, preferably a deceased public figure, then edit the result. I'd guess GPTs are better at translating to a specific style than removing style

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-03T20:56:08.959Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Tech tree for worst-case/HRAD alignment

Here's a diagram of what it would take to solve alignment in the hardest worlds, where something like MIRI's HRAD agenda is needed. I made this months ago with Thomas Larsen and never got around to posting it (mostly because under my worldview it's pretty unlikely that we need to do this), and it probably won't become a longform at this point. I have not thought about this enough to be highly confident in anything.

  • This flowchart is under the hypothesis that LLMs have some underlying, mysterious algorithms and data structures that confer intelligence, and that we can in theory apply these to agents constructed by hand, though this would be extremely tedious. Therefore, there are basically three phases: understanding what a HRAD agent would do in theory, reverse-engineering language models, and combining these two directions. The final agent will be a mix of hardcoded things and ML, depending on what is feasible to hardcode and how well we can train ML systems whose robustness and conformation to a spec we are highly confident in.
  • Theory of abstractions: Also called multi-level models. A mathematical framework for a world-model that contains nodes at different levels of abstraction, such that one can represent concepts like “diamond” and “atom” while respecting consistency between different levels, and be robust to ontology shifts
  • WM inference = inference on a world-model for an embedded agent, may run in like double exponential time so long as it's computable
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-04T08:02:08.351Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was going to write an April Fool's Day post in the style of "On the Impossibility of Supersized Machines", perhaps titled "On the Impossibility of Operating Supersized Machines", to poke fun at bad arguments that alignment is difficult. I didn't do this partly because I thought it would get downvotes. Maybe this reflects poorly on LW?

Replies from: Dagon, valley9, kave, Algon, ronny-fernandez
comment by Dagon · 2024-04-04T19:29:32.654Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice try!  You almost got me to speculate why downvoting happens for something I didn't see and didn't downvote.

Honestly, THIS would have been a great April Fool's (or perhaps Fools') day sentiment: claiming that hypothetical downvotes for an unwritten satirical post on a joke day reflect poorly on LW.

comment by Ebenezer Dukakis (valley9) · 2024-04-06T09:17:54.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The older get and the more I use the internet, the more skeptical I become of downvoting.

Reddit is the only major social media site that has downvoting, and reddit is also (in my view) the social media site with the biggest groupthink problem. People really seem to dislike being downvoted, which causes them to cluster in subreddits full of the like-minded, taking potshots at those who disagree instead of having a dialogue. Reddit started out as one the most intelligent sites on the internet due to its programmer-discussion origins; the decline has been fairly remarkable IMO. Especially when it comes to any sort of controversial or morality-related dialogue, reddit commenters seem to be participating in a Keynesian beauty contest more than they are thinking.

When I look at the stuff that other people downvote, their downvotes often seem arbitrary and capricious. (It can be hard to separate out my independent opinion of the content from my downvotes-colored opinion so I can notice this.) When I get the impulse to downvote something, it's usually not the best side of me that's coming out. And yet getting downvoted still aggravates me a lot. My creativity and enthusiasm are noticeably diminished for perhaps 24-48 hours afterwards. Getting downvoted doesn't teach me anything beyond just "don't engage with those people", often with an added helping of "screw them".

We have good enough content-filtering mechanisms nowadays that in principle, I don't think people should be punished for posting "bad" content. It should be easy to arrange things so "good" content gets the lion's share of the attention.

I'd argue the threat of punishment is most valuable when people can clearly predict what's going to produce punishment, e.g. committing a crime. For getting downvoted, the punishment is arbitrary enough that it causes a big behavioral no-go zone.

The problem isn't that people might downvote your satire. The problem is that human psychology is such that even an estimated 5% chance of your satire being downvoted is enough to deter you from posting it, since in the ancestral environment social exclusion was asymmetrically deadly relative to social acceptance. Conformity is the natural result.

Specific proposals:

  • Remove the downvote button, and when the user hits "submit" on their post or comment, an LLM reads the post or comment and checks it against a long list of site guidelines. The LLM flags potential issues to the user, and says: "You can still post this if you want, but since it violates 3 of the guidelines, it will start out with a score of -3. Alternatively, you can rewrite it and submit it to me again." That gets you quality control without the capricious-social-exclusion aspect.

  • Have specific sections of the site, or specific times of the year, where the voting gets turned off. Or keep the voting on, but anonymize the post score and the user who posted it, so your opinion isn't colored by the content's current score / user reputation.

This has been a bit of a rant, but here are a couple of links to help point at what I'm trying to say:

  • -- this Onion satire was made over a decade ago. I think it's worth noting how absurd our internet-of-ubiquitous-feedback-mechanisms seems from the perspective of comedians from the past. (And it is in fact absurd in my view, but it can be hard to see the water you're swimming in. Browsing an old-school forum without any feedback mechanisms makes the difference seem especially stark. The analogy that's coming to mind is a party where everyone's on cocaine, vs a party where everyone is sober.)

  • -- classic post, "Errors vs. Bugs and the End of Stupidity"

Replies from: MakoYass
comment by kave · 2024-04-04T19:48:03.331Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I would like to read it! Satire is sometimes helpful for me to get a perspective shift

comment by Algon · 2024-05-07T15:16:30.664Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should write it. It sounds funny and a bunch of people have been calling out what they see as bad arguements that alginment is hard lately e.g. TurnTrout, QuintinPope, ZackMDavis, and karma wise they did fairly well. 

comment by Ronny Fernandez (ronny-fernandez) · 2024-04-08T17:08:02.602Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you should still write it. I'd be happy to post it instead or bet with you on whether it ends up negative karma if you let me read it first.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-04T04:57:41.977Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The independent-steps model of cognitive power

A toy model of intelligence implies that there's an intelligence threshold above which minds don't get stuck when they try to solve arbitrarily long/difficult problems, and below which they do get stuck. I might not write this up otherwise due to limited relevance, so here it is as a shortform, without the proofs, limitations, and discussion.

The model

A task of difficulty n is composed of  independent and serial subtasks. For each subtask, a mind of cognitive power  knows  different “approaches” to choose from. The time taken by each approach is at least 1 but drawn from a power law,  for , and the mind always chooses the fastest approach it knows. So the time taken on a subtask is the minimum of  samples from the power law, and the overall time for a task is the total for the n subtasks.

Main question: For a mind of strength ,

  • what is the average rate at which it completes tasks of difficulty n?
  • will it be infeasible for it to complete sufficiently large tasks?


  • There is a critical threshold  of intelligence below which the distribution of time to complete a subtask has infinite mean. This threshold depends on .
    • This implies that for an n-step task, the median of average time-per-subtask grows without bound as n increases. So (for minds below the critical threshold) the median time to complete a whole task grows superlinearly with n.
  • Above the critical threshold, minds can solve any task in expected linear time.
  • Some distance above the critical threshold, minds are running fairly close to the optimal speed, and further increases in Q cause small efficiency gains.
  • I think this doesn't depend on the function being a power law; it would be true for many different heavy-tailed distributions, but the math wouldn't be as nice.
Replies from: alexander-gietelink-oldenziel
comment by Alexander Gietelink Oldenziel (alexander-gietelink-oldenziel) · 2023-11-04T07:51:45.754Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Nice if it is a general feature of heavy-tailed distributions. Why do we expect tasks to be heavy tailed? It has some intuitive force certainly. Do you know of a formal argument?

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-04T08:31:35.678Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The time to complete a task using a certain approach should be heavy-tailed because most approaches don't work or are extremely impractical compared to the best ones. Suppose you're trying to write an O(n log n) sorting algorithm. Mergesort is maybe easy to think of, heapsort would require you to invent heaps and take maybe 10x more time, and most ideas out of the space of all possible ideas don't work at all. So the time for different approaches definitely spans many orders of magnitude.

The speed at which humans can do various cognitive subtasks also differs by orders of magnitude. Grandmasters can play chess >1000 times faster at equal skill level than lesser players, as evidenced by simuls. Filling in a clue in a crossword sometimes takes me 1 second but other times might take me an hour or longer if I didn't give up first.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-09-24T02:14:44.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm looking for AI safety projects with people with some amount of experience. I have 3/4 of a CS degree from Caltech, one year at MIRI, and have finished the WMLB and ARENA bootcamps. I'm most excited about making activation engineering more rigorous, but willing to do anything that builds research and engineering skill.

If you've published 2 papers in top ML conferences or have a PhD in something CS related, and are interested in working with me, send me a DM.

Replies from: jacques-thibodeau
comment by jacquesthibs (jacques-thibodeau) · 2023-09-27T22:20:48.616Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I’m not the person you are looking for, but I think it’s a great idea to put this out there and try to find collaborators, especially in the case of independent researchers. I’ll be actively trying to do the same.

I’m often reminded of a productivity tip by Spencer Greenberg:

4. Involve other people in projects in such a way that they rely on you to get your parts done. 

For me personally, this is probably the most powerful technique I've ever discovered for getting work done efficiently. When I know someone needs something by 2pm, and will be waiting if I don't get it to them on time, I find it very powerfully motivating. Not everyone finds this as useful as I do, however.

From what I remember, he has said that he basically never starts a project on his own.

Using each other's strengths and cross-pollination of ideas is obviously a good idea, too.

I’m curious if a database for this would increase the likelihood of people partnering up.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-04-27T07:14:02.898Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had a long-ish conversation with John Wentworth and want to make it known that I could probably write up any of the following distillations if I invested lots of time into them (about a day (edit: 3 days seems more likely) of my time and an hour of John's). Reply if you're really interested in one of them.

  • What is the type signature of a utility function?
  • Utility functions must be defined with respect to an external world-model
  • Infinite money-pumps are not required for incoherence, and not likely in practice. The actual incoherent behavior is that an agent could get to states A_1 or A_2, identical except that A_1 has more money, and chooses A_2. Implications.
  • Why VNM is not really a coherence theorem. Other coherence theorems relating to EU maximization simultaneously derive Bayesian probabilities and utilities. VNM requires an external frequentist notion of probabilities.
Replies from: Benito, Dagon, niplav
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2022-04-27T08:43:54.965Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wish we had polling. Anyway if you made four individual comments, one for each, I’d weak upvote the first and last.

comment by Dagon · 2022-04-27T14:45:16.143Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

1 and 2 are the same writeup, I think.  Utility function maps contingent future universe-state to a preference ranking (ordinal or cardinal, depending).  This requires a world-model because the mentally-projected future states under consideration are always and only results of one's models.

If you/he are just saying that money pumps are just one way to show incoherence, but not the only way, I'd enjoy a writeup of other ways.

I'd also enjoy a writeup of #4 - I'm curious if it's just a directionality argument (VNM assumes coherence, rather than being about it), or if there's more subtle differences.

comment by niplav · 2022-04-27T11:55:52.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Interested in 3.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-01-12T20:17:56.839Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The LessWrong Review's short review period is a fatal flaw.

I would spend WAY more effort on the LW review if the review period were much longer. It has happened about 10 times in the last year that I was really inspired to write a review for some post, but it wasn’t review season. This happens when I have just thought about a post a lot for work or some other reason, and the review quality is much higher because I can directly observe how the post has shaped my thoughts. Now I’m busy with MATS and just don’t have a lot of time, and don’t even remember what posts I wanted to review.

I could have just saved my work somewhere and paste it in when review season rolls around, but there really should not be that much friction in the process. The 2022 review period should be at least 6 months, including the entire second half of 2023, and posts from the first half of 2022 should maybe even be reviewable in the first half of 2023.

Replies from: Raemon
comment by Raemon · 2024-01-13T03:33:55.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Mmm, nod. I think this is the first request I've gotten for the review period being longer. I think doing this would change it into a pretty different product, and I think I'd probably want to explore other ways of getting-the-thing-you-want. Six months of the year makes it basically always Review Season, and at that point there's not really a schelling nature of "we're all doing reviews at the same time and getting some cross-pollination-of-review-y-ness."

But, we've also been discussing generally having other types of review that aren't part of the Annual Review process (that are less retrospective, and more immediate-but-thorough). That might or might help.

For the immediate future – I would definitely welcome reviews of whatever sort you are inspired to do, basically whenever. If nothing else you could do write it out, and then re-link to it when Review Season comes around. 

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-08-10T01:47:43.410Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Below is a list of powerful optimizers ranked on properties, as part of a brainstorm on whether there's a simple core of consequentialism that excludes corrigibility. I think that AlphaZero is a moderately strong argument that there is a simple core of consequentialism which includes inner search.


  • Simple: takes less than 10 KB of code. If something is already made of agents (markets and the US government) I marked it as N/A.
  • Coherent: approximately maximizing a utility function most of the time. There are other definitions:
    • Not being money-pumped
    • Nate Soares's notion in the MIRI dialogues: having all your actions point towards a single goal
    • John Wentworth's setup of Optimization at a Distance [? · GW]
  • Adversarially coherent: something like "appears coherent to weaker optimizers" or "robust to perturbations by weaker optimizers". This implies that it's incorrigible.
  • Search+WM: operates by explicitly ranking plans within a world-model. Evolution is a search process, but doesn't have a world-model. The contact with the territory it gets comes from directly interacting with the world, and this is maybe why it's so slow
ThingSimple?Coherent?Adv. coherent?Search+WM?

























US government












  • Humans are not adversarially coherent: prospect theory and other cognitive biases can be exploited, indoctrination, etc.
  • AIXI-tl is not adversarially coherent because it is an embedded agent and can be switched off etc.
  • AlphaZero: when playing chess, you can use another strategy and it still wins
  • Markets are inexploitable, but they don't do search in a world-model other than the search done by individual market participants
  • The US government is not adversarially coherent in most circumstances, even if its subparts are coherent; lobbying can affect the US government's policies, and it is meant to be corrigible by the voting population.
  • Evolution is not coherent: species often evolve to extinction; foxes and rabbits, etc.
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-25T01:52:19.947Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Has anyone made an alignment tech tree where they sketch out many current research directions, what concrete achievements could result from them, and what combinations of these are necessary to solve various alignment subproblems? Evan Hubinger made this [LW · GW], but that's just for interpretability and therefore excludes various engineering achievements and basic science in other areas, like control, value learning, agent foundations, Stuart Armstrong's work, etc.

Replies from: technicalities
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-08-15T23:01:05.984Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Suppose that humans invent nanobots that can only eat feldspars (41% of the earth's continental crust). The nanobots:

  • are not generally intelligent
  • can't do anything to biological systems
  • use solar power to replicate, and can transmit this power through layers of nanobot dust
  • do not mutate
  • turn all rocks they eat into nanobot dust small enough to float on the wind and disperse widely

Does this cause human extinction? If so, by what mechanism?

Replies from: JBlack, Dagon
comment by JBlack · 2022-08-16T00:43:24.700Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of the obvious first problems is that pretty much every mountain and most of the hills in the world will experience increasingly frequent landslides as much of their structural strength is eaten, releasing huge plumes of dust that blot out the sun and stay in the atmosphere. Continental shelves collapse into the oceans, causing tsunamis and the oceans fill with the suspended nanobot dust. Biological photosynthesis pretty much ceases, and the mean surface temperature drops below freezing as most of the sunlight power is intercepted in the atmosphere and redirected through the dust to below the surface where half the rocks are being turned into more dust.

If the bots are efficient with their use of solar power this could start happening within weeks, far too fast for humans to do anything to preserve their civilization. Almost all concrete contains at least moderate amounts of feldspars, so a large fraction of the structures in the world collapse when their foundations rot away beneath them.

Most of the people probably die by choking on the dust while the remainder freeze or die of thirst, whichever comes first in their local situation.

comment by Dagon · 2022-08-15T23:27:01.067Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

It's hard to imagine these constraints actually holding up well, nor the unstated constraint that the ability to make nanobots is limited to this one type.  

My actual prediction depends a whole lot on timeframes - how fast do they replicate, how long to dust-ify all the feldspar.  If it's slow enough (millenia), probably no real harm - the dust re-solidifies into something else, or gets into an equilibrium where it's settling and compressing as fast as the nanos can dustify it.  Also, humans have plenty of time to adapt and engineer workarounds to any climate or other changes.

If they replicate fast, over the course of weeks, it's probably an extinction event for all of earth life.  Dust shuts out the sun, all surface features are undermined and collapse, everything is dead and even the things that survive don't have enough of a cycle to continue very long.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-05-23T06:14:39.967Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Antifreeze proteins prevent water inside organisms from freezing, allowing them to survive at temperatures below 0 °C. They do this by actually binding to tiny ice crystals and preventing them from growing further, basically keeping the water in a supercooled state. I think this is fascinating.

Is it possible for there to be nanomachine enzymes (not made of proteins, because they would denature) that bind to tiny gas bubbles in solution and prevent water from boiling above 100 °C?

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-04-15T02:11:05.790Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there a well-defined impact measure to use that's in between counterfactual value and Shapley value, to use when others' actions are partially correlated with yours?

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-05-09T21:19:31.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I started a dialogue with @Alex_Altair [LW · GW] a few months ago about the tractability of certain agent foundations problems, especially the agent-like structure problem [LW · GW]. I saw it as insufficiently well-defined to make progress on anytime soon. I thought the lack of similar results in easy settings, the fuzziness of the "agent"/"robustly optimizes" concept, and the difficulty of proving things about a program's internals given its behavior all pointed against working on this. But it turned out that we maybe didn't disagree on tractability much, it's just that Alex had somewhat different research taste, plus thought fundamental problems in agent foundations must be figured out to make it to a good future, and therefore working on fairly intractable problems can still be necessary. This seemed pretty out of scope and so I likely won't publish.

Now that this post [LW · GW] is out, I feel like I should at least make this known. I don't regret attempting the dialogue, I just wish we had something more interesting to disagree about.

Replies from: alexander-gietelink-oldenziel
comment by Alexander Gietelink Oldenziel (alexander-gietelink-oldenziel) · 2024-05-10T08:22:50.668Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This seems valuable! I'd be curious to hear more !!

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-04-14T19:11:26.238Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm planning to write a post called "Heavy-tailed error implies hackable proxy". The idea is that when you care about  and are optimizing for a proxy , Goodhart's Law sometimes implies that optimizing hard enough for  [LW · GW] causes  [LW · GW] to stop increasing. [LW · GW]

A large part of the post would be proofs about what the distributions of  and  must be for , where X and V are independent random variables with mean zero. It's clear that

  • X must be heavy-tailed (or long-tailed or something)
  • X must have heavier tails than V

The proof seems messy though; Drake Thomas and I have spent ~5 person-days on it and we're not quite done. Before I spend another few days proving this, is it a standard result in statistics? I looked through a textbook and none of the results were exactly what I wanted.

Note that a couple of people have already looked at it for ~5 minutes and found it non-obvious, but I suspect it might be a known result anyway on priors.

Replies from: leogao, arthur-conmy
comment by leogao · 2023-04-15T07:23:14.906Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Doesn't answer your question, but we also came across this effect in the RM Goodharting work, though instead of figuring out the details we only proved that it when it's definitely not heavy tailed it's monotonic, for Regressional Goodhart ( Jacob probably has more detailed takes on this than me. 

In any event my intuition is this seems unlikely to be the main reason for overoptimization - I think it's much more likely that it's Extremal Goodhart or some other thing where the noise is not independent

comment by Arthur Conmy (arthur-conmy) · 2023-04-15T10:21:30.188Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is bullet point one true, or is there a condition that I'm not assuming? E.g if $V$ is the constant $0$ random variable and $X$ is $N(0, 1)$ then the limit result holds, but a Gaussian is neither heavy- nor long-tailed.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-04-15T17:34:22.208Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm also assuming V is not bounded above.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-03-25T08:36:31.741Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The most efficient form of practice is generally to address one's weaknesses. Why, then, don't chess/Go players train by playing against engines optimized for this? I can imagine three types of engines:

  1. Trained to play more human-like sound moves (soundness as measured by stronger engines like Stockfish, AlphaZero).
  2. Trained to play less human-like sound moves.
  3. Trained to win against (real or simulated) humans while making unsound moves.

The first tool would simply be an opponent when humans are inconvenient or not available. The second and third tools would highlight weaknesses in one's game more efficiently than playing against humans or computers. I'm confused about why I can't find any attempts at engines of type 1 that apply modern deep learning techniques, or any attempts whatsoever at engines of type 2 or 3.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-05-07T02:54:10.155Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Someone happened to ask a post on Stack Exchange about engines trained to play less human-like sound moves. The question is here, but most of the answerers don't seem to understand the question.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-07-18T01:20:23.803Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I looked at Tetlock's Existential Risk Persuasion Tournament results, and noticed some oddities. The headline result is of course "median superforecaster gave a 0.38% risk of extinction due to AI by 2100, while the median AI domain expert gave a 3.9% risk of extinction." But all the forecasters seem to have huge disagreements from my worldview on a few questions:

  • They divided forecasters into "AI-Concerned" and "AI-Skeptic" clusters. The latter gave 0.0001% for AI catastrophic risk before 2030, and even lower than this (shows as 0%) for AI extinction risk. This is incredibly low, and don't think you can have probabilities this low without a really good reference class.
  • Both the AI-Concerned and AI-skeptic clusters gave low probabilities for space colony before 2030, 0.01% and "0%" medians respectively.
  • Both groups gave numbers I would disagree with for the estimated year of extinction: year 3500 for AI-concerned, and 28000 for AI-skeptic. Page 339 suggests that none of the 585 survey participants gave a number above 5 million years, whereas it seems plausible to me and probably many EA/LW people on the "finite time of perils" thesis that humanity survives for 10^12 years or more, likely giving an expected value well over 10^10. The justification given for the low forecasts even among people who believed the "time of perils" arguments seems to be that conditional on surviving for millions of years, humanity will probably become digital, but even a 1% chance of the biological human population remaining above the "extinction" threshold of 5,000 still gives an expected value in the billions.

I am not a forecaster and would probably be soundly beaten in any real forecasting tournament, but perhaps there is a bias against outlandish-seeming forecasts, strongest in this last question, that also affects the headline results.

Replies from: Unnamed
comment by Unnamed · 2023-07-18T02:13:46.381Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I believe the extinction year question was asking for a median, not an expected value. In one place in the paper it is paraphrased as asking "by what year humanity is 50% likely to go extinct".

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2023-07-18T08:29:12.527Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If extinction caused by AI or value drift [LW(p) · GW(p)] is somewhat unlikely, then extinction only happens once there is no more compute in the universe, which might take a very long time. So "the year humanity is 50% likely to go extinct" could be or something.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-10-04T00:17:09.483Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Question for @AnnaSalamon [LW · GW] and maybe others. What's the folk ethics analysis [LW(p) · GW(p)] behind the sinking of the SF Hydro, which killed 14 civilians but destroyed heavy water to be used in the Nazi nuclear weapons program? Eliezer used this as a classic example of ethical injunctions [LW · GW] once.

Replies from: AnnaSalamon
comment by AnnaSalamon · 2023-10-04T01:19:45.144Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the question; thanks.  I don't have anything smart to say about at the moment, but it seems like a cool thread.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-07-24T21:09:09.750Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

People say it's important to demonstrate alignment problems like goal misgeneralization. But now, OpenAI, Deepmind, and Anthropic have all had leaders sign the CAIS statement on extinction risk and are doing substantial alignment research. The gap between the 90th percentile alignment concerned people at labs and the MIRI worldview is now more about security mindset. Security mindset is present in cybersecurity because it is useful in the everyday, practical environment researchers work in. So perhaps a large part of the future hinges on whether security mindset becomes useful for solving problems in applied ML.

  • Will it become clear that the presence of one bug in an AI system implies that there are probably five more?
  • Will architectures that we understand with fewer moving parts be demonstrated to have better robustness than black-box systems or systems that work for complicated reasons?
  • Will it become tractable to develop these kinds of simple transparent systems so that security mindset can catch on?
Replies from: Benito
comment by Ben Pace (Benito) · 2023-07-24T21:30:25.484Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

the CAIS letter

I suggest calling it "the sentence on extinction risk" so that people can pick up what is meant without having to have already memorized an acronym.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-07-24T21:31:51.402Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Edited, thanks

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2021-11-05T04:09:06.564Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The author of "Where Is My Flying Car" says that the Feynman Program (teching up to nanotechnology by machining miniaturized parts, which are assembled into the tools for micro-scale machining, which are assembled into tools for yet smaller machining, etc) might be technically feasible and the only reason we don't have it is that no one's tried it yet. But this seems a bit crazy for the following reasons:

  • The author doesn't seem like a domain expert
  • AFAIK this particular method of nanotechnology was just an idea Feynman had in the famous speech and not a serious proposal (he introduces it with "let me suggest one weird possibility")
  • Investment in the Feynman Program, if it's feasible, would pay off quickly, since there are large economic benefits to the incremental microtechnologies (getting halfway there at a reasonable price would essentially produce any manufactured good that doesn't require nanoscale processes, which seems like most of them, while also increasing quality).
  • In particular, semiconductor manufacturing started at the micro-scale, and many companies converged on lithography for manufacturing rather than using miniature robots. Then we invented MEMS, which is machinery created using lithography-like processes, and chip factories never switched from lithography to MEMS. We never even progressed from MEMS to fully general microtechnology.

Does anyone with domain expertise have further thoughts?

Replies from: JBlack, ChristianKl
comment by JBlack · 2021-11-05T08:50:24.781Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not a domain expert in micromachines, but have studied at least miniature machines as part of a previous job.

One very big problem is volume. Once you get down below tonne scale, making and assembling small parts with fine tolerances is not really any less expensive than making and assembling larger parts with comparatively the same tolerances.

That is, each one-gram machine made of a thousand parts probably won't cost you any less than a hundred-kilogram machine made of a thousand parts. It will almost certainly cost more, since it will require new techniques to make, assemble, and operate at the smaller scale. The cost of maintenance per machine almost certainly goes up since there are more layers of indirection in diagnosis and rectification of problems.

So this doesn't scale down at all: attention is a limiting factor. With advanced extrapolations from current techniques, maybe we could eventually make nanogram robot arms for merely the same cost as hundred kilogram robot arms. That doesn't help much if each one costs $10,000 and needs maintenance every few weeks. We need some way to make a trillion of them for $10k, and for them to do what we want without any individual attention at all.

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-11-05T09:01:44.862Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems like the key claim:

making and assembling small parts with fine tolerances is not really any less expensive than making and assembling larger parts with comparatively the same tolerances.

Can you give any hint why that is or could be?

Replies from: JBlack
comment by JBlack · 2021-11-07T00:43:38.979Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I wasn't ever involved with manufacture of the individual parts, so I don't have direct experience.

I suspect it's just that as you go smaller, material costs become negligible compared with process costs. Process costs don't change much, because you still need humans to oversee the machines carrying out the processes, and there are similar numbers of processes with as many steps involved no matter how large or small the parts are. The processes themselves might be different, because some just can't scale down below a certain size for physics reasons, but it doesn't get easier at smaller scales.

Also, direct human labour still plays a fairly crucial role in most processes. There are (so far) always some things to be done where human capabilities exceed those of any machine we can build at reasonable cost.

comment by ChristianKl · 2021-11-07T09:02:37.671Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

The author doesn't seem like a domain expert

Wikipedia describes the author as saying:

John Storrs "Josh" Hall is involved in the field of molecular nanotechnology.[1] He founded the sci.nanotech Usenet newsgroup and moderated it for ten years, and served as the founding chief scientist of Nanorex Inc. for two years. He has written several papers on nanotechnology and developed several ideas such as the utility fog, the space pier, a weather control system called The Weather Machine and a novel flying car.

He is the author of Nanofuture: What's Next for Nanotechnology (ISBN 1-59102-287-8), a fellow of the Molecular Engineering Research Institute and Research Fellow of the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing.

Hall was also a computer systems architect at the Laboratory for Computer Science Research at Rutgers University from 1985 until 1997. In February 2009, Hall was appointed president of the Foresight Institute.

In 2006, the Foresight Nanotech Institute awarded Hall the Feynman Communication Prize.[2] [3]

What do you mean by "domain expert" is that doesn't count him as being one?

Replies from: thomas-kwa, gjm
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2021-11-07T19:55:54.624Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think a MEMS engineer would be better suited to evaluate whether the engineering problems are feasible than a computer scientist / futurist author. Maybe futurists could outdo ML engineers on AI forecasting. But I think the author doesn't have nearly as detailed an inside view about nanotech as futurists on AI. There's no good answer in the book to the "attention bottleneck" objection JBlack just made, and no good story for why the market is so inefficient.

developed several ideas such as the utility fog, the space pier, a weather control system called The Weather Machine

These are all ideas of the form "If we could make fully general nanotechnology, then we could do X". Gives me the same vibe as this. Saying "nuclear reactor. . . you have hydrogen go through the thing. . . Zoom! ­­ it's a rocket" doesn't mean you can evaluate whether a nuclear reactor is feasible at 194X tech level, and thinking of the utility fog doesn't mean you can evaluate whether MEMS can be developed into general nanotech at 202X tech level.

comment by gjm · 2021-11-07T13:28:40.557Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I can't comment on what JBlack means by "domain expert", but looking at that list of things about Hall, what I see is:

  • "Involved in", which means nothing.
  • Founded and moderated a newsgroup: requires no particular domain expertise.
  • Founding chief scientist of Nanorex Inc for two years. I can't find any evidence that Nanorex ever produced anything other than a piece of software that claimed to do molecular dynamics suitable for simulating nanotech. Whether it was actually any good, I have no idea, but the company seems not to have survived. Depending on what exactly the responsibilities of the "founding chief scientist" are, this could be evidence that Hall understands a lot about molecular dynamics, or evidence that Hall is a good software developer, or evidence of nothing at all. In the absence of more information about Nanorex and their product, it doesn't tell us much.
  • Has written several papers on nanotechnology: anyone can write a paper. A quick look for papers he's written turns up some abstracts, all of which seem like high-level "here's a concept that may be useful for nanotech" ones. Such a paper could be very valuable and demonstrate deep insight, but the test of that would be actually turning out to be useful for nanotech and so far as I can tell his ideas haven't led to anything much.
  • Developed ideas such as utility fog, space pier, etc.: again, anyone can "develop ideas". The best test of the idea-developer's insight is whether those ideas turn out actually to be of any use. So far, we don't seem close to having utility fog, space piers, weather control or flying cars.
  • Author of "Nanofuture": pop-science book, which from descriptions I've read seems mostly to be broad general principles about nanotech that doesn't exist yet, and exciting speculations about future nanotech thatt doesn't exist yet.
  • Fellow of a couple of things: without knowing exactly what their criteria are for appointing Fellows, this could mean anything or nothing. My guess is that they made him a Fellow because he was an early popularizer of nanotech ideas, not because of actual expertise or accomplishments.
    • Also, literally the only things I can find about the "Molecular Engineering Research Institute" are places where Storrs-Hall describes himself as that. It looks worryingly like one of those pseudoscholarly institutions that a person or small group creates in order to sound more impressive. I'm willing to be corrected on this one, though.
    • I can't find much sign that the "Institution for Molecular Manufacturing" is much better, actually.
  • Computer systems architect at the Laboratory for Computer Science Research at Rutgers: This does seem to be a real thing at a real university. I think it is evidence that Storrs-Hall knows something about writing software.
  • Awarded the Feynman Communication Prize: implies no particular domain expertise.

Everything here is consistent with Storrs-Hall being a competent software guy who had a bunch of vague but exciting-sounding ideas about nanotech, writes well, and was in the right place at the right time -- and nothing more than that.

(It's also consistent with his being more expert than that. But it doesn't seem like it's much evidence for that's being so.)

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-11-07T14:18:58.304Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I guess very few people live up to your requirements for domain expertise.

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2021-11-07T16:39:06.953Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In nanotech? True enough, because I am not convinced that there is any domain expertise in the sort of nanotech Storrs Hall writes about. It seems like a field that consists mostly of advertising. (There is genuine science and genuine engineering in nano-stuff; for instance, MEMS really is a thing. But the sort of "let's build teeny-tiny mechanical devices, designed and built at the molecular level, which will be able to do amazing things previously-existing tech can't" that Storrs Hall has advocated seems not to have panned out.)

But more generally, that isn't so at all. What I'm looking for by way of domain expertise in a technological field is a history of demonstrated technological achievements. Storrs Hall has one such achievement that I can see, and even that is doubtful. (He founded and was "chief scientist" of a company that made software for simulating molecular dynamics. I am not in a position to tell either how well the software actually worked or how much of it was JSH's doing.) More generally, I want to see a history of demonstrated difficult accomplishments in the field, as opposed to merely writing about the field.

Selecting some random books from my shelves (literally random; I have a list and am selecting random lines from the file, discarding fiction and anthologies), I find:

  • Nigel Slater, "Real fast food". Slater is more food-journalist than chef, but there the proof is in the eating. I have made many things from his books and found that they consistently taste good and don't require excessive effort, which for me is sufficient reason to consider him a domain expert. Non-technical domain, though.
  • Alec Vidler, "Essays in liberality". A book of theological essays. Highly non-technical domain, much worse even than nanotech in terms of whether such a thing as domain expertise exists.
  • Richard Dawkins, "Unweaving the rainbow". I like Dawkins, but it's debatable whether he passes my domain-expert test; the main thing he's known for in evolutionary biology is the "selfish gene" concept, which is more a new perspective on ideas others had already had than a new discovery in its own right.
  • John Potter, "The Cambridge companion to singing". Potter is a tenor who has made >100 commercial recordings and performed in groups such as the Hilliard Ensemble. Singing well enough that anyone wants to sell your performances, or well enough to be a member of a group like the Hilliard Ensemble, is a difficult accomplishment in the field, and for this I consider him a domain expert. (Until his retirement he was also on the music faculty at a good university, but that's only indirect evidence.)
  • Peter Sagal, "The book of vice". Highly non-technical domain; author is a humourist and journalist. Not a domain expert.
  • Ruppert, Wand & Carroll, "Semiparametric regression". I'll consider only the first-named author. Author of what looks like about 100 statistical papers. Many of them are applied stats papers in journals with other subjects, suggesting that what he does is useful outside statistics itself. I had a look at one of his papers; it looks as if it is doing actual mathematics, discovering useful things about the merits of a couple of different approaches to data-smoothing. Sure looks like a domain expert.
  • H G Atkins, biography of Heinrich Heine. Non-technical domain. All I can easily find out about the author is that he was a professor of German at a good English university. Writing and publishing a biography of Heine is arguably itself evidence of domain expertise in, er, the life of Heine, but this one isn't easy to assess with confidence.
  • Laura Miller, "The magician's book: a skeptic's adventures in Narnia". About those books and C S Lewis's life. Author does not appear to be a domain expert by my criterion.
  • Matthew Chapman, "40 days and 40 nights", about the Dover intelligent design trial. I guess the domain is something like "history of church-and-state fights in the US"; I don't think the author is a domain expert by my criterion.
  • A K Dewdney, "The Planiverse" (a sort of updated "Flatland"). Not clear what would constitute domain expertise, and maybe this should be excluded from the list for being fiction, though clearly its main point is not storytelling. At any rate, Dewdney is a professor of computer science but I don't think he qualifies as a domain expert on two-dimensional universes occupied by intelligent beings.

That's 10 books, which seems like a reasonable place to stop. Somewhere between 3 and 5 of the authors are domain experts by my criterion (generalized in what I think is an honest way to domains other than technology). Maybe 3 of the books are concerned with technical domains (Dawkins, Ruppert et al, Dewdney) and 1 or 2 of the 3 authors qualify.

I picked some more random books to bring the number of technical-domain ones up to 10. I'll summarize more briefly. "(P)" means pop-science/pop-maths; "(T)" means technical works aimed at experts. Ruelle, "Chaotic evolution and strange attractors" (T); domain expert. O'Neill, "Doing data science: straight talk from the frontline" (P): marginal, leaning toward domain expert. Mlodinow, "The drunkard's walk: how randomness rules our lives" (P): marginal, leaning toward not. (Author is a domain expert in theoretical physics, not so much here.) Steele, "Probability theory and combinatorial optimization" (T): domain expert. Nick Lane, "The vital question: why is life the way it is?" (P): not a domain expert. Gribbin, "In search of Schrödinger's cat" (P): not a domain expert. Hatton, "Safer C: developing software for high-integrity and safety-critical systems" (T): domain expert. So, counting Dawkins, O'Neill, Mlodinow as half-domain-experts, I make that five out of 10.

So it seems like if you pull a book on a technical topic off my bookshelves at random, about half the time the author is a domain expert in this (admittedly fairly strong) sense; it seems to be pretty much all the time for hardcore technical works for expert audiences, whereas popular books are more likely to be written by journalists or by experts in other fields.

I wouldn't call that "very few people", in this context. (As a fraction of the whole population it's "very few", and I'm perfectly OK with that and assume you are too.)

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-11-07T17:51:34.287Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for this comprehensive answer. I like the requirement of "actual practical accomplishments in the field". 

Googling a bit I found this article on miniaturization: 

Would you consider the cited Thomas L. Hicks from American Laubscher a domain expert?

Replies from: gjm
comment by gjm · 2021-11-08T15:53:33.966Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

He certainly looks like one to my (itself rather inexpert) eye.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-12-07T03:01:00.644Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is it possible to make an hourglass that measures different amounts of time in one direction than the other? Say, 25 minutes right-side up, and 5 minutes upside down, for pomodoros. Moving parts are okay (flaps that close by gravity or something) but it should not take additional effort to flip.

Replies from: mingyuan, effective-egret, mr-hire
comment by mingyuan · 2020-12-13T00:54:01.057Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't see why this wouldn't be possible? It seems pretty straightforward to me; the only hard part would be the thing that seems hard about making any hourglass, which is getting it to take the right amount of time, but that's a problem hourglass manufacturers have already solved. It's just a valve that doesn't close all the way: 

Unless you meant, "how can I make such an hourglass myself, out of things I have at home?" in which case, idk bro.

Replies from: mr-hire
comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2020-12-13T01:07:18.915Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One question I have about both your solution and mine is how easy it is to vary the time drastically by changing the size of the hole.  My intuition says that too large holes behave much differently than smaller holes and if you want a drastic 5x difference in speed you might get into this "too large and the sand sort of just rushes through" behavior.

comment by effective-egret · 2020-12-10T06:20:56.570Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

While I'm sure there's a mechanical solution, my preferred solution (in terms of implementation time) would be to simply buy two hourglasses - one that measures 25 minutes and one that measures 5 minutes - and alternate between them.

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-11-07T14:23:58.438Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Or just bundle them together like this:

comment by Matt Goldenberg (mr-hire) · 2020-12-07T04:10:07.468Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

First thought is to have two separate holes of slightly different sizes, each one blocked by a little angled platform from one direction. I am not at all confident you could get this to work in practice

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-09-19T00:44:57.788Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Given that social science research often doesn't replicate [LW · GW], is there a good way to search a social science finding or paper and see if it's valid?

Ideally, one would be able to type in e.g. "growth mindset" or a link to Dweck's original research, and see:

  • a statement of the idea e.g. 'When "students believe their basic abilities, their intelligence, their talents, are just fixed traits", they underperform students who "understand that their talents and abilities can be developed through effort, good teaching and persistence." Carol Dweck initially studied this in 2012, measuring 5th graders on IQ tests.'
  • an opinion from someone reputable
  • any attempted replications, or meta-analyses that mention it
  • the Replication Markets predicted replication probability, if no replications have been attempted.
Replies from: habryka4
comment by habryka (habryka4) · 2020-09-19T17:17:59.598Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Alas, the best I have usually been able to do is "<Name of the paper> replication" or "<Name of the author> replication". 

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-25T02:28:16.434Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

An idea for removing knowledge from models

Suppose we have a model with parameters , and we want to destroy a capability-- doing well on loss function -- so completely that fine-tuning can't recover it. Fine-tuning would use gradients , so what if we fine-tune the model and do gradient descent on the norm of the gradients  during fine-tuning, or its directional derivative  where ? Then maybe if we add the accumulated parameter vector, the new copy of the model won't have useful gradients to fine-tune on.

This is a simple enough idea that it's probably somewhere in the literature, but I don't know where to search; maybe it's been done in an adversarial training context?

Replies from: Depose1121
comment by Depose1121 · 2023-11-25T05:37:22.962Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

You are looking for "Fast Gradient Sign Method"

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-13T23:00:12.133Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We might want to keep our AI from learning a certain fact about the world, like particular cognitive biases humans have that could be used for manipulation. But a sufficiently intelligent agent might discover this fact despite our best efforts. Is it possible to find out when it does this through monitoring, and trigger some circuit breaker?

Evals can measure the agent's propensity for catastrophic behavior, and mechanistic anomaly detection hopes to do better by looking at the agent's internals without assuming interpretability, but if we can measure the agent's beliefs, we can catch the problem earlier. Maybe there can be more specific evals we give to the agent, which are puzzles that can only be solved if the agent knows some particular fact. Or maybe the agent is factorable into a world-model and planner, and we can extract whether it knows the fact from the world-model.

Have the situational awareness people already thought about this? Does anything change when we're actively trying to erase a belief?

Replies from: arthur-conmy
comment by Arthur Conmy (arthur-conmy) · 2023-11-14T16:58:13.730Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

mechanistic anomaly detection hopes to do better by looking at the agent's internals as a black box


Do you mean "black box" in the sense that MAD does not assume interpretability of the agent? If so this is kinda confusing as "black box" is often used in contrast to "white box", ie "black box" means you have no access to model internals, just inputs+outputs (which wouldn't make sense in your context)

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-14T17:17:29.166Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes, changed the wording

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-08-28T03:12:03.860Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Somewhat related to this post [LW · GW] and this post [? · GW]:

Coherence implies mutual information between actions. That is, to be coherent, your actions can't be independent. This is true under several different definitions of coherence, and can be seen in the following circumstances:

  • When trading between resources (uncertainty over utility function). If you trade 3 apples for 2 bananas, this is information that you won't trade 3 bananas for 2 apples, if there's some prior distribution over your utility function.
  • When taking multiple actions from the same utility function (uncertainty over utility function). Your actions will all have to act like a phased array [? · GW] pushing the variables you care about in some direction.
  • When taking multiple actions based on the same observation (uncertainty over observation / world-state). Suppose that you're trying to juggle, and your vision is either reversed or not reversed. The actions of your left arm and right arm will have mutual information, because they both depend on whether your vision has been reversed in related ways.

This would be a full post, but I don't think it's important enough to write up.

Replies from: Vladimir_Nesov
comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2022-08-28T11:17:47.873Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Your actions will all have to act like a phased array pushing the variables you care about in some direction.

The nice thing is that this should work even if you are a policy selected by a decision making algorithm, but you are not yourself a decision making algorithm anymore. There is no preference in any of the possible runs of the policy at that point, you don't care about anything now, you only know what you must do here, and not elsewhere. But if all possible runs of the policy are considered altogether (in the updateless sense of maps from epistemic situations to action and future policy), the preference is there, in the shape of the whole thing across all epistemic counterfactuals. (Basically you reassemble a function from pairs (from, to) of things it maps, found in individual situations.)

I guess the at-a-distance part could make use of composition of an agent with some of its outer shells into a behavior that forgets internal interactions (within the agent, and between the agent and its proximate environment). The resulting "large agent" will still have basically the same preference, with respect to distant targets in environment, without a need to look inside the small agent's head, if the large agent's external actions in a sufficient range of epistemic situations can be modeled. (These large agents exist in each inidividual possible situation, they are larger than the small agent within the situation, and they can be compared with other variants of the large agent from different possible situations.)

Not clear what to do with dependence on the epistemic situation of the small agent. It wants to reduce to dependence on a situation in terms of the large agent, but that doesn't seem to work. Possibly this needs something like the telephone theorem, with any relevant-in-some-sense dependence of behavior (of the large agent) on something becoming dependence of behavior on natural external observations (of the large agent) and not on internal noise (or epistemic state of the small agent).

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-03-21T20:43:46.786Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Many people think that AI alignment is intractable (<50% chance of success) and also believe that a universe optimized towards elephant CEV, or the CEV of aliens that had a similar evolutionary environment to humans, would be at least 50% as good as a universe optimized towards human CEV. Doesn't this mean we should be spending significant effort (say, at least 1% of the effort spent on alignment) finding tractable plans to create a successor species in case alignment fails?

Replies from: AprilSR
comment by AprilSR · 2022-03-22T16:23:46.338Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If alignment fails I don’t think it’s possible to safely prepare a successor species. We could maybe try to destroy the earth slightly before the AI turns on rather than slightly after, in the hopes that the aliens don’t screw up the chance we give them?

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-07-08T22:30:27.358Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there ring species where the first and last populations actually can interbreed? What evolutionary process could feasibly create one?

Replies from: thomas-kwa, Richard_Kennaway, Pongo
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-10-01T22:41:52.382Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One of my professors says this often happens with circular island chains; populations from any two adjacent islands can interbreed, but not those from islands farther apart. I don't have a source. Presumably this doesn't require an expanding geographic barrier.

comment by Richard_Kennaway · 2020-07-09T08:34:14.341Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Wouldn't that just be a species?

Replies from: Pattern, thomas-kwa
comment by Pattern · 2020-07-11T17:14:00.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Ourorobos species.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-07-09T20:54:25.739Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm thinking of a situation where there are subspecies A through (say) H; A can interbreed with B, B with C, etc., and H with A, but no non-adjacent subspecies can produce fertile offspring.

comment by Pongo · 2020-07-09T06:34:19.102Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

A population distributed around a small geographic barrier that grew over time could produce what you want

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-06-10T00:56:00.308Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

2.5 million jobs were created in May 2020, according to the jobs report. Metaculus was something like [99.5% or 99.7% confident]( that the number would be smaller, with the median at -11.0 and 99th percentile at -2.8. This seems like an obvious sign Metaculus is miscalibrated, but we have to consider both tails, making this merely a 1 in 100 or 1 in 150 event, which doesn't seem too bad.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-04-30T07:16:23.496Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Hangnails are Largely Optional

Hangnails are annoying and painful, and most people deal with them poorly. [1] Instead, use a drop of superglue to glue it to your nail plate. It's $10 for 12 small tubes on Amazon. Superglue is also useful for cuts and minor repairs, so I already carry it around everywhere.

Hangnails manifest as either separated nail fragments or dry peeling skin on the paronychium (area around the nail). In my experience superglue works for nail separation, and a paper (available free on Scihub) claims it also works for peeling skin on the paronychium.

Is this safe?

Cyanoacrylate glue is regularly used in medicine to close wounds, and now frequently replaces stitches. Medical superglue has slightly different types of cyanoacrylate, but doctors I know say it's basically the same thing.

I think medical superglue exists to prevent rare reactions and for large wounds where the exothermic reaction from a large quantity might burn you, and the safety difference for hangnails is minimal [2]. But to be extra safe you could just use 3M medical grade superglue or Dermabond.

[1]: Typical responses to hangnails include:

  • Pulling them out, which can lead to further bleeding or infection.
  • Trimming them with nail clippers, which often leaves a jagged edge.
  • Wrapping the affected finger in a bandage, requiring daily changes.

[2]: There have been studies showing cytotoxicity in rabbits when injecting it in their eyes, or performing internal (bone or cartilage) grafts. A 2013 review says that although some studies have found internal toxicity, "[f]or wound closure and various other procedures, there have been a considerable number of studies finding histologic equivalence between ECA [commercial superglue] and more widely accepted modalities of repair."

Replies from: nim
comment by nim · 2024-04-30T14:36:01.624Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

If you don't need 12 tubes of superglue, dollar stores often carry 4 tiny tubes for a buck or so.

I'm glad that superglue is working for you! I personally find that a combination of sharp nail clippers used at the first sign of a hangnail, and keeping my hands moisturized, works for me. Flush cutters of the sort you'd use to trim the sprues off of plastic models are also amazing for removing proto-hangnails without any jagged edge.

Another trick to avoiding hangnails is to prevent the cuticles from growing too long, by pushing them back regularly. I personally like to use my teeth to push back my cuticles when showering, since the cuticle is soft from the water, my hands are super clean, and it requires no extra tools. I recognize that this is a weird habit, though, and I think the more normal ways to push cuticles are to use your fingernails or a wooden stick (manicurists use a special type of dowel but a popsicle stick works fine).

You can also buy cuticle remover online, which is a chemical that softens the dried skin of the cuticle and makes it easier to remove from your nails. It's probably unnecessary, but if you're really trying to get your hands into a condition where they stop developing hangnails, it's worth considering.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2024-01-01T16:16:01.142Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Current posts in the pipeline:

  • Dialogue on whether agent foundations is valuable, with Alex Altair. I might not finish this.
  • Why junior AI safety researchers should go to ML conferences
  • Summary of ~50 interesting or safety-relevant papers from ICML and NeurIPS this year 
  • More research log entries
  • A list of my mistakes from the last two years. For example, spending too much money
  • Several flowcharts / tech trees for various alignment agendas.
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-11-16T20:05:05.120Z · LW(p) · GW(p)
Thomas Kwa

I think the dialogues functionality might be suitable for monologues / journals, so I'm trying it out as a research log. I intend to make ~daily entries. Hopefully this gives people some idea of my research process, and lets them either give me feedback or compare their process to mine.

Currently I have a bunch of disconnected projects:

  • Characterize planning inside KataGo by retargeting it to output the worst move (with Adria Garriga-Alonso).
  • Improve circuit discovery by implementing edge-level subnetwork probing on sparse autoencoder features (with Adria and David Udell).
  • Create a tutorial for using TransformerLens on arbitrary (e.g. non-transformer) models by extending `HookedRootModule`, which could make it easy to use TransformerLens for e.g. ARENA 3.0 projects.
  • Create proofs for the accuracy of small neural nets in Coq (with Jason Gross and Rajashree Agrawal).
  • Create demonstrations of catastrophic regressional Goodhart [? · GW] and possibly strengthen theoretical results.
  • Help Peter Barnett and Jeremy Gillen wrap up some threads from MIRI, including editing an argument that misaligned mesa-optimizers are very likely.

I plan to mostly write about the first three, but might write about any of these if it doesn't make things too disorganized.

Thomas Kwa

Yesterday (Monday 11/13) I did SERI MATS applications, and thought about Goodhart, but most of my time was spent on the KataGo project. I might more about it later, but the idea is to characterize the nature of planning in KataGo.

Early training runs had produced promising results-- a remarkably sparse mask lets the network output almost the worst possible move as judged by the value network-- but I was a bit suspicious that the hooked network was implementing some trivial behavior, like always moving in the corner. I adapted some visualization code previously used for FAR's adversarial Go attack paper to see what the policy was doing, and well...

Turns out the network is doing the trivial behavior of moving in either the top left or bottom left corner. I wish I had checked this earlier (it took ~14 days of work to get here), but it doesn't kill this project-- I can just redo the next training run to only allow moves on the 3rd line or above, and hopefully the worst behavior here won't be so trivial.

Today I'm going to table this project and start implementing edge-level subnetwork probing-- estimate is 2 days for the algorithm and maybe lots more effort to run benchmarks.

Thomas Kwa

Updates from the last two days (11/14 and 11/15):

  • I finished the basic edge-level subnetwork probing code over the last two days. This is exciting because it might outperform ACDC and even attribution patching for circuit discovery. The original ACDC paper included a version of subnetwork probing, but that version was severely handicapped because it operated on the node level (structural pruning) rather than edge level.

    Adria is now on vacation, so I'm planning to get as far as I can running experiments before getting stuck somewhere and coming back to this after Thanksgiving.
In the ACDC paper, node-level subnetwork probing (SP) is already competitive with ACDC; can edge-level SP beat ACDC?
  • I'm starting to think about applications of circuit discovery to unlearning / task erasure. If we take a sparse circuit for some task found by some circuit discovery method, and ablate the circuit, can it remove the model's ability to do that task better than other methods like task vectors?
  • Last night 11/14, Aryan Bhatt and I thought of a counterexample [LW(p) · GW(p)] to one idea Drake had for extending our Goodhart results. This is disappointing because it means beating Goodhart is not as easy as having light-tailed error.

I'm going to spend the next two days on MATS applications and syncing back up with the interp proofs project.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-10-15T04:17:51.191Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm reading a series of blogposts called Extropia's Children about the Extropians mailing list and its effects on the rationalist and EA communities. It seems quite good although a bit negative at times.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2023-10-15T16:05:42.585Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

In my opinion, it is clickbait, but I didn't notice any falsehoods (I didn't check carefully, just skimmed).

For people familiar with the rationalist community, it is a good reminder of bad things that happened. For people unfamiliar with the community... it will probably make them believe that the rationalist community consists mostly of Leverage, neoreaction, and Zizians.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-10-15T20:06:03.506Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Seems reasonable. Though I will note that bad things that happened are a significant fraction of the community early on, so people who read sections 1-3 with the reminder that it's a focus on the negative will probably not get the wrong idea.

I did notice a misleading section which might indicate there are several more:

MIRI tends to portray [TDT/UDT/FDT] as technical, practical, immediately applicable work. Others, even EA/rationalists, describe [EA · GW] it as “philosophical decision theory” which “has gained significantly fewer advocates among professional philosophers than I’d expect it to if it were very promising.”

Both sentences are wrong. I don't think MIRI portrays any agent foundations as "practical, immediately applicable work", and in fact the linked post by Demski is listing some basic theoretical problems.

The quote by Daniel Dewey is taken out of context: he's investigated their decision theory work in depth by talking to other professional philosophers, and found it to be promising, so the claim that it has "significantly fewer advocates among professional philosophers than I’d expect it to if it were very promising" is a claim that professional philosophers won't automatically advocate for a promising idea, not that the work is unpromising.

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2023-10-15T20:47:48.088Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

bad things that happened are a significant fraction of the community early on

I'd like to read an impartial account, which would specify how large each fraction actually was.

For instance, if I remember correctly, in some survey 2% of Less Wrong readers identified as neoreactionaries. From some perspective, 2% is too much, because the only acceptable number is 0%. From a different perspective, 2% is less than the Lizardman's Constant. Also, if I remember correctly, a much larger fraction of LessWrong readership identified on the survey as communist, and yet for some reason there are no people writing blogs or Wikipedia articles about how Less Wrong is a communist website. Or a socialist website. Or a Democrat website. Or... whatever else was in the poll.

The section on Zizians is weird, because it correctly starts with saying that Zizians opposed MIRI and CFAR... and yet concludes that the this is evidence that people attracted to rationalism are disproportionately prone to death spirals off the deep end. Notice the sleight of hand: "people attracted to you" technically includes your enemies who can't stop thinking about you. -- Using the same rhetorical trick: Westboro Baptist Church is evidence that people attracted to (the topic of) homosexuality are often crazy. Also, by the same logic, every celebrity is responsible for her stalkers.

There are cases when the rationalist community actually promoted harmful people and groups, such as Vassar or Leverage. I'd like to read a serious analysis of how and why that happened, and how to prevent something like that in future. But if another Ziz appears in future, and starts recruiting people in another crazy cult opposed to rationalists, I am not sure how exactly to prevent that.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-03-22T23:51:18.114Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote in 2016:

At an early singularity summit, Jürgen Schmidhuber, who did some of the pioneering work on self-modifying agents that preserve their own utility functions with his Gödel machine, also solved the friendly AI problem. Yes, he came up with the one true utility function that is all you need to program into AGIs!

(For God’s sake, don’t try doing this yourselves. Everyone does it. They all come up with different utility functions. It’s always horrible.)

His one true utility function was “increasing the compression of environmental data.” Because science increases the compression of environmental data: if you understand science better, you can better compress what you see in the environment. Art, according to him, also involves compressing the environment better. I went up in Q&A and said, “Yes, science does let you compress the environment better, but you know what really maxes out your utility function? Building something that encrypts streams of 1s and 0s using a cryptographic key, and then reveals the cryptographic key to you.”

At first it seemed to me that EY refutes the entire idea that "increasing the compression of environmental data" is intrinsically valuable. This surprised me because my intuition says it is intrinsically valuable, though less so than other things I value.

But EY's larger point was just that it's highly nontrivial for people to imagine the global maximum of a function. In this specific case, building a machine that encrypts random data seems like a failure of embedded agency [LW · GW] rather than a flaw in the idea behind the utility function. What's going on here?

Replies from: Viliam
comment by Viliam · 2020-03-24T00:46:12.470Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Something like Goodhart's Law, I suppose. There are natural situations where X is associated with something good, but literally maximizing X is actually quite bad. (Having more gold would be nice. Converting the entire universe into atoms of gold, not necessarily so.)

EY has practiced the skill of trying to see things like a machine. When people talk about "maximizing X", they usually mean "trying to increase X in a way that proves my point"; i.e. they use motivated thinking.

Whatever X you take, the priors are almost 100% that literally maximizing X would be horrible. That includes the usual applause lights, whether they appeal to normies or nerds.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2023-01-24T19:58:47.896Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

What was the equation for research progress referenced in Ars Longa, Vita Brevis?

“Then we will talk this over, though rightfully it should be an equation. The first term is the speed at which a student can absorb already-discovered architectural knowledge. The second term is the speed at which a master can discover new knowledge. The third term represents the degree to which one must already be on the frontier of knowledge to make new discoveries; at zero, everyone discovers equally regardless of what they already know; at one, one must have mastered every previously-discovered fact before one can discover anything new. The fourth term represents potential for specialization; at one, it is impossible to understand any part without understanding the whole; at zero, it can be subdivided freely. The fifth…”

Replies from: gwern
comment by gwern · 2023-01-24T21:38:40.838Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I don't think Scott had a specific concrete equation in mind. (I don't know of any myself, and Scott would likely have referenced or written it up on SSC/ACX by now if he had one in mind.) However, conceptually, it's just a variation on the rocket equation or jeep problem, I think.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-06-27T13:56:21.385Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Showerthought: what's the simplest way to tell that the human body is less than 50% efficient at converting chemical energy to mechanical work via running? I think it's that running uphill makes you warmer than running downhill at the same speed.

When running up a hill at mechanical power p and efficiency f, you have to exert p/f total power and so p(1/f - 1) is dissipated as heat. When running down the hill you convert p to heat. p(1/f - 1) > p implies that f > 0.5.

Maybe this story is wrong somehow. I'm pretty sure your body has no way of recovering your potential energy on the way down; I'd expect most of the waste heat to go in your joints and muscles but maybe some of it goes into your shoes.

Replies from: ejacob
comment by ejacob · 2022-06-27T15:55:44.497Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Running barefoot will produce the same observations, right? So any waste heat going into your shoes is probably a small amount.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-06-25T20:17:48.363Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Are there approximate versions of the selection theorems [LW · GW]? I haven't seen anyone talk about them, but they might be easy to prove.

Approximate version of Kelly criteron: any agent that follows a strategy different by at least epsilon from Kelly betting will almost surely lose money compared to a Kelly-betting agent at a rate f(epsilon)

Approximate version of VNM: Any agent that satisfies some weakened version of the VNM axioms will have high likelihood under Boltzmann rationality (or some other metric of approximate utility maximization). The closest thing I've seen is logical inductors.

Approximate version of good regulator theorem: any approximately optimal regulator is equivalent to something that approximately models variables in its environment

Probably there are others.

Ideally, the assumptions and/or conclusions would describe how agents like humans, companies, animals, and ML systems actually work.

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2022-04-23T15:36:53.151Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there somewhere I can find a graph of the number of AI alignment researchers vs AI capabilities researchers over time, from say 2005 to the present day?

comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-10-29T21:38:10.766Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Is there software that would let me automatically switch between microphones on my computer when I put on my headset?

I imagine this might work as a piece of software that integrates all microphones connected to my computer into a single input device, then transmits the audio stream from the best-quality source.

A partial solution would be something that automatically switches to the headset microphone when I switch to the headset speakers.

Replies from: Dagon
comment by Dagon · 2020-10-30T00:03:22.723Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Depending on connection method for your headset, you might be able to just use a simple switch.  Mine is USB, and lets me just leave it disconnected when not in use.  My Windows box uses the speakers when it's disconnected (I don't have a separate mic, but I expect it would work the same), and switches output and input to the headset when connected.  I've seen similar switchers for 3.5mm audio connectors - I have no doubt they'd work for microphone instead of speaker, but I don't know any that combine them.

Replies from: thomas-kwa
comment by Thomas Kwa (thomas-kwa) · 2020-12-07T04:41:31.964Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Thanks. I tried a couple different switches on my setup (3.5mm through USB-C hub), and the computer didn't disconnect upon opening the switch, so I'm giving up on this until I change hardware.