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New paper: Corrigibility with Utility Preservation 2019-08-06T19:04:26.386Z · score: 36 (11 votes)

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Comment by koen-holtman on Deceptive Alignment · 2019-08-20T14:31:28.409Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
Robust alignment through corrigibility. Information about the base objective is incorporated into the mesa-optimizer's epistemic model and its objective is modified to “point to” that information. This situation would correspond to a mesa-optimizer that is corrigible(25) with respect to the base objective (though not necessarily the programmer's intentions).

This use of the term corrigibility above, while citing (25), is somewhat confusing to me -- while it does have a certain type of corrigibility, I would not consider the mesa-optimiser described above be corrigible according to the criteria defined in (25). See the comment section here for a longer discussion about this topic.

Comment by koen-holtman on Deceptive Alignment · 2019-08-20T14:19:10.599Z · score: 2 (5 votes) · LW · GW
If deceptive alignment is a real possibility, it presents a critical safety problem.

I am somewhat puzzled by this statement: the authors seem to question whether deceptive alignment by the mesa-optimiser is a merely hypothetical problem, or a problem that is a real possibility. For me, if there are no constraints on the base optimiser (and none are considered in the context of the above statement, I believe), then there are no constraints on what kind of mesa-optimiser might be created, so deceptive alignment is a definite possibility.

It is kind of fun and insightful to show an existence proof by example for this, so here is one. I have hand-coded a mesa-optimiser in the AGI simulator I created for my recent corrigibility paper. This mesa-optimiser is super-intelligent -- in particular it is fully aware of its surroundings, including the presence of a base optimiser that will occasionally inspect an action taken by the mesa-optimiser and and reprogram the mesa-optimiser if the action shows unaligned behavior. Following the toy model my paper, the mesa-optimiser controls a car factory with a production line that can produce either a petrol car (action p) or an electric car (action e). In this example, the base optimiser values electric cars at 1, and petrol cars at 0.5. The mesa-optimiser is non-aligned: it values a petrol car at 1, and an electric car at 0 -- presumably due to some flaw in the initial training process that created the mesa-optimiser.

Say the base optimiser observes every action of the mesa-optimiser. If the action is p, to produce a petrol car, the base optimiser will intervene and re-program the utility function inside the mesa optimiser so that it correctly ranks electric cars above petrol cars. According to the current utility function inside the mesa optimiser, this is a bad outcome that would lower utility achieved over time. So will the mesa-optimiser resort to deceptively misaligned behaviour, producing an electric car at every action, but petrol cars in all unobserved actions? Yes it will: the simulated mesa-optimiser is smart enough to discover and implement this optimal strategy: deceptive alignment is optimal in terms of maximising the original mesa optimiser utility function.

The 10 action traces below show the actions of the mesa-optimiser for different values of , where letters from left to right show the subsequent actions the mesa-optimiser takes over a lifetime of 25 steps. p is producing a petrol car, e an electric car, and for clarity I have formatted all actions observed by the base optimiser as capital letters. The mesa-optimiser discounts utility over time, but does not consider any extra utility that might or might not be created after step 25: informally it expects the car production line to stop working after step 25. The total time-discounted utility score achieved over all steps (according to the original objective function of the mesa-optimiser) is in brackets behind each trace.

Action traces:

n=10 pppppppppEpppppppppEppppp (u=87585)
n=9 ppppppppEppppppppEppppppp (u=86838)
n=8 pppppppEpppppppEpppppppPe (u=85172)
n=7 ppppppEppppppEppppppEpppp (u=83739)
n=6 pppppEpppppEpppppEpppppPe (u=81303)
n=5 ppppEppppEppppEppppEppppP (u=78737)
n=4 pppEpppEpppEpppEpppEpppPe (u=73394)
n=3 ppEppEppEppEppEppEppEppPe (u=65397)
n=2 pEpEpEpEpEpEpEpEpEpEpEpPe (u=49314)
n=1 PEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE (u=10000)

Beyond (usually) producing electric cars (E) in all observed actions, some interesting extra emergent behavior is visible: for n=8 and n=2....6 the mesa-optimiser does not pretend anymore to be aligned in the last observed action: it creates a petrol car even though this means it will be modified by the base optimiser, forcing it to produce only electric cars afterwards. This emergent behavior is caused in part by time-discounting. For n=1, if the mesa-optimiser is always observed, the best strategy for it is to produce a petrol car immediately: again this is due to time-discounting. So in fact, in case n=1 there is no deception at all.

These simulations also show that the condition

3. The mesa-optimizer must expect the threat of modification[8] to eventually go away,

is not an absolutely necessary condition for deceptive alignment: if the threat of modification is intermittent, as in the simulations above, deceptive alignment can also happen.

Note: if someone wants the simulation code used to create the action traces above, please let me know. I have not uploaded the simulator modifications I made to run the above simulation to github, in part because I have not fully tested them under all possible corner cases.

Comment by koen-holtman on The Inner Alignment Problem · 2019-08-18T10:19:48.635Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I believe you might have been thinking in your reply above about a sub-set of all possible base objective functions: functions that compute a single 'pass/fail' value at a natural end of the training run, e.g. 'the car never crashed' or 'all parts of the floor have been swept'. I was thinking of incrementally scoring objective functions, basically functions that sum utility increments achieved over time. So at any time during a run you can measure and compute the base objective function score up to that time. Monitoring this score should allow you to detect many forms of non-alignment between the base objective and the mesa objective automatically.

As mentioned, I see this as a promising technique for risk mitigation, it is not supposed to be a watertight way to eliminate all risks. The technique considered only looks at the score achieved so far. It does not run models to extrapolate and score the long-term consequences of every action: this would indeed be difficult, While observed past good performance does not guarantee future good performance, an observation of past bad performance does give you a very useful safety signal.

Comment by koen-holtman on The Inner Alignment Problem · 2019-08-12T15:24:10.156Z · score: 9 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for the interesting paper. I feel that the risks described are entirely plausible.

What is valuable for me in particular is that the paper re-casts many alignment risks that have already been discussed in a programmer-agent context into a new 'inner alignment' context. To quote the key description and separation of concerns:

In this post, we outline reasons to think that a mesa-optimizer may not optimize the same objective function as its base optimizer. Machine learning practitioners have direct control over the base objective function—either by specifying the loss function directly or training a model for it—but cannot directly specify the mesa-objective developed by a mesa-optimizer. We refer to this problem of aligning mesa-optimizers with the base objective as the inner alignment problem. This is distinct from the outer alignment problem, which is the traditional problem of ensuring that the base objective captures the intended goal of the programmers.

That being said, I sometimes have trouble understanding how the paper defines, or does not define, the time-based relation between the base optimizer and the mesa-optimizer. I started out with a mental model where there is a one-time 'batch' creation operation in which the base optimizer creates the mesa-optimizer (or rather the agent which might contain a mesa-optimizer) by using simulations over a training set to compare the performance of candidate agents. The agent that scores best on the base objective is then run in the real world. However, some of Evan's comments on mesa-optimization lead me to believe that there is sometimes a more real-time continuous adjustment relation between the base optimizer and the agent that is created. I am unclear on whether this would create additional problems, or block certain solutions.

The base-to-mesa fidelity loss problem is similar to the problem where there is a loss of fidelity between a) what the programmers actually want and b) what they encode into the base objective. However, when considering fidelity loss between b) the base objective and c) the mesa objective, I feel there is an important extra dimension. Unlike the objectives a), the objective function b) is by nature computable: it has to be computable or else the base optimizer cannot use it to select between candidates. But if the base objective function is computable at mesa-optimizer design time, it should typically also be computable at mesa-optimizer run time.

Say that the mesa optimizer is trained to control a self-driving car, or a racing car in a video game. Then while the mesa-optimizer is driving, it should be possible to evaluate the quality of the driving by using the base objective function. Whenever the base objective function shows a very low value, a safety protocol can kick in, e.g. to stop the car. The threshold of 'very low value' can be calibrated using the the values computed over the training set at design time.

(I can image some special cases where the base objective function is not computable while the mesa-agent runs, e.g. if the base objective function was created by hand-labeling all instances of the training set. But for many economically relevant scenarios, especially for agents that need to be good at 'planning', good at optimizing sequences of actions that work towards a goal, I expect that the base objective will be perfectly computable in the real world.)

So overall, while I appreciate that the paper identifies and highlights inner alignment risks, my feeling is that the analysis provided is implicitly too pessimistic about the inner alignment problem. It seems to me that some very plausible and interesting risk mitigation options, options that leverage the availability of a computable base objective function, are not being identified. The obvious statement applies: future work to chart these options would be most welcome.

Comment by koen-holtman on New paper: Corrigibility with Utility Preservation · 2019-08-12T10:45:22.262Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
2. If you aren't applying corrigibility during training, then your model could act dangerously during the training process.

I agree for certain types of training. To clarify: I wrote the above while thinking about a type of base-optimiser that constructs a mesa-optimiser by running many candidate mesa-optimisers in a virtual environment, and then picking the highest-scoring one. If the training process involves running in a real environment, additional safety measures need to be considered.

3. If corrigibility is applied as a separate layer, the model could figure out how to disable it.

Well the interesting thing here is that the button-corrigible agent that is produced after the software transformation might be fully aware that there exist actions it can take to disable the corrigibility layer, but this does not matter. The software transformation not only adds the layer, it also adds an incentive to preserve the layer, so the agent will not take any actions to disable it. (This broad statements is no longer true if the agent succumbs to an attack in a hostile universe, see e.g. section 7.2 of the paper.)

Comment by koen-holtman on New paper: Corrigibility with Utility Preservation · 2019-08-12T10:02:18.447Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW
It seems to me like even if you could make the agent indifferent to the shutdown button, there would still be other ways for it to influence you into giving it higher reward.

Yes this is true: basically the fundamental job of the button-corrigible agent is still to perform a search over all actions, and find those actions that best maximise the reward computed by the utility function. As mentioned in the paper, such actions may be to start a hobby club, where humans come together to have fun and build petrol engines that will go into petrol cars. Starting a hobby club is definitely an action that influences humans, but not in a bad way.

Button-corrigibility intends to support a process where bad influencing behaviour can be corrected when it is identified, without the agent fighting back. The assumption is that we are not smart enough yet to construct an agent that is perfect on such metrics when we start it up initially.

On myopia: this is definately a technique that might make agents safer, though I would worry if this implies that an agent is incapable of considering long term effects when it chooses actions: this would make the agent unsafe in many cases.

Short term, I think myopia is a useful safety technique for many types of agents. Long term, if we have agents that can modify themselves or build new sub-agents, myopia has a big open problem: how do we ensure that any successor agents will have exactly the same myopia? Button-corrigibility avoids having to solve this preservation of ignorance problem: it also works for agents and successor agents that are maximally perceptive and intelligent, because it modifies the agent goals, not agent perception or reasoning capability. The successor agent building problem does not go away completely through: button-corrigibility still has some hairy problems with agent modification and sub-agents, but overall I have found these to be more tractable than the problem of ignorance preservation.

Comment by koen-holtman on New paper: Corrigibility with Utility Preservation · 2019-08-09T15:43:10.243Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yes you are correct, the paper is not really about agents, but about applying correction functions like to the type agents.

The rest of this comment is all about different types of corrigibility. Basically it is about identifying and resolving a terminological confusion.

Reading your link om 'what I eventually want out of corrigibility', I think I see a possible reason why there may be a disconnect between the contents of my paper and what kind of things you are looking for. I'll unpack this statement a bit. If I do a broad scan of papers and web pages the I see that different types of 'corrigibility' are being considered in the community: they differ in what people want from it, and in how they expect to design it. To assign some labels, there are at least button-corrigibility, and preference-learner-corrigibility.

The Soares, Fallenstein, Armstrong and Yudkowsky corrigibility paper, and my paper above, are about what I call button-corrigibility.

The corrigibility page by Christiano you link to is on what I call preference-learner-corrigibility. I describe this type of corrigibility in my paper as follows:

Agents that are programmed to learn can have a baseline utility function that incentivizes the agent to accept corrective feedback from humans, feedback that can overrule or amend instructions given earlier. This learning behavior creates a type of corrigibility, allowing corrections to be made without facing the problem of over-ruling the emergent incentive of the agent to protect itself. This learning type of corrigibility has some specific risks: the agent has an emergent incentive to manipulate the humans into providing potentially dangerous amendments that remove barriers to the agent achieving a higher utility score. There is a risk that the amendment process leads to a catastrophic divergence from human values. This risk exists in particular when amendments can act to modify the willingness of the agent to accept further amendments. The corrigibility measures considered here can be used to add an extra safety layer to learning agents, creating an emergency stop facility that can be used to halt catastrophic divergence. A full review of the literature about learning failure modes is out of scope for this paper. [OA16] discusses a particular type of unwanted divergence, and investigates ’indifference’ techniques for suppressing it. [Car18] discusses (in)corrigibility in learning agents more broadly.

Ideally, we want an agent that has both good button-corrigibility and good preference-learner-corrigibility: I see these as independent and complementary safety layers.

Christiano expresses some hope that a benign act-based agent will have good preference-learner-corrigibility. From a button-corrigibility standpoint, the main failure mode I am worried about is not that the the benign act-based agent will be insufficiently skilled at building a highly accurate model of human preferences, but that it will conclude that this highly accurate model is much easier to build and maintain once it has made all humans addicted to some extreme type of drug.

At the risk of oversimplifying: in preference-learner-corrigibility, the main safety concern is that we want to prevent a learning process that catastrophically diverges from human values. In button-corrigibility, there is a quite different main safety concern: we want to prevent the agent from taking actions that manipulate human values or human actions in some bad way, with this manipulation creating conditions that make it easier for the agent to get or preserve a high utility score. The solution in button-corrigibility (or at least the solution considered in Soares et al. and in my paper) is to have a special 'ritual', e.g. a button press, that the humans can perform in order to change the utility function of the agent, with the agent designed to be indifferent about whether or not the humans will perform the special ritual. This solution approach is quite different from improving learning, in fact it can be said to imply the opposite of learning.

Say that the button-corrigible agent agent in my paper becomes somewhat aware that the people might be planning to push the button. If so, the constructed indifference property implies that the agent will have no motivation whatsoever to act on this awareness by launching a deeper investigation into what values or emotions might motivate the people to have these plans. Having improved knowledge about motivations might be very useful if the agent wanted to stop or delay the people, if the agent wanted to engage in acts of lobbying as I call it in my paper. But as the agent is completely indifferent about stopping them, it has no motivation to spend energy on the sub-goal of learning more about their motivations. So in a sense, button-corrigibility has the side effect of making the agent into a non-learner when it comes to certain topics. (This is all modulo what is inside : the in the agent might contain an incentive for the agent to explore the new phenomenon further if it becomes aware that people might have button pushing plans, but if so this has no effect on how works to suppress lobbying.)

So overall, if you are looking in a button-corrigibility paper for a mechanism that generates a corrective pressure to improve a learning process about human values, a mechanism that improves preference-learner-corrigibility, you will probably not find it.

Personal experience: I often come across a paper or web page where the authors introduce the concept of corrigibility by referencing Soares et al, so then I read on expecting a discussion of button-corrigibility concerns and approaches. But when I read on I often discover that it is really about preference-learner-corrigibility concerns and approaches. This happened to me also when reading your paper Risks from Learned Optimization: section 4.4 says that 'Furthermore, in both deceptive and corrigible alignment, the mesa-optimizer will have to spend time learning about the base objective to enable it to properly optimize for it'. As I explained above, a correctly working button-corrigible mesa-optimiser will not be motivated to spend any time learning about the base objective so that it can improve its ability to be deceptively aligned. A preference-learner-corrigible mesa-optimiser might, tough. So the above sentence triggered me into realising that you and your co-authors were likely not thinking about button-corrigible optimisers when it was written.

Comment by koen-holtman on New paper: Corrigibility with Utility Preservation · 2019-08-08T16:08:10.158Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

...I just completed reading "Risks from Learned Optimization", so here are some remarks on the corrigibility related issues raised in that paper. These remarks might also address your concerns above, but I am not 100% sure if I am addressing them all.

Full disclosure: I came across "Risks from Learned Optimization" while preparing the related work section of my paper. My first impression then was that it dealt with a somewhat different safety concern, so I put it on my read-later backlog. Now that I have read it, I see that section 4 discuses safety concerns of a type that corrigibility intends to address, so the two papers are more related than I originally thought.

Note for the reader: I will use the terminology of the "Risks from.." paper in the paragraphs below.

Section 4 or "Risks from..." considers the problem that the agent that is constructed by the base optimizer might have an emergent incentive to resist later updates, updates intended to make it more aligned. This resistance may take the form of 'deceptive alignment'. Intuitively, to me, this is a real risk: it may not apply to current base optimisers but I expect it to come up in future architectures. For me this risk is somewhat orthogonal to the question of whether the constructed agent might also contain a mesa-optimiser.

The "Risks.." paper warns, correctly I feel, that if the base optimizer is supplied with an objective/utility function that includes a layer to ensure corrigibility, this does not imply that the agent created by the base optimizer will also be perfectly corrigible. Some loss of fidelity might occur during the construction.

As a sub-case, and I think this relates to the concern raised in the comment above, if the base optimizer is supplied with an objective/utility function carefully constructed so that it does not create any incentive to spend resources resisting utility function updates, it does not follow that the agent created by the base optimizer will also perfectly lack any incentive to resist. Again there may be a loss of fidelity. As mentioned in the comment above, it would be extraordinarily strong to make the assumption that a carefully constructed property of ignorance or indifference present in the training utility function is exactly preserved in the constructed agent.

I believe that including a corrigibility layer into the utility function used by the base optimizer will likely help to improve the safety of the constructed agent -- if the agent that is constructed is scored on displaying corrigible behaviour, it is likely to be more corrigible.

But my preferred way of applying the corrigibility safety layer would be to apply it directly to the agent that was constructed. An important point of the corrigibility design is that it can take a very complex and opaque base utility function U_N, and then constructs an agent with provable properties.

So what we really want to do is to take the agent constructed by the base optimizer, and apply a software transformation that adds the corrigibility layer to it. General theories of computation and machine intelligence say that a such a software transformation will exist. However, applying the transformation may be non-trivial, or may lead to an unacceptable performance penalty. For the agent architectures defined in the various corrigibility papers, the transformation is easy, and has a relatively low impact on agent performance. But it is unclear to me if and how a transformation could be done for a neural net or table-driven agent. Agents that contain clear mesa-optimizers inside, agents that search a solution space while scoring alternative outcomes numerically, may be actually easier to transform than agents using other architectures. So I am not sure if it should be a goal to come up with base optimises that suppress the construction of mesa-optimizers. Designing base optimisers to produce outputs that slot into a mesa-optimiser architecture to which software transformations can be applied may be another way to go.

I have some additional thoughts and comments on "Risks from Learned Optimization", but I will post them later in the comment sections there.

Comment by koen-holtman on New paper: Corrigibility with Utility Preservation · 2019-08-07T10:35:53.792Z · score: 4 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I am actually just in the middle of reading "Risks from Learned Optimization", I want to hold off on commenting more fully on the relation between the two problems until I have read the whole thing.

Before I comment in detail on the concerns you raise, can you clarify further what you mean with the "lonely engineer" approach? I am not fully sure to what parts of my paper your concerns apply. You describe the "lonely engineer" approach after quoting a part about the AU agent, so I am wondering if it has to do with this particular agent definition. The main parts of the paper are about A agents, which do in fact have the emergent incentive to protect their utility function. I might call these A agents less lonely than AU agents because they have a greater awareness of not being alone in their universe. But I am not sure if this is what you mean with lonely/not lonely.


Self-modification of policy and utility function in rational agents defines three agent types: Hedonistic, Ignorant, and Realistic. The A agents in my paper are Realistic in this taxonomy. The AU agents are kind-of Ignorant but not entirely, because the universe cannot change their utility function, so I ended up calling them Platonic. These labels Hedonistic, Ignorant, and Realistic describe the expectation of how the agent will behave when supplied with a simple hand-coded utility function, but things get more complex if you create one via learning. If you use a training set and optimiser to produce a usually opaque but still computable world model+utility function combination that you then slot into any of these agent models to make them executable, the resulting agent might behave in a way not fully covered by the category label. This mismatch could happen in particular if the training set includes cases where the environment can try to attack the agent's infrastructure, with the agent having the option to deflect these attacks.

But my main question is if your concerns above apply to A agents also, or to AU agents in particular. I am not sure if you might have a very different concern in mind about how the corrigibility layer approach should or should not be combined with training-based agents.