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Is working on AI safety as dangerous as ignoring it?

by jkmh1 min read20th Sep 20215 comments

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(Writing out this post has helped me answer the question for myself, but I still want to post it to see other thoughts).

I have been hesitant to get into AI safety research. Then I watched Robert Miles's video that walked through Stuart Russell's 10 reasons for not working on AI safety. The point of the video (and the point of Stuart Russell making the list) was to argue against all 10 reasons. The arguments against the 10 reasons convinced me to pay more attention and potentially pursue AI safety as a career path.

However, there is one "reason" that I don't think was covered. My concern is that "working on AI safety" might just mean "working on AI." The process of pursuing Safe AI might just advance the field enough to the point that it creates Dangerous AI. The safety researchers might discover something that gets twisted by bad faith actors/researchers/engineers.

My question is: are there any papers/videos/blogs that discuss this concern in more detail?

(My best counter-argument to my own concern is an unrefined analogy that I could probably improve: ignoring AI safety because "doing AI safety work might lead to something bad" is kind of like ignoring going to the hospital because something worse could technically happen to you on the car ride there.)

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 If everyone who wants to make sure GAI is safe abstains from working on it, that guarantees that one of the following will happen:

  •  GAI will be invented by people who were not thinking about its safety.
  • GAI is never invented at all.

In order for the second possibility to be true, there must be something fundamental to GAI that safety researchers could discover but the thousands of other researchers with billions of dollars in funding will never discover on their own.

This answer clarified in my mind what I was poorly trying to grasp at with my analogy. Thank you. I think the answer to my original question is a certain "no" at this point.

Yeah, I haven't thought about this question previously and am not very familiar with AI safety research/debates (even though I occasionally skim stuff), but one objection that came to my mind when reading the original post/question was "If you aren't working on it, does that actually mean there will be one whole less person working on it?" Of course, I suppose it's possible that AI safety is somewhat weird/niche enough (in comparison to e.g., nursing, teaching) where the person-replacement ratio is moderate or low and/or the relative marginal returns of an... (read more)

I'd like to add that I think there are ways in which safety work gets done without people working on 'AI safety'. This isn't in conflict with what you said, but it does mean that people who want to work on safety could not go on to work on it but there are still people doing the jobs of AI safety researchers.

It seems plausible to me that a person could end up working on AI and economic incentives push them to work on a topic related to safety (e.g. google want to build TAI -> they want to understand what is going on in their deep neural nets better ->... (read more)

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If some technical AI safety work accelerates AI, we could miss opportunities for AI safety governance/policy work as a result. OTOH, AI safety governance/policy work, if not done carefully, could give an edge to those unconcerned with safety by impeding everyone else, and that could be bad.