On Twitter, Katja Grace wrote:
I think people should think more about trying to slow down AI progress, if they believe it's going to destroy the world soon. I know people have like eighteen reasons to dismiss this idea out of hand, but I dispute them.
The introduction to the post is below. Do read the whole thing.
Consider reading alongside:
- Holden Karnofsky's recent posts on Cold Takes, especially "Racing Through a Minefield: the AI Deployment Problem".
- Scott Alexander's recent "Perhaps It Is A Bad Thing That The World's Leading AI Companies Cannot Control Their AIs".
Averting doom by not building the doom machine
If you fear that someone will build a machine that will seize control of the world and annihilate humanity, then one kind of response is to try to build further machines that will seize control of the world even earlier without destroying it, forestalling the ruinous machine’s conquest. An alternative or complementary kind of response is to try to avert such machines being built at all, at least while the degree of their apocalyptic tendencies is ambiguous.
The latter approach seems to me like the kind of basic and obvious thing worthy of at least consideration, and also in its favor, fits nicely in the genre ‘stuff that it isn’t that hard to imagine happening in the real world’. Yet my impression is that for people worried about extinction risk from artificial intelligence, strategies under the heading ‘actively slow down AI progress’ have historically been dismissed and ignored (though ‘don’t actively speed up AI progress’ is popular).
The conversation near me over the years has felt a bit like this:
Some people: AI might kill everyone. We should design a godlike super-AI of perfect goodness to prevent that.
Others: wow that sounds extremely ambitious
Some people: yeah but it’s very important and also we are extremely smart so idk it could work
[Work on it for a decade and a half]
Some people: ok that’s pretty hard, we give up
Others: oh huh shouldn’t we maybe try to stop the building of this dangerous AI?
Some people: hmm, that would involve coordinating numerous people—we may be arrogant enough to think that we might build a god-machine that can take over the world and remake it as a paradise, but we aren’t delusional
I don’t have a strong view on whether anything in the space of ‘try to slow down some AI research’ should be done. But I think a) the naive first-pass guess should be a strong ‘probably’, and b) a decent amount of thinking should happen before writing off everything in this large space of interventions. Whereas customarily the tentative answer seems to be, ‘of course not’ and then the topic seems to be avoided for further thinking. (At least in my experience—the AI safety community is large, and for most things I say here, different experiences are probably had in different bits of it.)
Maybe my strongest view is that one shouldn’t apply such different standards of ambition to these different classes of intervention. Like: yes, there appear to be substantial difficulties in slowing down AI progress to good effect. But in technical alignment, mountainous challenges are met with enthusiasm for mountainous efforts. And it is very non-obvious that the scale of difficulty here is much larger than that involved in designing acceptably safe versions of machines capable of taking over the world before anyone else in the world designs dangerous versions.
I’ve been talking about this with people over the past many months, and have accumulated an abundance of reasons for not trying to slow down AI, most of which I’d like to argue about at least a bit. My impression is that arguing in real life has coincided with people moving toward my views.