Existential risk
Existential risk
Discussions of risks which threaten the destruction of the long-term potential of life

Quick takes

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1d
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AI Safety Needs To Get Serious About Chinese Political Culture I worry that Leopold Aschenbrenner's "China will use AI to install a global dystopia" take is based on crudely analogising the CCP to the USSR, or perhaps even to American cultural imperialism / expansionism, and isn't based on an even superficially informed analysis of either how China is currently actually thinking about AI, or what China's long term political goals or values are. I'm no more of an expert myself, but my impression is that China is much more interested in its own national security interests and its own ideological notions of the ethnic Chinese people and Chinese territory, so that beyond e.g. Taiwan there isn't an interest in global domination except to the extent that it prevents them being threatened by other expansionist powers. This or a number of other heuristics / judgements / perspectives could change substantially how we think about whether China would race for AGI, and/or be receptive to an argument that AGI development is dangerous and should be suppressed. China clearly has a lot to gain from harnessing AGI, but they have a lot to lose too, just like the West. Currently, this is a pretty superficial impression of mine, so I don't think it would be fair to write an article yet. I need to do my homework first: * I need to actually read Leopold's own writing about this, instead of making impressions based on summaries of it, * I've been recommended to look into what CSET and Brian Tse have written about China, * Perhaps there are other things I should hear about this, feel free to make recommendations. Alternatively, as always, I'd be really happy for someone who's already done the homework to write about this, particularly anyone specifically with expertise in Chinese political culture or international relations. Even if I write the article, all it'll really be able to be is an appeal to listen to experts in the field, or for one or more of those experts to step forwar
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1mo
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This is a cold take that’s probably been said before, but I thought it bears repeating occasionally, if only for the reminder: The longtermist viewpoint has gotten a lot of criticism for prioritizing “vast hypothetical future populations” over the needs of "real people," alive today. The mistake, so the critique goes, is the result of replacing ethics with math, or utilitarianism, or something cold and rigid like that. And so it’s flawed because it lacks the love or duty or "ethics of care" or concern for justice that lead people to alternatives like mutual aid and political activism. My go-to reaction to this critique has become something like “well you don’t need to prioritize vast abstract future generations to care about pandemics or nuclear war, those are very real things that could, with non-trivial probability, face us in our lifetimes.” I think this response has taken hold in general among people who talk about X-risk. This probably makes sense for pragmatic reasons. It’s a very good rebuttal to the “cold and heartless utilitarianism/pascal's mugging” critique. But I think it unfortunately neglects the critical point that longtermism, when taken really seriously — at least the sort of longtermism that MacAskill writes about in WWOTF, or Joe Carlsmith writes about in his essays — is full of care and love and duty. Reading the thought experiment that opens the book about living every human life in sequential order reminded me of this. I wish there were more people responding to the “longtermism is cold and heartless” critique by making the case that no, longtermism at face value is worth preserving because it's the polar opposite of heartless. Caring about the world we leave for the real people, with emotions and needs and experiences as real as our own, who very well may inherit our world but who we’ll never meet, is an extraordinary act of empathy and compassion — one that’s way harder to access than the empathy and warmth we might feel for our neighbors
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14d
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Pretty wild discussion in this podcast about how aggressively the USSR cut corners on safety in their space program in order to stay ahead of the US. In the author's telling of the history, this was in large part because Khrushchev wanted to rack up as many "firsts" (e.g., first satellite, first woman in space) as possible. This seems like it was most proximately for prestige and propaganda rather than any immediate strategic or technological benefit (though of course the space program did eventually produce such bigger benefits). Evidence of the following claim for AI: people may not need a reason to cut corners on safety because the material benefits are so high. They may do so just because of the prestige and glory of being first. https://www.lawfaremedia.org/article/chatter--the-harrowing-history-of-the-soviet-space-program-with-john-strausbaugh
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1mo
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We should expect that the incentives and culture for AI-focused companies to make them uniquely terrible for producing safe AGI.    From a “safety from catastrophic risk” perspective, I suspect an “AI-focused company” (e.g. Anthropic, OpenAI, Mistral) is abstractly pretty close to the worst possible organizational structure for getting us towards AGI. I have two distinct but related reasons: 1. Incentives 2. Culture From an incentives perspective, consider realistic alternative organizational structures to “AI-focused company” that nonetheless has enough firepower to host successful multibillion-dollar scientific/engineering projects: 1. As part of an intergovernmental effort (e.g. CERN’s Large Hadron Collider, the ISS) 2. As part of a governmental effort of a single country (e.g. Apollo Program, Manhattan Project, China’s Tiangong) 3. As part of a larger company (e.g. Google DeepMind, Meta AI) In each of those cases, I claim that there are stronger (though still not ideal) organizational incentives to slow down, pause/stop, or roll back deployment if there is sufficient evidence or reason to believe that further development can result in major catastrophe. In contrast, an AI-focused company has every incentive to go ahead on AI when the case for pausing is uncertain, and minimal incentive to stop or even take things slowly.  From a culture perspective, I claim that without knowing any details of the specific companies, you should expect AI-focused companies to be more likely than plausible contenders to have the following cultural elements: 1. Ideological AGI Vision AI-focused companies may have a large contingent of “true believers” who are ideologically motivated to make AGI at all costs and 2. No Pre-existing Safety Culture AI-focused companies may have minimal or no strong “safety” culture where people deeply understand, have experience in, and are motivated by a desire to avoid catastrophic outcomes.  The first one should be self-explanatory. Th
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8d
For me, perhaps the biggest takeaway from Aschenbrenner's manifesto is that even if we solve alignment, we still have an incredibly thorny coordination problem between the US and China, in which each is massively incentivized to race ahead and develop military power using superintelligence, putting them both and the rest of the world at immense risk. And I wonder if, after seeing this in advance, we can sit down and solve this coordination problem in ways that lead to a better outcome with a higher chance than the "race ahead" strategy and don't risk encountering a short period of incredibly volatile geopolitical instability in which both nations develop and possibly use never-seen-before weapons of mass destruction. Edit: although I can see how attempts at intervening in any way and raising the salience of the issue risk making the situation worse.
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5d
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OpenAI appoints Retired U.S. Army General Paul M. Nakasone to Board of Directors I don't know anything about Nakasone in particular, but it should be of interest (and concern)—especially after Situational Awareness—that OpenAI is moving itself closer to the U.S. military-industrial complex. The article itself specifically mentions Nakasone's cybersecurity experience as a benefit of having him on the board, and that he will be placed on OpenAI's board's Safety and Security Committee. None of this seems good for avoiding an arms race.
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I wonder how the recent turn for the worse at OpenAI should make us feel about e.g. Anthropic and Conjecture and other organizations with a similar structure, or whether we should change our behaviour towards those orgs. * How much do we think that OpenAI's problems are idiosyncratic vs. structural? If e.g. Sam Altman is the problem, we can still feel good about peer organisations. If instead weighing investor concerns and safety concerns is the root of the problem, we should be worried about whether peer organizations are going to be pushed down the same path sooner or later. * Are there any concerns we have with OpenAI that we should be taking this opportunity to put to its peers as well? For example, have peers been publically asked if they use non-disparagement agreements? I can imagine a situation where another org has really just never thought to use them, and we can use this occasion to encourage them to turn that into a public commitment.
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Mildly against the Longtermism --> GCR shift Epistemic status: Pretty uncertain, somewhat rambly TL;DR replacing longtermism with GCRs might get more resources to longtermist causes, but at the expense of non-GCR longtermist interventions and broader community epistemics Over the last ~6 months I've noticed a general shift amongst EA orgs to focus less on reducing risks from AI, Bio, nukes, etc based on the logic of longtermism, and more based on Global Catastrophic Risks (GCRs) directly. Some data points on this: * Open Phil renaming it's EA Community Growth (Longtermism) Team to GCR Capacity Building * This post from Claire Zabel (OP) * Giving What We Can's new Cause Area Fund being named "Risk and Resilience," with the goal of "Reducing Global Catastrophic Risks" * Longview-GWWC's Longtermism Fund being renamed the "Emerging Challenges Fund" * Anecdotal data from conversations with people working on GCRs / X-risk / Longtermist causes My guess is these changes are (almost entirely) driven by PR concerns about longtermism. I would also guess these changes increase the number of people donation / working on GCRs, which is (by longtermist lights) a positive thing. After all, no-one wants a GCR, even if only thinking about people alive today. Yet, I can't help but feel something is off about this framing. Some concerns (no particular ordering): 1. From a longtermist (~totalist classical utilitarian) perspective, there's a huge difference between ~99% and 100% of the population dying, if humanity recovers in the former case, but not the latter. Just looking at GCRs on their own mostly misses this nuance. * (see Parfit Reasons and Persons for the full thought experiment) 2. From a longtermist (~totalist classical utilitarian) perspective, preventing a GCR doesn't differentiate between "humanity prevents GCRs and realises 1% of it's potential" and "humanity prevents GCRs realises 99% of its potential" * Preventing an extinction-level GCR might move u
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