80Joined Dec 2019


Seems to me safety timeline estimation should be grounded by a cross-disciplinary, research timeline prior. Such a prior would be determined by identifying a class of research proposals similar to AI alignment in terms of how applied/conceptual/mathematical/funded/etc. they are and then collecting data on how long they took. 

I'm not familiar with meta-science work, but this would probably involve doing something like finding an NSF (or DARPA) grant category where grants were made public historically and then tracking down what became of those lines of research. Grant-based timelines are likely more analogous to individual sub-questions of AI alignment than the field as a whole; e.g. the prospects for a DARPA project might be comparable to the prospects for working out the details of debate. Converting such data into a safety timelines prior would probably involve estimating how correlated progress is on grants within subfields.

Curating such data, and constructing such a prior would be useful both in terms of informing the above estimates, but also for identifying factors of variation which might be intervened on--e.g. how many research teams should be funded to work on the same project in theoretical areas? This timelines prior problem seems like a good fit for a prize, where entries would look like recent progress studies reports (c.f. here and here).

Do you have a sense of which argument(s) were most prevalent and which were most frequently the interviewees crux?

It would also be useful to get a sense of which arguments are only common among those with minimal ML/safety engagement. If basic AI safety engagement reduces the appeal of a certain argument, then there's little need for further work on messaging in that area.

A few thoughts on ML/AI safety which may or may not generalize:

You should read successful candidates' SOPs to get a sense of style, level of detail, and content c.f. 1, 2, 3. Ask current EA PhDs for feedback on your statement. Probably avoid writing a statement focused on an AI safety/EA idea which is not in the ML mainstream e.g. IDA, mesa-optimization, etc. If you have multiple research ideas, considering writing more than one (i.e. tailored) SOP and submit the SOP which is most relevant to faculty at each university.

Look at groups' pages to get a sense of the qualification distribution for successful applicants, this is a better way to calibrate where to apply than looking at rankings IMO. This is also a good way to calibrate how much experience you're expected to have pre-PhD. My impression is that in many ML programs it is very difficult to get in directly out of undergraduate if you do not have an exceptional track-record e.g. top publications, or Putnam high scores etc.

For interviews, bringing up concrete ideas on next steps for a professor's paper is probably very helpful.

My vague impression is that financial security and depression are less relevant than in other fields here, as you can probably find job opportunities partway through if either becomes problematic. Would be interested to hear disagreement.

On-demand Software Engineering Support for Academic AI Safety Labs

AI safety work, e.g. in RL and NLP, involves both theoretical and engineering work, but academic training and infrastructure does not optimize for engineering. An independent non-profit could cover this shortcoming by providing software engineers (SWE) as contractors, code-reviewers, and mentors to academics working on AI safety. AI safety research is often well funded, but even grant-rich professors are bottlenecked by university salary rules and professor hours which makes hiring competent SWE at market rate challenging. An FTX Foundation funded organization could get around these bottlenecks by doing independent vetting of SWE and offering industry-competitive salaries and then having hired SWE collaborate with academic safety researchers at no cost to the lab. If successful, academic AI safety work ends up faster in terms of researcher hours and higher impact because papers are accompanied by more legible and standardized code bases -- i.e. AI safety work ends up looking more like distill. Estimating potential impact of this proposal could be done by soliciting input from researchers who moved from academic labs to private AI safety organizations.

EDIT: This seems to already exist at https://alignmentfund.org/

Re: feasibility of AI alignment research, Metaculus already has Control Problem solved before AGI invented . Do you have a sense of what further questions would be valuable?

Ok, seems like this might have been more a terminological misunderstanding on my end. I think I agree with what you say here, 'What if the “Inner As AGI” criterion does not apply? Then the outer algorithm is an essential part of the AGI’s operating algorithm'.

Ok, interesting. I suspect the programmers will not be able to easily inspect the inner algorithm, because the inner/outer distinction will not be as clear cut as in the human case. The programmers may avoid sitting around by fiddling with more observable inefficiencies e.g. coming up with batch-norm v10.

Good clarification. Determining which kinds of factoring are the ones which reduce valence is more subtle than I had thought. I agree with you that the DeepMind set-up seems more analogous to neural nociception (e.g. high heat detection). My proposed set-up (Figure 5) seems significantly different from the DM/nociception case, because it factors the step where nociceptive signals affect decision making and motivation. I'll edit my post to clarify.

Your new setup seems less likely to have morally relevant valence. Essentially the more the setup factors out valence-relevant computation (e.g. by separating out a module, or by accessing an oracle as in your example) the less likely it is for valenced processing to happen within the agent.

Just to be explicit here, I'm assuming estimates of goal achievement are valence-relevant. How generally this is true is not clear to me.

Thanks for the link. I’ll have to do a thorough read through your post in the future. From scanning it, I do disagree with much of it, many of those points of disagreement were laid out by previous commenters. One point I didn’t see brought up: IIRC the biological anchors paper suggests we will have enough compute to do evolution-type optimization before the end of the century. So even if we grant your claim that learning to learn is much harder to directly optimize for, I think it’s still a feasible path to AGI. Or perhaps you think evolution like optimization takes more compute than the biological anchors paper claims?

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