Topic Contributions


Steering AI to care for animals, and soon

That's right that we don't have any ongoing projects exclusively on the impact of AI on nonhuman biological animals, though much of our research includes that, especially the outer alignment idea of ensuring an AGI or superintelligence accounts for the interests about all sentient beings, including wild and domestic  nonhuman biological animals. We also have several empirical projects where we collect data on both moral concern for animals and for AI, such as on perspective-taking, predictors of moral concern, and our recently conducted US nationally representative survey on Artificial Intelligence, Morality, and Sentience (AIMS).

For various reasons discussed in those nonhumans and the long-term future posts and in essays like "Advantages of Artificial Intelligences, Uploads, and Digital Minds" (Sotala 2012), biological nonhuman animals seem less likely to exist in very large numbers in the long-term future than animal-like digital minds. That doesn't mean we shouldn't work on the impact of AI on those biological nonhuman animals, but it has made us prioritize laying groundwork on the nature of moral concern and the possibility space of future sentience. I can say that we have a lot of researcher applicants propose agendas focused more directly on AI and biological nonhuman animals, and we're in principle very open to it. There are far more promising research projects in this space than we can fund at the moment. However, I don't think Sentience Institute's comparative advantage is working directly on research projects like CETI or Interspecies Internet that wade through the detail of animal ethology or neuroscience using machine learning, though I'd love to see a blog-depth analysis of the short-term and long-term potential impacts of such projects, especially if there are more targeted interventions (e.g., translating farmed animal vocalizations) that could be high-leverage for EA.

Steering AI to care for animals, and soon

Good points! This is exactly the sort of work we do at Sentience Institute on moral circle expansion (mostly for farmed animals from 2016 to 2020, but since late 2020, most of our work has been directly on AI—and of course the intersections), and it has been my priority since 2014. Also, Peter Singer and Yip Fai Tse are working on "AI Ethics: The Case for Including Animals"; there are a number of EA Forum posts on nonhumans and the long-term future; and the harms of AI and "smart farming" for farmed animals is a common topic, such as this recent article that I was quoted in. My sense from talking to many people in this area is that there is substantial room for more funding; we've gotten some generous support from EA megafunders and individuals, but we also consistently get dozens of highly qualified applicants whom we have to reject every hiring round, including people with good ideas for new projects.

The expected value of extinction risk reduction is positive

Oh, sorry, I was thinking of the arguments in my post, not (only) those in your post. I should have been more precise in my wording.

The expected value of extinction risk reduction is positive

Thank you for the reply, Jan, especially noting those additional arguments. I worry that your article neglects them in favor of less important/controversial questions on this topic. I see many EAs taking the "very unlikely that [human descendants] would see value exactly where we see disvalue" argument (I'd call this the 'will argument,' that the future might be dominated by human-descendant will and there is much more will to create happiness than suffering, especially in terms of the likelihood of hedonium over dolorium) and using that to justify a very heavy focus on reducing extinction risk, without exploration of those many other arguments. I worry that much of the Oxford/SF-based EA community has committed hard to reducing extinction risk without exploring those other arguments.

It'd be great if at some point you could write up discussion of those other arguments, since I think that's where the thrust of the disagreement is between people who think the far future is highly positive, close to zero, and highly negative. Though unfortunately, it always ends up coming down to highly intuitive judgment calls on these macro-socio-technological questions. As I mentioned in that post, my guess is that long-term empirical study like the research in The Age of Em or done at Sentience Institute is our best way of improving those highly intuitive judgment calls and finally reaching agreement on the topic.

The expected value of extinction risk reduction is positive

Thanks for posting on this important topic. You might be interested in this EA Forum post where I outlined many arguments against your conclusion, the expected value of extinction risk reduction being (highly) positive.

I do think your "very unlikely that [human descendants] would see value exactly where we see disvalue" argument is a viable one, but I think it's just one of many considerations, and my current impression of the evidence is that it's outweighed.

Also FYI the link in your article to "moral circle expansion" is dead. We work on that approach at Sentience Institute if you're interested.

Why I'm focusing on invertebrate sentience

I remain skeptical of how much this type of research will influence EA-minded decisions, e.g. how many people would switch donations from farmed animal welfare campaigns to humane insecticide campaigns if they increased their estimate of insect sentience by 50%? But I still think the EA community should be allocating substantially more resources to it than they are now, and you seem to be approaching it in a smart way, so I hope you get funding!

I'm especially excited about the impact of this research on general concern for invertebrate sentience (e.g. establishing norms that there are at least some smart humans are actively working on insect welfare policy) and on helping humans better consider artificial sentience when important tech policy decisions are made (e.g. on AI ethics).

2018 list of half-baked volunteer research ideas

[1] Cochrane mass media health articles (and similar):

  • Targeted mass media interventions promoting healthy behaviours to reduce risk of non-communicable diseases in adult, ethnic minorities
  • Mass media interventions for smoking cessation in adults
  • Mass media interventions for preventing smoking in young people.
  • Mass media interventions for promoting HIV testing
  • Smoking cessation media campaigns and their effectiveness among socioeconomically advantaged and disadvantaged populations
  • Population tobacco control interventions and their effects on social inequalities in smoking: systematic review
  • Are physical activity interventions equally effective in adolescents of low and high socioeconomic status (SES): results from the European Teenage project
  • The effectiveness of nutrition interventions on dietary outcomes by relative social disadvantage: a systematic review
  • Use of folic acid supplements, particularly by low-income and young women: a series of systematic reviews to inform public health policy in the UK
  • Use of mass media campaigns to change health behaviour
  • The role of the media in promoting and reducing tobacco use
  • Getting to the Truth: Evaluating National Tobacco Countermarketing Campaigns
  • Effect of televised, tobacco company-funded smoking prevention advertising on youth smoking-related beliefs, intentions, and behavior
  • Do mass media campaigns improve physical activity? a systematic review and meta-analysis
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