Health, technology and catastrophic risk - New Zealand
Hopefully everyone who thinks that AI is the most pressing issue takes the time to write (or collaborate and write) their best solution in 2000 words and submit to the UN's recent consultation call: https://dig.watch/updates/invitation-for-paper-submissions-on-worldwide-ai-governance A chance to put AI in the same global governance basket as biological and nuclear weapons. And potential high leverage from a relatively small task (Deadline 30 Sept).
Difficult to interpret a lot of this as it seems to be a debate between potentially biased pacifists, and potentially biased military blogger. As with many disagreements the truth is likely in the middle somewhere (as Rodriguez noted). Need new independent studies on this that are divorced from the existing pedigrees. That said, much of the catastrophic risk from nuclear war may be in the more than likely catastrophic trade disruptions, which alone could lead to famines, given that nearly 2/3 of countries are net food importers, and almost no one makes their own liquid fuel to run their agricultural equipment.
Thanks for this post. Reducing risks of great power war is important, but also consider reducing risks from great power war. In particular working on how non-combatant nations can ensure their societies survive the potentially catastrophic ensuing effects on trade/food/fuel etc. Disadvantages of this approach are that it does not prevent the massive global harms in the first place, advantages are that building resilience of eg relatively self-sufficient island refuges may also reduce existential risk from other causes (bio-threats, nuclear war/winter, catastrophic solar storm, etc). One approach is our ongoing project the Aotearoa New Zealand Catastrophe Resilience Project.Also, 100,000 deaths sounds about right for the current conflict in Ukraine, given that recent excess mortality analysis puts Russian deaths at about 50,000.
100% agree regarding catastrophe risk. This is where I think advocacy resources should be focused. Governments and people care about catastrophe as you say, even 1% would be an immense tragedy. And if we spell out how exactly (one or three or ten examples) of how AI development leads to a 1% catastrophe then this can be the impetus for serious institution-building, global cooperation, regulations, research funding, public discussion of AI risk. And packaged within all that activity can be resources for x-risk work. Focusing on x-risk alienates too many people, and focusing on risks like bias and injustice leaves too much tail risk out. There's so much middle ground here. The extreme near/long term division on this debate has really surprised me. As someone noted with climate, in 1990 we could care about present day particulate pollution killing many people, AND care about 1.5C scenarios, AND care about 6C scenarios, all at once, it's not mutually exclusive. (noted that the topic of the debate was 'extinction risk' so perhaps the topic wasn't ideal for actually getting agreement on action).
Hi Steven, thanks for what I consider a very good post. I was extremely frustrated with this debate for many of the reasons you articulate. I felt that the affirmative side really failed to concretely articulate the x-risk concerns in a way that was clear and intuitive to the audience (people we need good clear scenarios of how exactly step by step this happens!). Despite years (decades!) of good research and debate on this (including in the present Forum) the words coming out of x-risk proponents mouths still seem to be 'exponential curve, panic panic, [waves hands] boom!' Yudkowsky is particularly prone to this, and unfortunately this style doesn't land effectively and may even harmfully shift the overton window. Both Bengio and Tegmark tried to avoid this, but the result was a vague and watered down version of arguments (or omission of key arguments). On the negative side Melanie seemed either (a) uninformed of the key arguments (she just needs to listen to one of Yampolskiy's recent podcast interviews to get a good accessible summary). Or (b) refused to engage with such arguments. I think (like a similar recent panel discussion on the lab leak theory of Covid-19) this is a case of very defensive scientists feeling threatened by regulation, but then responding with a very naive and arrogant attack. No, science doesn't get to decide policy. Communities do, whether rightly or wrongly. Both sides need to work on clear messages, because this debate was an unhelpful mess. The debate format possibly didn't help because it set up an adversarial process, whereas there is actually common ground. Yes, there are important near term risks of AI, yes if left unchecked such processes could escalate (at some point) to existential risk. There is a general communication failure here. More use needs to be made of scenarios and consequences. Nuclear weapons (nuclear weapons research) are not necessarily an 'existential risk' but a resulting nuclear winter, crop failures, famine, disease, and ongoing conflict could be. In a similar way 'AI research' is not necessarily the existential risk, but there are many plausible cascades of events stemming from AI as a risk factor and its interaction with other risks. These are the middle ground stories that need to be richly told, these will sway decision makers, not 'Foom!'
More recent works than those cited above:
Famine after a range of nuclear winter scenarios (Xia et al 2022, Nature Food): https://www.nature.com/articles/s43016-022-00573-0
Resilient foods to mitigate likely famines (Rivers et al 2022, preprint): https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-1446444/v1
Likelihood of New Zealand collapse (Boyd & Wilson 2022, Risk Analysis): https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/risa.14072
New Zealand agricultural production post-nuclear winter (Wilson et al 2022, in press): https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2022.05.13.22275065v3
Optimising frost-resistant crops NZ nuclear winter (Wilson et al, preprint): https://www.researchsquare.com/article/rs-2670766/v1
Project examining New Zealand's resilience to nuclear war (with focus on trade disruption):
Thanks for this great post mapping out the problem space! I'd add that trade disruption appears to be one of the most significant impacts of nuclear war, and plausibly amplifies the 'famine' aspect of nuclear winter significantly and a range of potential civilisation collapse risk factors, see my earlier post here: https://forum.effectivealtruism.org/posts/7arEfmLBX2donjJyn/islands-nuclear-winter-and-trade-disruption-as-a-human Trade disruption disappears into the 'various risk factor mechanisms' category above, but I think it's worth more consideration. Here's a report on a workshop we recently ran on nuclear winter risk and New Zealand and how the impact of trade disruption pushes nuclear war into the very severe regions of a risk matrix: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/2023/02/20/workshop-on-nuclear-war-winter-nz-wellbeing-of-millions-and-1-trillion-plus-at-risk-strategic-resilience-must-become-bread-butter-nz-policy/ We now have a survey across a range of sectors in pilot to better understand the cascading impacts of such disruption on NZ's technological/industrial society (and how to avoid collapse). The full survey will be deployed soon. A lot of likely resilience measures against nuclear winter will have co-benefits across a range of other 'ordinary' and catastrophic risks, we hope to identify those with Delphi processes later this year. Project outline here: https://adaptresearchwriting.com/2022/09/13/introducing-the-aotearoa-nz-catastrophe-resilience-project/ I'd be interested to chat with anyone at Rethink Priorities who is continuing your work.
Thanks. I guess this relates to your point about democratically acceptable decisions of governments. If a government is choosing to neglect something (eg because its probability is low, or because they have political motivations for doing so, vested interests etc), then they should only do so if they have information suggesting the electorate has/would authorize this. Otherwise it is an undemocratic decision.
Thanks for this, great paper.
We transform ourselves all the time, and very powerfully. The entire field of cognitive niche construction is dedicated to studying how the things we create/build/invent/change lead to developmental scaffolding and new cognitive abilities that previous generations did not have. Language, writing systems, education systems, religions, syllabi, external cognitive supports, all these things have powerfully transformed human thought and intelligence. And once they were underway the take-off speed of this evolutionary transformation was very rapid (compared to the 200,000 years spent being anatomically modern with comparatively little change).