Senior Research Fellow, Law & AI @ Legal Priorities Project
Working (6-15 years of experience)
541Joined Jan 2016


Matthijs Maas

Senior Research Fellow (Law & Artificial Intelligence), Legal Priorities Project

Research Affiliate, Centre for the Study of Existential Risk.  | 


Strategic Perspectives on Long-term AI Governance


Answer by MMMaasMar 02, 202371

I've got a number of literature reviews and overview reports on this coming out soon, can share you on a draft if of interest. See also the primer / overview at

+1 to this proposal and focus.

On 'technical levers to make AI coordination/regulation enforceable', there is a fair amount of work suggesting that e.g. arms control agreements have often dependend on/been enabled by new technological avenues for enabling unilateral monitoring (or for enabling cooperative, but non-intrusive monitoring - e.g. sensors on missile factories, as part of the US-USSR INF Treaty), have been instrumental (see Coe and Vaynmann 2020 ).

That doesn't mean that it's always an unalloyed good: there are indeed cases where new capabilities can introduce new security or escalation risks (e.g. Vaynmann 2021); they can also perversely hold up negotiations; e.g. Richard Burns (link, introduction) discusses a case where the involvement of engineers in designing a monitoring system for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, actually held up negotiations of the regime, basically because the engineers focused excessively on technical perfection of the monitoring system [beyond a level of assurance that would've been strictly politically required by the contracting parties], which enabled opponents of the treaty to paint it as not giving sufficiently good guarantees.

Still, beyond improving enforcement, there's interesting work on ways that AI technology could speed up and support the negotiation of treaty regimes (Deeks 2020, 2020b, Maas 2021), both for AI governance specifically, and in supporting international cooperation more broadly.

That's a great suggestion, I will aim to add that for each!

Thanks for this post, I found it very interesting.

More that I'd like to write after reflection, but briefly -- on further possible scenario variables, on either the technical or governance side, I'm working out a number of these here , and would be interested to discuss.

Thanks for these points! I like the rephrasing of it as 'levers' or pathways, thosea re also good.

A downside of the term 'strategic perspective' is certainly that it implies that you need to 'pick one', that a categorical choice needs to be made amongst them. However:

-it is clearly possible to combine and work across a number of these perspectives simultaneously, so they're not mutually exclusive in terms of interventions; -in fact, under existing uncertainty over TAI timelines and governance conditions (i.e. parameters), it is probably preferable to pursue such a portfolio approach, rather than adopt any one perspective as the 'consensus one'.

  • still, as tamgent notes, this mostly owes to our current uncertainty: once you start to take stronger positions on (or assign certain probabilities to) particular scenarios, not all of these pathways are an equally good investment of resources -indeed, some of these approaches will likely entail actions that will stand in tension to one another's interventions (e.g. Anticipatory perspectives would recommend talking explicitly about AGI to policymakers; some versions of Path-setting, Network-building, or Pivotal Engineering would prefer to avoid that (for different reasons). A partisan perspective would prefer actions that might align the community with one actor; that might stand in tension to actions taken by a Coalitional (or multilateral Path-setting) perspectives; etc.).

I do agree that the 'Perspectives' framing may be too suggestive of an exclusive, coherent position that people in this space must take, when what I mean is more a loosely coherent cluster of views.


@tamgent "it seems hard to span more than two beliefs next to each other on any axis as an individual to me" could you clarify what you meant by this?

Thanks for the catch on the table, I've corrected it!

And yeah, there's a lot of drawbacks to the table format -- and a scatterplot would be much better (though unfortunately I'm not so good with editing tools, would appreciate recommendations for any). In the meantime, I'll add in your disclaimer for the table.

I'm aiming to restart posting on the sequence later this month, would appreciate feedback and comments.

To some extend, I'd prefer not yet to anchor people too much, before finishing the entire sequence. I'll aim to circle around later and have more deep reflection on my own commitments. In fact, one reason why I'm doing this project is that I notice I have rather large uncertainties over these different theories myself, and want to think through their assumptions and tradeoffs.

Still, while going into more detail on it later, I think it's fair that I provide some disclaimers about my own preferences, for those who wish to know them before going in:

[preferences below break]

... ... ... ...

TLDR: my currently (weakly held) perspective is something like '(a) as default, pursue portfolio approach consisting of interventions from Exploratory, Prosaic Engineering, Path-setting, Adaptation-enabling, Network-building, and Environment-shaping perspectives: (b) under extremely short timelines and reasonably good alignment chances, switch to Anticipatory and Pivotal Engineering; (c) under extremely low alignment success probability, switch to Containing;"

This seems grounded in a set of predispositions / biases / heuristics that are something like:

  • Given I've quite a lot of uncertainty about key (technical and governance) parameters, I'm hesitant to commit to any one perspective and prefer portfolio approaches. --That means I lean towards strategic perspectives that are more information-providing (Exploratory), more robustly compatible with- and supportive of many others (Network-building, Environment-shaping), and/or more option-preserving and flexible (Adaptation-enabling); --conversely, for these reasons I may have less affinity for perspectives that potentially recommend far-reaching, hard-to-reverse actions under limited information conditions (Pivotal Engineering, Containing, Anticipatory);

  • My academic and research background (governance; international law) probably gives me a bias towards the more explicitly 'regulatory' perspectives (Anticipatory, Path-setting, Adaptation-enabling), especially in multilateral version (Coalitional); and a bias against perspectives that are more exclusively focused on the technical side alone (eg both Engineering perspectives), pursue more unilateral actions (Pivotal Engineering, Partisan), or which seek to completely break or go beyond existing systems (System-changing)

  • There are some perspectives (Adaptation-enabling, Containing) that have remained relatively underexplored within our community. While I personally am not yet convinced that there's enough ground to adopt these as major pillars for direct action, from an Exploratory meta-perspective I am eager to see these options studied in more detail.

  • I am aware that under very short timelines, many of these perspectives fall away or begin looking less actionable;

[ED: I probably ended up being more explicit here than I intended to; I'd be happy to discuss these predispositions, but also would prefer to keep discussion of specific approaches concentrated in the perspective-specific posts (coming soon).

(apologies for very delayed reply)

Broadly, I'd see this as:

  • 'anticipatory' if it is directly tied to a specific policy proposal or project we want to implement ('we need to persuade everyone of the risk, so they understand the need to implement this specific governance solution'),
  • 'environment-shaping' (aimed at shaping key actors' norms and/or perceptions), if we do not have a strong sense of what policy we want to see adopted, but we would like to inform these actors to come up with the right choices themselves, once convinced.

Thanks for this analysis, I found this a very interesting report!  As we've discussed, there are a number of convergent lines of analysis, which Di Cooke, Kayla Matteucci and I also came to for our research paper 'Military Artificial Intelligence as Contributor to Global Catastrophic Risk' on the EA Forum ( link ; SSRN). 

Although by comparison we focused more on the operational and logistical limits to producing and using LAWS swarms en masse, and we sliced the nuclear risk escalation scenarios slightly different. We also put less focus on the question of 'given this risk portfolio, what governance interventions are more/less useful'.

This is part of ongoing work (including a larger project and article that also examines the military developers/operators angle on AGI alignment/misuse risks, and the 'arsenal overhang (extant military [& nuclear] infrastructures) as a contributor to misalignment risk' arguments (for the latter, see also some of Michael Aird's discussion here), though that had to be cut from this chapter for reasons of length and focus. 

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