AlphaGo Zero and the Foom Debate

 |   |  Analysis

AlphaGo Zero uses 4 TPUs, is built entirely out of neural nets with no handcrafted features, doesn’t pretrain against expert games or anything else human, reaches a superhuman level after 3 days of self-play, and is the strongest version of AlphaGo yet.

The architecture has been simplified. Previous AlphaGo had a policy net that predicted good plays, and a value net that evaluated positions, both feeding into lookahead using MCTS (random probability-weighted plays out to the end of a game). AlphaGo Zero has one neural net that selects moves and this net is trained by Paul-Christiano-style capability amplification, playing out games against itself to learn new probabilities for winning moves.

As others have also remarked, this seems to me to be an element of evidence that favors the Yudkowskian position over the Hansonian position in my and Robin Hanson’s AI-foom debate.

As I recall and as I understood:

  • Hanson doubted that what he calls “architecture” is much of a big deal, compared to (Hanson said) elements like cumulative domain knowledge, or special-purpose components built by specialized companies in what he expects to be an ecology of companies serving an AI economy.
  • When I remarked upon how it sure looked to me like humans had an architectural improvement over chimpanzees that counted for a lot, Hanson replied that this seemed to him like a one-time gain from allowing the cultural accumulation of knowledge.

I emphasize how all the mighty human edifice of Go knowledge, the joseki and tactics developed over centuries of play, the experts teaching children from an early age, was entirely discarded by AlphaGo Zero with a subsequent performance improvement. These mighty edifices of human knowledge, as I understand the Hansonian thesis, are supposed to be the bulwark against rapid gains in AI capability across multiple domains at once. I said, “Human intelligence is crap and our accumulated skills are crap,” and this appears to have been borne out.

Similarly, single research labs like DeepMind are not supposed to pull far ahead of the general ecology, because adapting AI to any particular domain is supposed to require lots of components developed all over the place by a market ecology that makes those components available to other companies. AlphaGo Zero is much simpler than that. To the extent that nobody else can run out and build AlphaGo Zero, it’s either because Google has Tensor Processing Units that aren’t generally available, or because DeepMind has a silo of expertise for being able to actually make use of existing ideas like ResNets, or both.

Sheer speed of capability gain should also be highlighted here. Most of my argument for FOOM in the Yudkowsky-Hanson debate was about self-improvement and what happens when an optimization loop is folded in on itself. Though it wasn’t necessary to my argument, the fact that Go play went from “nobody has come close to winning against a professional” to “so strongly superhuman they’re not really bothering any more” over two years just because that’s what happens when you improve and simplify the architecture, says you don’t even need self-improvement to get things that look like FOOM.

Yes, Go is a closed system allowing for self-play. It still took humans centuries to learn how to play it. Perhaps the new Hansonian bulwark against rapid capability gain can be that the environment has lots of empirical bits that are supposed to be very hard to learn, even in the limit of AI thoughts fast enough to blow past centuries of human-style learning in 3 days; and that humans have learned these vital bits over centuries of cultural accumulation of knowledge, even though we know that humans take centuries to do 3 days of AI learning when humans have all the empirical bits they need; and that AIs cannot absorb this knowledge very quickly using “architecture”, even though humans learn it from each other using architecture. If so, then let’s write down this new world-wrecking assumption (that is, the world ends if the assumption is false) and be on the lookout for further evidence that this assumption might perhaps be wrong.

AlphaGo clearly isn’t a general AI. There’s obviously stuff humans do that make us much more general than AlphaGo, and AlphaGo obviously doesn’t do that. However, if even with the human special sauce we’re to expect AGI capabilities to be slow, domain-specific, and requiring feed-in from a big market ecology, then the situation we see without human-equivalent generality special sauce should not look like this.

To put it another way, I put a lot of emphasis in my debate on recursive self-improvement and the remarkable jump in generality across the change from primate intelligence to human intelligence. It doesn’t mean we can’t get info about speed of capability gains without self-improvement. It doesn’t mean we can’t get info about the importance and generality of algorithms without the general intelligence trick. The debate can start to settle for fast capability gains before we even get to what I saw as the good parts; I wouldn’t have predicted AlphaGo and lost money betting against the speed of its capability gains, because reality held a more extreme position than I did on the Yudkowsky-Hanson spectrum.

(Reply from Robin Hanson.)