A new field guide for MIRIx

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We’ve just released a field guide for MIRIx groups, and for other people who want to get involved in AI alignment research.

MIRIx is a program where MIRI helps cover basic expenses for outside groups that want to work on open problems in AI safety. You can start your own group or find information on existing meet-ups at intelligence.org/mirix.

Several MIRIx groups have recently been ramping up their activity, including:

  • UC Irvine: Daniel Hermann is starting a MIRIx group in Irvine, California. Contact him if you’d like to be involved.
  • Seattle: MIRIxSeattle is a small group that’s in the process of restarting and increasing its activities. Contact Pasha Kamyshev if you’re interested.
  • Vancouver: Andrew McKnight and Evan Gaensbauer are looking for more people who’d like to join MIRIxVancouver events.

The new alignment field guide is intended to provide tips and background models to MIRIx groups, based on our experience of what tends to make a research group succeed or fail.

The guide begins:

Preamble I: Decision Theory

Hello! You may notice that you are reading a document.

This fact comes with certain implications. For instance, why are you reading this? Will you finish it? What decisions will you come to as a result? What will you do next?

Notice that, whatever you end up doing, it’s likely that there are dozens or even hundreds of other people, quite similar to you and in quite similar positions, who will follow reasoning which strongly resembles yours, and make choices which correspondingly match.

Given that, it’s our recommendation that you make your next few decisions by asking the question “What policy, if followed by all agents similar to me, would result in the most good, and what does that policy suggest in my particular case?” It’s less of a question of trying to decide for all agents sufficiently-similar-to-you (which might cause you to make the wrong choice out of guilt or pressure) and more something like “if I were in charge of all agents in my reference class, how would I treat instances of that class with my specific characteristics?”

If that kind of thinking leads you to read further, great. If it leads you to set up a MIRIx chapter, even better. In the meantime, we will proceed as if the only people reading this document are those who justifiably expect to find it reasonably useful.

Preamble II: Surface Area

Imagine that you have been tasked with moving a cube of solid iron that is one meter on a side. Given that such a cube weighs ~16000 pounds, and that an average human can lift ~100 pounds, a naïve estimation tells you that you can solve this problem with ~150 willing friends.

But of course, a meter cube can fit at most something like 10 people around it. It doesn’t matter if you have the theoretical power to move the cube if you can’t bring that power to bear in an effective manner. The problem is constrained by its surface area.

MIRIx chapters are one of the best ways to increase the surface area of people thinking about and working on the technical problem of AI alignment. And just as it would be a bad idea to decree “the 10 people who happen to currently be closest to the metal cube are the only ones allowed to think about how to think about this problem”, we don’t want MIRI to become the bottleneck or authority on what kinds of thinking can and should be done in the realm of embedded agency and other relevant fields of research.

The hope is that you and others like you will help actually solve the problem, not just follow directions or read what’s already been written. This document is designed to support people who are interested in doing real groundbreaking research themselves.

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