This is a transcription of Eliezer Yudkowsky responding to Paul Christiano’s Takeoff Speeds live on Sep. 14, followed by a conversation between Eliezer and Paul. This discussion took place after Eliezer’s conversation with Richard Ngo, and was prompted by an earlier request by Richard Ngo that Eliezer respond to Paul on Takeoff Speeds.
|Chat by Paul and Eliezer||Other chat|
5.5. Comments on “Takeoff Speeds”
maybe I’ll try liveblogging some https://sideways-view.com/2018/02/24/takeoff-speeds/ here in the meanwhile
Slower takeoff means faster progress
The main disagreement is not about what will happen once we have a superintelligent AI, it’s about what will happen before we have a superintelligent AI. So slow takeoff seems to mean that AI has a larger impact on the world, sooner.
It seems to me to be disingenuous to phrase it this way, given that slow-takeoff views usually imply that AI has a large impact later relative to right now (2021), even if they imply that AI impacts the world “earlier” relative to “when superintelligence becomes reachable”.
“When superintelligence becomes reachable” is not a fixed point in time that doesn’t depend on what you believe about cognitive scaling. The correct graph is, in fact, the one where the “slow” line starts a bit before “fast” peaks and ramps up slowly, reaching a high point later than “fast”. It’s a nice try at reconciliation with the imagined Other, but it fails and falls flat.
This may seem like a minor point, but points like this do add up.
In the fast takeoff scenario, weaker AI systems may have significant impacts but they are nothing compared to the “real” AGI. Whoever builds AGI has a decisive strategic advantage. Growth accelerates from 3%/year to 3000%/year without stopping at 30%/year. And so on.
This again shows failure to engage with the Other’s real viewpoint. My mainline view is that growth stays at 5%/year and then everybody falls over dead in 3 seconds and the world gets transformed into paperclips; there’s never a point with 3000%/year.
Operationalizing slow takeoff
There will be a complete 4 year interval in which world output doubles, before the first 1 year interval in which world output doubles.
If we allow that consuming and transforming the solar system over the course of a few days is “the first 1 year interval in which world output doubles”, then I’m happy to argue that there won’t be a 4-year interval with world economic output doubling before then. This, indeed, seems like a massively overdetermined point to me. That said, again, the phrasing is not conducive to conveying the Other’s real point of view.
I believe that before we have incredibly powerful AI, we will have AI which is merely very powerful.
Statements like these are very often “true, but not the way the person visualized them”. Before anybody built the first critical nuclear pile in a squash court at the University of Chicago, was there a pile that was almost but not quite critical? Yes, one hour earlier. Did people already build nuclear systems and experiment with them? Yes, but they didn’t have much in the way of net power output. Did the Wright Brothers build prototypes before the Flyer? Yes, but they weren’t prototypes that flew but 80% slower.
I guarantee you that, whatever the fast takeoff scenario, there will be some way to look over the development history, and nod wisely and say, “Ah, yes, see, this was not unprecedented, here are these earlier systems which presaged the final system!” Maybe you could even look back to today and say that about GPT-3, yup, totally presaging stuff all over the place, great. But it isn’t transforming society because it’s not over the social-transformation threshold.
AlphaFold presaged AlphaFold 2 but AlphaFold 2 is good enough to start replacing other ways of determining protein conformations and AlphaFold is not; and then neither of those has much impacted the real world, because in the real world we can already design a vaccine in a day and the rest of the time is bureaucratic time rather than technology time, and that goes on until we have an AI over the threshold to bypass bureaucracy.
Before there’s an AI that can act while fully concealing its acts from the programmers, there will be an AI (albeit perhaps only 2 hours earlier) which can act while only concealing 95% of the meaning of its acts from the operators.
And that AI will not actually originate any actions, because it doesn’t want to get caught; there’s a discontinuity in the instrumental incentives between expecting 95% obscuration, being moderately sure of 100% obscuration, and being very certain of 100% obscuration.
Before that AI grasps the big picture and starts planning to avoid actions that operators detect as bad, there will be some little AI that partially grasps the big picture and tries to avoid some things that would be detected as bad; and the operators will (mainline) say “Yay what a good AI, it knows to avoid things we think are bad!” or (death with unrealistic amounts of dignity) say “oh noes the prophecies are coming true” and back off and start trying to align it, but they will not be able to align it, and if they don’t proceed anyways to destroy the world, somebody else will proceed anyways to destroy the world.
There is always some step of the process that you can point to which is continuous on some level.
The real world is allowed to do discontinuous things to you anyways.
There is not necessarily a presage of 9/11 where somebody flies a small plane into a building and kills 100 people, before anybody flies 4 big planes into 3 buildings and kills 3000 people; and even if there is some presaging event like that, which would not surprise me at all, the rest of the world’s response to the two cases was evidently discontinuous. You do not necessarily wake up to a news story that is 10% of the news story of 2001/09/11, one year before 2001/09/11, written in 10% of the font size on the front page of the paper.
Physics is continuous but it doesn’t always yield things that “look smooth to a human brain”. Some kinds of processes converge to continuity in strong ways where you can throw discontinuous things in them and they still end up continuous, which is among the reasons why I expect world GDP to stay on trend up until the world ends abruptly; because world GDP is one of those things that wants to stay on a track, and an AGI building a nanosystem can go off that track without being pushed back onto it.
In particular, this means that incredibly powerful AI will emerge in a world where crazy stuff is already happening (and probably everyone is already freaking out).
Like the way they’re freaking out about Covid (itself a nicely smooth process that comes in locally pretty predictable waves) by going doobedoobedoo and letting the FDA carry on its leisurely pace; and not scrambling to build more vaccine factories, now that the rich countries have mostly got theirs? Does this sound like a statement from a history book, or from an EA imagining an unreal world where lots of other people behave like EAs? There is a pleasure in imagining a world where suddenly a Big Thing happens that proves we were right and suddenly people start paying attention to our thing, the way we imagine they should pay attention to our thing, now that it’s attention-grabbing; and then suddenly all our favorite policies are on the table!
You could, in a sense, say that our world is freaking out about Covid; but it is not freaking out in anything remotely like the way an EA would freak out; and all the things an EA would immediately do if an EA freaked out about Covid, are not even on the table for discussion when politicians meet. They have their own ways of reacting. (Note: this is not commentary on hard vs soft takeoff per se, just a general commentary on the whole document seeming to me to… fall into a trap of finding self-congruent things to imagine and imagining them.)