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Yudkowsky on “What can we do now?”

 |   |  Conversations

A paraphrased transcript of a conversation with Eliezer Yudkowsky.

Interviewer: Suppose you’re talking to a smart mathematician who looks like the kind of person who might have the skills needed to work on a Friendly AI team. But, he says, “I understand the general problem of AI risk, but I just don’t believe that you can know so far in advance what in particular is useful to do. Any of the problems that you’re naming now are not particularly likely to be the ones that are relevant 30 or 80 years from now when AI is developed. Any technical research we do now depends on a highly conjunctive set of beliefs about the world, and we shouldn’t have so much confidence that we can see that far into the future.” What is your reply to the mathematician?

Eliezer: I’d start by having them read a description of a particular technical problem we’re working on, for example the “Löb Problem.” I’m writing up a description of that now. So I’d show the mathematician that description and say “No, this issue of trying to have an AI write a similar AI seems like a fairly fundamental one, and the Löb Problem blocks it. The fact that we can’t figure out how to do these things — even given infinite computing power — is alarming.”

A more abstract argument would be something along the lines of, “Are you sure the same way of thinking wouldn’t prevent you from working on any important problem? Are you sure you wouldn’t be going back in time and telling Alan Turing to not invent Turing machines because who knows whether computers will really work like that? They didn’t work like that. Real computers don’t work very much like the formalism, but Turing’s work was useful anyway.”

Interviewer: You and I both know people who are very well informed about AI risk, but retain more uncertainty than you do about what the best thing to do about it today is. Maybe there are lots of other promising interventions out there, like pursuing cognitive enhancement, or doing FHI-style research looking for crucial considerations that we haven’t located yet — like Drexler discovering molecular nanotechnology, or Shulman discovering iterated embryo selection for radical intelligence amplification. Or, perhaps we should focus on putting the safety memes out into the AGI community because it’s too early to tell, again, exactly which problems are going to matter, especially if you have a longer AI time horizon. What’s your response to that line of reasoning?

Eliezer: Work on whatever your current priority is, after an hour of meta reasoning but not a year of meta reasoning.  If you’re still like, “No, no, we must think more meta” after a year, then I don’t believe you’re the sort of person who will ever act.

For example, Paul Christiano isn’t making this mistake, since Paul is working on actual FAI problems while looking for other promising interventions. I don’t have much objection to that. If he then came up with some particular intervention which he thought was higher priority, I’d ask about the specific case.

Nick Bostrom isn’t making this mistake, either. He’s doing lots of meta-strategy work, but he also does work on anthropic probabilities and the parliamentary model for normative uncertainty and other things that are object-level, and he hosts people who like Anders Sandberg who write papers about uploading timelines that are actually relevant to our policy decisions.

When people constantly say “maybe we should do some other thing,” I would say, “Come to an interim decision, start acting on the interim decision, and revisit this decision as necessary.” But if you’re the person who always tries to go meta and only thinks meta because there might be some better thing, you’re not ever going to actually do something about the problem.

2012 Winter Matching Challenge a Success!

 |   |  News

Thanks to our dedicated supporters, we met our goal for our 2012 Winter Fundraiser. Thank you!

The fundraiser ran for 45 days, from December 6, 2012 to January 20, 2013.

We met our $115,000 goal, raising a total of $230,000 for our operations in 2013.

Every donation that the Machine Intelligence Research Institute receives is powerful support for our mission — ensuring that the creation of smarter-than-human intelligence benefits human society.

New Transcript: Eliezer Yudkowsky and Massimo Pigliucci on the Intelligence Explosion

 |   |  News

In this 2010 conversation hosted by bloggingheads.tvEliezer Yudkowsky and Massimo Pigliucci attempt to unpack the fundamental assumptions involved in determining the plausability of a technological singularity.

A transcript of the conversation is now available here, thanks to Ethan Dickinson and Patrick Stevens of MIRIvolunteers.org. A video of the conversation can be found at the bloggingheads website.

January 2013 Newsletter

 |   |  Newsletters

Greetings from the Executive Director


Dear friends of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute,

It’s been just over one year since I took the reins at the Machine Intelligence Research Institute. Looking back, I must say I’m proud of what we accomplished in the last year.

Consider the “top priorities for 2011-2012” from our August 2011 strategic plan. The first priority was “public-facing research on creating a positive singularity.” On this front, we did so well that MIRI had more peer-reviewed publications in 2012 than in all past years combined (well, except for the fact that some publications scheduled for 2012 have been delayed until 2013, but you can still download preprints of those publications from our research page).

Our second priority was “outreach / education / fundraising.” Outreach and education was mostly achieved through the Singularity Summit and through the new Center for Applied Rationality, which was spun out of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute but is now its own 501c3 organization running entirely from its own funding. As for fundraising: 2012 was our most successful year yet.

Our third priority was “improved organizational effectiveness.” Here, we grew by leaps and bounds throughout 2012. Throughout the year, we built our first comprehensive donor database (to improve donor relations), launched a regular newsletter (to improve public communication), instituted best practices in management and accounting throughout the organization, began tracking costs and predicted benefits for all major projects, started renting a new office in Berkeley that now bustles with activity every day, updated the design and content on our website, gained $40,000/mo of free Google Adwords directing traffic to MIRI web properties, and more.

Our fourth priority was to run our annual Singularity Summit. We were pleased not only to run our most professional Summit yet, but also to subsequently sell the Summit to Singularity University (SU). We are confident that the Summit is in good hands, and we are also pleased that SU’s acquisition of the Singularity Summit provides us with some much-needed funding expand our research program.

That said, most of the money from the Summit acquisition is being dedicated to a special fund for Friendly AI researchers, and does not support our daily operations. For that, we need your help! Please contribute to our ongoing matching challenge, which ends January 20th!

Onward and upward,

Luke

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December 2012 Newsletter

 |   |  Newsletters

Greetings from the Executive Director


Dear friends of the Singularity Institute,

This month marks the biggest shift in our operations since the Singularity Summit was founded in 2006. Now that Singularity University has acquired the Singularity Summit (details below), and SI’s interests in rationality training are being developed by the now-separate Center for Applied Rationality, the Singularity Institute is making a major transition. For 12 years we’ve largely focused on movement-building — through the Singularity Summit, Less Wrong, and other programs. This work was needed to build up a community of support for our mission and a pool of potential researchers for our unique interdisciplinary work.

Now, the time has come to say “Mission Accomplished Well Enough to Pivot to Research.” Our community of supporters is now large enough that qualified researchers are available for us to hire, if we can afford to hire them. Having published 30+ research papers and dozens more original research articles on Less Wrong, we certainly haven’t neglected research. But in 2013 we plan to pivot so that a much larger share of the funds we raise is spent on research. If you’d like to help with that, please contribute to our ongoing fundraising drive.

Onward and upward,

Luke

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2012 Winter Matching Challenge!

 |   |  News

Thanks to the generosity of several major donors, every donation to the Machine Intelligence Research Institute made now until January 5th, 2013 will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $115,000!

Donate Now!

$0

$28.75K

$57.5K

$86.25K

$115K

Now is your chance to double your impact while helping us raise up to $230,000 to help fund our research program.

(If you’re unfamiliar with our mission, please see our press kit and read our short research summary: Reducing Long-Term Catastrophic Risks from Artificial Intelligence.)

Now that Singularity University has acquired the Singularity Summit, and SI’s interests in rationality training are being developed by the now-separate CFAR, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute is making a profound transition. (Note that most of the money from the acquisition is being placed in a separate fund for Friendly AI researchers, and therefore does not support our daily operations or other programs.)

For 12 years we’ve largely focused on movement-building — through the Singularity Summit, Less Wrong, and other programs. This work was needed to build up a community of support for our mission and a pool of potential researchers for our unique interdisciplinary work.

Now, the time has come to say “Mission Accomplished.” Or at least, “Mission Accomplished Well Enough to Pivot to Research.” Our community of supporters is now large enough that many qualified researchers are available for us to hire, if we can afford to hire them.

Having published 30+ research papers and dozens more original research articles on Less Wrong, we certainly haven’t neglected research. But in 2013 we plan to pivot so that a much larger share of the funds we raise is spent on research.

Accomplishments in 2012

Future Plans You Can Help Support

In the coming months, we plan to do the following:

  • As part of Singularity University’s acquisition of the Singularity Summit, we will be changing our name and launching a new website.
  • Eliezer will publish his sequence Open Problems in Friendly AI.
  • We will publish nicely-edited ebooks (Kindle, iBooks, and PDF) for many of our core materials, to make them more accessible: The Sequences, 2006-2009, Facing the Singularity, and The Hanson-Yudkowsky AI Foom Debate.
  • We will publish several more research papers, including “Responses to Catastrophic AGI Risk: A Survey” and a short, technical introduction to timeless decision theory.
  • We will set up the infrastructure required to host a productive Friendly AI team and try hard to recruit enough top-level math talent to launch it.

(Other projects are still being surveyed for likely cost and strategic impact.)

We appreciate your support for our high-impact work! Donate now, and seize a better than usual chance to move our work forward. Credit card transactions are securely processed using either PayPal or Google Checkout. If you have questions about donating, please contact Louie Helm at (510) 717-1477 or louie@intelligence.org.

$115,000 of total matching funds has been provided by Edwin Evans, Mihály Bárász, Rob Zahra, Alexei Andreev, Jeff Bone, Michael Blume, Guy Srinivasan, and Kevin Fischer.

Once again, a reporter thinks our positions are the opposite of what they are

 |   |  Analysis

Perhaps the most accurate media coverage the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (MIRI) has yet received was a piece by legendary science author Carl Zimmer in Playboy. To give you a sense of how inaccurate most of our media coverage is, here’s a (translated) quote from some coverage of MIRI in a Franco-German documentary:

In San Francisco however, a society of young voluntary scientists believes in the good in robots. How naive! Here at [MIRI]…

Such a quote is amusing because, of course, the Machine Intelligence Research Institute has been saying for a decade that AI will by default be harmful to humanity, that it is extremely difficult to design a “moral machine,” that neither we nor anyone else knows how to do it yet, and that dozens of approaches proposed by others are naive and insufficient for one reason or another.

Now, in a new piece for The Sunday Times, Bryan Appleyard writes:

Yudkowsky [from MIRI] seemed to me simplistic in his understanding of moral norms. “You would not kill a baby,” he said to me, implying that was one norm that could easily be programmed into a machine.

“Some people do,” I pointed out, but he didn’t see the full significance. SS officers killed babies routinely because of an adjustment in the society from which they sprang in the form of Nazism. Machines would be much more radically adjusted away from human social norms, however we programmed them.

Again: MIRI has been saying for a decade that it is extremely difficult to program a machine to not kill a baby. Indeed, our position is that directly programming moral norms won’t work because our values are more complex than we realize. The direct programming of moral norms is something that others have proposed, and a position we criticize. For example, here is a quote from the concise summary of our research program:

Since we have no introspective access to the details of human values, the solution to this problem probably involves designing an AI to learn human values by looking at humans, asking questions, scanning human brains, etc., rather than an AI preprogrammed with a fixed set of imperatives that sounded like good ideas at the time.

But this doesn’t mean we can simply let some advanced machine learning algorithms observe human behavior to learn our moral values, because:

The explicit moral values of human civilization have changed over time, and we regard this change as progress, and extrapolate that progress may continue in the future. An AI programmed with the explicit values of 1800 might now be fighting to reestablish slavery… Possible bootstrapping algorithms include “do what we would have told you to do if we knew everything you knew,” “do what we would’ve told you to do if we thought as fast as you did and could consider many more possible lines of moral argument,” and “do what we would tell you to do if we had your ability to reflect on and modify ourselves.” In moral philosophy, this notion of moral progress is known as reflective equilibrium.

Moving on… Appleyard’s point that “Machines would be much more radically adjusted away from human social norms, however we programmed them” is another point MIRI been making from the very beginning. See the warnings against anthropomorphism in “Creating Friendly AI” (2001) and “Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk” (written in 2005, published in 2008). AI mind designs will be far more “alien” to us than the minds of aliens appearing in movies.

Appleyard goes on to say:

[Compared to MIRI,] the Cambridge group has a much more sophisticated grasp of these issues. Price, in particular, is aware that machines will not be subject to social pressure to behave well.

“When you think of the forms intelligence might take,” Price says, “it seems reasonable to think we occupy some tiny corner of that space and there are many ways in which something might be intelligent in ways that are nothing like our minds at all.”

What Appleyard doesn’t seem to realize, here, is that Price is basically quoting a point long stressed by MIRI researcher Eliezer Yudkowsky — that there is a huge space of possible minds, and humans only occupy a tiny corner of that space. In fact, that point is associated with MIRI and Eliezer Yudkowsky more than with anyone else! Here’s another quote from the paper Yudkowsky wrote in 2005:

The term “Artificial Intelligence” refers to a vastly greater space of possibilities than does the term “Homo sapiens.” When we talk about “AIs” we are really talking about minds-in-general, or optimization processes in general. Imagine a map of mind design space. In one corner, a tiny little circle contains all humans; within a larger tiny circle containing all biological life; and all the rest of the huge map is the space of minds in general. The entire map floats in a still vaster space, the space of optimization processes… It is this enormous space of possibilities which outlaws anthropomorphism as legitimate reasoning.

So once again, a reporter thinks MIRI’s positions are the opposite of what they are.

Beware what you read in the popular media!

Update: I told Appleyard of his mistake, and he simply denied that his article has made a mistake on this matter.

November 2012 Newsletter

 |   |  Newsletters

Greetings from the Executive Director


Dear friends of the Machine Intelligence Research Institute,

My thanks to the dozens of staff members, contractors, and volunteers who helped make this year’s Singularity Summit our most professional and exciting Summit yet! Videos of the talks are now online, but I pity those who missed out on the live event and the killer lobby scene. We made more room in the schedule this year for mingling and networking, and everyone seemed to love it. After all, the future won’t be created merely by information and information technologies, but by the communities of people who decide to create the future together.

The Summit is a tremendous amount of work each year, and so it felt great to have so many people approach me to say, unprompted, “Wow, this is the best Summit yet!” and “You guys really took it to the next level this year; this is great!” I replayed those moments in my head on Sunday night as I drifted into the blissful coma that would repay several weeks of sleep debt.

Luke Muehlhauser

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