New report: “Computable probability distributions which converge…”

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Computable probability distributions which convergeBack in July 2013, Will Sawin (Princeton) and Abram Demski (USC) wrote a technical report describing a result from that month’s MIRI research workshop. We are finally releasing that report today. It is titled “Computable probability distributions which converge on believing true Π1 sentences will disbelieve true Π2 sentences.”


It might seem reasonable that after seeing unboundedly many examples of a true Π1 statement that a rational agent ought to be able to become increasingly confident, converging toward probability 1, that this statement is true. However, we have proven that this plus some plausible coherence properties, necessarily implies arbitrarily low limiting probabilities assigned to some short true Π2 statements.

New report: “Toward Idealized Decision Theory”

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Toward IdealizedToday we release a new technical report by Nate Soares and Benja Fallenstein, “Toward idealized decision theory.” If you’d like to discuss the paper, please do so here.


This paper motivates the study of decision theory as necessary for aligning smarter-than-human artificial systems with human interests. We discuss the shortcomings of two standard formulations of decision theory, and demonstrate that they cannot be used to describe an idealized decision procedure suitable for approximation by artificial systems. We then explore the notions of strategy selection and logical counterfactuals, two recent insights into decision theory that point the way toward promising paths for future research.

This is the 2nd of six new major reports which describe and motivate MIRI’s current research agenda at a high level. The first was our Corrigibility paper, which was accepted to the AI & Ethics workshop at AAAI-2015. We will also soon be releasing a technical agenda overview document and an annotated bibliography for this emerging field of research.

New report: “Tiling agents in causal graphs”

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TA in CGToday we release a new technical report by Nate Soares, “Tiling agents in causal graphs.”

The report begins:

Fallenstein and Soares [2014] demonstrates that it’s possible for certain types of proof-based agents to “tile” (license the construction of successor agents similar to themselves while avoiding Gödelian diagonalization issues) in environments about which the agent can prove some basic nice properties. In this technical report, we show via a similar proof that causal graphs (with a specific structure) are one such environment. We translate the proof given by Fallenstein and Soares [2014] into the language of causal graphs, and we do this in such a way as to simplify the conditions under which a tiling meliorizer can be constructed.

New paper: “Concept learning for safe autonomous AI”

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Concept learningMIRI research associate Kaj Sotala has released a new paper, accepted to the AI & Ethics workshop at AAAI-2015, titled “Concept learning for safe autonomous AI.”

The abstract reads:

Sophisticated autonomous AI may need to base its behavior on fuzzy concepts such as well-being or rights. These concepts cannot be given an explicit formal definition, but obtaining desired behavior still requires a way to instill the concepts in an AI system. To solve the problem, we review evidence suggesting that the human brain generates its concepts using a relatively limited set of rules and mechanisms. This suggests that it might be feasible to build AI systems that use similar criteria for generating their own concepts, and could thus learn similar concepts as humans do. Major challenges to this approach include the embodied nature of human thought, evolutionary vestiges in cognition, the social nature of concepts, and the need to compare conceptual representations between humans and AI systems.

December newsletter

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Machine Intelligence Research Institute

MIRI’s winter fundraising challenge has begun! Every donation made to MIRI between now and January 10th will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $100,000!


Donate now to double your impact while helping us raise up to $200,000 (with matching) to fund our research program.

Research Updates

News Updates

Other Updates

  • Our friends at the Center for Effective Altruism will pay you $1,000 if you introduce them to somebody new that they end up hiring for one of their five open positions.

As always, please don’t hesitate to let us know if you have any questions or comments.

Luke Muehlhauser
Executive Director


2014 Winter Matching Challenge!

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Update: we have finished the matching challenge! Thanks everyone! The original post is below.

Nate & Nisan

Thanks to the generosity of Peter Thiel,1 every donation made to MIRI between now and January 10th will be matched dollar-for-dollar, up to a total of $100,000!






We have reached our matching total of $100,000!


Total Donors

Now is your chance to double your impact while helping us raise up to $200,000 (with matching) to fund our research program.

Corporate matching and monthly giving pledges will count towards the total! Check here to see whether your employer will match your donation. Please email if you intend to make use of corporate matching, or if you’d like to pledge 6 months of monthly donations, so that we can properly account for your contributions. If making use of corporate matching, make sure to donate before the end of the year so that you don’t unnecessarily “leave free money on the table” from your employer!

If you’re unfamiliar with our mission, see: Why MIRI?


Accomplishments Since Our Summer 2014 Fundraiser Launched:

Your Donations Will Support:

  • As mentioned above, we’re finishing up several more papers and technical reports, including an overview of our technical agenda so far.
  • We’re preparing the launch of an invite-only discussion forum devoted exclusively to technical FAI research. Beta users (who are also FAI researchers) have already posted more than a dozen technical discussions to the beta website. These will be available for all to see once the site launches publicly.
  • We continue to grow the MIRIx program, mostly to enlarge the pool of people we can plausibly hire as full-time FAI researchers in the next couple years.
  • We’re planning, or helping to plan, multiple research workshops, including the May 2015 decision theory workshop at Cambridge University.
  • We continue to host visiting researchers. For example in January we’re hosting Patrick LaVictoire and Matt Elder for multiple weeks.
  • We’re finishing up several more strategic analyses, on AI safety and on the challenges of preparing wisely for disruptive technological change in general.
  • We’re finishing the editing for a book version of Eliezer’s Sequences.
  • We’re helping to fund further SPARC programs, which provide education and skill-building to elite young math talent, and introduces them to ideas like effective altruism and global catastrophic risks.

Other projects are being surveyed for likely cost and impact. See also our mid-2014 strategic plan.

We appreciate your support for our work! Donate now, and seize a better than usual opportunity to move our work forward.

If you have questions about donating, please contact me (Luke Muehlhauser) at

  1. Peter Thiel has pledged $150,000 to MIRI unconditionally, and an additional $100,000 conditional on us being able to raise matched funds from other donors. Hence this year our winter matching challenge goal is $100,000. Another reason this year’s winter fundraiser is smaller than last year’s winter challenge is that we’ve done substantially more fundraising before December this year than we did before December last year. 
  2. In particular, we expect that many of our donors holding views aligned with key ideas of effective altruism may want to know not just that donating to MIRI now will do some good but that donating to MIRI now will plausibly do more good than donating elsewhere would do (on the present margin, given the individual donor’s altruistic priorities and their model of the world). Detailed comparisons are beyond the scope of this announcement, but I have set aside time in my schedule to take phone calls with donors who would like to discuss such issues in detail, and I encourage you to email me to schedule such a call if you’d like to. (Also, I don’t have many natural opportunities to chat with most MIRI donors anyway, and I’d like to be doing more of it, so please don’t hesitate to email me and schedule a call!)  

Three misconceptions in’s conversation on “The Myth of AI”

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A recent conversation — “The Myth of AI” — is framed in part as a discussion of points raised in Bostrom’s Superintelligenceand as a response to much-repeated comments by Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking that seem to have been heavily informed by Superintelligence.

Unfortunately, some of the participants fall prey to common misconceptions about the standard case for AI as an existential risk, and they probably haven’t had time to read Superintelligence yet.

Of course, some of the participants may be responding to arguments they’ve heard from others, even if they’re not part of the arguments typically made by FHI and MIRI. Still, for simplicity I’ll reply from the perspective of the typical arguments made by FHI and MIRI.1


1. We don’t think AI progress is “exponential,” nor that human-level AI is likely ~20 years away.

Lee Smolin writes:

I am puzzled by the arguments put forward by those who say we should worry about a coming AI, singularity, because all they seem to offer is a prediction based on Moore’s law.

That’s not the argument made by FHI, MIRI, or Superintelligence.

Some IT hardware and software domains have shown exponential progress, and some have not. Likewise, some AI subdomains have shown rapid progress of late, and some have not. And unlike computer chess, most AI subdomains don’t lend themselves to easy measures of progress, so for most AI subdomains we don’t even have meaningful subdomain-wide performance data through which one might draw an exponential curve (or some other curve).

Thus, our confidence intervals for the arrival of human-equivalent AI tend to be very wide, and the arguments we make for our AI timelines are fox-ish (in Tetlock’s sense). Read more »

  1. I could have also objected to claims and arguments made in the conversation, for example Lanier’s claim that “The AI component would be only ambiguously there and of little importance [relative to the actuators component].” To me, this is like saying that humans rule the planet because of our actuators, not because of our superior intelligence. Or in response to Kevin Kelly’s claim that “So far as I can tell, AIs have not yet made a decision that its human creators have regretted,” I can for example point to the automated trading algorithms that nearly bankrupted Knight Capital faster than any human could react. But in this piece I will focus instead on claims that seem to be misunderstandings of the positive case that’s being made for AI as an existential risk.