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Former AI safety research engineer, now AI governance researcher at OpenAI. Blog: thinkingcomplete.blogspot.com


Replacing Fear
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When you're weighing existential risks (or other things which steer human civilization on a large scale) against each other, effects are always going to be denominated in a very large number of lives. And this is what OP said they were doing: "a major consideration here is the use of AI to mitigate other x-risks". So I don't think the headline numbers are very useful here (especially because we could make them far far higher by counting future lives).

It follows from alignment/control/misuse/coordination not being (close to) solved.

"AGIs will be helping us on a lot of tasks", "collusion is hard" and "people will get more scared over time" aren't anywhere close to overcoming it imo.

These are what I mean by the vague intuitions.

I think it should be possible to formalise it, even

Nobody has come anywhere near doing this satisfactorily. The most obvious explanation is that they can't.

The issue is that both sides of the debate lack gears-level arguments. The ones you give in this post (like "all the doom flows through the tiniest crack in our defence") are more like vague intuitions; equally, on the other side, there are vague intuitions like "AGIs will be helping us on a lot of tasks" and "collusion is hard" and "people will get more scared over time" and so on. 

Last time there was an explicitly hostile media campaign against EA the reaction was not to do anything, and the result is that Émile P. Torres has a large media presence,[1] launched the term TESCREAL to some success, and EA-critical thoughts became a lot more public and harsh in certain left-ish academic circles.

You say this as if there were ways to respond which would have prevented this. I'm not sure these exist, and in general I think "ignore it" is a really really solid heuristic in an era where conflict drives clicks.

@Linch, see the article I linked above, which identifies a bunch of specific bottlenecks where lobbying and/or targeted funding could have been really useful. I didn't know about these when I wrote my comment above, but I claim prediction points for having a high-level heuristic that led to the right conclusion anyway.

The article I linked above has changed my mind back again. Apparently the RTS,S vaccine has been in clinical trials since 1997. So the failure here wasn't just an abstract lack of belief in technology: the technology literally already existed the whole time that the EA movement (or anyone who's been in this space for less than two decades) has been thinking about it.

An article on why we didn't get a vaccine sooner: https://worksinprogress.co/issue/why-we-didnt-get-a-malaria-vaccine-sooner

This seems like significant evidence for the tractability of speeding things up. E.g. a single (unjustified) decision by the WHO in 2015 delayed the vaccine by almost a decade, four years of which were spent in fundraising. It seems very plausible that even 2015 EA could have sped things up by multiple years in expectation either lobbying against the original decision, or funding the follow-up trial.

Great comment, thank you :) This changed my mind.

This is a good point. The two other examples which seem salient to me:

  1. Deutsch's brand of techno-optimism (which comes through particularly clearly when he tries to reason about the future of AI by saying things like "AIs will be people, therefore...").
  2. Yudkowsky on misalignment.

Ah, I see. I think the two arguments I'd give here:

  1. Founding 1DaySooner for malaria 5-10 years earlier is high-EV and plausibly very cheap; and there are probably another half-dozen things in this reference class.
  2. We'd need to know much more about the specific interventions in that reference class to confidently judge that we made a mistake. But IMO if everyone in 2015-EA had explicitly agreed "vaccines will plausibly dramatically slash malaria rates within 10 years" then I do think we'd have done much more work to evaluate that reference class. Not having done that work can be an ex-ante mistake even if it turns out it wasn't an ex-post mistake.
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