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LessWrong dev & admin as of July 5th, 2022.


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And I think this is related to a general skepticism I have about some of the most intense calls for the highest decoupling norms I sometimes see from some rationalists.

I think this is kind of funny because I (directionally) agree with a lot of your list, at least within the observed range of human cognitive ability, but think that strong decoupling norms are mostly agnostic to questions like trusting AI researchers who supported Lysenkoism when it was popular.  Of course it's informative that they did so, but can be substantially screened off by examining the quality of their current research (and, if you must, its relationship to whatever the dominant paradigms in the current field are).

People who'd prefer to not have them platformed at an event somewhat connected to EA don't seem to think this is a trade off.

Optimizing for X means optimizing against not-X.  (Well, at the pareto frontier, which we aren't at, but it's usually true for humans, anyways.)  You will generate two different lists of people for two different values of X.  Ergo, there is a trade off.

Anecdotally, a major reason I created this post was because the amount of very edgy people was significantly higher than the baseline for non-EA large events. I can't think of another event that I have attended where people would've felt comfortable saying the stuff that was being said.

Note that these two sentences are saying very different things.  The first one is about the percentage of attendees that have certain views, and I am pretty confident that it is false (except in a trivial sense, where people at non-EA events might have different "edgy" views).  If you think that percentage of the general population that holds views at least as backwards as "typical racism" is less than whatever it was at Manifest (where I would bet very large amounts of money the median attendee was much more egalitarian than average for their reference class)...

The second one is about what was said at the event, and so far I haven't seen anyone describe an explicit instance of racism or bigotry by an attendee (invited speaker or not).  There were no sessions about "race science", so I am left at something of a loss to explain how that is a subject that could continue to come up, unless someone happened to accidentally wander into multiple ongoing conversations about the subject.  Absent affirmative confirmation of such an event, my current belief is that much more innocous things are being lumped in under a much more disparaging label.

Your comment seems to be pretty straightforwardly advocating for optimizing for very traditional political considerations (appearance of respectability, relationships with particular interest groups, etc) by very traditional political means (disassociating with unfavorables).  The more central this is to how "EA" operates, the more fair it is to call it a political project.

I agree that many rationalists have been alienated by wokeness/etc.  I disagree that much of what's being discussed today is well-explained by a reactionary leaning-in to edginess, and think that the explanation offered - that various people were invited on the basis of their engagement with concepts central to Manifest, or for specific panels not related to their less popular views - is sufficient to explain their presence.

With that said, I think Austin is not enormously representative of the rationalist community, and it's pretty off-target to chalk this up as an epistemic win for the EA cultural scene over the rationalist cultural scene.  Observe that it is here, on the EA forum, that a substantial fraction of commenters are calling for conference organizers to avoid inviting people for reasons that explicitly trade off against truth-seeking considerations.  Notably, there are people who I wouldn't have invited, if I were running this kind of event, specifically because I think they either have very bad epistemics or are habitual liars, such that it would be an epistemic disservice to other attendees to give those people any additional prominence.

I think that if relevant swathes of the population avoid engaging with e.g. prediction markets on the basis of the people invited to Manifest, this will be substantially an own-goal, where people with 2nd-order concerns (such as anticipated reputational risk) signal boost this and cause the very problem they're worried about.  (This is a contingent, empirical prediction, though unfortunately one that's hard to test.)  Separately, if someone avoided attending Manifest because they anticipated unpleasantness stemming from the presence of these attendees, they either had wildly miscalibrated expectations about what Manifest would be like, or (frankly) they might benefit from asking themselves what is different about attending Manifest vs. attending any other similarly large social event (nearly all of which have invited people with similarly unpalatable views), and whether they endorse letting the mere physical presence of people they could choose to pretend don't exist stop them from going.

Huh, it's a bit surprising to me that people disagree so strongly with this comment, which seems to be (uncharitably but not totally inaccurately) paraphrasing the parent, which has much more agreement.

(Maybe most people are taking it literally, rather than interpreting it as a snipe?)

Perhaps it's missing from the summary, but there is trivially a much stronger argument that doesn't seem addressed here.

  1. Humans must be pretty close to the stupidest possible things that could design things smarter than them.
    1. This is especially true when it comes to the domain of scientific R&D, where we only have even our minimal level of capabilities because it turns out that intelligence generalizes from e.g. basic tool-use and social modeling to other things.
  2. We know that we can pretty reliably create systems that are superhuman in various domains when we figure out a proper training regime for those domains.  e.g. AlphaZero is vastly superhuman in chess/go/etc, GPT-3 is superhuman at next token prediction (to say nothing of GPT-4 or subsequent systems), etc.
  3. The nature of intelligent search processes is to route around bottlenecks.  The argument re: bottlenecks proves too much, and doesn't even seem to stand up historically.  Why did bottlenecks not fail to stymie superhuman capabilities in the domains where we're achieved them?
  4. Humanity, today, could[1] embark on a moderately expensive project to enable wide-scale genomic selection for intelligence, which within a single generation would probably produce a substantial number of humans smarter than any who've ever lived.  Humans are not exactly advantaged in their ability to iterate here, compared to AI.


The general shape of Thorstad's argument doesn't really make it clear what sort of counterargument he would admit as valid.  Like, yes, humans have not (yet) kicked off any process of obvious, rapid, recusive self-improvement.  That is indeed evidence that it might take humans a few decades after they invent computing technology to do so.  What evidence, short of us stumbling into the situation under discussion, would be convincing?

  1. ^

    (Social and political bottlenecks do exist, but the technology is pretty straightforward.) 

I've spent some time thinking about the same question and I'm glad that there's some multiple discovery; the AI Control agenda seems relevant here.

I think that neither of those are selective uses of analogies.  They do point to similarities between things we have access to and future ASI that you might not think are valid similarities, but that is one thing that makes analogies useful - they can make locating disagreements in people's models very fast, since they're structurally meant to transmit information in a highly compressed fashion.

There is no button you can press on demand to publish an article in either a peer-reviewed journal or a mainstream media outlet.

Publishing pieces in the media (with minimal 3rd-party editing) is at least tractable on the scale of weeks, if you have a friendly journalist.  The academic game is one to two orders of magnitude slower than that.  If you want to communicate your views in real-time, you need to stick to platforms which allow that.

I do think media comms is a complementary strategy to direct comms (which MIRI has been using, to some degree).  But it's difficult to escape the fact that information posted on LW, the EA forum, or Twitter (by certain accounts) makes its way down the grapevine to relevant decision-makers surprisingly often, given how little overhead is involved.

ETA: feel free to ignore the below, given your caveat, though you may find it helpful if you choose to write an expanded form of any of the arguments later to have some early objections.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like most of these reasons boil down to not expecting AI to be superhuman in any relevant sense (since if it is, effectively all of them break down as reasons for optimism)?  To wit:

  • Resource allocation is relatively equal (and relatively free of violence) among humans because even humans that don't very much value the well-being of others don't have the power to actually expropriate everyone else's resources by force.  (We have evidence of what happens when those conditions break down to any meaningful degree; it isn't super pretty.)
  • I do not think GPT-4 is meaningful evidence about the difficulty of value alignment.  In particular, the claim that "GPT-4 seems to be honest, kind, and helpful after relatively little effort" seems to be treating GPT-4's behavior as meaningfully reflecting its internal preferences or motivations, which I think is "not even wrong".  I think it's extremely unlikely that GPT-4 has preferences over world states in a way that most humans would consider meaningful, and in the very unlikely event that it does, those preferences almost certainly aren't centrally pointed at being honest, kind, and helpful.
  • re: endogenous reponse to AI - I don't see how this is relevant once you have ASI. To the extent that it might be relevant, it's basically conceding the argument: that the reason we'll be safe is that we'll manage to avoid killing ourselves by moving too quickly.  (Note that we are currently moving at pretty close to max speed, so this is a prediction that the future will be different from the past.  One that some people are actively optimising for, but also one that other people are optimizing against.)
  • re: perfectionism - I would not be surprised if many current humans, given superhuman intelligence and power, created a pretty terrible future.  Current power differentials do not meaningfully let individual players flip every single other player the bird at the same time.  Assuming that this will continue to be true is again assuming the conclusion (that AI will not be superhuman in any relevant sense).  I also feel like there's an implicit argument here about how value isn't fragile that I disagree with, but I might be reading into it.
  • I'm not totally sure what analogy you're trying to rebut, but I think that human treatment of animal species, as a piece of evidence for how we might be treated by future AI systems that are analogously more powerful than we are, is extremely negative, not positive.  Human efforts to preserve animal species are a drop in the bucket compared to the casual disregard with which we optimize over them and their environments for our benefit.  I'm sure animals sometimes attempt to defend their territory against human encroachment.  Has the human response to this been to shrug and back off?  Of course, there are some humans who do care about animals having fulfilled lives by their own values.  But even most of those humans do not spend their lives tirelessly optimizing for their best understanding of the values of animals.

I think the modal no-Anthropic counterfactual does not have an alignment-agnostic AI company that's remotely competitive with OpenAI, which  means there's no external target for this Amazon investment.  It's not an accident that Anthropic was founded by former OpenAI staff who were substantially responsible for OpenAI's earlier GPT scaling successes.

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