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For the first time in history, it has become possible for a limited group of a few thousand people to threaten the absolute destruction of millions.
-- Norbert Wiener (1956), Moral Reflections of a Mathematician.
Today, the general attitude towards scientific discovery is that scientists are not themselves responsible for how their work is used. For someone who is interested in science for its own sake, or even for someone who mostly considers research to be a way to pay the bills, this is a tempting attitude. It would be easy to only focus on one’s work, and leave it up to others to decide what to do with it.
But this is not necessarily the attitude that we should encourage. As technology becomes more powerful, it also becomes more dangerous. Throughout history, many scientists and inventors have recognized this, and taken different kinds of action to help ensure that their work will have beneficial consequences. Here are some of them.
This post is not arguing that any specific approach for taking responsibility for one's actions is the correct one. Some researchers hid their work, others refocused on other fields, still others began active campaigns to change the way their work was being used. It is up to the reader to decide which of these approaches were successful and worth emulating, and which ones were not.
… I do not publish nor divulge [methods of building submarines] by reason of the evil nature of men who would use them as means of destruction at the bottom of the sea, by sending ships to the bottom, and sinking them together with the men in them.
People did not always think that the benefits of freely disseminating knowledge outweighed the harms. O.T. Benfey, writing in a 1956 issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, cites F.S. Taylor’s book on early alchemists:
Alchemy was certainly intended to be useful .... But [the alchemist] never proposes the public use of such things, the disclosing of his knowledge for the benefit of man. …. Any disclosure of the alchemical secret was felt to be profoundly wrong, and likely to bring immediate punishment from on high. The reason generally given for such secrecy was the probable abuse by wicked men of the power that the alchemical would give …. The alchemists, indeed, felt a strong moral responsibility that is not always acknowledged by the scientists of today.
With the Renaissance, science began to be viewed as public property, but many scientists remained cautious about the way in which their work might be used. Although he held the office of military engineer, Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) drew a distinction between offensive and defensive warfare, and emphasized the role of good defenses in protecting people’s liberty from tyrants. He described war as ‘bestialissima pazzia’ (most bestial madness), and wrote that ‘it is an infinitely atrocious thing to take away the life of a man’. One of the clearest examples of his reluctance to unleash dangerous inventions was his refusal to publish the details of his plans for submarines.
Later Renaissance thinkers continued to be concerned with the potential uses of their discoveries. John Napier (1550-1617), the inventor of logarithms, also experimented with a new form of artillery. Upon seeing its destructive power, he decided to keep its details a secret, and even spoke from his deathbed against the creation of new kinds of weapons.
But only concealing one discovery pales in comparison to the likes of Robert Boyle (1627-1691). A pioneer of physics and chemistry and possibly the most famous for describing and publishing Boyle’s law, he sought to make humanity better off, taking an interest in things such as improved agricultural methods as well as better medicine. In his studies, he also discovered knowledge and made inventions related to a variety of potentially harmful subjects, including poisons, invisible ink, counterfeit money, explosives, and kinetic weaponry. These ‘my love of Mankind has oblig’d me to conceal, even from my nearest Friends’.
Nick_Beckstead asked me to link to posts I referred to in this comment. I should put up or shut up, so here's an attempt to give an organized overview of them.
Since I wrote these, LukeProg has begun tackling some related issues. He has accomplished the seemingly-impossible task of writing many long, substantive posts none of which I recall disagreeing with. And I have, irrationally, not read most of his posts. So he may have dealt with more of these same issues.
I think that I only raised Holden's "objection 2" in comments, which I couldn't easily dig up; and in a critique of a book chapter, which I emailed to LukeProg and did not post to LessWrong. So I'm only going to talk about "Objection 1: It seems to me that any AGI that was set to maximize a "Friendly" utility function would be extraordinarily dangerous." I've arranged my previous posts and comments on this point into categories. (Much of what I've said on the topic has been in comments on LessWrong and Overcoming Bias, and in email lists including SL4, and isn't here.)
The concept of "human values" cannot be defined in the way that FAI presupposes
Human errors, human values: Suppose all humans shared an identical set of values, preferences, and biases. We cannot retain human values without retaining human errors, because there is no principled distinction between them.
A comment on this post: There are at least three distinct levels of human values: The values an evolutionary agent holds that maximize their reproductive fitness, the values a society holds that maximizes its fitness, and the values a rational optimizer holds who has chosen to maximize social utility. They often conflict. Which of them are the real human values?
Values vs. parameters: Eliezer has suggested using human values, but without time discounting (= changing the time-discounting parameter). CEV presupposes that we can abstract human values and apply them in a different situation that has different parameters. But the parameters are values. There is no distinction between parameters and values.
A comment on "Incremental progress and the valley": The "values" that our brains try to maximize in the short run are designed to maximize different values for our bodies in the long run. Which are human values: The motivations we feel, or the effects they have in the long term? LukeProg's post Do Humans Want Things? makes a related point.
Group selection update: The reason I harp on group selection, besides my outrage at the way it's been treated for the past 50 years, is that group selection implies that some human values evolved at the group level, not at the level of the individual. This means that increasing the rationality of individuals may enable people to act more effectively in their own interests, rather than in the group's interest, and thus diminish the degree to which humans embody human values. Identifying the values embodied in individual humans - supposing we could do so - would still not arrive at human values. Transferring human values to a post-human world, which might contain groups at many different levels of a hierarchy, would be problematic.
I wanted to write about my opinion that human values can't be divided into final values and instrumental values, the way discussion of FAI presumes they can. This is an idea that comes from mathematics, symbolic logic, and classical AI. A symbolic approach would probably make proving safety easier. But human brains don't work that way. You can and do change your values over time, because you don't really have terminal values.
Strictly speaking, it is impossible for an agent whose goals are all indexical goals describing states involving itself to have preferences about a situation in which it does not exist. Those of you who are operating under the assumption that we are maximizing a utility function with evolved terminal goals, should I think admit these terminal goals all involve either ourselves, or our genes. If they involve ourselves, then utility functions based on these goals cannot even be computed once we die. If they involve our genes, they they are goals that our bodies are pursuing, that we call errors, not goals, when we the conscious agent inside our bodies evaluate them. In either case, there is no logical reason for us to wish to maximize some utility function based on these after our own deaths. Any action I wish to take regarding the distant future necessarily presupposes that the entire SIAI approach to goals is wrong.
My view, under which it does make sense for me to say I have preferences about the distant future, is that my mind has learned "values" that are not symbols, but analog numbers distributed among neurons. As described in "Only humans can have human values", these values do not exist in a hierarchy with some at the bottom and some on the top, but in a recurrent network which does not have a top or a bottom, because the different parts of the network developed simultaneously. These values therefore can't be categorized into instrumental or terminal. They can include very abstract values that don't need to refer specifically to me, because other values elsewhere in the network do refer to me, and this will ensure that actions I finally execute incorporating those values are also influenced by my other values that do talk about me.
Even if human values existed, it would be pointless to preserve them
- The only preferences that can be unambiguously determined are the preferences a person (mind+body) implements, which are not always the preferences expressed by their beliefs.
- If you extract a set of consciously-believed propositions from an existing agent, then build a new agent to use those propositions in a different environment, with an "improved" logic, you can't claim that it has the same values, since it will behave differently.
- Values exist in a network of other values. A key ethical question is to what degree values are referential (meaning they can be tested against something outside that network); or non-referential (and hence relative).
- Supposing that values are referential helps only by telling you to ignore human values.
- You cannot resolve the problem by combining information from different behaviors, because the needed information is missing.
- Today's ethical disagreements are largely the result of attempting to extrapolate ancestral human values into a changing world.
- The future will thus be ethically contentious even if we accurately characterize and agree on present human values, because these values will fail to address the new important problems.
Human values differ as much as values can differ: There are two fundamentally different categories of values:
- Non-positional, mutually-satisfiable values (physical luxury, for instance)
- Positional, zero-sum social values, such as wanting to be the alpha male or the homecoming queen
All mutually-satisfiable values have more in common with each other than they do with any non-mutually-satisfiable values, because mutually-satisfiable values are compatible with social harmony and non-problematic utility maximization, while non- mutually-satisfiable values require eternal conflict. If you find an alien life form from a distant galaxy with non-positional values, it would be easier to integrate those values into a human culture with only human non-positional values, than to integrate already-existing positional human values into that culture.
It appears that some humans have mainly the one type, while other humans have mainly the other type. So talking about trying to preserve human values is pointless - the values held by different humans have already passed the most-important point of divergence.
Enforcing human values would be harmful
The human problem: This argues that the qualia and values we have now are only the beginning of those that could evolve in the universe, and that ensuring that we maximize human values - or any existing value set - from now on, will stop this process in its tracks, and prevent anything better from ever evolving. This is the most-important objection of all.
Re-reading this, I see that the critical paragraph is painfully obscure, as if written by Kant; but it summarizes the argument: "Once the initial symbol set has been chosen, the semantics must be set in stone for the judging function to be "safe" for preserving value; this means that any new symbols must be defined completely in terms of already-existing symbols. Because fine-grained sensory information has been lost, new developments in consciousness might not be detectable in the symbolic representation after the abstraction process. If they are detectable via statistical correlations between existing concepts, they will be difficult to reify parsimoniously as a composite of existing symbols. Not using a theory of phenomenology means that no effort is being made to look for such new developments, making their detection and reification even more unlikely. And an evaluation based on already-developed values and qualia means that even if they could be found, new ones would not improve the score. Competition for high scores on the existing function, plus lack of selection for components orthogonal to that function, will ensure that no such new developments last."
Averaging value systems is worse than choosing one: This describes a neural-network that encodes preferences, and takes some input pattern and computes a new pattern that optimizes these preferences. Such a system is taken as analogous for a value system and an ethical system to attain those values. I then define a measure for the internal conflict produced by a set of values, and show that a system built by averaging together the parameters from many different systems will have higher internal conflict than any of the systems that were averaged together to produce it. The point is that the CEV plan of "averaging together" human values will result in a set of values that is worse (more self-contradictory) than any of the value systems it was derived from.
A point I may not have made in these posts, but made in comments, is that the majority of humans today think that women should not have full rights, homosexuals should be killed or at least severely persecuted, and nerds should be given wedgies. These are not incompletely-extrapolated values that will change with more information; they are values. Opponents of gay marriage make it clear that they do not object to gay marriage based on a long-range utilitarian calculation; they directly value not allowing gays to marry. Many human values horrify most people on this list, so they shouldn't be trying to preserve them.
In poetic terms, our coherent extrapolated volition is our wish if we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, had grown up farther together; where the extrapolation converges rather than diverges, where our wishes cohere rather than interfere; extrapolated as we wish that extrapolated, interpreted as we wish that interpreted.
— Eliezer Yudkowsky, May 2004, Coherent Extrapolated Volition
Foragers versus industry era folks
Consider the difference between a hunter-gatherer, who cares about his hunting success and to become the new tribal chief, and a modern computer scientist who wants to determine if a “sufficiently large randomized Conway board could turn out to converge to a barren ‘all off’ state.”
The utility of the success in hunting down animals and proving abstract conjectures about cellular automata is largely determined by factors such as your education, culture and environmental circumstances. The same forager who cared to kill a lot of animals, to get the best ladies in its clan, might have under different circumstances turned out to be a vegetarian mathematician solely caring about his understanding of the nature of reality. Both sets of values are to some extent mutually exclusive or at least disjoint. Yet both sets of values are what the person wants, given the circumstances. Change the circumstances dramatically and you change the persons values.
What do you really want?
You might conclude that what the hunter-gatherer really wants is to solve abstract mathematical problems, he just doesn’t know it. But there is no set of values that a person “really” wants. Humans are largely defined by the circumstances they reside in.
- If you already knew a movie, you wouldn’t watch it.
- To be able to get your meat from the supermarket changes the value of hunting.
If “we knew more, thought faster, were more the people we wished we were, and had grown up closer together” then we would stop to desire what we learnt, wish to think even faster, become even different people and get bored of and rise up from the people similar to us.
A singleton is an attractor
Much of our values and goals, what we want, are culturally induced or the result of our ignorance. Reduce our ignorance and you change our values. One trivial example is our intellectual curiosity. If we don’t need to figure out what we want on our own, our curiosity is impaired.
A singleton won’t extrapolate human volition but implement an artificial set values as a result of abstract high-order contemplations about rational conduct.
With knowledge comes responsibility, with wisdom comes sorrow
Knowledge changes and introduces terminal goals. The toolkit that is called ‘rationality’, the rules and heuristics developed to help us to achieve our terminal goals are also altering and deleting them. A stone age hunter-gatherer seems to possess very different values than we do. Learning about rationality and various ethical theories such as Utilitarianism would alter those values considerably.
Rationality was meant to help us achieve our goals, e.g. become a better hunter. Rationality was designed to tell us what we ought to do (instrumental goals) to achieve what we want to do (terminal goals). Yet what actually happens is that we are told, that we will learn, what we ought to want.
If an agent becomes more knowledgeable and smarter then this does not leave its goal-reward-system intact if it is not especially designed to be stable. An agent who originally wanted to become a better hunter and feed his tribe would end up wanting to eliminate poverty in Obscureistan. The question is, how much of this new “wanting” is the result of using rationality to achieve terminal goals and how much is a side-effect of using rationality, how much is left of the original values versus the values induced by a feedback loop between the toolkit and its user?
Take for example an agent that is facing the Prisoner’s dilemma. Such an agent might originally tend to cooperate and only after learning about game theory decide to defect and gain a greater payoff. Was it rational for the agent to learn about game theory, in the sense that it helped the agent to achieve its goal or in the sense that it deleted one of its goals in exchange for a allegedly more “valuable” goal?
Beware rationality as a purpose in and of itself
It seems to me that becoming more knowledgeable and smarter is gradually altering our utility functions. But what is it that we are approaching if the extrapolation of our volition becomes a purpose in and of itself? Extrapolating our coherent volition will distort or alter what we really value by installing a new cognitive toolkit designed to achieve an equilibrium between us and other agents with the same toolkit.
Would a singleton be a tool that we can use to get what we want or would the tool use us to do what it does, would we be modeled or would it create models, would we be extrapolating our volition or rather follow our extrapolations?
(This post is a write-up of a previous comment designated to receive feedback from a larger audience.)
Most people believe the way to lose weight is through willpower. My successful experience losing weight is that this is not the case. You will lose weight if you want to, meaning you effectively believe0 that the utility you will gain from losing weight, even time-discounted, will outweigh the utility from yummy food now. In LW terms, you will lose weight if your utility function tells you to. This is the basis of cognitive behavioral therapy (the effective kind of therapy), which tries to change peoples' behavior by examining their beliefs and changing their thinking habits.
Similarly, most people believe behaving ethically is a matter of willpower; and I believe this even less. Your ethics is part of your utility function. Acting morally is, technically, a choice; but not the difficult kind that holds up a stop sign and says "Choose wisely!" We notice difficult moral choices more than easy moral choices; but most moral choices are easy, like choosing a ten dollar bill over a five. Immorality is not a continual temptation we must resist; it's just a kind of stupidity.
This post can be summarized as:
- Each normal human has an instinctive personal morality.
- This morality consists of inputs into that human's decision-making system. There is no need to propose separate moral and selfish decision-making systems.
- Acknowledging that all decisions are made by a single decision-making system, and that the moral elements enter it in the same manner as other preferences, results in many changes to how we encourage social behavior.
Here is a simple method for resolving some arguments about free will. Not for resolving the question, mind you. Just the arguments.
One group of people doesn't want to give people any credit for anything they do. All good deeds are ultimately done for "selfish" reasons, where even having a goal of helping other people counts as selfish. The quote from Lukeprog's recent article is a perfect example:
No one deserves thanks from another about something he has done for him or goodness he has done. He is either willing to get a reward from God, therefore he wanted to serve himself. Or he wanted to get a reward from people, therefore he has done that to get profit for himself. Or to be mentioned and praised by people, therefore, it is also for himself. Or due to his mercy and tenderheartedness, so he has simply done that goodness to pacify these feelings and treat himself.
- Mohammed Ibn Al-Jahm Al-Barmaki
Another group of people doesn't want to blame people for anything they do. Criminals sometimes had criminal parents - crime was in their environment and in their genes. Or, to take a different variety of this attitude, cultural beliefs that seem horrible to us are always justifiable within their own cultural context.
The funny thing is that these are different groups. Both assert that people should not be given credit, or else blame, for their actions, beyond the degree of free will that they had. Yet you rarely find the same person who will not give people credit for their good deeds unwilling to blame them for their bad deeds, or vice-versa.
When you find yourself in an argument that appears to be about free will, but is really about credit or blame, ask the person to agree that the matter applies equally to good deeds and bad deeds - however they define those terms. This may make them lose interest in the argument - because it no longer does what they want it to do.
ETA: As stated below, criticizing beliefs is trivial in principle, either they were arrived at with an approximation to Bayes' rule starting with a reasonable prior and then updated with actual observations, or they weren't. Subsequent conversation made it clear that criticizing behavior is also trivial in principle, since someone is either taking the action that they believe will best suit their preferences, or not. Finally, criticizing preferences became trivial too -- the relevant question is "Does/will agent X behave as though they have preferences Y", and that's a belief, so go back to Bayes' rule and a reasonable prior. So the entire issue that this post was meant to solve has evaporated, in my opinion. Here's the original article, in case anyone is still interested:
Pancritical rationalism is a fundamental value in Extropianism that has only been mentioned in passing on LessWrong. I think it deserves more attention here. It's an approach to epistemology, that is, the question of "How do we know what we know?", that avoids the contradictions inherent in some of the alternative approaches.
The fundamental source document for it is William Bartley's Retreat to Commitment. He describes three approaches to epistemology, along with the dissatisfying aspects of the other two:
- Nihilism. Nothing matters, so it doesn't matter what you believe. This path is self-consistent, but it gives no guidance.
- Justificationlism. Your belief is justified because it is a consequence of other beliefs. This path is self-contradictory. Eventually you'll go in circles trying to justify the other beliefs, or you'll find beliefs you can't jutify. Justificationalism itself cannot be justified.
- Pancritical rationalism. You have taken the available criticisms for the belief into account and still feel comfortable with the belief. This path gives guidance about what to believe, although it does not uniquely determine one's beliefs. Pancritical rationalism can be criticized, so it is self-consistent in that sense.
Read on for a discussion about emotional consequences and extending this to include preferences and behaviors as well as beliefs.
"General Thud! General Thud! Wake up! The aliens have landed. We must surrender!" General Thud's assistant Fred turned on the lights and opened the curtains to help Thud wake up and confront the situation. Thud was groggy because he had stayed up late supervising an ultimately successful mission carried out by remotely piloted vehicles in some small country on the other side of the world. Thud mumbled, "Aliens? How many? Where are they? What are they doing?" General Thud looked out the window, expecting to see giant tripods walking around and destroying buildings with death rays. He saw his lawn, a bright blue sky, and hummingbirds hovering near his bird feeder.
[I made significant edits when moving this to the main page - so if you read it in Discussion, it's different now. It's clearer about the distinction between two different meanings of "free", and why linking one meaning of "free" with morality implies a focus on an otherworldly soul.]
It was funny to me that many people thought Crime and Punishment was advocating outcome-based justice. If you read the post carefully, nothing in it advocates outcome-based justice. I only wanted to show how people think, so I could write this post.
Talking about morality causes much confusion, because most philosophers - and most people - do not have a distinct concept of morality. At best, they have just one word that composes two different concepts. At worst, their "morality" doesn't contain any new primitive concepts at all; it's just a macro: a shorthand for a combination of other ideas.
I think - and have, for as long as I can remember - that morality is about doing the right thing. But this is not what most people think morality is about!
Why do those words go together?
Society - and for once, I'm using this term universally - teaches that, if you committed a crime, you should be punished.
But in some societies, we have an insanity defense. If you had a brain condition so that you had no - here it's a little vague - consciousness, or moral sense, or free will, or, well, something - then it would be cruel to punish you for your crime. Instead of going to prison, you should be placed somewhere where you can't hurt anybody, where professional physicians and counselors can study your case and try to reform you so that you can rejoin society.
Wait - so that isn't what prison is for?
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