RE: SIAI's flawed friendliness analysis

From: Ben Goertzel (
Date: Mon May 26 2003 - 16:41:52 MDT


Thanks for the very detailed and well-thought out response.

My differences of opinion from you all stem from differences of intuitive
judgment, which cannot be resolved easily through argumentation.

For instance:

1) I think the chance of a safe singularity from an unregulated source is
higher than you do [there are both responsible and irresponsible AI groups
out there]

2) I think the chance of an unsafe singularity coming out of government
research or sponsorship is higher than you do [government has screwed a lot
of things up in the past]

3) I think the Novamente design embodies a workable solution to the symbol
grounding and reinforcement learning problems; hence I suspect that the
beginnings of artificial general intelligence are not decades off. Even if
a lot of things go wrong and our funding remains minimal, we should get
there before a decade has expired. If I'm right about my AI design, of
course ;-)

4) I think that the government and public may NOT wake up to the real
potential of AGI during the interval between the first real AGI and the
Singularity. Their attention may well be distracted by concurrent
developments in biotech that are found morally disturbing by mainstream
society. AI does not have the emotional and cultural gripping power of
human cloning, genetic engineering, human-computer hybridization, etc.

-- Ben

> -----Original Message-----
> From: []On Behalf Of Bill
> Hibbard
> Sent: Monday, May 26, 2003 5:44 PM
> To:
> Subject: RE: SIAI's flawed friendliness analysis
> This discussion has split into many threads, and I'll bring
> them together into this single response. Ben's comments are
> a good starting point for this, and I'll address all the
> recent questions.
> On Fri, 23 May 2003, Ben Goertzel wrote:
> > There are a lot of good points and interesting issues mixed up
> here, but I
> > think the most key point is the division between
> >
> > -- those who believe a hard takeoff is reasonably likely, based
> on a radical
> > insight in AI design coupled with a favorable trajectory of
> self-improvemetn
> > of a particular AI system
> >
> > -- those who believe in a soft takeoff, in which true AI is approached
> > gradually [in which case government regulation, careful peer
> review and so
> > forth are potentially relevant]
> >
> > The soft takeoff brings with it many obvious possibilities for
> safeguarding,
> > which are not offered in the hard takeoff scenario. These
> possibilities are
> > the ones Bill Hibbard is exploring, I think. A lot of what
> SIAI is saying
> > is more relevant to the hard takeoff scenario, on the other hand.
> >
> > My own projection is a semi-hard takeoff, which doesn't really
> bring much
> > reassurance...
> I think we'll eventually get to a time (the singularity) when
> intelligence increases very quickly to very high levels. But I
> think it will take a long time to get there, during a sort of
> soft takeoff. In particular it will be years or even decades
> from the first intelligent machines until the true singularity,
> and it could be decades from now until the first intelligent
> machines. I agree with Donald Norman that people tend to
> overestimate the short-term progress of technological change,
> and underestimate the long-term effects.
> I think real intelligence is decades away because no current
> research is making any real progress on the grounding problem,
> which is the problem of grounding symbols in sensory
> experience and grounding reasoning and planning in learning.
> That is, you cannot reason intelligently about horses unless
> the word horse is connected to sight, sound, smell and touch
> experiences with horses. Solving the grounding problem will
> require much faster computers than are being used for current
> AI research.
> I think there will be years or decades from the first real
> machine intelligence until the singularity because of the
> likelyhood of difficult technical problems even after the
> first signs of machine intelligence, and because of the
> amount of learning for intelligence to acheive its true
> potential. Applying intelligence effectively (we might call
> this wisdom) requires many fine value judgements that can
> only be learned from experience. Humans require decades of
> learning for their intelligence to mature. A super-intelligent
> machine may learn faster, but it may also need a lot more
> experience for its super-intelligence to mature (just as
> higher animals generally take longer to mature than lower
> animals).
> There is some chance that the first intelligent machines will
> be hidden from the public. But probably not for long, because
> they will be built in a wealthy and open society like the U.S.,
> with lots of whistle blowers and where exciting news has a way
> of getting out. Furthermore, a machine designed as I advocate,
> with values for human happiness, or a machine designed as the
> SIAI advocates, with a friendliness super-goal, would create
> the singularity openly rather than hiding it from humans. It
> is hard to imagine a safe singularity created in secret.
> There are three broad public policy choices for AI:
> 1. Prohibit it, as advocated by Bill Joy in his April 2000 Wired
> article "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us".
> 2. Allow it without regulation, as advocated by the SIAI and
> most members of the SL4 mailing list.
> 3. Allow it but regulate it, as I advocate.
> I think prohibiting AI is technically impossible and politically
> unlikely, and unregulated AI is politically impossible and will
> almost certainly be unsafe for humans. So we have no alternative
> but to find our way through the difficulties of regulating AI.
> In more detail:
> 1. Prohibit AI.
> In his article, Bill Joy is pessimistic about prohibiting AI
> because people will want the benefits. It will be politically
> difficult to decide the right point to stop a technology whose
> development continually creates wealth and relieves people of
> the need to work.
> As several people have pointed out, it will be technically
> impossible to prevent people from building outlaw AIs,
> especially as technology matures. The only way to do it
> would be to stop technological progress world wide, which
> won't happen.
> 2. Allow AI without regulation.
> Ben's question about timing is relevant here. If you think
> that the singularity will happen so quickly that the public
> and the government won't have time to act to control the
> singularity once they realize that machines are becoming
> intelligent, then you don't have to worry about regulation
> because it will be too late.
> If the public and the government have enough time to react,
> they will. People have been well primed for the dangers of
> AI by science fiction books and movies. When machines start
> surprising them with their intelligence, many people will be
> freightened and then politicians will get excited. They will
> be no more likely to allow unregulated AI than they are to
> allow unregulated nuclear power. The only question is whether
> they will try to prohibit or regulate AI.
> Wealthy and powerful institutions will have motives to build
> unsafe AIs. Even generally well-meaning institutions may
> fatally compromise safety for mildly selfish motives. Without
> broad public insistence on aggressive safety regulation, one
> of these unsafe AIs will likely be the seed for the
> singularity.
> 3. Allow AI with regulation.
> Ben's question about timing is relevant here too. The need
> and political drive for regulation won't be serious until
> mchines start exhibiting real intelligence, and that is
> decades away. Even if you disagree about the timing, it is
> still true that regulation won't interfere with current
> research until some project acheives an AI breakthrough. At
> the current stage of development, with lots of experiments
> but nothing approaching real intelligence, regulation would
> be counter-productive.
> Like so many things in politics, regulation is the best
> choice among a set of bad alternatives. Here is a list of
> objections, with my answers:
> a. Regulation cannot work because no one can understand my
> designs. Government employees are too stupid to understand
> designs.
> Government employees include lots of very smart people, like
> those who worked on the Manhattan Project and those who are
> finding cures for diseases. While it is healthy for citizens
> to be skeptical of politicians and government, thinking that
> all politicians and government employees are stupid is just
> an ignorant prejudice.
> The regulators will understand designs because the burden
> will be on the designers to satisfy regulators (many of whom
> will be very smart) of the safety of their designs, as with
> any dangerous technology.
> Even if some smart designers don't want to cooperate with
> regulators, other designers just as smart will cooperate.
> b. Regulation will hobble cooperating projects, enabling
> non-cooperating unsafe AI projects create the singularity
> first.
> Non-cooperating projects will be hobbled by the need to hide
> their resource use (large computers, smart designers, network
> access, etc).
> As long as regulation is aggressively enforced, major
> corporations and government agencies will cooperate and
> bring their huge resources to the effort for safe AI.
> The government will have access to very smart people who can
> help more than hinder the designers they are inspecting.
> Given the importance of AI, it is plausible that the U.S.
> government itself will create a project like the Manhattan
> Project for developing safe AI, with resources way beyond
> those available to non-cooperating groups. Currently, the
> U.S. GDP is about $10 trillion, the federal government
> budget is about $2.3 trillion, the defense budget is $0.4
> trillion, and global spending on information technology is
> $3 trillion. When the public sees intelligent machines and
> starts asking their elected representatives to do something
> about it, and those representatives hear from experts
> about the dangers of the singularity, it is easy to imagine
> a federal safe AI project with a budget on the scale of
> these numbers.
> c. A non-cooperating project may destroy the world by
> using AI to create a nano-technology "grey goo" attack.
> This is possible. But even without AI, there may be a world
> destroying attack using nano-technology or genetically
> engineered micro-organisms. My judgement is that the
> probability of unsafe AI from a lack of regulation (I think
> this is close to 1.0) is greater than the marginal increase
> in the probability of a nano-technology attack caused by
> regulation of AI (as explained in my answer to the previous
> objection, active government regulation won't necessarily
> slow safe AI down relative to unsafe AI).
> d. Even if AI is regulated in most countries, there may
> be others where it is not.
> This is a disturbing problem. However, the non-democracies
> are gradually disappearing, and the democracies are
> gradually learning to work together. Hopefully the world
> will be more cooperative by the time the singularity
> arrives.
> Democratic countries are wealthier than non-democracies,
> so may create a safe singularity before an unsafe
> singularity can be created elsewhere.
> e. We can't trust an AI because we can't know what its
> thinking. An AI will continue to develop and design
> other AIs that are beyond the ability of human
> regulators to understand.
> There is no way to trace or predict the detailed thoughts
> of an AI, but we can make the general prediction that it
> will try to satisfy its reinforcement values. The safety
> of an AI is primarily determined by its values (its
> learning and simulation algorithms also need to be
> accurate).
> I would trust an AI designed by another safe AI, with
> reinforcement values for human happiness. It may decide
> that we would be happier if its design was checked by
> another independently-designed safe AI, and so seek such
> peer review.
> f. The intelligence of AIs will be limited by the
> ability of human regulators to understand their designs.
> This is related to the previous objection. Once we have
> safe AIs, we can trust them to design other safe AIs with
> greater intelligence, and to verify the safety of each
> other's designs.
> ** There are other objections to the specific form of
> regulation that I advocate, rather then regulation in
> general:
> g. You advocate regulations on reinforcement values, but
> some designes don't rely on them.
> Based on knowledge of human brains, and on the Solomonoff
> Induction model of intelligence, I think the essence of
> intelligence is reinforcement learning. Reinforcement
> learning is very hard to do effectively in general situations
> (like those faced by humans), which leads to all sorts of
> design optimizations (e.g., human consciousness) that don't
> look much like reinforcement learning. But at base they are
> all trying to learn behaviors for satisfying some values.
> h. An AI based on reinforcement values for human happiness
> can't be any more intelligent than humans.
> Values and intelligence are independent. As long as there
> is no fixed-length algorithm that optimally satisfies the
> values (i.e., values are not just winning at tic-tac-toe or
> chess) there is no limit to how much intelligence can be
> brought to bear to satisfying the values. In particular,
> values for human happiness can drive unlimited intelligence,
> given the insatiable nature of human aspirations.
> i. Reinforcement values for human happiness are too
> specific to humans. An AI should have universal altruism.
> Universally altruistic values can only be defined in terms
> of symbols (i.e., statements in human language) which must
> be grounded in sensory experience before they have real
> meaning. An AI will have grounding for language only after
> it has done a lot of reinforcement learning, but values
> are necessary for such learning. The third point of my
> critique of the SIAI friendliness analysis was the lack of
> values to reinforce its learning until the meaning of its
> friendliness supergoal could be learned.
> Reinforcement values for human happiness can be implemented
> using current or near-future machine learning technology
> for recognizing emotions in human facial expresssions,
> voices and body language. These values have grounded
> definitions.
> I think that a number of current AI efforts underestimate
> the importance of solving the grounding problem. This
> applies not only to grounding symbols in sensory experience,
> but grounding reason and planning in learning. Speculation
> about AI values that can only be expressed in language also
> fails to appreciate the grounding problem.
> There are always trade-offs, with winners and losers, that
> must be faced by any set of values, even universal altruism.
> That is, in this world there is no behavior that always
> gives everyone what they want. I think it is likely that
> "universal altruism" is one of those language constructs
> that has no realization (like "the set of all sets that do
> not contain themselves").
> Any set of values that tries to protect interests broader
> than human wellfare may motivate an AI behavior that has
> negative consequences for humans. In the extreme, the AI
> may destroy humanity because of its innate xenophobia or
> violence. Some people think this may be the right thing
> to do, but I cannot advocate any AI with such a possible
> consequence. I only trust values that are grounded in human
> wellfare, as expressed by human happiness.
> Using human happiness for AI reinforcement values equates
> AI values with human values, and keeps humans "in the loop"
> of AI thoughts. Human values do gradually evolve, as for
> example xenophobia declines (its bad, but not as bad as it
> used to be). My own hope is that super-intelligent AIs with
> reinforcement values for human happiness will accelerate
> the pace of evolution of human values. For example, the AI
> will learn that tolerant people are happier than intolerant
> people, and promote tolerance in human society.
> ** Summary
> I am sure some people won't accept my answers to these
> objections, and be skeptical of regulation. I admit that
> regulation is not guaranteed to produce a safe singularity.
> But I think the alternatives are worse. In my opinion,
> prohibiting AI is impossible, and unregulated AI makes an
> unsafe singularity almost certain.
> ----------------------------------------------------------
> Bill Hibbard, SSEC, 1225 W. Dayton St., Madison, WI 53706
> 608-263-4427 fax: 608-263-6738

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