Re: Investing in FAI research: now vs. later

From: Peter C. McCluskey (
Date: Sat Feb 09 2008 - 09:55:12 MST (Rolf Nelson) writes:
>Peter, overconfidence is indeed an ongoing risk with this venture (as,
>indeed, it is with any venture, especially one that is attempting to build a
>new technology). In general, all things equal, simple solutions should be
>preferred to complex solutions.
>However, the ratio between AGI existential risk and killer-asteroid risk in
>this century has got to be on the order of one to a million!* Despite this,
>I would estimate asteroid-impact overall commands more resources than FAI
>does.** I don't know how much you propose Bayesian shifting for
>overconfidence, but surely it's not a shift of that magnitude.

 After reflecting on this for a while, I'm a good deal more uncertain
than I was in my last email, but I still think it's at least a reasonable
guess that the probability of a moderately smart person identifying a way
advance FAI is more than a million times smaller than knowing how to
advance asteroid detection. Your use of the word "surely" suggests that
rather than just adjusting for overconfidence, you should rethink your
reasoning more thoroughly.
 I'd say the number of smart people who have mistakenly thought they
could create an important AI breakthrough suggests we should assume
any one AGI effort should have a success probability somewhere around
0.01 to 0.0001. Constraining the goal to be friendly and to be complete
before an unfriendly AU could easily reduce the probability by an order
of magnitude or more. If many of the people offering resources to the
project don't understand the design, then there is an incentive for people
without serious designs to imitate serious researchers. How much you should
adjust your estimates for this risk seems fairly sensitive to how well you
think you understand what the project is doing and why it ought to work.
I'd guess the typical member of this list ought to use somewhere between
a factor of 2 and 10. So the most optimistic estimate I'm willing to take
seriously is that a moderately smart person would do several hundred times
better giving to FAI research than to asteroid detection, and I think it's
more likely that giving to FAI research is 2 or 3 orders of magnitude less
 I suspect it's a good idea to make some adjustment for overconfidence
at this point, but I'm having trouble thinking quantitatively about that.
 I'm tempted to add in some uncertainty about whether the AI designer(s)
will be friendly to humanity or whether they'll make the AI friendly to
themselves only. But that probably doesn't qualify as an existential risk,
so it mainly reflects my selfish interests.
 Note that none of this addresses the question of how much effort one
should spend trying to convince existing AI researchers to avoid creating
an AGI that might be unfriendly.

 As for which tasks currently gets more resources, I find them hard to
compare. It appears that more money is usefully spent on asteroid detection,
and that money is the primary resource controlling asteroid detection
results. It isn't clear whether money is being usefully spent on FAI or
whether additional money would have any effect on it. I would not be
surprised if something changes my opinion about that in the next few

>Perhaps my own conclusions differs from yours as follows: first of all, I
>have confidence in the abilities of the current FAI community; and second of

 Can you describe reasons for that confidence?

>all, if I didn't have confidence, I would try to bring about the creation of
>a new community, or bring about improvements of the existing community,

 Does that follow from a belief about how your skills differ from those
of a more typical person, or are you advocating that people accept this
as a default approach?
 There are a number of tasks for which the average member of this list is
likely to be aware that he would have negligible influence, such as unifying
relativity with quantum mechanics or inventing time travel. I suggest that
FAI presents similar difficulties.

 I apologize for my delay in responding.

Peter McCluskey         | The road to hell is paved with overconfidence| in your good intentions. - Stuart Armstrong

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