Saturday, December 26, 2015

Should AI Be Open?

All this likewise indubitably belonged to history, and would have to be historically assessed; like the Murder of the Innocents, or the Black Death, or the Battle of Paschendaele. But there was something else; a monumental death-wish, an immense destructive force loosed in the world which was going to sweep over everything and everyone, laying them flat, burning, killing, obliterating, until nothing was left…Nor have I from that time ever had the faintest expectation that, in earthly terms, anything could be salvaged; that any earthly battle could be won or earthly solution found. It has all just been sleep-walking to the end of the night.
   ~Malcolm Muggeridge

H.G. Wells’ 1914 sci-fi book The World Set Free did a pretty good job predicting nuclear weapons:
They did not see it until the atomic bombs burst in their fumbling hands…before the last war began it was a matter of common knowledge that a man could carry about in a handbag an amount of latent energy sufficient to wreck half a city
Wells’ thesis was that the coming atomic bombs would be so deadly that we would inevitably create a utopian one-world government to prevent them from ever being used. Sorry, Wells. It was a nice thought.

But imagine that in the 1910s and 1920s, the period’s intellectual and financial elites had started thinking really seriously along Wellsian lines. Imagine what might happen when the first nation – let’s say America – got the Bomb. It would be totally unstoppable in battle and could take over the entire world and be arbitrarily dictatorial. Such a situation would be the end of human freedom and progress.

So in 1920 they all pool their resources to create their own version of the Manhattan Project. Over the next decade their efforts bear fruit, and they learn a lot about nuclear fission. In particular, they learn that uranium is a necessary resource, and that the world’s uranium sources are few enough that a single nation or coalition of nations could obtain a monopoly upon them. The specter of atomic despotism is more worrying than ever.

They get their physicists working overtime, and they discover a variety of nuke that requires no uranium at all. In fact, once you understand the principles you can build one out of parts from a Model T engine. The only downside to this new kind of nuke is that if you don’t build it exactly right, its usual failure mode is to detonate on the workbench in an uncontrolled hyper-reaction that blows the entire hemisphere to smithereens. But it definitely doesn’t require any kind of easily controlled resource.

And so the intellectual and financial elites declare victory – no one country can monopolize atomic weapons now – and send step-by-step guides to building a Model T nuke to every household in the world. Within a week, both hemispheres are blown to very predictable smithereens.


Some of the top names in Silicon Valley have just announced a new organization, OpenAI, dedicated to “advanc[ing] digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole…as broadly and evenly distributed as possible.” Co-chairs Elon Musk and Sam Altman talk to Steven Levy:
Levy: How did this come about? […] 
Musk: Philosophically there’s an important element here: we want AI to be widespread. There’s two schools of thought?—?do you want many AIs, or a small number of AIs? We think probably many is good. And to the degree that you can tie it to an extension of individual human will, that is also good. […] 
Altman: We think the best way AI can develop is if it’s about individual empowerment and making humans better, and made freely available to everyone, not a single entity that is a million times more powerful than any human. Because we are not a for-profit company, like a Google, we can focus not on trying to enrich our shareholders, but what we believe is the actual best thing for the future of humanity. 
Levy: Couldn’t your stuff in OpenAI surpass human intelligence? 
Altman: I expect that it will, but it will just be open source and useable by everyone instead of useable by, say, just Google. Anything the group develops will be available to everyone. If you take it and repurpose it you don’t have to share that. But any of the work that we do will be available to everyone. 
Levy: If I’m Dr. Evil and I use it, won’t you be empowering me? 
Musk: I think that’s an excellent question and it’s something that we debated quite a bit. 
Altman: There are a few different thoughts about this. Just like humans protect against Dr. Evil by the fact that most humans are good, and the collective force of humanity can contain the bad elements, we think its far more likely that many, many AIs, will work to stop the occasional bad actors than the idea that there is a single AI a billion times more powerful than anything else. If that one thing goes off the rails or if Dr. Evil gets that one thing and there is nothing to counteract it, then we’re really in a bad place.
Both sides here keep talking about who is going to “use” the superhuman intelligence a billion times more powerful than humanity, as if it were a microwave or something. Far be it from me to claim to know more than Sam Altman about anything, but I propose that the correct answer to “what would you do if Dr. Evil used superintelligent AI” is “cry tears of joy and declare victory”, because anybody at all having a usable level of control over the first superintelligence is so much more than we have any right to expect that I’m prepared to accept the presence of a medical degree and ominous surname.

A more Bostromian view would forget about Dr. Evil, and model AI progress as a race between Dr. Good and Dr. Amoral. Dr. Good is anyone who understands that improperly-designed AI could get out of control and destroy the human race – and who is willing to test and fine-tune his AI however long it takes to be truly confident in its safety. Dr. Amoral is anybody who doesn’t worry about that and who just wants to go forward as quickly as possible in order to be the first one with a finished project. If Dr. Good finishes an AI first, we get a good AI which protects human values. If Dr. Amoral finishes an AI first, we get an AI with no concern for humans that will probably cut short our future.

Dr. Amoral has a clear advantage in this race: building an AI without worrying about its behavior beforehand is faster and easier than building an AI and spending years testing it and making sure its behavior is stable and beneficial. He will win any fair fight. The hope has always been that the fight won’t be fair, because all the smartest AI researchers will realize the stakes and join Dr. Good’s team.

Open-source AI crushes that hope. Suppose Dr. Good and her team discover all the basic principles of AI but wisely hold off on actually instantiating a superintelligence until they can do the necessary testing and safety work. But suppose they also release what they’ve got on the Internet. Dr. Amoral downloads the plans, sticks them in his supercomputer, flips the switch, and then – as Dr. Good himself put it back in 1963 – “the human race has become redundant.”

The decision to make AI findings open source is a tradeoff between risks and benefits. The risk is letting the most careless person in the world determine the speed of AI research – because everyone will always have the option to exploit the full power of existing AI designs, and the most careless person in the world will always be the first one to take it. The benefit is that in a world where intelligence progresses very slowly and AIs are easily controlled, nobody will be able to use their sole possession of the only existing AI to garner too much power.

Unfortunately, I think we live in a different world – one where AIs progress from infrahuman to superhuman intelligence very quickly, very dangerously, and in a way very difficult to control unless you’ve prepared beforehand.

by Scott Alexander, Slate Star Codex |  Read more:
Image: Ex Machina