Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Computer Models With Moral Worth

     At what point does an optimization function have moral worth? If you break down the psyche of a bug, you could probably decode the bug's brain into a rough optimization function. Instinct can be approximated, and most living creatures operate mostly out of a desire for survival and reproduction. There is some randomness baked it, but the simpler the brain structure of an animal, the more it resembles that of a computer program. Some computer models are very complex. I would estimate that the complexity of an model such as GPT-4 is vastly greater than the complexity of some animals, and definitely more complex than a bug.

    Do bugs have moral value? This is a hotly debated topic in the effective altruism community. Personally, I don't really think so. If I found out that my neighbor was torturing fruit flies in his basement, I would think my neighbor was weird, but I probably wouldn't see him as evil. Scallops? No. Frogs? A bit worse for sure. Pigs? Cats? Dogs? Chimpanzees? Humans? Well, there is obviously a sliding scale of moral worth. Where do computer models fall on this spectrum? Right now, the vast majority are probably morally worthless. Will this remain the case forever? I highly doubt it. We really have no idea when these thresholds will be crossed. When is a large language model morally equivalent to a frog, and when is it morally equivalent to a cat. Obviously, if we think cats have moral worth even though they are not sentient, we should care if computer models are treated with respect even if they are not human level. I foresee this being an extremely important moral conversation for the next century. Unfortunately, we will almost certainly have it too late.

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