Thursday, September 7, 2023

Planning for the Future

     There are a few ways to make an outsized contribution to the world. I've discussed quite a bit in this blog the idea of using the levers of capitalism to bring about a safer world for AI. I've discussed starting a company that, through the making of substantial profit, brings about a world where there are more alignment researchers and more talent within the AI alignment space. Given that this is a second order effect (with profit being a constraint), this may actually not be the best use of my time. Most startups fail, and even if modestly successful (millions in revenue or dozens of employees), this impact would likely remain small. Given the insanely small number of current safety resources in the space, maybe this is still worth a shot, but other alternatives should be considered. Also, I've discussed my ideas with a few people who actually work within alignment, and they admit to the complexity of the issues. It is definitely not a matter of funding, and if it's a matter of talent, it's a hard one to solve.

    If I had trillions of dollars, I could massively fund AI alignment research. Eliezer previously pitched the idealistic vision of pausing all AI capabilities research, taking hundreds of the best AI and "security mindset" people, and putting them on an island with unlimited resources where they could figure out how to solve alignment. Barring this, in his opinion, we are likely screwed. I don't have trillions, or even millions of dollars. However, I do have the ability to write. This is an ability that Thomas Paine used in Common Sense to set off a spark of revolution. Famous political writers have had outsized impact. Even just the work of Peter Singer and its effects on animal welfare show the power of an idea. So, maybe I should write a book? Or a pamphlet? My own ideas aren't revolutionary or even particularly new (they are just borrowed from insanely smart people who have thought a lot about AI), but maybe lending more publicity to these individuals is worth substantially more than saying nothing.

    It is highly unlikely that anything I will do in my life will have a lasting impact on the human population. Maybe through donations and good works I save tens of "life-equivalent-units" or something, but massive institutional change and revolution are more then improbable. The good news is, the downside of trying to contribute is basically zero. And the guilt of never trying could range from a nuisance to terrible, depending on the outcome of the next decades. Regret aversion is actually a pretty good way to approach life, so it's probably good to take the leap.

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