Welcome to the Nexus of Ethics, Psychology, Morality, Philosophy and Health Care

Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, technology, health care, and philosophy

Saturday, June 24, 2023

The Darwinian Argument for Worrying About AI

Dan Hendrycks
Originally posted 31 May 23

Here is an excerpt:

In the biological realm, evolution is a slow process. For humans, it takes nine months to create the next generation and around 20 years of schooling and parenting to produce fully functional adults. But scientists have observed meaningful evolutionary changes in species with rapid reproduction rates, like fruit flies, in fewer than 10 generations. Unconstrained by biology, AIs could adapt—and therefore evolve—even faster than fruit flies do.

There are three reasons this should worry us. The first is that selection effects make AIs difficult to control. Whereas AI researchers once spoke of “designing” AIs, they now speak of “steering” them. And even our ability to steer is slipping out of our grasp as we let AIs teach themselves and increasingly act in ways that even their creators do not fully understand. In advanced artificial neural networks, we understand the inputs that go into the system, but the output emerges from a “black box” with a decision-making process largely indecipherable to humans.

Second, evolution tends to produce selfish behavior. Amoral competition among AIs may select for undesirable traits. AIs that successfully gain influence and provide economic value will predominate, replacing AIs that act in a more narrow and constrained manner, even if this comes at the cost of lowering guardrails and safety measures. As an example, most businesses follow laws, but in situations where stealing trade secrets or deceiving regulators is highly lucrative and difficult to detect, a business that engages in such selfish behavior will most likely outperform its more principled competitors.

Selfishness doesn’t require malice or even sentience. When an AI automates a task and leaves a human jobless, this is selfish behavior without any intent. If competitive pressures continue to drive AI development, we shouldn’t be surprised if they act selfishly too.

The third reason is that evolutionary pressure will likely ingrain AIs with behaviors that promote self-preservation. Skeptics of AI risks often ask, “Couldn’t we just turn the AI off?” There are a variety of practical challenges here. The AI could be under the control of a different nation or a bad actor. Or AIs could be integrated into vital infrastructure, like power grids or the internet. When embedded into these critical systems, the cost of disabling them may prove too high for us to accept since we would become dependent on them. AIs could become embedded in our world in ways that we can’t easily reverse. But natural selection poses a more fundamental barrier: we will select against AIs that are easy to turn off, and we will come to depend on AIs that we are less likely to turn off.

These strong economic and strategic pressures to adopt the systems that are most effective mean that humans are incentivized to cede more and more power to AI systems that cannot be reliably controlled, putting us on a pathway toward being supplanted as the earth’s dominant species. There are no easy, surefire solutions to our predicament.