This is a fantastic article by Jessica Dai, cofounder of Reboot. What I particularly appreciate is the way that she reframes the fear about Artificial General Intelligence (AGI) as being predicated upon a world in which we choose to outsource human decision-making and give AIs direct access to things such as the power grid.
In many ways, Dai is arguing that, just as the crypto-bros tried to imagine a world where everything is on the blockchain, so those fearful about AIs are actually advocating a world where we abdicate everything to algorithms.
In a recent NYT interview, Nick Bostrom — author of Superintelligence and core intellectual architect of effective altruism — defines “alignment” as “ensur[ing] that these increasingly capable A.I. systems we build are aligned with what the people building them are seeking to achieve.”
Who is “we”, and what are “we” seeking to achieve? As of now, “we” is private companies, most notably OpenAI, the one of the first-movers in the AGI space, and Anthropic, which was founded by a cluster of OpenAI alumni.
To be fair, Anthropic has released Claude’s principles to the public, and OpenAI seems to be seeking ways to involve the public in governance decisions. But as it turns out, OpenAI was lobbying for reduced regulation even as they publicly “advocated” for additional governmental involvement; on the other hand, extensive incumbent involvement in designing legislation is a clear path towards regulatory capture. Almost tautologically, OpenAI, Anthropic, and similar startups exist in order to dominate the marketplace of extremely powerful models in the future.
The punchline is this: the pathways to AI x-risk ultimately require a society where relying on — and trusting — algorithms for making consequential decisions is not only commonplace, but encouraged and incentivized. It is precisely this world that the breathless speculation about AI capabilities makes real.
The emphasis on AI capabilities — the claim that “AI might kill us all if it becomes too powerful” — is a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that ignores all of the other if conditions embedded in that sentence: if we decide to outsource reasoning about consequential decisions — about policy, business strategy, or individual lives — to algorithms. If we decide to give AI systems direct access to resources, and the power and agency to affect the allocation of those resources — the power grid, utilities, computation. All of the AI x-risk scenarios involve a world where we have decided to abdicate responsibility to an algorithm.