Discover more from Deep into the Forest
An Argument Against Funding AI Alignment
Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes
AI Alignment work is starting to consume a large fraction of available funding for AI research. In this opinion post, I argue that investment in AI alignment is premature and better spent on concrete challenges such as secure chip supply chains.
Funding Alignment Research is Premature
Over the last decade, AI Alignment has emerged as a serious AI discipline. Continuing advances in the capabilities of large models provide growing evidence for the scale hypothesis, which holds roughly that a large enough model may be sufficient to achieve artificial general intelligence. As I argued in our earlier post, many of these arguments discount Moore’s law and the growing hardware challenges facing scaling research.
This week, news emerged that SMIC has released a foundry process for 7nm ASIC chips, a feat that no Western company, including Intel has achieved (source). SMIC has a very checkered past, with a long track record of IP theft (see our post linked below), but crooked means can still achieve stunning results. It’s worth emphasizing that a Chinese semiconductor company, tightly bound with the CCP, now possesses more advanced semiconductor technology than any US company.
In other recent news, President Biden warned Speaker Pelosi against visiting Taiwan due to the risks of inflaming tensions with the CCP (link). As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has shown, the Pax Americana has passed, and other great powers feel free now to move to military action against the wishes of the US. Unification with Taiwan has been one of the CCP’s core goals for decades, meaning that a CCP driven invasion of Taiwan is a very real possibility. Given that most of the world’s leading AI chips are manufactured at TSMC, the potential invasion of Taiwan should play a very real role in estimates of near-term AI “takeoff” into superintelligence. If superintelligence is indeed near (which I don’t personally believe), that superintelligence stands a real chance of serving the CCP and its interests. Even if superintelligence is far off, CCP domination of the AI industry would be very damaging to the US and its allies.
As a field, AI alignment has drawn in powerful thinkers and promoters. Funding for AI Alignment research has grown steadily with major players like OpenAI or AnthropicAI devoting billions of dollars collectively to the problem. I agree that funding a few AI alignment researchers could be worthwhile, but I question whether this large scale investment is taking money away from other more pressing priorities in AI research. At a very practical level, AI alignment dollars could probably be better directed to funding next generation American foundry companies to ensure that the entire AI industry isn’t cast into turmoil by a potential future CCP invasion of Taiwan.
I agree that there is a small risk of a malignant AI controlling the world, but there are many larger risks including climate change, rising fascism, and the CCP that AI funders should consider. AI is an epochal technology, one that will shape much of human experience over the century to come. Focusing too many resources on shadowy fears of a malignant superintelligence takes away resources from more immediate and dangerous challenges. Funding sources such as the American government or American tech giants need to put far more resources into constructing a safe AI chip supply chain rather than just funding the next big language model.
Interesting Links from Around the Web
https://hub.jhu.edu/2022/07/21/artificial-intelligence-sepsis-detection/: Impressive progress in clinical sepsis detection with AI.
https://spectrum.ieee.org/acoustic-integrated-circuit: Acoustic semiconductor devices allow for active manipulation of sound by semiconductor systems.
Feedback and Comments
Please feel free to email me directly (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your feedback and comments!
Deep Into the Forest is a newsletter by Deep Forest Sciences, Inc. We’re a deep tech R&D company building Chiron, an AI-powered scientific discovery engine. Deep Forest Sciences leads the development of the open source DeepChem ecosystem. Partner with us to apply our foundational AI technologies to hard real-world problems. Get in touch with us at email@example.com!
Author: Bharath Ramsundar, Ph.D.
Editor: Sandya Subramanian, Ph.D.
Thanks for reading Deep into the Forest! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.