Friday, January 12, 2024

#12 / P(Doom): A "Grim" New Metric

The headline on New York Times' article from early December informed readers that we all now face a new and "grim" A.I. metric. Each of us, it seems, needs to figure out where we are on the p(doom) scale: Is artificial intelligence a threat to humankind? And if so, how high is the risk?

Dario Amodei [pictured above], the chief executive of the A.I. company Anthropic, puts his between 10 and 25 percent. Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, recently told me she’s at 15 percent. And Emmett Shear, who served as OpenAI’s interim chief executive for about five minutes last month, has said he hovers somewhere between 5 and 50 percent.... 
P(doom) — which is math-speak for “probability of doom” — is the way some artificial intelligence researchers talk about how likely they believe it is that A.I. will kill us all, or create some other cataclysm that threatens human survival. A high p(doom) means you think an A.I. apocalypse is likely, while a low one means you think we’ll probably tough it out.... 
Ajeya Cotra, a senior researcher at Open Philanthropy who studies A.I. risk, has spent a lot of time thinking about p(doom). She thinks it’s potentially useful as a piece of shorthand — her p(doom) is between 20 and 30 percent, for the record — but she also sees its limits. For starters, p(doom) doesn’t take into account that the probability of harm associated with A.I. depends in large part on how we choose to govern it.
“I know some people who have a p(doom) of more than 90 percent, and it’s so high partly because they think companies and governments won’t bother with good safety practices and policy measures,” she told me. “I know others who have a p(doom) of less than 5 percent, and it’s so low partly because they expect that scientists and policymakers will work hard to prevent catastrophic harm before it occurs.” 
In other words, you could think of p(doom) as a kind of Rorschach test — a statistic that is supposed to be about A.I., but that ultimately reveals more about how we feel about humans, and our ability to make use of powerful new technology while keeping its risks in check.

When words are at issue, I often repair to a dictionary - and sometimes to an etymological dictionary. defines "doom" as follows

fate or destiny, especially adverse fate; unavoidable ill fortune: In exile and poverty, he met his doom (emphasis added).

ruin; death: to fall to one's doom.

If the noun "doom" is to retain its historic meaning, "doom" is something that is "unavoidable," something that happens to us - not something we do to ourselves, though we can "doom" ourselves, or others, when the word is used as a verb.

Since I am a firm believer that WE make the world, by the actions we take (or don't take), I have very little tolerance for those who tell me that we are "doomed." 

We are doing a lot of stupid things, and we should definitely note the possibility that so-called "artificial intelligence" could lead to horrible consequences, or (in the extreme) to the end of human life on Earth. But nuclear war could do that, too, and so could our continuing degradation of planet Earth, and so could our continued burning of fossil fuels, leading to all the negative impacts that we are just beginning to glimpse ahead, as we contemplate continued and accelerating global warming. Other examples could be listed!

Are there troubles ahead? You bet!

Are we "doomed"? I say, "No."

"Doom" isn't the right word, and misleads us into thinking that we are not in charge of the world that we create ourselves. However, if you think that's just a "semantic quibble," let me admit that if we don't change what we're doing, we're going to go "down in the flood." That, however, if that does happen, is going to be the result of what we do ourselves (and what we don't do). It's really "our decision."

As Mr. Dylan says, and I have quoted him, before, essentially to this effect:

It's sugar for sugar, and it's salt for salt. If we go down in the flood it's going to be our own fault.

We aren't  "doomed." We are making choices, individually and collectively, every day, and we can change what we're doing!

If we don't change what we're doing, we can definitely bring it all right down on top of us, right down on top of everyone else, too, right down on top of this entire human world of ours. That's what can happen if we don't change what we're doing! There isn't any "doom" about it!


I'm starting with the man in the mirror (oh)
I'm asking him to change his ways (oh)
And no message could've been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make that change

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