Improving the future by influencing actors' benevolence, intelligence, and power

post by MichaelA · 2020-07-20T10:00:31.424Z · score: 56 (30 votes) · EA · GW · 14 comments

Contents

  Overview
  Introduction
  What this framework is useful for
  The three factors
    Benevolence
    Intelligence
    Power
  An analogy to illustrate these factors
  Implications and examples
    Influencing benevolence
    Influencing intelligence
    Influencing power
    Visualising the implications of the BIP framework
  Conclusion
None
14 comments

This post was written for Convergence Analysis. Some of the ideas in the post are similar to and/or draw influence from earlier ideas and work.[1]

Overview

This post argues that one useful way to come up with, and assess the expected value of, actions to improve the long-term future is to consider how “benevolent”, “intelligent”, and “powerful” various actors are, and how various actions could affect those actors’ benevolence, intelligence, and power. We first explain what we mean by those terms. We then outline nine implications of our benevolence, intelligence, power (BIP) framework, give examples of actions these implications push in favour of or against, and visually represent these implications.

These implications include that it’s likely good to:

  1. Increase actors’ benevolence.
  2. Increase the intelligence of actors who are sufficiently benevolent
  3. Increase the power of actors who are sufficiently benevolent and intelligent

And that it may be bad to:

  1. Increase the intelligence of actors who aren’t sufficiently benevolent
  2. Increase the power of actors who aren’t sufficiently benevolent and intelligent

For example, depending on the details, it may be:

An additional implication of the BIP framework is that the goodness or badness of an increase in an actor’s benevolence, intelligence, or power may often be larger the higher their levels of the other two factors are.

(Throughout this post, we use the term “actors” to mean a person, a group of a people of any size, humanity as a whole, or an “institution” such as a government, company, or nonprofit.[2])

Introduction

Let’s say you want to improve the expected value of the long-term future, such as by reducing existential risks [EA · GW]. Which of the actions available to you will best achieve that goal? Which of those actions have major downside risks [? · GW], and might even make the future worse?

Answering these questions precisely and confidently would require long-term predictions about complex and unprecedented events. Luckily, various frameworks, heuristics, and proxies have been proposed that help us at least get some traction on these questions, so we can walk a fruitful middle path between analysis paralysis and random action. For example, we might use the importance, tractability, and neglectedness (ITN) framework, or adopt the heuristic of pursuing differential progress [EA · GW].

This post provides another framework that we believe will often be useful for coming up with, and assessing the expected value of, actions to improve the long-term future: the benevolence, intelligence, power (BIP) framework.

What this framework is useful for

We think it will often be useful to use the BIP framework if one of your major goals in general is improving the expected value of the long-term future (see also MacAskill [EA · GW]), and either of the following is true:

  1. You’re trying to come up with actions to improve the long-term future.
  2. You’re considering taking an action which isn’t specifically intended to improve the long-term future, but which is relatively “major” and “non-routine”, such that it could be worth assessing that action’s impacts on the future anyway

For example, the BIP framework may be worth using when coming up with, or considering taking, actions such as:

The BIP framework could help you recognise key considerations, decide whether to take the action, and decide precisely how to execute the action (e.g., should you target the workshop at AI researchers in general, or at AI safety researchers in particular?).

Also note that the BIP framework is best at capturing impacts that occur via effects on other actors’ behaviours. For example, the framework will better capture the impacts of (a) writing a blog post that influences what biotech researchers work on and how they do so than (b) actually designing a vaccine platform oneself.[3] But this seems only a minor limitation, as it seems most actions to improve the long-term future would do so largely via affecting how other actors behave.

Finally, note that BIP is just one framework. It will often be useful to additionally or instead use other frameworks, heuristics, or proxies, and/or a more detailed analysis of the specifics of the situation at hand. For example, even if the BIP framework suggests action X would, in the abstract, be better than action Y, it’s possible your comparative advantage would mean it would be better for you to do action Y.

The three factors

This section will clarify what we mean, in the context of the BIP framework, by the terms benevolence, intelligence, and power. Three caveats first:

often rests on things outside of people’s control. Luck, life circumstance, and existing skills may make a big difference to how much someone can offer, so that even people who care very much can end up having very different impacts. This is uncomfortable, because it pushes against egalitarian norms that we value. [...] We also do not think that these ideas should be used to devalue or dismiss certain people, or that they should be used to idolize others. The reason we are considering this question is to help us understand how we should prioritize our resources in carrying out our programs, not to judge people.[5]

Benevolence

By benevolence, we essentially mean how well an actor’s moral [? · GW] beliefs or values align with the goal of improving the expected value of the long-term future. For example, an actor is more “benevolent” if they value altruism in addition to self-interest, or if they value future people in addition to presently living people.

Given moral and empirical uncertainty [? · GW], it can of course be difficult to be confident about how well an actor’s moral beliefs or values align with improving the long-term future. For example, how much should an actor value happiness, suffering reduction, preference satisfaction, and other things?[6] But we think differences in benevolence can sometimes be relatively clear and highly important.[7] To illustrate, here’s a list of actors in approximately descending order of benevolence:

  1. Someone purely motivated by completely impartial altruism (including considering welfare and suffering to be just as morally significant no matter when or where it occurs)
  2. Someone mostly motivated by mostly impartial altruism
  3. A “typical person”, who acts partly out of self-interest and partly based on somewhat altruistic “common sense” values
  4. An unusually mean or self-interested person
  5. Terrorists, dictators, and actively sadistic people[8]

We do not include as part of “benevolence” the quality of an actor’s empirical beliefs or more “concrete” values or goals. For example, one person may focus on supporting existential risk reduction (either directly or via donations), while another focuses on supporting advocacy against nuclear power generation. If both actors are similarly motivated by doing what they sincerely believe will benefit future generations, they may have the same level of benevolence; they are both trying to advance “good” moral beliefs or values. However, one person has developed a better plan for helping; they have identified a better path towards those “good” moral beliefs or values.[9][10] This likely reflects a difference in the actors’ levels of “intelligence”, in our sense of the term, which we turn to now.

Intelligence

By intelligence, we essentially mean any intellectual abilities or empirical beliefs that would help an actor make and execute plans that are aligned with the actor’s moral beliefs or values. Thus, this includes things like knowledge of the world, problem-solving skills, ability to learn and adapt, (epistemic) rationality, foresight or forecasting abilities, ability to coordinate with others, etc.[11][12] For example, two actors who both aim to benefit future generations may differ in whether their plan for doing so involves supporting existential risk reduction or supporting advocacy against nuclear power, and this may result from differences in (among other things):

That was an example where more “intelligence” helped an actor make high-level plans that were better aligned with the actor’s moral beliefs or values. Intelligence can also aid in making better fine-grained, specific plans, or in executing plans. For example, if two actors both support existential risk reduction, the more “intelligent” one may be more likely to:

But intelligence is not the only factor in an actor’s capability to execute its plans; another key factor is their “power”.

Power

By power, we essentially mean any non-intellectual abilities or resources that would help an actor execute its plans (e.g., wealth, political power, persuasive abilities, or physical force). For example, if two actors both support existential risk reduction, the more “powerful” one may be more able to actually fund projects, actually build support for preferred policies, or actually increase the number of people working on these issues. Likewise, if two actors both have malevolent goals (e.g., aim to become dictators) or both have benevolent goals but very misguided plans (e.g., aim to advocate against nuclear power), the more “powerful” actor may be more able to actually set their plans in motion, and may therefore cause more harm.[13]

Intelligence also aids in executing plans, and to that extent both “intelligence” and “power” could be collapsed together as “capability”. But there’s a key distinction between intelligence and power: differences in intelligence are more likely to also affect what plans are chosen, rather than merely affecting how effectively plans are carried out. Thus, as we discuss more below, it is more robustly valuable to increase actors’ intelligence than their power, since increasing a misguided but benevolent actor’s intelligence may help them course-correct, whereas increasing their power may just lead to them travelling more quickly along their net negative path.[14]

An analogy to illustrate these factors

We’ll use a quick analogy to further clarify these three factors, and to set the scene for our discussion of the implications of the BIP framework.

Imagine you’re the leader of a group of people on some island, and that all that really, truly matters is that you and your group make it to a luscious forest, and avoid a pit of lava.

In this scenario:

Implications and examples

We’ll now outline nine implications of the BIP framework. These can be seen as heuristics to consider when coming up with, and assessing the expected value of, actions to improve the long-term future, or “major” and “non-routine” actions in general. We’ll also give examples of actions these heuristics may push in favour of or against. Many of these implications and examples should be fairly intuitive, but we think there’s value in laying them out explicitly and connecting them into one broader framework.

Note that we don’t mean to imply that these heuristics alone can determine with certainty whether an action is valuable, nor whether it should be prioritised relative to other valuable actions. That would require also considering other frameworks and heuristics, such as how neglected and tractable the action is.

Influencing benevolence

1. From the perspective of improving the long-term future, it will typically be valuable to increase an actor’s “benevolence”: to cause an actor’s moral beliefs or values to better align with the goal of improving the expected value of the long-term future.[15]

Examples of interventions that might lead to increases in benevolence include EA movement-building, research into moral philosophy or moral psychology, creating materials that help people learn about and reflect on arguments for and against different ethical views, and providing funding or training for people who implement those kinds of interventions. Althaus and Baumann’s [EA · GW] discussion of interventions to reduce (or screen for) malevolence is also relevant.

2. That first implication seems robust to differences in how “intelligent” and “powerful” the actor is. That is, it seems increasing an actor’s benevolence will very rarely decrease the value of the future, even if the actor’s levels of intelligence and power are low.

3. It will be more valuable to increase the benevolence of actors who are more intelligent and/or more powerful. For example, it’s more valuable to cause a skilled problem-solver, bioengineering PhD student, senior civil servant, or millionaire to be highly motivated by impartial altruism than to cause the same change in someone with fewer intellectual and non-intellectual abilities and resources. This is because how good an actor’s moral beliefs or values are is especially important if the actor is very good at making and executing plans aligned with those moral beliefs or values.

This suggests that, if one is considering taking an action to improve actors’ benevolence, it could be worth trying to target this towards more intelligent and/or more powerful actors. For example, this could push in favour of focusing EA movement-building somewhat on talented graduate students, successful professionals, etc. (Though there are also considerations that push in the opposite direction, such as the value of reducing actual or perceived elitism within EA.)

Influencing intelligence

4. It will often (but not always) be valuable to increase an actor’s “intelligence”, because this could:

Examples of interventions that might lead to increases in intelligence include funding scholarships, providing effective rationality training, and providing materials that help people “get up to speed” on areas like AI or biotechnology.

5. But it could be harmful (from the perspective of improving the long-term future) to increase the “intelligence” of actors which are below some “threshold” level of benevolence. This is because that could help those actors more effectively make and execute plans that are not so much “misguided” as “well-guided towards bad goals”. (See also Althaus and Baumann [EA · GW].)

For a relatively obvious example, it seems harmful to help terrorists, authoritarians, and certain militaries better understand various aspects of biotechnology. For a more speculative example, if accelerating AI development could increase existential risk (though see also Beckstead), then funding scholarships for AI researchers in general or providing materials on AI to the public at large might decrease the value of the long-term future.

Determining precisely what the relevant “threshold” level of benevolence would be is not a trivial matter, but we think even just recognising that such a threshold likely exists may be useful. The threshold would also depend on the precise type of intelligence improvement that would occur. For example, the same authoritarians or militaries may be “sufficiently” benevolent (e.g., just entirely self-interested, rather than actively sadistic) that improving their understanding of global priorities research is safe, even if improving their understanding of biotech is not.

6. More generally, increases in an actor’s “intelligence” may tend to be:

Therefore, for example:

Influencing power

7. It will sometimes be valuable to increase an actor’s “power”, because this could help an actor which already has good plans execute them more effectively. Examples of interventions that would likely lead to increases in power include helping a person invest well or find a high-paying job, boosting national or global economic growth (this boosts the power of many actors, including humanity as a whole), helping a person network, or providing tips or training on public speaking.

8. But it could be harmful (from the perspective of improving the long-term future) to increase the “power” of actors which are below some “threshold” combination of benevolence and intelligence. This is because:

This makes increasing an actor’s power less robustly positive than increasing the actor’s intelligence, which is in turn less robustly positive than increasing their benevolence.

For a relatively obvious example, it seems harmful to help terrorists, authoritarians, and certain militaries gain wealth and political influence. For a more speculative example, if accelerating AI development would increase existential risk, then helping aspiring AI researchers or start-ups in general gain wealth and political influence might decrease the value of the future.

As with the threshold level of benevolence required for an intelligence increase to be beneficial, we don’t know precisely what the required threshold combination of benevolence and intelligence is, and we expect it will differ for different precise types of power increase (e.g., increases in wealth vs increases in political power).

9. More generally, increases in an actor’s “power” may tend to be:

Therefore, for example:

Visualising the implications of the BIP framework

We could approximately represent these implications using three-dimensional graphs, with benevolence, intelligence, and power on the axes, and higher expected values of the long-term future represented by greener rather than redder shades. To keep things simple and easy to understand in a still image, we’ll instead provide a pair of two dimensional graphs: one showing benevolence and intelligence, and the other showing a “combination of benevolence and intelligence” (which we will not try to precisely define) and power. The implications are similar for each graph’s pair of dimensions. Thus, again for simplicity, we’ve used two graphs that are mathematically identical to each other; they just have different labels.

We’ll also show a vector field on each graph (see also our post on Using vector fields to visualise preferences and make them consistent [LW · GW]). That is, we will add arrows at each point whose direction represents which direction it would be beneficial to move in that point, and whose size represents how beneficial movement in that direction would be.[16]

Here is the first graph:

This graph captures the implications that:

This graph does not capture the relevance of the actor’s level of power. Our second graph captures that, though it loses some of the above nuances by collapsing benevolence and intelligence together:

This second graph is mathematically identical to the first graph, and has similar implications.

Conclusion

The BIP (benevolence, intelligence, power) framework can help with coming up with, or assessing the expected value of, actions to improve the long-term future (or “major” and “non-routine” actions in general). In particular, it suggests nine specific implications, which we outlined above and which can be summarised as follows:

We hope this framework, and its associated heuristics, can serve as one additional, helpful tool in your efforts to benefit the long-term future. We’d also be excited to see future work which uses this framework as one input in assessing the benefits and downside risks [LW · GW] of specific interventions (including but not limited to those interventions briefly mentioned in this post).

This post builds on earlier work by Justin Shovelain [LW · GW] and an earlier draft by Sara Haxhia. I’m grateful to Justin, David Kristoffersson [LW · GW], Andrés Gómez Emilsson, and Ella Parkinson for helpful comments. We’re grateful also to Andrés for work on an earlier related draft, and to Siebe Rozendal for helpful comments on an earlier related draft. This does not imply these people’s endorsement of all of this post’s claims.


  1. In particular, the following ideas and work:

    (We had not yet watched the Schubert and Leung talks when we developed the ideas in this post.) ↩︎

  2. It’s worth noting that a group’s benevolence, intelligence, or power may not simply be the sum or average of its members’ levels of those attributes. For example, to the extent that a company has “goals”, its primary goals may not be the primary goals of any of its directors, employees, or stakeholders. Relatedly, it may be harder to assess or influence the benevolence, intelligence, or power of a group than that of an individual. ↩︎

  3. That said, the framework may still have the ability to capture more “direct” impacts, or to be adapted to do so. For example, one could frame vaccine platforms as improving the long-term future by reducing the levels of intelligence and power that are required to mitigate biorisks, and increasing the levels of intelligence and power is required to create biorisks. One could even frame this as “in effect” increasing the intelligence and/or power of benevolent actors in the biorisk space, and “in effect” decreasing the intelligence and/or power of malevolent actors in that space. ↩︎

  4. For example, increasing an actor's benevolence and intelligence might increase their prestige, one of two main forms of status (see The Secret of Our Success). Both forms of status would effectively increase an actor’s power, as they would increase the actor’s ability to influence others. ↩︎

  5. See also the section on Elitism vs. egalitarianism in that post. ↩︎

  6. Arguably, taking moral uncertainty seriously might itself be one component of benevolence, such that more benevolent actors will put more effort into figuring out what moral beliefs and values they should have, and will be more willing to engage in moral trade. ↩︎

  7. It can also be hard to be confident even about whether improving the long-term future should be our focus. But this post takes that as a starting assumption. ↩︎

  8. See also the discussion of “Dark Tetrad” traits in Reducing long-term risks from malevolent actors [EA · GW]. ↩︎

  9. This distinction between “moral beliefs or values” and “plans” can perhaps also be thought of as a distinction between “relatively high-level / terminal / fundamental goals or values” and “relatively concrete / instrumental goals or values”. ↩︎

  10. We use advocacy against nuclear power generation merely as an example. Our purpose here is not really to argue against such advocacy. If you believe such advocacy is net positive and worth prioritising, this shouldn’t stop you engaging with the core ideas of this post. For some background on the topic, see Halstead. ↩︎

  11. Note that, given our loose definition of intelligence, two actors who gain the same intellectual ability or empirical belief may gain different amounts of intelligence, if that ability or belief is more useful for one set of moral beliefs or values than for another. For example, knowledge about effective altruism or global priorities research may be more useful for someone aiming to benefit the world than someone aiming to get rich or be spiteful, and thus may improve the former type of person's intelligence more. ↩︎

  12. Thus, what we mean by “intelligence” will not be identical to what is measured by IQ tests.

    See Legg and Hutter for a collection of definitions of intelligence. We think our use of the word intelligence lines up fairly well with most of these, such as Legg and Hutter’s own definition: “Intelligence measures an agent’s ability to achieve goals in a wide range of environments.” However, that definition, taken literally, would appear to also include “non-cognitive” capabilities and resources, such as wealth or physical strength, which we instead include as part of “power”. (For more, see Intelligence vs. other capabilities and resources [LW(p) · GW(p)].)

    Our use of “intelligence” also lines up fairly well with how some people use “wisdom” (e.g., in Bostrom, Dafoe, and Flynn). However, at times “wisdom” seems to also implicitly include something like “benevolence”. ↩︎

  13. Note that the way we've defined "power" means that the same non-intellectual ability or resource may affect one actor's power more than another, as it may be more useful given one plan than given another. See also footnote 11, the concept of asymmetric weapons [LW · GW], and Carl Shulman's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] (which prompted me to add this footnote). ↩︎

  14. One caveat to this is that actors may be able to use certain types of power to, in effect, “buy more intelligence”, and thereby improve how well-aligned their plans are with their goals. For example, the Open Philanthropy Project can use money to hire additional research analysts and thereby improve their ability to determine which cause areas, interventions, grantees, etc. they should support in order to best advance their values. ↩︎

  15. As noted in footnote 7, there is room for uncertainty about whether we should focus on the goal of improving the long-term future in the first place. Additionally, improving benevolence may often involve moral advocacy, and there’s room for debate about how important, tractable, neglected, or “zero- vs positive-sum” moral advocacy is (for related discussion, see Christiano and Baumann). ↩︎

  16. Both graphs are of course rough approximations, for illustrative purposes only. Precise locations, numbers, and intensities of each colour should not be taken too literally. We’ve arbitrarily chosen to make each scale start at 0, but the same basic conclusions could also be reached if the scales were made to extend into negative numbers. ↩︎

14 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by Carl_Shulman · 2020-07-21T20:01:40.359Z · score: 31 (12 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thanks for the post. One concern I have about the use of 'power' is that it tends to be used for fairly flexible ability to pursue varied goals (good or bad, wisely or foolishly). But many resources are disproportionately helpful for particular goals or levels of competence. E.g. practices of rigorous reproducible science will give more power and prestige to scientists working on real topics, or who achieve real results, but it also constraint what they can do with that power (the norms make it harder for a scientist who wins stature thereby to push p-hacked pseudoscience for some agenda). Similarly, democracy increases the power of those who are likely to be elected, while constraining their actions towards popular approval. A charity evaluator like GiveWell may gain substantial influence within the domain of effective giving, but won't be able to direct most of its audience to charities that have failed in well powered randomized control trials.

This kind of change, which provides power differentially towards truth, or better solutions, should be of relatively greater interest to those seeking altruistic effectiveness (whereas more flexible power is of more interest to selfish actors or those with aims that hold up less well under those circumstances). So it makes sense to place special weight on asymmetric tools [LW · GW] favoring correct views, like science, debate, and betting.

comment by Stefan_Schubert · 2020-07-21T20:45:44.115Z · score: 9 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Right, so instead of (or maybe in addition to) giving flexible power to supposedly benevolent and intelligent actors (implication 3 above), you create structures, norms, and practices which enable anyone specifically to do good effectively (~give anyone power to do what's benevolent and intelligent).

comment by David_Kristoffersson · 2020-07-22T10:18:53.945Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Excellent points, Carl. (And Stefan's as well.) We would love to see follow-up posts exploring nuances like these, and I put them into the Convergence list of topics worth elaborating.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-07-21T23:54:30.695Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Yes, I definitely think this is true. And thanks for the comment!

I'd say that similar is also true for "intelligence". We use that term for "intellectual abilities or empirical beliefs that would help an actor make and execute plans that are aligned with the actor’s moral beliefs or values". Some such abilities and beliefs will be more helpful for actors with "good" moral beliefs or values than for those with less good ones. E.g., knowledge about effective altruism or global priorities research is likely more useful for someone who aims to benefit the world than for someone who aims to get rich or be sadistic. (Though there can of course be cases in which knowledge that's useful for do-gooders is useful for those trying to counter such do-gooders.)

I allude to this when I write:

it could be harmful (from the perspective of improving the long-term future) to increase the “intelligence” of actors which are below some “threshold” level of benevolence. [...]
Determining precisely what the relevant “threshold” level of benevolence would be is not a trivial matter, but we think even just recognising that such a threshold likely exists may be useful. The threshold would also depend on the precise type of intelligence improvement that would occur. For example, the same authoritarians or militaries may be “sufficiently” benevolent (e.g., just entirely self-interested, rather than actively sadistic) that improving their understanding of global priorities research is safe, even if improving their understanding of biotech is not.

I also alluded to something similar for power, but apparently only in a footnote:

As with the threshold level of benevolence required for an intelligence increase to be beneficial, we don’t know precisely what the required threshold combination of benevolence and intelligence is, and we expect it will differ for different precise types of power increase (e.g., increases in wealth vs increases in political power).

One other thing I'd note is that things that are more useful for pursuing good goals than bad ones will, by the uses of terms in this post, increase the power of benevolent actors more than that of less benevolent actors. That's because we define power in relation to what "help[s] an actor execute its plans". So this point was arguably "technically" captured by this framework, but not emphasised or made explicit. (See also Halffull's comment [EA(p) · GW(p)] and my reply.)

I think this is an important enough point to be worth emphasising, so I've added two new footnotes (footnotes 11 and 13) and made the above footnote part of the main-text instead. This may still not sufficiently emphasise this point, and it may often be useful to instead use frameworks/heuristics which focus more directly on the nature of the intervention/tool/change being considered (rather than the nature of the actors it'd be delivered to). But hopefully this edit will help at least a bit.

One concern I have about the use of 'power' is that it tends to be used for fairly flexible ability to pursue varied goals (good or bad, wisely or foolishly).

Did you mean this was a concern about how this post uses the term power, or about how power (the actual thing) is used by actors in the world?

comment by RomeoStevens · 2020-07-21T00:40:29.813Z · score: 7 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Thank you for the work put into this.

I can imagine a world in which the idea of a peace summit that doesn't involve leaders taking mdma together is seen as an 'are you even trying' type thing.

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-07-21T06:43:51.700Z · score: 6 (4 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is an interesting framework. I think that it might make sense to think of the actors incentives as part of its benevolence; An academic scientist (or academia as a whole) has incentives which are aimed at increasing some specific knowledge which in itself is broadly societally useful (because that's how funding is supposed to incentives them). Outside incentives might be more powerful than morality, especially in large organisations. 

comment by MichaelA · 2020-07-21T08:38:19.681Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Good point! Yes, I think incentives are definitely important, and that the best way to fit them into this framework is within the "benevolence" component. Here's how I'd now explain why incentives should be part of benevolence:

"We write in the post:

By benevolence, we essentially mean how well an actor’s moral [? · GW] beliefs or values align with the goal of improving the expected value of the long-term future. For example, an actor is more “benevolent” if they value altruism in addition to self-interest, or if they value future people in addition to presently living people.

Acting based on incentives implies that the actor effectively has the "moral" belief or value that they should act based on incentives. This is similar to prioritising self-interest over altruism, to the extent that pursuing incentives benefits oneself and may sometimes be at odds with benefitting others (or the long-term future)."

But to be honest, I feel like it's not a super clean fit. It might be better if this framework made it more explicit and intuitive how the first factor captures things like what the actor's incentives are, and to what extent the actor is influenced by those incentives (vs their more clearly "moral" beliefs and values).

In earlier drafts, I'd written:

We use the term benevolence to refer to the quality of actors’ high-level values or goals, evaluated from the perspective of existential risk reduction. Thus, this roughly relates to things like terminal values, preferences, ethics, and moral beliefs.

Perhaps that phrasing would've made it more clear that benevolence can include incentives.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-07-21T08:38:40.587Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Also, your comment, or the process of replying to it, makes me realise that I haven't made it entirely clear where something like "willpower" fits into this framework. I think I'd put willpower under "power", as it helps an actor execute its plans. But willpower could also arguably fit under "benevolence", as an actor's willpower will change what moral beliefs or values they in effect act as though they have.

comment by EdoArad (edoarad) · 2020-07-21T12:46:13.762Z · score: 4 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that's a good example of a way that BIP overlap. Also, intelligence and power clearly change benevolence by changing incentives or view of life or capability of making an impact. (Say, economic growth has made people less violent)

comment by MichaelA · 2020-07-21T23:25:21.624Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

Indeed. One thing that's true is that many actions will "directly" affect more than just one of the three factors, and another thing (which is what you mention) is that effects on one factor may often then have second-order effects on one or both of the other factors.

comment by Halffull · 2020-07-21T02:27:19.228Z · score: 6 (3 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

This is great! Was trying to think through some of my own projects with this framework, and I realized I think there's half of the equation missing, related to the memetic qualities of the tool.

1. How "symmetric" is the thing I'm trying to spread? How easy is it to use for a benevolent purpose compared to a malevolent one?

2. How memetic is the idea? How likely is it to spread from a benevolent actor to a malevolent one.

3. How contained is the group with which I'm sharing? Outside of the memetic factors of the idea itself, is the person or group I'm sharing with it likely to spread it, or keep it contained.

comment by MichaelA · 2020-07-21T05:50:45.318Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

(My opinions, not necessarily Convergence's, as with most of my comments)

Glad to hear you liked the post :)

One thing your comment makes me think of is that we actually also wrote a post focused on "memetic downside risks [LW · GW]", which you might find interesting.

To more directly address your points: I'd say that the BIP framework outlined in this post is able to capture a very wide range of things, but doesn't highlight them all explicitly, and is not the only framework available for use. For many decisions, it will be more useful to use another framework/heuristic instead or in addition, even if BIP could capture the relevant considerations.

As an example, here's a sketch of how I think BIP could capture your points:

1. If the idea you're spreading is easier to use for a benevolent purpose than a malevolent one, this likely means it increases the "intelligence" or "power" of benevolent actors more than of malevolent ones (which would be a good thing). This is because this post defines intelligence in relation to what would "help an actor make and execute plans that are aligned with the actor’s moral beliefs or values", and power in relation to what would "help an actor execute its plans". Thus, the more useful an intervention is for an actor, the more it increases their intelligence and/or power.

2. If an idea increases the intelligence or power of whoever receives it, it's best to target it to relatively benevolent actors. If the idea is likely to spread in hard-to-control ways, then it's harder to target it, and it's more likely you'll also increase the intelligence or power of malevolent actors, which is risky/negative. This could explain why a more "memetically fit" idea could be more risky to spread.

3. Similar to point 2. But with the addition of the observation that, if it'd be harmful to spread the idea, then actors who are more likely to spread the idea must presumably be less benevolent (if they don't care about the right consequences) or less intelligent (if they don't foresee the consequences). This pushes against increasing those actors' power, and possibly against increasing their intelligence (depending on the specifics).

But all that being said, if I was considering an action that has its impacts primarily through the spread of information and ideas, I might focus more on concepts like memetic downside risks and information hazards [LW · GW], rather than the BIP framework. (Or I might use them together.)

Finally, I do think it could make sense for future work to create variations or extensions of this BIP framework which do more explicitly incorporate other considerations, or make it more useful for different types of decisions. And integrating the BIP framework with ideas from memetics could be one good way to do that.

EDIT: I've now made some edits to this post (described in my reply [EA(p) · GW(p)] to Carl Shulman's comment) that might go a little way towards making this sort of thing more explicit.

comment by MarisaJurczyk · 2020-07-25T20:23:16.523Z · score: 3 (2 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I found this post really interesting - thank you!

One question I have after reading is the tractability of increasing benevolence, intelligence, and power. I get the sense that increasing benevolence might be the least tractable (though 80,000 Hours seems to think it might still be worth pursuing), though I'm less sure about how intelligence and power compare. (I'm inclined to think intelligence is somewhat more tractable, but I'm highly uncertain about that.)

comment by MichaelA · 2020-07-26T09:25:53.116Z · score: 2 (1 votes) · EA(p) · GW(p)

I think that this is a really important question. Relatedly, I'd suggest that the BIP framework is best used in combination with the ITN framework/heuristic. In particular, I'd want to always ask not just "What does BIP say about how valuable this change in actors' traits would be?", but also "How tractable and neglected is causing that change?"

But I think that, when asking that sort of question, I'd want to break things down a bit more than just into the three categories of increasing benevolence vs intelligence vs power.

For a start, increasing intelligence and power could sometimes be negative (or at least, that's what this post argues). So we should probably ask about how tractable and neglected good benevolence, intelligence, or power increases are. In the case of intelligence and power, this might require only increasing specific types of intelligence and power, or increasing the intelligence and power of only certain actors. This might reduce the tractability of good intelligence/power increases, potentially making them seem less tractable than benevolence increases, even if just increasing someone's intelligence/power in some way is more tractable.

And then there's also the fact that each of those three factors has many different sub-components, and I'd guess that there'd be big differences in the tractability and neglectedness of increasing each sub-component.

For example, it seems like work to increase how empathetic and peace-loving people are is far less neglected than work to increase how much people care about the welfare of beings in the long-term future. For another example, I'd guess that it's easier to (a) teach someone a bunch of specific facts that are useful for thinking about what the biggest existential risks are and where they should donate if they want to reduce existential risks, than to (b) make someone better at "critical thinking" in a general sense.

So perhaps one factor will be "on average" easier to increase than another factor, but there'll be sub-components of the former factor that are harder to increase than sub-components of the latter factor.

But that's how I'd think about this sort of question. Actually answering this sort of question would require more detailed and empirical work. I'm guessing a lot of that work hasn't been done, and a lot of it has been done but hasn't been compiled neatly or brought from academia into EA. I'd be excited to see people fill those gaps!