Our alignment research aims to make artificial general intelligence (AGI) aligned with human values and follow human intent. We take an iterative, empirical approach: by attempting to align highly capable AI systems, we can learn what works and what doesn’t, thus refining our ability to make AI systems safer and more aligned. Using scientific experiments, we study how alignment techniques scale and where they will break.
We tackle alignment problems both in our most capable AI systems as well as alignment problems that we expect to encounter on our path to AGI. Our main goal is to push current alignment ideas as far as possible, and to understand and document precisely how they can succeed or why they will fail. We believe that even without fundamentally new alignment ideas, we can likely build sufficiently aligned AI systems to substantially advance alignment research itself.
Unaligned AGI could pose substantial risks to humanity and solving the AGI alignment problem could be so difficult that it will require all of humanity to work together. Therefore we are committed to openly sharing our alignment research when it’s safe to do so: We want to be transparent about how well our alignment techniques actually work in practice and we want every AGI developer to use the world’s best alignment techniques.
At a high-level, our approach to alignment research focuses on engineering a scalable training signal for very smart AI systems that is aligned with human intent. It has three main pillars:
- Training AI systems using human feedback
- Training AI systems to assist human evaluation
- Training AI systems to do alignment research
Aligning AI systems with human values also poses a range of other significant sociotechnical challenges, such as deciding to whom these systems should be aligned. Solving these problems is important to achieving our mission, but we do not discuss them in this post.
Training AI systems to do alignment research
There is currently no known indefinitely scalable solution to the alignment problem. As AI progress continues, we expect to encounter a number of new alignment problems that we don’t observe yet in current systems. Some of these problems we anticipate now and some of them will be entirely new.
We believe that finding an indefinitely scalable solution is likely very difficult. Instead, we aim for a more pragmatic approach: building and aligning a system that can make faster and better alignment research progress than humans can.
As we make progress on this, our AI systems can take over more and more of our alignment work and ultimately conceive, implement, study, and develop better alignment techniques than we have now. They will work together with humans to ensure that their own successors are more aligned with humans.
We believe that evaluating alignment research is substantially easier than producing it, especially when provided with evaluation assistance. Therefore human researchers will focus more and more of their effort on reviewing alignment research done by AI systems instead of generating this research by themselves. Our goal is to train models to be so aligned that we can off-load almost all of the cognitive labor required for alignment research.
Importantly, we only need “narrower” AI systems that have human-level capabilities in the relevant domains to do as well as humans on alignment research. We expect these AI systems are easier to align than general-purpose systems or systems much smarter than humans.
Language models are particularly well-suited for automating alignment research because they come “preloaded” with a lot of knowledge and information about human values from reading the internet. Out of the box, they aren’t independent agents and thus don’t pursue their own goals in the world. To do alignment research they don’t need unrestricted access to the internet. Yet a lot of alignment research tasks can be phrased as natural language or coding tasks.
Future versions of WebGPT, InstructGPT, and Codex can provide a foundation as alignment research assistants, but they aren’t sufficiently capable yet. While we don’t know when our models will be capable enough to meaningfully contribute to alignment research, we think it’s important to get started ahead of time. Once we train a model that could be useful, we plan to make it accessible to the external alignment research community.
We’re very excited about this approach towards aligning AGI, but we expect that it needs to be adapted and improved as we learn more about how AI technology develops. Our approach also has a number of important limitations:
- The path laid out here underemphasizes the importance of robustness and interpretability research, two areas OpenAI is currently underinvested in. If this fits your profile, please apply for our research scientist positions!
- Using AI assistance for evaluation has the potential to scale up or amplify even subtle inconsistencies, biases, or vulnerabilities present in the AI assistant.
- Aligning AGI likely involves solving very different problems than aligning today’s AI systems. We expect the transition to be somewhat continuous, but if there are major discontinuities or paradigm shifts, then most lessons learned from aligning models like InstructGPT might not be directly useful.
- The hardest parts of the alignment problem might not be related to engineering a scalable and aligned training signal for our AI systems. Even if this is true, such a training signal will be necessary.
- It might not be fundamentally easier to align models that can meaningfully accelerate alignment research than it is to align AGI. In other words, the least capable models that can help with alignment research might already be too dangerous if not properly aligned. If this is true, we won’t get much help from our own systems for solving alignment problems.
We’re looking to hire more talented people for this line of research! If this interests you, we’re hiring Research Engineers and Research Scientists.