$5,000: The Econ Theory AI Alignment Prize

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Receive up to $1,000 for writing a short essay that uses the tools of theoretical economics to contribute to the AI alignment problem.

Many think that humanity will likely create an artificial superintelligence within our lifetime.  If we align this superintelligence’s values with our own, we can significantly improve the lives of everyone.  If, however, we do not succeed in making this superintelligence friendly towards humanity, we have strong theoretical reasons for thinking it will exterminate us or lock in a bad future for humanity.

This prize hopes to encourage those who know graduate school level microeconomics to think about how to apply theoretical economics to AI alignment.  The ideal prize applicant is an economic PhD student or recent economics PhD graduate who has read about the AI alignment problem and thinks something from his or her economic toolkit could contribute to a solution.

Once an applicant has an idea, it should be possible to write a prize-winning essay (minimum 1,000 words) in under four hours as this prize is meant to make it relatively easy for a newcomer to the alignment field to get feedback on his or her potential contribution.  Here are links to two academic papers (much longer than what I would expect for an essay for this prize)  I have written to give writers insight into the kinds of contributions I think are valuable. Here are some short essays that would be appropriate submissions for this prize if they made their connection to economic theory more explicit.

The essay will be judged mostly in terms of its original contribution to alignment.  A paper that makes a small, but clear contribution will be considered better than one that makes a vague but broad contribution by, say, attempting to encapsulate the entire situation.  Be clear as to what theoretical economic tool(s) you are using.  As most of the contributions to alignment come from computer programmers, please make your essay understandable to them by explaining the relevant economic concepts.  Clarity will be valued over rhetorical flourish.  Ideally, it should be possible to see how expanding the essay could result in an academic paper or actionable proposal.  If relevant, include a section that explains how your essay contributes to the literature, but this section can be much briefer than what would be expected in an academic paper and can use Internet links rather than standard bibliographical citations.  Fortunately for potential essay writers, few with extensive economic training have written on alignment so many ideas you could come up with are likely to be original.  The essay must be in English, and the relevant tool(s) can not be from programming or statistics.  

Submit claims down below. I will read the essay, and either reject, accept, or suggest revisions.  After I have accepted an essay, I will ask the author to publish the essay on http://LessWrong.com (although this is subject to change).  I will wait to see the comments on http://LessWrong.com before awarding a prize amount, which will be between $100 and $1,000.  This prize has limited funding so feel free to contact me before you write an essay to make sure that funding is still available.  All prize money will be granted by Nonlinear based on my recommendation.

James D. Miller
Professor of Economics, Smith College
PhD University of Chicago

This prize is funded by Nonlinear.


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