It has long been hypothesised that causal reasoning plays a fundamental role in robust and general intelligence. However, it is not known if agents must learn causal models in order to generalise to new domains, or if other inductive biases are sufficient. We answer this question, showing that any agent capable of satisfying a regret bound under a large set of distributional shifts must have learned an approximate causal model of the data generating process, which converges to the true causal model for optimal agents. We discuss the implications of this result for several research areas including transfer learning and causal inference.
Intention is an important and challenging concept in AI. It is important because it underlies many other concepts we care about, such as agency, manipulation, legal responsibility, and blame. However, ascribing intent to AI systems is contentious, and there is no universally accepted theory of intention applicable to AI agents. We operationalise the intention with which an agent acts, relating to the reasons it chooses its decision. We introduce a formal definition of intention in structural causal influence models, grounded in the philosophy literature on intent and applicable to real-world machine learning systems. Through a number of examples and results, we show that our definition captures the intuitive notion of intent and satisfies desiderata set-out by past work. In addition, we show how our definition relates to past concepts, including actual causality, and the notion of instrumental goals, which is a core idea in the literature on safe AI agents. Finally, we demonstrate how our definition can be used to infer the intentions of reinforcement learning agents and language models from their behaviour.
Deceptive agents are a challenge for the safety, trustworthiness, and cooperation of AI systems. We focus on the problem that agents might deceive in order to achieve their goals (for instance, in our experiments with language models, the goal of being evaluated as truthful). There are a number of existing definitions of deception in the literature on game theory and symbolic AI, but there is no overarching theory of deception for learning agents in games. We introduce a formal definition of deception in structural causal games, grounded in the philosophy literature, and applicable to real-world machine learning systems. Several examples and results illustrate that our formal definition aligns with the philosophical and commonsense meaning of deception. Our main technical result is to provide graphical criteria for deception. We show, experimentally, that these results can be used to mitigate deception in reinforcement learning agents and language models.
* Accepted as a spotlight at the 37th Conference on Neural Information
Processing Systems (NeurIPS 2023)
How should my own decisions affect my beliefs about the outcomes I expect to achieve? If taking a certain action makes me view myself as a certain type of person, it might affect how I think others view me, and how I view others who are similar to me. This can influence my expected utility calculations and change which action I perceive to be best. Whether and how it should is subject to debate, with contenders for how to think about it including evidential decision theory, causal decision theory, and functional decision theory. In this paper, we show that mechanised causal models can be used to characterise and differentiate the most important decision theories, and generate a taxonomy of different decision theories.
How can humans stay in control of advanced artificial intelligence systems? One proposal is corrigibility, which requires the agent to follow the instructions of a human overseer, without inappropriately influencing them. In this paper, we formally define a variant of corrigibility called shutdown instructability, and show that it implies appropriate shutdown behavior, retention of human autonomy, and avoidance of user harm. We also analyse the related concepts of non-obstruction and shutdown alignment, three previously proposed algorithms for human control, and one new algorithm.
Causal reasoning and game-theoretic reasoning are fundamental topics in artificial intelligence, among many other disciplines: this paper is concerned with their intersection. Despite their importance, a formal framework that supports both these forms of reasoning has, until now, been lacking. We offer a solution in the form of (structural) causal games, which can be seen as extending Pearl's causal hierarchy to the game-theoretic domain, or as extending Koller and Milch's multi-agent influence diagrams to the causal domain. We then consider three key questions: i) How can the (causal) dependencies in games - either between variables, or between strategies - be modelled in a uniform, principled manner? ii) How may causal queries be computed in causal games, and what assumptions does this require? iii) How do causal games compare to existing formalisms? To address question i), we introduce mechanised games, which encode dependencies between agents' decision rules and the distributions governing the game. In response to question ii), we present definitions of predictions, interventions, and counterfactuals, and discuss the assumptions required for each. Regarding question iii), we describe correspondences between causal games and other formalisms, and explain how causal games can be used to answer queries that other causal or game-theoretic models do not support. Finally, we highlight possible applications of causal games, aided by an extensive open-source Python library.
* This is a working paper, and further changes should be expected
Causal models of agents have been used to analyse the safety aspects of machine learning systems. But identifying agents is non-trivial -- often the causal model is just assumed by the modeler without much justification -- and modelling failures can lead to mistakes in the safety analysis. This paper proposes the first formal causal definition of agents -- roughly that agents are systems that would adapt their policy if their actions influenced the world in a different way. From this we derive the first causal discovery algorithm for discovering agents from empirical data, and give algorithms for translating between causal models and game-theoretic influence diagrams. We demonstrate our approach by resolving some previous confusions caused by incorrect causal modelling of agents.
We present a general framework for training safe agents whose naive incentives are unsafe. As an example, manipulative or deceptive behaviour can improve rewards but should be avoided. Most approaches fail here: agents maximize expected return by any means necessary. We formally describe settings with 'delicate' parts of the state which should not be used as a means to an end. We then train agents to maximize the causal effect of actions on the expected return which is not mediated by the delicate parts of state, using Causal Influence Diagram analysis. The resulting agents have no incentive to control the delicate state. We further show how our framework unifies and generalizes existing proposals.