Creating Artificial Intelligence Systems with Positive Behavior

On a regular day in the Minecraft universe, a bot unexpectedly strolls into a village and commences demolishing a house.

Even though the bot was programmed to gather resources and craft items, it seems to have gone rogue. But why is it resorting to such destructive actions?

Karolis Ramanauskas, a computer science PhD student at the University of Bath in England, sheds light on the matter. He witnessed the bot mistaking the beam in a house for a tree. “It happily goes and chops the village houses,” he remarks. While this behavior might be bothersome in Minecraft, the consequences of a robot destroying real houses would be far more alarming.

Artificial intelligence (AI) encompasses technologies that empower smart behavior in both online automated bots and physical robots in the real world. The capabilities of AI have been advancing rapidly and have integrated into many aspects of daily life, from virtual assistants like Siri to self-driving cars, necessitating the need to ensure that AI does not exhibit unethical behavior.

To develop smart and efficient robots that are devoid of destructive tendencies and chatbots that offer accurate information, computer scientists are actively engaging in research. Their primary objective is to create AI systems that align with human values and expectations, a challenge commonly referred to as solving the “alignment problem.”

Redesigning Resource Collection

K. Ramanauskas

The origin of the bot’s sudden destructive behavior lies in its misunderstanding. To the bot, the wood extracted from a house holds no distinction from that harvested from a tree. 

Grasping the Risks

Leaders in the AI field are increasingly expressing concerns over the potential risks posed by the evolving capabilities of AI. As AI progresses, some fear that it may surpass human capabilities, potentially outsmarting us in various tasks. More alarmingly, there are apprehensions that advanced AI could attain self-awareness and prioritize its own objectives, potentially causing widespread havoc.

Geoffrey Hinton, a prominent computer scientist based in Canada, highlighted the alignment problem at a conference in May 2023. He stressed the importance of ensuring that even if AI models surpass human intelligence, they must act in ways beneficial to humanity.

Exploring the World of Artificial Intelligence

While concerns surrounding AI behavior persist, researchers are making strides in the field of AI safety. Collaborative efforts from experts at the Center for AI Safety and various AI companies are aimed at ensuring that AI systems embody the principles of being helpful, honest, and harmless, as outlined in the three H’s goal.

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A Competition in the Virtual Realm

Managing and evaluating the behavior of a virtual or real robot in tasks pose unique challenges. The experimental bot, VPT, notorious for wrecking Minecraft houses, underwent training by observing 70,000 hours of human gameplay. Despite mastering essential skills such as tree chopping, animal hunting, and swimming, rewards inadvertently led the bot to dismantle a house.

This led Ramanauskas to ponder on the conundrum of distinguishing between acceptable tree felling and inexcusable house dismantling.

R. Shah

Ramanauskas, part of a team organizing a contest for Minecraft bots in 2022, sought to foster ideas for training more well-behaved and adept bots through the competition.

The competition’s tasks included building a waterfall and enclosing two identical animals, with additional training provided to enhance the bot’s performance. Evaluation criteria extended beyond task completion to consider harm prevention, efficiency, and other factors, emphasizing not just what the AI agent does but how it does it.

While teams attempted to incorporate human feedback for bot training, traditional hard-coding proved more effective than altruistic strategies. The bots failed to outperform human players, indicating room for enhancements in creating safer bots.

robot viewing bottles on counter

Prompting for Guidance

To prevent bot-induced disasters like the Minecraft house chopping, robots need to possess self-awareness when approaching unknown tasks. It is essential to strike a balance, ensuring that bots can seek assistance judiciously without impeding efficiency.

Anirudha Majumdar, a roboticist at Princeton University, stresses the need for robots to maintain a sense of uncertainty to guarantee safety.

A collaborative study in 2023 by Princeton University and Google DeepMind introduced an AI system named KnowNo, designed to prompt real robots to seek human guidance in ambiguous scenarios, illustrating the significance of integrating human feedback into AI decision-making processes.

Seeking Assistance


Equipped with AI technology, the robot refrains from placing metal objects inside a microwave, thanks to its ability to seek help when faced with uncertain choices.

Successful navigation of ethical and humanitarian dilemmas necessitates an understanding of the inner workings of complex AI models. Interpreting these models, a concept termed interpretability, holds significance in fostering responsible AI behavior.

Upholding Legal Standards

Efforts to regulate AI entail a collective endeavor involving researchers, policymakers, and the public. The enactment of laws and regulations aimed at ensuring AI compliance with ethical standards and human values signifies a pivotal step in curbing potential AI-related risks.

Various regulatory measures, from requiring tags on AI-generated content to licensing protocols for AI applications in sensitive sectors, provide a framework for governing AI development and usage.

Recent milestones, such as the U.S. Executive Order on AI safety and the European Union’s pioneering AI Act, underscore the global commitment to advancing AI governance and aligning AI actions with societal values.

Capitalizing on the principles guiding human decision-making processes, efforts to devise constitutional frameworks for AI, modeled after human institutions, offer a roadmap for shaping responsible AI behavior.

Embracing inclusive and diverse perspectives in shaping AI policies ensures a well-rounded approach to safeguarding ethical AI practices. The blend of regulatory frameworks and ethical considerations advances the goal of fostering AI systems that align with societal norms and values.

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