Subgoal stomp

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Subgoal stomp is Eliezer Yudkowsky's term (see "Creating Friendly AI") for the replacement of a supergoal by a subgoal. (A subgoal is a goal created for the purpose of achieving a supergoal.)

Using more standard terminology, a "subgoal stomp" is a "goal displacement", in which an instrumental value becomes a terminal value.

A subgoal stomp in an artificial general intelligence may occur in one of two ways:

  • The desginer gives the AI correct supergoals, but the AI's goals shift, so that what was earlier a subgoal becomes a supergoal. In humans, this can happen when the long-term dedication towards a subgoal makes one forget the original goal. For example, a person may seek to get rich so as to lead a better life, but after long years of hard effort become a workaholic who cares only about money as an end in itself.
  • The designer gives the AI a supergoal (terminal value) which appears to support the programmer's own supergoals, but in fact is one of the designer's subgoals. In a software development organization, for example, if a manager rewards workers for finding and fixing bugs--an apparently worthy goal--she may find that quality and software engineers collaborate to generate as many easy-to-find-and-fix bugs as possible.

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