Key Concepts in AI Safety: Specification in Machine Learning

Tim G. J. Rudner

Helen Toner

December 2021

This paper is the fourth installment in a series on “AI safety,” an area of machine learning research that aims to identify causes of unintended behavior in machine learning systems and develop tools to ensure these systems work safely and reliably. The first paper in the series, “Key Concepts in AI Safety: An Overview,” outlined three categories of AI safety issues—problems of robustness, assurance, and specification—and the subsequent two papers described problems of robustness and assurance, respectively. This paper introduces specification as a key element in designing modern machine learning systems that operate as intended.

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