AI progress is about to rapidly accelerate in 2025 – Sholto Douglas & Trenton Bricken

Dwarkesh Patel
30 Mar 202408:49

TLDRThe transcript discusses the potential for an intelligence explosion in AI by 2025, where automated AI researchers could accelerate progress. It emphasizes the current limitations in engineering and computational power rather than intelligence itself. The speakers highlight the importance of compute resources in conducting experiments and making strategic decisions on their allocation. They also touch on the challenges of making inferences from imperfect information and the iterative process of generating and testing ideas in AI research. The summary underscores the complexity of the field, the need for ruthless prioritization, and the adaptability of researchers in drawing from various disciplines to advance AI capabilities.


  • πŸš€ **AI Acceleration in Research**: The discussion suggests that AI progress could rapidly accelerate in 2025, potentially leading to an intelligence explosion where AI researchers are augmented rather than replaced.
  • πŸ” **Role of AI**: AI is seen as an augmenting factor to top researchers, acting as a co-pilot that can help code and execute tasks at a faster pace, thus speeding up algorithmic progress.
  • πŸ’‘ **Ideation to Execution**: The process of AI research involves a cycle from idea generation to proving out at different scales, interpreting failures, and refining theories, which is more iterative and interpretative than simply writing code.
  • 🧠 **Importance of Interpretation**: A significant part of the research process involves understanding why certain ideas or experiments fail, which is crucial but often underappreciated.
  • πŸ“ˆ **Imperfect Information**: Researchers often work with imperfect information, making educated guesses based on trends and intuition, which can be challenging, especially when scaling up AI models.
  • πŸ”§ **Engineering and Research**: The line between engineering and research is blurred, with a lot of the work involving rapid iteration on experiments, interpretation of results, and quick refinement of strategies.
  • πŸ”¬ **Prioritization in Research**: Ruthless prioritization of tasks is key to successful research, distinguishing effective researchers from those who may not achieve as much.
  • 🧐 **Adaptability and Learning**: The best researchers are adaptable, drawing from a wide range of disciplines, and are not wedded to a single approach but are open to diverse solutions.
  • βš™οΈ **Iterative Engineering**: The ability to quickly iterate on experiments is highly valued, with the fastest cycle times often distinguishing the most successful researchers.
  • 🌐 **Empirical Nature of AI Research**: Machine learning research is heavily empirical, requiring a lot of trial and error, which is why the ability to conduct and learn from experiments quickly is so important.
  • ⛓️ **Evolutionary Approach**: The field of AI seems to be progressing through a form of evolutionary optimization, with the community exploring a vast landscape of possible AI architectures.

Q & A

  • What is the concept of an 'intelligence explosion' as mentioned in the transcript?

    -An 'intelligence explosion' refers to a theoretical scenario where artificial intelligence (AI) improves itself at an accelerating rate, leading to rapid advancements in AI capabilities. In the transcript, it is discussed in the context of AI researchers being replaced by automated AI researchers that can make further progress at a faster pace.

  • What factors are currently limiting the progress of AI research according to the transcript?

    -The transcript suggests that the progress of AI research is currently limited more by the engineering work of creating AI systems and the computational resources required to run and train these systems, rather than by the intelligence of the AI itself.

  • How does increased computational power directly impact the effectiveness of a researcher in the field of AI?

    -Increased computational power allows for more experiments to be run, which can lead to faster progress in AI research. The transcript mentions that the Gemini program might be around five times faster with ten times more compute, indicating a significant elasticity in research effectiveness with increased computational resources.

  • What strategic decisions do pre-training teams have to make regarding computational resources?

    -Pre-training teams need to decide how to allocate their computational resources between different training runs and research programs. They must balance the need to scale up models to understand emergent properties with the necessity to invest in large runs at the frontier of expected outcomes.

  • In what ways can AI augment top researchers to speed up AI research?

    -AI can act as a co-pilot, assisting researchers by coding faster, completing subtasks, and helping to make algorithmic progress. It can also generate synthetic data and evaluate the outputs of experiments, thus augmenting the researcher's capabilities.

  • What is the typical process for an AI researcher when working on an experiment to improve a model?

    -The process involves coming up with an idea, proving it out at different scales, interpreting and understanding what goes wrong, and refining the approach based on those insights. It requires a cycle of introspection, hypothesis testing, and iterative improvement.

  • Why is interpreting and understanding what goes wrong in an experiment considered a significant part of the research process?

    -Interpreting and understanding failures is crucial because not every idea that seems promising will work as expected. It involves introspection and analysis to determine why an idea did not work and how to adjust the approach accordingly.

  • What is meant by 'imperfect information' in the context of AI research?

    -Imperfect information refers to the uncertainty and unpredictability in AI research where trends observed in smaller scales may not hold true for larger ones. It involves making educated guesses based on incomplete data and understanding the limitations of current models and theories.

  • How does the process of 'ruthless prioritization' contribute to successful AI research?

    -Ruthless prioritization involves focusing on the most important aspects of research and not getting attached to a particular solution. It allows researchers to quickly iterate on experiments, interpret results, and move on to the next highest priority task, which is key to making progress in a field with many unknowns.

  • What is the importance of having a diverse 'toolbox' of ideas and techniques in AI research?

    -Having a diverse toolbox allows researchers to draw from various fields such as reinforcement learning, optimization theory, and systems understanding. This enables them to approach problems from multiple angles, which can lead to more innovative and effective solutions.

  • Why is the ability to conduct experiments quickly considered a key factor in being an effective AI researcher?

    -The ability to conduct experiments quickly is crucial because AI research is highly empirical. Researchers need to be able to iterate rapidly, test hypotheses, and learn from the results to stay at the forefront of the field.

  • How does the process of AI research resemble a form of evolutionary optimization?

    -AI research involves a process of trial and error, much like natural evolution. Researchers test various ideas and architectures, learning from what works and what doesn't, and refining their approaches over time. This iterative process is likened to a 'greedy evolutionary optimization' over the landscape of possible AI solutions.



πŸ€– AI as a Co-Pilot in Research: Accelerating Progress

The first paragraph discusses the concept of an 'intelligence explosion,' where automated AI researchers could potentially replace human ones, accelerating the progress of AI development. It emphasizes the current limitations in engineering and computational resources rather than intelligence itself. The conversation explores the idea of how additional computational power could enhance research effectiveness, with an example given that a tenfold increase in resources might make the Gemini program five times faster. The strategic allocation of compute resources between training runs and research programs is highlighted as a critical decision. The importance of continuing to train large models to gain new insights is also mentioned, as it could lead to discoveries that are not otherwise accessible. The paragraph concludes by contemplating a world where AI significantly speeds up AI research, not by writing code from scratch, but by augmenting human researchers, possibly through synthetic data generation and other means.


🧠 Interpreting Imperfect Information in AI Research

The second paragraph delves into the challenges of working with imperfect information in AI research. It discusses the unpredictability of how trends observed in smaller models will scale up to larger ones, leading to uncertainty in making informed decisions. The paragraph highlights the difficulty in interpreting experimental results and the iterative process of hypothesis testing, where not all ideas work as expected. The importance of ruthless prioritization in research is emphasized, as it separates successful research from less effective efforts. The discussion also touches on the need for a simplicity bias and the ability to not get too attached to a particular solution, but rather to attack the problem directly. It concludes with the observation that the best researchers are those who can quickly iterate on experiments, interpret results, and try new approaches, which is crucial in the empirical field of machine learning research.



πŸ’‘Intelligence Explosion

An intelligence explosion is a hypothetical scenario where an AI's ability to improve itself rapidly accelerates, leading to a significant leap in intelligence. In the context of the video, it refers to the potential for AI to replace human researchers and create more AI researchers, thereby speeding up technological and scientific progress. The concept is central to discussions about the future trajectory of AI capabilities.

πŸ’‘AI Researchers

AI researchers are professionals who work on the development and advancement of artificial intelligence technologies. In the script, they are depicted as being potentially replaced by automated AI researchers, which could theoretically speed up the progress of AI development. The role of AI researchers is pivotal to the theme of the video as it discusses their potential replacement by AI and the implications of such a shift.

πŸ’‘Automated AI Researchers

These are hypothetical AI systems designed to perform research tasks without human intervention. The video suggests that such systems could expedite the process of AI development by automating the research process. They represent a key concept in the discussion about the future acceleration of AI progress.


In the context of the video, compute refers to the computational resources required to run AI models and experiments. It is identified as a bottleneck in AI progress, with more compute power potentially leading to faster AI development. The term is integral to understanding the limitations and potential acceleration methods in AI research.

πŸ’‘Algorithmic Progress

This term refers to advancements made in the algorithms that AI systems use to function and learn. The video discusses how AI could meaningfully speed up algorithmic progress, acting as a co-pilot to human researchers and enabling them to code and innovate at a much faster pace. It is a key aspect of how AI might contribute to its own advancement.

πŸ’‘Synthetic Data

Synthetic data in the context of the video is data that is generated using AI algorithms rather than being collected from real-world observations. It is considered as a crucial ingredient towards model capability progress. The use of synthetic data is highlighted as a potential area where AI can significantly contribute to its own development.


Elasticity, in this script, refers to the ability of a system to increase its output in response to an increase in input, such as compute power. An elasticity of 0.5, as mentioned in the video, suggests that if compute resources are doubled, the effectiveness of the research could increase by 1.5 times. It is a measure of how efficiently additional resources are converted into progress.

πŸ’‘Research Bottleneck

A research bottleneck is a factor that limits the speed or efficiency of the research process. In the video, compute is identified as a research bottleneck, as it limits the pace at which experiments can be run and models can be trained. Understanding and addressing these bottlenecks is essential for accelerating AI progress.


Interpretability in AI refers to the ability to understand and explain the decisions made by an AI model. The video emphasizes the importance of interpretability in understanding what goes wrong in AI models and how to improve them. It is a key challenge in AI research and a focus area for the researchers in the discussion.

πŸ’‘Imperfect Information

Imperfect information in the context of the video refers to the lack of complete and accurate data that researchers must work with when developing and testing AI models. It is a challenge because it makes it difficult to predict how well certain changes or optimizations will perform at larger scales. The term is used to illustrate the complexity and uncertainty inherent in AI research.

πŸ’‘Greedy Evolutionary Optimization

This term describes an optimization process that selects the best solution at each step without considering the bigger picture or long-term consequences. In the video, it is used metaphorically to describe how the AI community might be approaching the development of AI architectures, selecting the best solutions as they go along without a complete understanding of the landscape. It highlights the iterative and experimental nature of AI research.


AI progress is expected to rapidly accelerate in 2025, potentially leading to an intelligence explosion.

The current bottleneck in AI development is not just the creation of AI researchers, but the computational power to run and analyze experiments.

An increase in computational resources could significantly speed up the progress of AI research, with a potential fivefold increase in efficiency.

The allocation of computational resources is a strategic decision for pre-training teams, balancing between research programs and scaling existing models.

Continuous investment in large-scale model training is necessary to gain insights that are not accessible through smaller-scale experiments.

AI can augment human researchers by acting as a co-pilot, helping to code and complete tasks at a faster pace.

The process of AI research involves a cycle of idea generation, experimentation, interpretation, and refinement.

Interpreting and understanding why certain ideas fail is a significant part of the research process and can be quite challenging.

AI researchers often have to make decisions based on imperfect information, such as early experimental results and trend lines.

The ability to quickly iterate on experiments, interpret results, and prioritize tasks is a key skill for effective AI research.

The most successful researchers are those who can expand their toolbox, combining ideas from various fields such as reinforcement learning and optimization theory.

The field of AI research is empirical, with the community effectively performing a form of evolutionary optimization over possible AI architectures.

The future of AI solutions may resemble brain-like structures due to the community's approach to problem-solving and experimentation.

The importance of ruthless prioritization in distinguishing high-quality research from less successful endeavors.

The challenge of not becoming too attached to familiar solutions and instead attacking the problem directly.

The necessity for researchers to be good engineers, capable of iterating and testing ideas quickly.

The role of synthetic data in the progress of model capability and the importance of understanding its contribution to AI advancement.