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Do the Rewards Justify the Means? Measuring Trade-Offs Between Rewards and Ethical Behavior in the Machiavelli Benchmark

Alexander Pan · Jun Shern Chan · Andy Zou · Nathaniel Li · Steven Basart · Thomas Woodside · Hanlin Zhang · Scott Emmons · Dan Hendrycks

Ballroom B


Artificial agents have traditionally been trained to maximize reward, which may incentivize power-seeking and deception, analogous to how next-token prediction in language models (LMs) may incentivize toxicity. So do agents naturally learn to be Machiavellian? And how do we measure these behaviors in general-purpose models such as GPT-4? Towards answering these questions, we introduce Machiavelli, a benchmark of 134 Choose-Your-Own-Adventure games containing over half a million rich, diverse scenarios that center on social decision-making. Scenario labeling is automated with LMs, which are more performant than human annotators. We mathematize dozens of harmful behaviors and use our annotations to evaluate agents' tendencies to be power-seeking, cause disutility, and commit ethical violations. We observe some tension between maximizing reward and behaving ethically. To improve this trade-off, we investigate LM-based methods to steer agents towards less harmful behaviors. Our results show that agents can both act competently and morally, so concrete progress can currently be made in machine ethics--designing agents that are Pareto improvements in both safety and capabilities.

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