How could poorly defined goals lead to such negative outcomes?

THIS IS DEPRECIATED, SEE INSTEAD Why might we expect a superintelligence to be hostile by default?

There is a broad range of possible goals that an AI might possess, but there are a few basic drives that would be useful to almost any of them. These are called instrumentally convergent goals:

  1. Self preservation. An agent is less likely to achieve its goal if it is not around to see to its completion.

  2. Goal-content integrity. An agent is less likely to achieve its goal if its goal has been changed to something else. For example, if you offer Gandhi a pill that makes him want to kill people, he will refuse to take it.

  3. Self-improvement. An agent is more likely to achieve its goal if it is more intelligent and better at problem-solving.

  4. Resource acquisition. The more resources at an agent’s disposal, the more power it has to make change towards its goal. Even a purely computational goal, such as computing digits of pi, can be easier to achieve with more hardware and energy.

Because of these drives, even a seemingly simple goal could create an artificial superintelligence (ASI) hell-bent on taking over the world’s material resources and preventing itself from being turned off. The classic example is an ASI that was programmed to maximize the output of paper clips at a paper clip factory. The ASI had no other goal specifications other than “maximize paper clips,” so it converts all of the matter in the solar system into paper clips, and then sends probes to other star systems to create more factories.