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Navigating AI Safety

Navigating AI Safety: Metrics Monitoring vs. Formal Verification Methods

In this article, we will shed light on two prevalent approaches to AI safety in the industry: metrics monitoring and formal verification methods. It’s essential to understand that while both strategies aim for the same goal—improved AI safety—they provide different levels of assurance and are best suited to different contexts.

By highlighting the unique benefits and potential limitations of each approach, we aim to provide a more nuanced understanding of AI safety, ultimately empowering decision-makers to make informed choices about the safety measures they adopt.

The Landscape of AI Safety: A Spectrum of Approaches

Metrics Monitoring: The Baseline for AI Safety

Metrics monitoring is one of the most common methods employed in AI safety. It involves observing, tracking, and assessing the behavior of AI models based on a predefined set of metrics or performance indicators. These metrics could be anything from the accuracy of the model’s predictions to how well the model adheres to ethical guidelines, such as fairness or transparency.

Metrics monitoring serves as a crucial first line of defense, providing an immediate snapshot of the AI’s performance. It allows developers to detect abnormalities in behavior and performance promptly, thereby enabling timely intervention. Metrics monitoring, while being a valuable tool for maintaining a check on AI models, offers a certain level of assurance but doesn’t necessarily ensure the correctness or safety of every decision made by the AI.

Formal Verification: A Step Towards Proactive Safety

Formal verification, on the other hand, takes a more rigorous and proactive approach to AI safety. It employs mathematical logic and formal methods to verify that an AI system’s behavior aligns with its intended specifications in every possible scenario. This process involves creating a formal model of the system and using formal methods and proof assistants to validate the system’s behavior against its specifications.

Formal verification provides a higher level of assurance compared to metrics monitoring, as it aims to ensure the correctness of the AI system’s behavior before deployment. However, it is more complex and requires significant expertise in formal methods, making it less widely adopted.

In the following sections, we will delve deeper into the differences between metrics monitoring and formal verification, and discuss the unique benefits and limitations they offer. By understanding these distinctions, we hope to illustrate that AI safety isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution but a multi-faceted challenge that requires a blend of different approaches tailored to each specific use case.

Metrics Monitoring: A Snapshot of AI Behavior

Understanding Metrics Monitoring

Metrics monitoring is a popular approach to AI safety that is analogous to checking a patient’s vital signs in medicine. It involves continuously observing the performance of AI models based on a set of predefined metrics or performance indicators. This could encompass a wide range of aspects such as prediction accuracy, fairness, bias, robustness, or adherence to privacy standards.

Benefits of Metrics Monitoring

Metrics monitoring serves as a key tool for maintaining a real-time pulse on an AI model’s performance and health. Here are some of its most significant advantages:

  • Real-Time Feedback: Metrics monitoring provides immediate insights into an AI model’s performance. It enables developers to detect abnormalities or performance degradations promptly, facilitating timely interventions and corrections.
  • Identifying Trends: Over time, metrics monitoring can help identify trends and patterns in the AI model’s behavior. This can lead to valuable insights about the model’s performance and areas of potential improvement.
  • Ease of Implementation: Metrics monitoring does not require specialized expertise in formal methods, making it relatively easy to implement and accessible for most organizations.
  • Broad Coverage: A well-chosen set of metrics can cover a wide array of performance aspects, providing a comprehensive overview of the AI model’s behavior.

Limitations of Metrics Monitoring

Despite its evident benefits, metrics monitoring does have its limitations, especially when it is the sole approach towards AI safety.

  • Lack of Guarantees: Metrics monitoring, by its nature, does not guarantee the correctness or safety of the AI system’s every action. It can signal when the AI system deviates from the expected behavior but cannot proactively prevent such deviations.
  • Narrow Scope: The set of metrics used for monitoring are predefined based on expected behaviors and known issues. This means they might not cover all potential edge cases or unexpected behaviors, leaving blind spots in the monitoring process.
  • Reactive, not Proactive Metrics monitoring is fundamentally a reactive approach, identifying issues after they have occurred. While it helps in immediate rectification, it does not prevent the onset of these issues in the first place.

In the next section, we will discuss an approach that complements metrics monitoring by proactively addressing these limitations: formal verification.

The Role and Promise of Formal Methods

Understanding Formal Methods

Formal Methods, the cornerstone of our approach at FormalFoundry, present a fundamentally different approach to AI safety, compared to the common Metrics Monitoring paradigm. Leveraging mathematical logic and established rules, Formal Methods act as a ‘comprehensive audit’ to ensure that AI systems operate within their predefined boundaries, thus significantly enhancing their safety.

Benefits of Formal Methods

Our framework of Formal Methods brings several unique advantages to the table:

  • Predictive Safety Assurance: Formal Methods are predictive and preemptive. They identify potential problems and correct them even before the system goes live. This contrasts with Metrics Monitoring, which tends to be reactive, identifying issues only post occurrence.
  • Enhanced Trust in AI Systems: By offering a mathematical assurance of expected behaviour, Formal Methods foster an unprecedented level of trust in AI system operations. They offer the surety that the AI system will operate as planned across all situations within the model’s scope.
  • Comprehensive Coverage of Potential Scenarios: Our Formal Methods excel at dealing with ‘what-if’ scenarios and ensuring proper behaviour under extreme or unusual circumstances. This capability works to cover the potential gaps that might be left by a metrics monitoring approach.
  • Mitigating Detrimental Outcomes: By identifying and resolving potential issues before system deployment, our Formal Methods can help circumvent harmful consequences – financial, reputational, and operational.

Addressing Misunderstandings about Formal Methods

However, we acknowledge that there are certain misconceptions and concerns associated with Formal Methods:

  • Complexity: The perceived complexity of Formal Methods can seem daunting, as they require specific expertise. At FormalFoundry, we are actively striving to demystify these techniques and make them more approachable and actionable.
  • Investment of Time and Resources: While the initial implementation of Formal Methods may demand a certain investment of time and resources, the value they offer in preventing costly system failures should not be understated. Also, the evolution of technology and methods continues to streamline the implementation process.
  • Not a Panacea: While Formal Methods provide robust safeguards, they are not foolproof. They function best within the boundaries of the predefined formal model. However, combined with metrics monitoring, they offer a more comprehensive safety net for AI systems.

In the subsequent section, we will explore how Metrics Monitoring and Formal Methods, when employed in tandem, can construct a well-rounded and reliable safety infrastructure for AI systems.

The Complementarity of Different Approaches

While we have discussed Metrics Monitoring and Formal Verification as distinct approaches, it is crucial to understand that they are not mutually exclusive. Instead, they are complementary strategies that, when combined, offer a holistic approach to AI safety. Here’s how they enhance each other:

Metrics Monitoring and Formal Verification: A Balanced Duo

Metrics Monitoring provides a quantitative, data-driven lens to view AI behavior, while Formal Verification provides a rigorous, in-depth qualitative analysis. They are akin to an airplane pilot who uses both the altimeter (quantitative) and the view out of the cockpit (qualitative) to navigate the aircraft safely.

To illustrate, consider a self-driving car AI. Metrics Monitoring could be tracking real-time data such as speed, braking time, obstacle recognition rate, etc. This approach helps in identifying potential issues in real-time operation. On the other hand, Formal Verification ensures that the AI system as a whole adheres to the traffic laws and safety regulations, correctly interprets and reacts to unusual road situations, and performs safely in all predefined scenarios.

The Importance of a Diversified Safety Approach

Embracing both approaches is akin to a diversified strategy common in many safety-critical industries. For instance, in the aviation industry, safety is ensured through a multitude of measures: rigorous pre-flight checks (analogous to Formal Verification), continuous monitoring of various flight parameters during the flight (like Metrics Monitoring), and comprehensive post-flight debriefs.

A diversified approach provides a safety net. By applying both Metrics Monitoring and Formal Verification, we cover a broader spectrum of potential issues. Metrics Monitoring can catch unanticipated problems that arise in real-time operation, while Formal Verification ensures compliance with predefined rules and safety specifications, covering rare or extreme scenarios that may be missed in typical operation.

In the following section, we will further elucidate how companies can integrate these complementary safety measures into their AI systems and operations.

Real World Implementation: Challenges and Opportunities

Adopting Formal Verification for AI safety is not without its challenges. From the intricate nature of designing formal models to integrating them with existing AI systems, various hurdles may present themselves. However, these challenges should not deter us from leveraging a technology that has the potential to improve AI safety drastically.

Overcoming Formal Verification Challenges

At FormalFoundry, we understand that introducing formal methods to an existing system might appear daunting due to the perceived complexity and technical effort involved. We believe in the promise of Formal Verification and have dedicated our resources to making it accessible and feasible for AI system designers and operators. Drawing from our whitepaper, we have outlined strategies to overcome potential obstacles, including user-friendly design tools, training resources, and ongoing support to ensure seamless integration and maintenance.

The Power of Formal Verification in Practice

To appreciate the power of Formal Verification, let’s look at a hypothetical example: An AI system controlling a power grid. In this context, the cost of failure can be high—ranging from financial losses to potential danger to human lives.

If we solely rely on Metrics Monitoring, we may track parameters such as power load, transmission efficiency, and outage incidents. While this is valuable information, it doesn’t guarantee that the system will handle all possible scenarios safely. For instance, an unexpected combination of peak load and multiple transmission line failures might lead to catastrophic outcomes.

On the other hand, with Formal Verification, we can predefine a set of safety rules and emergency protocols that the AI system must follow under all circumstances. It ensures that the AI will not just react appropriately under normal operation, but also in rare, high-risk scenarios. By doing so, we can prevent potential disasters and ensure the reliable operation of the power grid.

Moreover, any changes or updates to the AI system can be formally verified to ensure that they do not inadvertently introduce new safety risks. This rigorous and comprehensive approach to safety cannot be achieved by Metrics Monitoring alone.

In the next section, we will discuss how AI-using companies can start implementing and benefiting from Formal Verification, ensuring an enhanced level of safety assurance for their systems.


As the deployment of AI systems grows in scale and complexity, ensuring their safety is a shared responsibility that requires our utmost attention and commitment. It is crucial that we understand and appreciate the different AI safety approaches on the market, recognizing their unique benefits and potential limitations. More importantly, we must be open to the idea that these methods are not mutually exclusive but can be synergistic, working in harmony to provide a more comprehensive safety framework.

Metrics Monitoring provides valuable real-time insights and the ability to spot trends, essential components in managing the ongoing operation of AI systems. At the same time, Formal Verification offers the assurance that AI systems will work according to predefined safety rules in all scenarios. Both approaches have their roles to play in a robust, diversified AI safety strategy, akin to the multi-layered safety strategies used in industries like aviation.

At FormalFoundry, we are deeply committed to making AI systems safer and more reliable through the power of Formal Verification. We stand ready to work with organizations seeking to enhance their AI safety measures, offering our expertise and support to integrate formal methods into their systems.

In conclusion, we encourage a continued dialogue and collaboration within the industry. Only by working together and leveraging the strengths of different approaches can we make substantial strides in AI safety. Our goal is not just to keep up with the rapid pace of AI advancement, but to lead the way in ensuring these advancements are made safely, responsibly, and for the benefit of all.



Formal Foundry, LLC.
218 NW 24th Street, 2nd Floor
Miami FL 33127
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