The Coming Technological Singularity

Vernor Vinge
The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the
Post-Human Era
Vernor Vinge
Department of Mathematical Sciences
San Diego State University
(c) 1993 by Vernor Vinge (This article may be reproduced for
noncommercial purposes if it is copied in its entirety, including this
The original version of this article was presented at the VISION-21
Symposium sponsored by NASA Lewis Research Center and the Ohio
Aerospace Institute, March 30-31, 1993. A slightly changed version
appeared in the Winter 1993 issue of Whole Earth Review.
Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create
superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended.
Is such progress avoidable? If not to be avoided, can events be guided
so that we may survive? These questions are investigated. Some
possible answers (and some further dangers) are presented.
What is The Singularity?
The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature
of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change
comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this
change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater
than human intelligence. There are several means by which science
may achieve this breakthrough (and this is another reason for having
confidence that the event will occur):

o There may be developed computers that are "awake" and
superhumanly intelligent. (To date, there has been much controversy as
to whether we can create human equivalence in a machine. But if the
answer is "yes, we can", then there is little doubt that beings more
intelligent can be constructed shortly thereafter.)
o Large computer networks (and their associated users) may "wake up"
as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
o Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may
reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
o Biological science may provide means to improve natural human
The first three possibilities depend in large part on improvements in
computer hardware. Progress in computer hardware has followed an
amazingly steady curve in the last few decades [17]. Based largely on
this trend, I believe that the creation of greater than human intelligence
will occur during the next thirty years. (Charles Platt [20] has pointed
out that AI enthusiasts have been making claims like this for the last
thirty years. Just so I'm not guilty of a relative-time ambiguity, let me
more specific: I'll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after
What are the consequences of this event? When greater-than-human
intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In
fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the
creation of still more intelligent entities -- on a still-shorter time scale.
The best analogy that I see is with the evolutionary past: Animals can
adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster than natural
selection can do its work -- the world acts as its own simulator in the
case of natural selection. We humans have the ability to internalize the
world and conduct "what if's" in our heads; we can solve many
problems thousands of times faster than natural selection. Now, by
creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds,
we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as
we humans are from the lower animals.

From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of
all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential
runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that before were
thought might only happen in "a million years" (if ever) will likely
happen in the next century. (In [5], Greg Bear paints a picture of the
major changes happening in a matter of hours.)
I think it's fair to call this event a singularity ("the Singularity" for the
purposes of this paper). It is a point where our old models must be
discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it
will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a
commonplace. Yet when it finally happens it may still be a great
surprise and a greater unknown. In the 1950s there were very few who
saw it: Stan Ulam [28] paraphrased John von Neumann as saying:
One conversation centered on the ever accelerating progress of
technology and changes in the mode of human life, which gives the
appearance of approaching some essential singularity in the history of
the race beyond which human affairs, as we know them, could not
Von Neumann even uses the term singularity, though it appears he is
thinking of normal progress, not the creation of superhuman intellect.
(For me, the superhumanity is the essence of the Singularity. Without
that we would get a
Continue reading on your phone by scaning this QR Code

 / 8
Tip: The current page has been bookmarked automatically. If you wish to continue reading later, just open the Dertz Homepage, and click on the 'continue reading' link at the bottom of the page.