Mar 22, 2024

Technological singularity

Posted by in categories: cosmology, Ray Kurzweil, singularity

It is with sadness — and deep appreciation of my friend and colleague — that I must report the passing of Vernor Vinge.

The technological singularity —or simply the singularity[1] —is a hypothetical future point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable consequences for human civilization.[2][3] According to the most popular version of the singularity hypothesis, I. J. Good’s intelligence explosion model, an upgradable intelligent agent will eventually enter a “runaway reaction” of self-improvement cycles, each new and more intelligent generation appearing more and more rapidly, causing an “explosion” in intelligence and resulting in a powerful superintelligence that qualitatively far surpasses all human intelligence.[4]

The first person to use the concept of a “singularity” in the technological context was the 20th-century Hungarian-American mathematician John von Neumann.[5] Stanislaw Ulam reports in 1958 an earlier discussion with von Neumann “centered on the 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 continue”.[6] Subsequent authors have echoed this viewpoint.[3][7]

The concept and the term “singularity” were popularized by Vernor Vinge first in 1983 in an article that claimed that once humans create intelligences greater than their own, there will be a technological and social transition similar in some sense to “the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole”,[8] and later in his 1993 essay The Coming Technological Singularity,[4][7] in which he wrote that it would signal the end of the human era, as the new superintelligence would continue to upgrade itself and would advance technologically at an incomprehensible rate. He wrote that he would be surprised if it occurred before 2005 or after 2030.[4] Another significant contributor to wider circulation of the notion was Ray Kurzweil’s 2005 book The Singularity Is Near, predicting singularity by 2045.[7].

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