Three Flavours of the Singularity

On 9 August, 2008, in Info, by Adam A. Ford

(taken from previous blog)

I.J. Good’s “Intelligence Explosion”

I.J. Good first suggested that as machines become as intelligent as humans (and beyond) the machines will have the capacity to improve their own design recursively and exponentially. Designers of the initial machines may not forsee the methods that the machines self-improve. He calls this an “Intelligence Explosion”.

Verner Vinge’s “Technological Singularity”

Verner Vinge later had his take on it and called it “the Singularity”, which is anologous to a gravitational singularity, and the resulting changes to how we as individuals and as part of society exist.  Vinge popularised the idea while lecturing at universities, through essays, and most popularly in Science Fiction (For instance, Marooned in Realtime and A Fire Upon the Deep.

In an article that the mathematician/Sci Fi writer Verner Vinge wrote in 1993, he states:

“…we are on the edge of [Technological] 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):

  • 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.)
  • Large computer networks (and their associated users) may “wake up” as a superhumanly intelligent entity.
  • Computer/human interfaces may become so intimate that users may reasonably be considered superhumanly intelligent.
  • Biological science may provide means to improve natural human intellect.


Ray Kurzweil’s “Accelerating Change”

Ray Kurzweil defines “Accelerating Change” as a pattern that has appeared throughout history, and Moore’s Law is a phase within it. It is precursor and lead up to the technological singularity.

He writes about the Law of Accellerating Returns on his site


Eliezer Yudkouski’s comparison between the three flavors of the singularity

Eliezer clarifies the difference between the 3 flavors of the singularity, as part of a talk in the 2007 Singularity Summit:


  • Accelerating change: intuitive futurism is linear, but technology change accelerates.
  • Event horizon: transhuman minds imply a weirder future than flying cars and gadgetry.
  • Intelligence explosion: minds making technology to improve minds is a positive feedback cycle.

So the three schools of thought are logically distinct, but can support or contradict each others’ core or bold claims. The core theses all support each other. They don’t necessarily imply each other, or logically require each other, but they support each other. And I fear that is why the event horizon, the intelligence explosion, and accelerating change are often mashed together into Singularity paste.”

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