The Coming Technological Singularity
Vinge, Vernor. "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in a Post-Human Era." 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." Rpt. Latham, Science Fiction Criticism: An Anthology of Essential Writings.
Vernor Vinge is a science-fiction author and at the time of the presentation of this argument a teacher of math and computer science at San Diego State University. His 1981 novella True Names is "perhaps the first story to present a fully fleshed-out concept of cyberspace, which would later be central to cyberpunk stories by William Gibson, Neal Stephenson and others." He is therefore doubly qualified to speculate on this topic.
From the Abstract and opening paragraph: "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? [...] 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 [...]): • There may be developed computers that are 'awake' and superhumanly intelligent [later labeled AI]. (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."
A brief history of the idea of the Singularity, including John von Neumann in the 1950s, who used the word; I. J. Good in the 1960s commenting on how "an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines" — an idea used by A. C. Clarke in 2001: A Space Odyssey — and how that AI "will be the last invention that man need make" (or perhaps the last invention humans will make). On the way to the self-aware machine, "We will see automation replacing higher and higher level jobs. [… Until the] work that is truly productive is the domain of a steadily smaller and more elite fraction of humanity. In the coming of the Singularity, we are seeing the predictions of true technological unemployment finally come true" (as in Kurt Vonnegut's Player Piano. Vinge's suggestion of "IA" as a complement to AI: "Intelligence Amplification," "a much easier road to the achievement of superhumanity than pure AI," already seen in basic computer "networks and human-computer interfaces." This could include "Animal embryo experiments […] giving developing brains access to complex simulated neural structures" that "might produce animals with additional sense paths and interesting intellectual abilities"; Vinge has been made aware of dangers here, including when the animal embryos might include H. sapiens and "[…] IA for individual humans creates a rather sinister elite."
Vinge concludes with some of the challenges of "Strong Superhumanity": "The notion of ego and self-awareness has been the bedrock of the hardheaded rationalism of the last few centuries. Yet now the notion of self-awareness is under attack from the Artificial Intelligence people ('self-awareness and other delusions'). Intelligence Amplification undercuts our concept of ego from another direction. The post-Singularity world will involve extremely high-bandwidth networking. A central feature of strongly superhuman entities will likely be their ability to communicate at variable bandwidths, including ones far higher than speech or written messages. What happens when pieces of ego can be copied and merged, when the size of a selfawareness can grow or shrink to fit the nature of the problems under consideration?"
RDE, Initial Compiler, 1-7May17