Vernor Vinge’s ‘First Word’ on the Singularity

On August 14, 2012, in News, by Adam Ford

Vernor VingeAn article in the January 1983 edition of OMNI Magazine titled ‘First Word’ by Vernor Vinge introduced the idea that the ever-accelerating evolution of computer intelligence itself might soon produce ‘a kind of singularity’.

This was Vernor’s first in-print fling at the Singularity. For context, Vinge’s novella ‘True Names’ (which addresses the concept of a technological singularity) was published in 1981 preceding Gibson’s ‘Neuromancer’.

Vinge suggests that inevitable technological singularities in intelligent civilizations represented the most logical explanation for the “vast silence” in space, commonly known as the Fermi’s Paradox (Enrico Fermi 1950).

“We are caterpillars, soon to be butterflies, and when we look to the stars, we take the vast silence of other races transformed.”

“We will soon create intelligences greater than our own.
When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding.”

The Australian Singularity Summit in Melbourne will discuss the Technological Singularity and its implications this Aug 18-19 2012 as will the Singularity Summit in the US – Oct 13-14, San Francisco.

[ High resolution image of article here ]

There are many who have made predictions about a future of extremely intelligent innovation engines through extrapolation of past trends in technology.

Other earlier whisperings of the Singularity

In one of the first uses of the term singularity in the context of technological progress, Stanislaw Ulam cites accelerating change: “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 continue.” — May 1958, in reference to a conversation with John von Neumann

“Let an ultraintelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man however clever. Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultraintelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind. Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make.” – I.J. Good


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