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When Vernor Vinge Coined the Technological Singularity

When Vernor Vinge coined the term technological singularity few foresaw it becoming the conceptual watershed that it is now.

Today, regardless of whether you are writing about sci fi, futurism, artificial intelligence, technology or the future of humanity, the moment you embrace the longer-term big picture framework of reference is the moment you are writing about the singularity. And if that is not the case, then, you must justify why not. So, in a way, you are still writing about the singularity.

Thanks to Josh Calder, who made the effort to dig out and scan the original article, I can now show you a copy of the actual page where the term was used for the very first time in its contemporary technological context: the January 1983 issue of Omni magazine.

Hope you enjoy this little digital piece of history as much as I do!

Courtesy of Josh Calder from www.FutureAtlas.com (click on image for high resolution version)

Video update:

Adam Ford’s H+ interview with Vernor Vinge where they discuss “topics ranging from the Technological Singularity itself, how the concept came to Vernor, the metaphor implied by the Singularity, Evolution, Humans as goal setting creatures, similarities between the rise of artificial intelligence and the rise of humans within the animal kingdom, definitions of the Singularity, biasing the odds of a beneficial Singularity, strategic forecasting, scenario planning, narratives, education, future studies, how possibility shapes the future, utopias and dystopias, what do we want from the future?, missed opportunities to achieve great things in the past and what may we be missing out on if we don’t make the right choices today.”


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  • what a great writer.

  • John M Smart

    Thanks to Josh and Nikola for publishing this. Note that Vernor, contemplating inevitable acceleration of complexity, interprets the vast silence of the Fermi Paradox as “evidence of other races transformed.” I came to the same conclusion in high school in 1972, and eventually published this as what I call the “Transcension Hypothesis”.

    If anyone knows of any others who think this way and have written about it, please email me at johnsmart{{att}}gmail((dott))com, thanks.

  • You are most welcome John! It is absolutely amazing that you wrote your piece almost 10 years before Vernor because it seems to be equally ground-breaking and chronologically way ahead of its time. Wow! We have to spread the word about this article!

  • Dan Vasii

    I believe that, due to the fact that an algorhytmable definition of intelligence not only doesn’t exist yet, but it isn’t envisioned by anybody, the only way to the Singularity is through brain-2-brain-Internet-connections, or internet telepathy. There is no hard evidence that intelligence is an automatic result of piling up computing power – computing isn’t thinking, the idiot scientist are living proofs. So the brain computer interfaces are the key to Singularity.

  • actually the book that Ray Kurzweil is writing at the moment – about the brain and how to make one, probably makes the same argument as you do Dan. 😉

  • I will let you know. I’m getting one of the Galley Pressings.

    But from what I have gleaned from my own conversations with Ray, it is likely that telefauxpathy (digital telepathy) is going to be just one of many things.

    The area I keep circling around like a vulture in school is neural-interfaces. We have very primitive interfaces now. They tend to kill the cells with which they communicate, though. Not exactly a good thing for long term use.

    This fact was used in the Anime “Ghost-In-The-Shell: Stand Alone Complex” in the Laughing Man arc, where a vaccine cure for cyber-sclerosis was suppressed in favor of micro-machines (that didn’t work). And thus the Laughing Man’s vengeance upon the Serano Coporation (Kidnapping the founder and CEO) for manipulating a cure for this condition.

    I can see how they would pick something so pertinent to cybernetics.

    The “Cyber-Sclerosis” problem is pretty much all that is holding us back from making vast inroads into man-machine integration.

    And thus it is why I keep circling around the area of neural-interfaces like a vulture, ready to sweep down upon the carcasses of all the failures to make something of their remains (hopefully, something that will allow me to take Ray’s “reading to the blind” devices and pipe the material directly into their brains.

  • Pingback: Top 10 Reasons We Should NOT Fear The Singularity()

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  • Sally Morem

    Thanks for posting. I didn’t know Vinge came up with the concept a full 10 years before he wrote his famous essay on the technological Singularity.

  • Sally Morem

    I discussed my own similar hypothesis on the Fermi Paradox on another discussion board. David Brin was a fellow member. He doubted my description of what I called the short-lived nature of “radio civilizations,” lasting a mere 100-150 years due to accelerating tech that would make broadband radio communications obsolete, especially after such civilizations hit the Singularity. I stand by my hypothesis.

  • Lu Lu

    I suspect there is a possibility that, once we reach the Singularity, we will be invited into a “Cosmic Federation” (of already *transformed* civilizations).

  • Lu Lu

    I recommend you to learn about the neuroscience theories of Jeff Hawkins.
    Human thinking *can* be simulated by computers (and many inefficient evolutionary-baggages such as emotions and the concomitant irrationalities can be eliminated when we design an AI).
    We need to, I believe, carefully analyze the human brain and the thinking process. This way we can gain many important insights on how to make AIs and reverse-engineer our own biological brains.

  • dougsha

    I love Vinge as a writer and read his books early and have read his early work multiple times. To see him talk is an inspiration. He’s a guy who’d be a pleasure to talk to about anything.

    My favorite quote it is:

    “It’s much easier to break wonderful things than make wonderful thing. But, at the same time, there are so many more makers than breakers… I’ve come to have some real hope of the makers winning out over the breakers.”

    Took quite a few notes about topics crucial to deal with in the next 2 books of my Hel’s Bet Series.

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