Re: Ultimate Potential of SI versus HI/>HI

Nick Bostrom (
Tue, 15 Sep 1998 02:23:45 +0000

Doug Bailey wrote:

> a SI would reach milestones
> at a faster rate. But would it reach more milestones in totality? Are
> there achievements, discoveries, insights, cognitive feats that a SI
> is capable of that a HI/>HI (or billions of HIs/>HIs) could not
> accomplish given enough time and resources?

Sometimes a distinction is made between weak and strong superintelligence.

Weak superintelligence is what you would get if you could run a human-like brain at an accelerated clock speed, perhaps by uploading a human onto a computer.

Strong superintelligence refers to an intellect that is not only faster than a human brain but also qualitatively superior. No matter how much you would speed up a dog brain, you would not get a human-equivalent brain. Similarly, some people think that there could be strong superintelligence that no human brain could match no matter fast it runs. However, the distinction between weak and strong superintelligence may not be at all clear-cut.

For one thing, if the strong superintelligence is computable, as would no doubt be the case (Church's thesis), then you could always in principle have human beings simulating the SI step for step. Everything the SI could do could thus be done by humans, given enough time and resources.

> Nick Bostrom defined superintelligence in his paper "How Long Before
> Superintelligence?" at
> thusly:
> By a "superintelligence" we mean an intellect that is much
> smarter than the best human brains in practically every field,
> including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social
> skills.
> If I handed this definition to a philosopher in Roman times and then
> asked him to devise a test for some of the list members on this
> list. Would the philosopher judge the answers given on this test to
> be those of SIs? The philosopher would see selective cognitive
> ability far superior to his own.

Psychlogists distinguish between fluid and crystalized intelligence. The latter is dependent on your knowledge and conceptual tools; the former is more a measure of your raw processing power. If you would take a gifted child from the Roman era and translant her into today's society, she'd be able to do the same things as you do. By contrast, if you or me were transplanted into the SI era, then no amount of education would make us equivalent with the SIs. We have about the same amount of fluid intelligence as the ancient Romans (modulo the Flynn effect), although our crystalized intelligence seems superior. But SIs would surpass us in both fluid and crystalized intelligence. (Again, the distinction between these two forms of intelligence isn't sharp.)

Although in principle we could do the same things as the SIs, in practice their processing power might be so superior (and this will allow them to quickly find superior heuristics and conceptual tools as well) that the least misleading way of describing them may well be to say that they are qualitatively superior (strong superintelligence).

Nick Bostrom Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method London School of Economics