Singularity: Vinge on "horizon" v "singularity"

Robin Hanson (
Sat, 19 Sep 1998 10:21:01 -0700 (PDT)

Another message from Vinge:

I agree that a person who becomes greater than human would regard the singularity more properly as a horizon.

I prefer the term singularity for several reasons (and I think all or almost all of these points have been made by other posters):

o Very likely the degree of change is going to be on the order of difference between a chimpanzee (or a goldfish :-) and a human. "Horizon" sounds more like past tech horizons, which could be accomodated by the innate flexibility of the human mind. Very likely, the upcoming change will be qualitatively greater -- though augmented participants might take it in stride.

o The notion of "horizon" has the attendent notion of persistence of identity. When change is large enough or fast enough, this is a problem. I see two analogies on this:
+ The change that leads from a zygote (or 4-cell embryo) to a

      human child. It might be argued that the early embyro has simply
      been enhanced. Certainly the child encompasses the
      embryo.... And yet the change is large enough that the horizon
      metaphor does not seem appropriate (to me) to describe the
      change. (I do see at least one advantage to the horizon
      metaphor, however; it implies that change is ongoing.)

+ When I think about labile nature of processes in the
distributed systems that are being designed these days, and then imagine what it would be like if the such systems could be scaled up so that some of the processes were of human power or greater -- then I see weird things being done to the notion of persistent identity and the underlying notion of self. Again, this makes it hard for me to see the process as one of "us" just moving along to better things.