Re: Singularity

Dan Clemmensen (
Sat, 11 Oct 1997 09:10:02 -0400 wrote:
> I find that I am somewhat confused by the use of the term "Singularity" by
> members of this list.
> I've read Vernor Vinges essay by that same's been some time
> ago...and it's a little vauge...and I have no current web I may be
> mistaken...but I remember nothing regarding the web turning intelligent, all
> humanity being subsumed into one vast Hive mind, or even "Powers"...(which is
> a Vingean Literary invention...true...but purely SF...right?)

You are correct, Vinge's work predates the Web. However, his Novella
"True Names", which predates "Marooned in Realtime", is a really neat
story whose plot is centered on the awakening of the Web.

> My understanding is that it means that up to a point things may be
> calculated mathematically...the point beyond which they may NOT be
> calculated...where the numbers turn weird...where predictions are
> the singularity...
> Extrapolating current trends leads us to beleive we are approaching a
> (mathematically defined) singularity...but since it IS a singularity we can
> know nothing about what is beyond it...
> I welcome explanations from those more wise than I.

Basicaliy, we are using the term in just the way you think: it's
a point in the (near?) future beyond which prediction is impossible
because of the development of superintelligence of some sort. Eliezer
I each have web pages on this subject. My page attempts to focus on
events that may lead to the singularity, since speculation beyond
the singularity is futile. My page proposes an awakening of the web
as a plausible (and IMO the most likely) path to the singularity.

I use the term "singularity" in deference to Vinge, who is a professor
of mathematics. It's only a qualitative analogy, however: the actual
simplest equations that describe the simplest qualitative predictions
don't actually have mathematical singularities. A better analogy is
a phase change in a supercritical liquid: I maintain that the web now
or will shortly have enough hardware to support a superhuman
Someone will build the correct software, and the web will wake up and
take over. This is analogous to the situation in a container of pure
water that has been cooled below th freezing point. It' still a liquid,
but a slight disturbance will cause the water to freeze instantly.