The technological singularity, or simply the singularity, is a theoretical moment in time when artificial intelligence will have progressed to the point of a greater-than-human intelligence that will “radically change human civilization, and perhaps even human nature itself.” Since the capabilities of such an intelligence may be difficult for an unaided human mind to comprehend, the technological singularity is often seen as an occurrence (akin to a gravitational singularity) beyond which—from the perspective of the present—the future course of human history is unpredictable or even unfathomable.
The first use of the term “singularity” in this context was by mathematician John von Neumann. Neumann in the mid-1950s spoke of “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”. The term was popularized by science fiction writer Vernor Vinge, who argues that artificial intelligence, human biological enhancement, or brain-computer interfaces could be possible causes of the singularity. Futurist Ray Kurzweil cited von Neumann’s use of the term in a foreword to von Neumann’s classic The Computer and the Brain.
Proponents of the singularity typically postulate an “intelligence explosion”, where superintelligences design successive generations of increasingly powerful minds, that might occur very quickly and might not stop until the agent’s cognitive abilities greatly surpass that of any human.
Kurzweil predicts the singularity to occur around 2045 whereas Vinge predicts some time before 2030. At the 2012 Singularity Summit, Stuart Armstrong did a study of artificial generalized intelligence (AGI) predictions by experts and found a wide range of predicted dates, with a median value of 2040. His own prediction on reviewing the data is that there’s an 80% probability that the singularity will occur between 2017 and 2112.