Better word than "singularity" - "The Takeoff"


Quite some time ago, I challeged readers to come up with a better word than The Singularity to describe the phenomenon, famously named and described by Vernor Vinge, of a technological gulf so wide that it is impossible to understand and predict beyond it.

The word is not good because when people with math training hear it, those who already know the normal meaning of the word, it makes no sense. Vinge's singularity is not a point discontinuity or an asymptote going to infinity. It is not necessarily even a single inflection point. For those who don't know the regular meaning of the word, the name conveys nothing. It was a metaphor.

Ray Kurzweil, against my advice, gave the term a big boost in The Singularity is Near, a book which I should disclose had major contributions by my S.O. And so people are now more wedded to the term than before.

I propose a different term: The Takeoff.

While this term has a few meanings, both literal and metaphorical, that are well known to most people, they will not confuse the literal meaning, and the metaphorical meaning is actually close to what we're trying to express. A departure from the ground into a whole new realm, with a sudden acceleration.

In fact, I suggest this term because it is already in use. Students of the area regularly refer to two types of singularity they call a "hard takeoff" and a "soft takeoff." Switching to this term would simply strengthen these terms.

And yes, there is a negative meaning of the term (similar to rip-off) but I don't think that will be a major concern.

Other terms suggested have not grabbed my attention. Some suggestions, like "the spike" are just plain wrong -- it is most certainly not a spike (whihc goes up and comes back down sharply,) except in dystopian visions.


But I think it is still worthwhile to suggest a discontinuity. Vinge was describing a discontinuity (of sorts) of comprehension, but people who know the term don't quite get that it's not an actual discontinuity, but a metaphorical one. So The Acceleration is too mild, indeed The Takeoff may be too mild. There will be upheaval, in fact The Upheave might be an interesting term if it didn't suggest vomiting. One nice attribute of that is that it is not a real word, so it would not conflict as much. Great coined terms are brand new but at the same time suggest what they mean.

I think "takeoff" is too bland a word. Hmmm.

What's wrong with "paradigm shift"? That's been expanded to pretty much fit what you describe, unless I misunderstood what you're after. "Paradigm" (in the extended sense) stands for "thought patterns", and the thought patterns and habits we use to interact with technology and others through the use of technology are that which is undergoing the hard-to-understand change, aren't they?

Already has a meaning in this context, and that meaning is far too bland, and worse, is already co-opted by marketerspeak to mean "A minor new release of our product."

But yes, I agree that Takeoff's main fault is it may not be strong enough. But you need to imply upwardness, speed and a total change of environment.

I love the name - The Takeoff. Perfect!

Along one specific route to the singularity, we may reach a true singular point or asymptote.

Think of computers becoming twice as fast (per dollar) every second year (roughly Moore's law). Now imagine that we have solved the problem of machine intelligence (by developing true AI or copying human intelligence to a substrate that's subject to Moore's law).

The intelligent machines will build faster computers at the same speed as humans, meaning in another two years they'll have twice the speed. The new computers become hosts to the machine intelligence and, of course, start building faster computers. Since they are twice as fast, they'll double the speed in one year. The new machines will build machines that are, again, twice as fast in six months, then three months, 1.5 months and so on.

Within four years of reaching human-level machine intelligence we'll (asymptotically) reach infinite computational power (and intelligence?), assuming there are no fundamental physical limits to computation that cannot be circumvented (a big assumption). That would be a true singularity, worthy of the name.

It just struck me that the singularity already exists. There's already stuff we can't understand and a point we can't see beyond. The message isn't the medium, or something.

It's not so much a point we can't see beyond, there is much about the future that is uncertain. A singularity would be a point beyond which you could not see, even if it's fully explained to you.

For example, you could take a hunter-gatherer from Java, give him an education and he could function in our society. You could not take a homo erectus man and do the same thing.

The future singularity will be a world which you can't understand, no matter how hard you try, no matter how much information you are given. This has not happened since the adoption of language, I think.

"Vinge’s singularity is not a point discontinuity or an asymptote going to infinity"

Actually, I think "an asymptote going to infinity" is one of the best ways of describing the singularity; technology suddenly grows an extreme amount, faster and faster, in a short amount of time.

Yes, but that's not infinity. You may think it's a long way to the chemist's but that's nothing compared to infinity.

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