Simple Equations for Vinge’s Technological Singularity

Let W be “world knowledge”, and assume that each additive increment in W results in a multiplicative improvement in miniaturization, and thus
in computer memory and speed V.
V = exp(W)


In the old days, assume an essentially constant number of humans
worked unassisted at a steady pace to increase W at a steady rate:
dW/dt = 1

W = t
V = exp(t)
which is a regular Moore’s law.


Now, suppose instead W is created soley by computers, and increases at a rate proportional to computer speed.
dW/dt = V
dw/exp(W) = dt

This solves to
W = log(-1/t)
V = -1/t
W and V rise very slowly when t<<0, might be mistaken for exponential around
t = -1,
and have a glorious singularity at
t = 0.


Most realistically, assume humans keep working at a steady pace, but
are gradually overtaken by contributions from growing computer power:
dW/dt = 1+V giving dw/(1+exp(W)) = dt
Which solves to
W = log(1/(exp(-t)-1)) and V = 1/(exp(-t)-1)

Unsurprisingly, with this equation, W increases linearly when t<<0,
curves up like an exponential around t = -1, rises to a singularity at


The assumption that
V = exp(W)
is surely too optimistic.

I was thinking in terms of independent innovations. For instance,
one might be an algorithmic discovery (like log N sorting) that lets
you get the same result with half the computation. Another might be
a computer organization (like RISC) that lets you get twice the
computation with the same number of gates.

Another might be a circuit advance (like CMOS) that lets you get twice the gates in a given space. Others might be independent speed-increasing advances, like size-reducing copper interconnects and capacitance-reducing silicon-on-insulator channels. Each of those increments of knowledge more or less multiplies the effect of all of the others, and computation would grow exponentially in their number.

But, of course, a lot of new knowledge steps on the toes of other
knowledge, by making it obsolete, or diluting its effect, so the
simple independent model doesn’t work in general. Also, simply
searching through an increasing amount of knowledge may take
increasing amounts of computation.

I played with the
assumption to weaken it, and observed that the singularity remains
if you assume processing increases more slowly, for instance
V = exp(sqrt(W))
Only when
V = exp(log(W)) (ie. V = W)
does the progress curve subside to an exponential.
V = W and V = W^2 (!)


Suppose computing power per computer simply grows linearly with
total world knowledge, but that the number of computers also
grows the same way, so that the total amount of computational
power in the world grows as the square of knowledge:
V = W*W
dW/dt = V+1
as before this solves to
W = tan(t) and V = tan(t)^2,
which has lots of singularities (I like the one at t = pi/2).


Unfortunately the transitional territory between the merely
exponential V=W and the singularity-causing V=W^2 is analytically hard
to deal with. I assume just before a singularity appears, you get
non-computably rapid growth!
Simple Equations for Vinge‘s Technological Singularity
Hans Moravec, February 1999

Published on June 24, 2011 at 1:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

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