Vernor Vinge, father of the tech singularity, has died at age 79


Enlarge / A photograph of Vernor Vinge in 2006.

On Wednesday, writer David Brin introduced that Vernor Vinge, sci-fi writer, former professor, and father of the technological singularity idea, died from Parkinson’s illness at age 79 on March 20, 2024, in La Jolla, California. The announcement got here in a Facebook tribute the place Brin wrote about Vinge’s deep love for science and writing.

“A titan within the literary style that explores a limitless vary of potential destinies, Vernor enthralled thousands and thousands with tales of believable tomorrows, made all of the extra vivid by his polymath masteries of language, drama, characters, and the implications of science,” wrote Brin in his put up.

As a sci-fi writer, Vinge gained Hugo Awards for his novels A Fire Upon the Deep (1993), A Deepness within the Sky (2000), and Rainbows End (2007). He additionally gained Hugos for novellas Quick Instances at Fairmont Excessive (2002) and The Cookie Monster (2004). As Mike Glyer’s File 770 blog notes, Vinge’s novella True Names (1981) is frequency cited as the primary presentation of an in-depth have a look at the idea of “our on-line world.”

Vinge first coined the time period “singularity” as associated to know-how in 1983, borrowed from the idea of a singularity in spacetime in physics. When discussing the creation of intelligences far better than our personal in an 1983 op-ed in OMNI magazine, Vinge wrote, “When this occurs, human historical past may have reached a form of singularity, an mental transition as impenetrable because the knotted space-time on the heart of a black gap, and the world will move far past our understanding.”

In 1993, he expanded on the thought in an essay titled “The Coming Technological Singularity: The best way to Survive within the Put up-Human Period.”

The singularity idea postulates that AI will quickly turn out to be superintelligent, far surpassing people in functionality and bringing the human-dominated period to a detailed. Whereas the idea of a tech singularity generally evokes negativity and fear, Vinge remained optimistic about humanity’s technological future, as Brin notes in his tribute: “Accused by a few of a grievous sin—that of ‘optimism’—Vernor gave us peerless legends that always depicted human success at overcoming issues… these proper in entrance of us… whereas posing new ones! New dilemmas that will lie simply forward of our myopic gaze. He would usually ask: ‘What if we succeed? Do you assume that would be the finish of it?'”

Vinge’s idea closely influenced futurist Ray Kurzweil, who has written concerning the singularity a number of occasions at size in books similar to The Singularity Is Close to in 2005. In a 2005 interview with the Heart for Accountable Nanotechnology web site, Kurzweil said, “Vernor Vinge has had some actually key insights into the singularity very early on. There have been others, similar to John Von Neuman, who talked a few singular occasion occurring, as a result of he had the thought of technological acceleration and singularity half a century in the past. Nevertheless it was merely an off-the-cuff remark, and Vinge labored out among the key concepts.”

Kurzweil’s works, in flip, have been influential to workers of AI corporations similar to OpenAI, who’re actively working to carry superintelligent AI into actuality. There’s at present a substantial amount of debate over whether or not the strategy of scaling massive language fashions with extra compute will result in superintelligence over time, however the sci-fi affect looms large over this technology’s AI researchers.

British journal New Worlds printed Vinge’s first brief story, “Apartness,” in 1965. He studied pc science and acquired a PhD in 1971. Vinge was additionally a retired professor of pc science at San Diego State College, the place he taught between 1972 and 2000.

Brin experiences that, close to the tip of his life, Vinge had been beneath take care of years for progressive Parkinson’s illness “at a really good place overlooking the Pacific in La Jolla.” Based on Vinge’s fellow San Diego State professor John Carroll, “his decline had steepened since November, however [he] was comparatively snug.”

We have reached out to Kurzweil and others for his or her ideas on Vinge’s passing and can replace this text after we hear again.

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