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

On Wednesday, author David Brin announced that Vernor Vinge, sci-fi author, former professor, and father of the technological singularity concept, died from Parkinson's disease at age 79 on March 20, 2024, in La Jolla, California. The announcement came in a Facebook tribute where Brin wrote about Vinge's deep love for science and writing.

"A titan in the literary genre that explores a limitless range of potential destinies, Vernor enthralled millions with tales of plausible tomorrows, made all the more vivid by his polymath masteries of language, drama, characters, and the implications of science," wrote Brin in his post.

As a sci-fi author, Vinge won Hugo Awards for his novels A Fire Upon the Deep (1993), A Deepness in the Sky (2000), and Rainbows End (2007). He also won Hugos for novellas Fast Times at Fairmont High (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 first presentation of an in-depth look at the concept of "cyberspace."

Vinge first coined the term "singularity" as related to technology in 1983, borrowed from the concept of a singularity in spacetime in physics. When discussing the creation of intelligences far greater than our own in an 1983 op-ed in OMNI magazine, Vinge wrote, "When this happens, human history will have reached a kind of singularity, an intellectual transition as impenetrable as the knotted space-time at the center of a black hole, and the world will pass far beyond our understanding."

In 1993, he expanded on the idea in an essay titled "The Coming Technological Singularity: How to Survive in the Post-Human Era."

  • Rainbows End though awarded, is disliked by many, but I really liked it. Here's an obituary of Vinge that goes into it and its relevance today. I also liked Fast Times At Fairmont High, a story written earlier (I believe) that is in a quite similar world, same characters, but different ... True Names, of course, is epically good.
    – davidbak
    Commented Mar 26 at 1:29
  • I never understood how a mathematician could entertain the idea that an exponential process like technological progress could lead to a singularity. The two concepts are fundamentally different: An exponential curve is at every point self-similar -- the slope of the curve depends solely on the scale! -- while a singularity is emphatically not. To a prehistoric person, mastering fire must have been more revolutionary than anything that came after it, including the wheel, iron or electricity. "I can handle fire! Now I'm God-like!" (And I'm not laughing -- they were right.) Commented Apr 2 at 10:30


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