What is superintelligence?

Nick Bostrom explains

The following is an excerpt from ‘Paths to Superintelligence’, a chapter in Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Stories, by Nick Bostrom.

We can tentatively define a superintelligence as any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest. We will have more to say about the concept of superintelligence in the next chapter, where we will subject it to a kind of spectral analysis to distinguish some different possible forms of superintelligence. But for now, the rough characterization just given will suffice. Note that the definition is noncommittal about how the superintelligence is implemented. It is also noncommittal regarding qualia: whether a superintelligence would have subjective conscious experience might matter greatly for some questions (in particular for some moral questions), but our primary focus here is on the causal antecedents and consequences of superintelligence, not on the metaphysics of mind.

The chess program Deep Fritz is not a superintelligence on this definition, since Fritz is only smart within the narrow domain of chess. Certain kinds of domain-specific superintelligence could, however, be important. When referring to superintelligent performance limited to a particular domain, we will note the restriction explicitly. For instance, an “engineering superintelligence” would be an intellect that vastly outperforms the best current human minds in the domain of engineering. Unless otherwise noted, we use the term to refer to systems that have a superhuman level of general intelligence.

Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom (Oxford University Press 2014)

Nick Bostrom is Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at Oxford University and founding Director of the Future of Humanity Institute and of the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology within the Oxford Martin School. He is the author of some 200 publications, including Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, Anthropic Bias (Routledge, 2002), Global Catastrophic Risks (ed., OUP, 2008), and Human Enhancement (ed., OUP, 2009). He previously taught at Yale, and he was a Postdoctoral Fellow of the British Academy. Bostrom has a background in physics, computational neuroscience, and mathematical logic as well as philosophy.

Image: Human vs Machine, chess. © Daniel Schweinert via iStock Photo

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