Super comes from the Latin and means "above".

University of Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom defines superintelligence as "any intellect that greatly exceeds the cognitive performance of humans in virtually all domains of interest".

Bostrom's definition could be taken to imply this is a quantitative measure of degrees as a numeric relationship. (Under this definition, we have achieved narrow superintelligence, reduced to competency in a single task.)

Gibson, famously, sheds light on an another aspect via Wintermute & Neuromancer, where, once superintelligence is achieved, the AI just f-'s off and does it's own thing, motivations beyond human comprehensions. (Essentially, "next-level" thinking.) The second measure is discrete and ordinal.

  • Is superintelligence discrete or continuous?
  • $\begingroup$ You're asking more than one question. I would focus on just one question, given that philosophical questions are already not always easy to answer in an acceptable and sensible way. I have answered below only to what I think is your first question. $\endgroup$ – nbro Mar 30 at 11:52
  • $\begingroup$ A discrete computer is digital. It can have only on/off values. In contrast, an analog computer is able to handle continuous information, for example the number $\pi$. Researchers are arguing that a brain is both: analog and digital at the same time. So the chance is high, that a Super-AI works the similar way which requires a new kind of mathematics which wasn't invented yet. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Mar 30 at 18:07

I’ll have a stab at this.

Cognitive performance in narrow domains is determined by competency, efficiency and speed. Take calculating numbers, extremely narrow domain but compared to humans the ability of a calculator to calculate numbers exceeds normal human performance, it is much competent in terms of speed. In a bit broader domain, AlphaGo has defeated Go players, which is more difficult than chess, and requires intuition. In fact, there is an instance where the AlphaGo makes a long-term move that was previously unimagined. In all domains however Humans are well rounded, therefore Human Intelligence is called general intelligence. An AlphaGo or Calculator cannot speak eloquently or make music, but AIs are gaining pace in these areas too.

I agree with @nbro that Bostrom wants to keep the interpretation of Superintelligence open. But if there is a rough category, these are-

  1. ANI- Artificial Narrow Intelligence
  2. AGI- Artificial General Intelligence: Where the AI’s performance is at par with humans. After AGI, it quickly takes off to SI.
  3. SI- Superintelligence: Superintelligence is beyond our imagination, we have not figured out yet what will a SI do, think or want.

While these categories are discrete, the functions of strength are not. I’d say they are rather discrete to continuous, because if you look at the computing power plots that follow Moore’s Law, a similar exponential graph can be drawn for AI’s performance towards general intelligence. In that graph, it seems the AI’s performance starts with discrete performance points, and then as it takes off, it becomes continuous.

This is why the term Singularity is often associated with Superintelligence. I hope this answers your question.


I am reading Bostrom's book "Superintelligence". I have only read the first 2 chapters, but I think he doesn't want to define super-intelligence is a precise way, but he leaves the reader the option to define it in a "sensible" way. However, I think that, in his thoughts, there's the (clear) assumption that a super-intelligence will necessarily need to be general, so a super-intelligence will be an AGI.


It occurs to me that Superintelligence as an ordinal value could be explained as follows:

  • Artificial General Intelligence is strong utility in all problems that humans can conceive of.

  • Superintelligence as a category includes problems beyond what humans can conceive of.

An easy way to understand this is to look at the difference between dogs and humans. Dogs are optimized for certain tasks, such as tracking, but limited in terms of what they can conceive and what tasks they can engage in. Humans have superintelligence, compared to dogs, because we regularly engage with problems and tasks beyond the conception of canines.

  • $\begingroup$ Defining superintelligence as a category by it's own, makes it impossible to compare humans with Artificial Intelligence. Both aren't able to communicate to each to other and have nothing to say to the other side. They are living on different planets and can't understand the opponent. It's impossible for a human to program a game AI because the desired super intelligence works with distinct rules and behaviors from a human. $\endgroup$ – Manuel Rodriguez Aug 22 at 18:45

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