In my understanding, technological progress almost always proceeds relatively smoothly (see algorithmic progress, the performance curves database, and this brief investigation). Brain emulations seem to represent an unusual possibility for an abrupt jump in technological capability, because we would basically be ‘stealing’ the technology rather than designing it from scratch.

Similarly, if an advanced civilization kept their nanotechnology locked up nearby, then our incremental progress in lock-picking tools might suddenly give rise to a huge leap in nanotechnology from our perspective, whereas earlier lock picking progress wouldn’t have given us any noticeable nanotechnology progress.

If this is an unusual situation however, it seems strange that the other most salient route to superintelligence – artificial intelligence designed by humans – is also often expected to involve a discontinuous jump in capability, but for entirely different reasons. Is there some unifying reason to expect jumps in both routes to superintelligence, or is it just coincidence? Or do I overstate the ubiquity of incremental progress?

Crossposted from my own comment on the Superintelligence reading group. Commenters encouraged to do it over there.

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