The best visuals to explain the Singularity to senior executives


Tomorrow morning I’m doing a presentation to the top executive team of a very large organization on the next 20 years. Most of what I will cover will be general societal, business and technological drivers as well as specific strategic issues driving their business. However as part of stretching their thinking I’ll also speak a about the Singularity.

As such I’ve been trying to find one good image to introduce my explanation, however I haven’t been able to find one which is quite right for the purpose.

Ray Kurzweil’s Six Epochs diagram below is great and the one I’ll probably end up using, however it is a bit too over-the-top for most senior executives. The Universe becoming conscious is beyond the ambit of most strategy sessions.

Source: Ray Kurzweil, Applied Abstractions

The chart below from Hans Moravec showing how exponential growth of computing power will allow machines to match human intellectual capabilities is excellent, but it is seriously out of date. This needs to be brought current to be able to be shown to people.

Source: Hans Moravec, When will computer hardware match the human brain?

This additional diagram below from Ray Kurzweil shows how the gap between significant events in human evolution is diminishing exponentially, suggesting that this will soon be an everday occurrence, taking us into totally uncharted territory. However there are several leaps of logic and imagination required to make this really compelling to people rooted in the present.

Source: Ray Kurzweil, Tropophilia

So despite these great images, it doesn’t seem there is one visual that suits my purpose here. I may have to end up making one myself.

Definitely let me know if there are other great visuals to help elucidate the Singularity for sceptical neophytes!

  • Ian Smith

    I’d suggest any graph which uses a logarithmic scale is a non-starter for non-german senior execs. Orders of magnitude; just about workable though.
    Important concepts to get across is the steady progression in cheap complexity ($1000’s worth say), the relationship to Moore’s law (which they do know about), and the generational change in what’s possible (making obsolete what they know, change the rules every decade or two).
    Only then can you get on to shortening times for that generational change and thus exponential rise and the singularity itself.
    I’d always avoid mentioning Kurzweil since he’s basically a kook in these terms. Go with Vinge and a more considered viewpoint.

  • Chris O

    You left out the best graph in The Singularity is Near, in my opinion. Similar to the second graph you’ve shown, it goes on to estimate that computing power will eventually reach not only the power of a single human brain, but of every human brain.
    It’s exactly what you’re looking for dude, and Kurzweil has already made it. It’s hands down the best in the book.
    Check it out:
    Hope that helps!
    Also, Kurzweil is not considered a kook. Singularity University isn’t on NASA’s campus and funded by Google and X-Prize for nothing, and he wouldn’t be its chancellor if he was considered a kook.

  • Interesting question re using log graphs – I think most get it though the exponential plot can be more powerful.
    I think it probably is a bit much to plot an exponential line against a logarithmic scale Chris – the assumptions and extrapolations in this are too heroic for most to buy – though it’s otherwise a good graphic.
    I agree Kurzweil isn’t considered a kook – certainly out there but he has the credentials and always supports his case with analysis. SingularityU is very interesting – I caught up with the Exec Dir Salim Ismail recently at a presentation I did in SF on Future of the Enterprise.

  • Rouge

    @Ian Smth
    you do know Kurzweil’s prediction for the singularity is actually more conservative than Vinge’s right?
    Kurzweil = 2045 (give or take a few years either way, can’t find the quote where he makes this caveat)
    Vinge = “I’ll be surprised if this event occurs before 2005 or after 2030.”

  • Mark Fowler (@nzchook) sent me a link to the presentation slides that Ray Kurzweil used to open Singularity University – this is very much the sort of thing I was looking for… 🙂
    (this opens the PPT deck)