Singleton (global governance)

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In futurology, a singleton is a hypothetical world order in which there is a single decision-making agency at the highest level, capable of exerting effective control over its domain, and permanently preventing both internal and external threats to its supremacy. The term was first defined by Nick Bostrom.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8]


According to Nick Bostrom, a singleton is an abstract concept that could be implemented in various ways:[9]

a singleton could be democracy, a tyranny, a single dominant AI, a strong set of global norms that include effective provisions for their own enforcement, or even an alien overlord—its defining characteristic being simply that it is some form of agency that can solve all major global coordination problems. It may, but need not, resemble any familiar form of human governance.

Bostrom argues that a superintelligence could form a singleton.[9] Technologies for surveillance and mind control could also facilitate the creation of a singleton.[10]

A singleton has both potential risks and potential benefits. Notably, a suitable singleton could solve world coordination problems that would not otherwise be solvable, opening up otherwise unavailable developmental trajectories for civilization. For example, Ben Goertzel, an AGI researcher, suggests humans may instead decide to create an "AI Nanny" with "mildly superhuman intelligence and surveillance powers", to protect the human race from existential risks like nanotechnology and to delay the development of other (unfriendly) artificial intelligences until and unless the safety issues are solved.[11] A singleton could set "very strict limitations on its own exercise of power (e.g. punctiliously confining itself to ensuring that certain treaty-specified international rules—or libertarian principles—are respected)".[9] Furthermore, Bostrom suggests that a singleton could hold Darwinian evolutionary pressures in check, preventing agents interested only in reproduction from coming to dominate.[12]

Yet Bostrom also regards the possibility of a stable, repressive, totalitarian global regime as a serious existential risk.[13] The very stability of a singleton makes the installation of a bad singleton especially catastrophic, since the consequences can never be undone. Bryan Caplan writes that "perhaps an eternity of totalitarianism would be worse than extinction".[14]

Similarly Hans Morgenthau stressed that the mechanical development of weapons, transportation, and communication makes "the conquest of the world technically possible, and they make it technically possible to keep the world in that conquered state". Its lack was the reason why great ancient empires, though vast, failed to complete universal conquest of their world and perpetuate the conquest. Now, however, this is possible. Technology undoes both geographic and climatic barriers. "Today no technological obstacle stands in the way of a world-wide empire", as "modern technology makes it possible to extend the control of mind and action to every corner of the globe regardless of geography and season."[15]

See also


  1. Nick Bostrom (2006). "What is a Singleton?". Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 5(2): 48-54.
  2. Dvorsky, George (11 June 2013). "7 Totally Unexpected Outcomes That Could Follow the Singularity". io9. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  3. Miller, James D. (6 September 2011). "The Singleton Solution". Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  4. Thiel, Thomas (21 December 2014). "Die Superintelligenz ist gar nicht super". (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung). Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  5. Barrat, James (October 2013). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era. Macmillan. ISBN 978-0312622374. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  6. Haggstrom, Olle (2016). Here Be Dragons: Science, Technology and the Future of Humanity. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780198723547. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  7. O'Mathúna, Dónal (2009). Nanoethics: Big Ethical Issues with Small Technology. A&C Black. p. 185. ISBN 9781847063953. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  8. Könneker, Carsten (19 November 2015). "Fukushima der künstlichen Intelligenz". Spektrum. Retrieved 3 February 2016. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Bostrom, Nick (2014). Superintelligence: paths, dangers, strategies (1st ed.). Oxford, United Kingdom New York, NY: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-967811-2. 
  10. Nick Bostrom (2006). "What is a Singleton?". Linguistic and Philosophical Investigations 5(2): 48-54.
  11. Goertzel, Ben. "Should Humanity Build a Global AI Nanny to Delay the Singularity Until It’s Better Understood?", Journal of consciousness studies 19.1-2 (2012): 1-2.
  12. Nick Bostrom (2004). "The Future of Human Evolution". Death and Anti-Death: Two Hundred Years After Kant, Fifty Years After Turing, ed. Charles Tandy (Ria University Press: Palo Alto, California): 339-371.
  13. Nick Bostrom (2002). "Existential Risks: Analyzing Human Extinction Scenarios and Related Hazards". Journal of Evolution and Technology 9(1).
  14. Bryan Caplan (2008). "The totalitarian threat". Global Catastrophic Risks, eds. Bostrom & Cirkovic (Oxford University Press): 504-519. ISBN:9780198570509
  15. Politics Among Nations: The Struggle for Power and Peace, 4th edition, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1967, p 358-365.