What Is Superintelligence?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Understand the concept of superintelligence and what it means for the future of AI.

[Featured Image] A man explores the possibility of creating superintelligence software on his laptop.

Superintelligence, also known as ASI, is a theoretical form of artificial intelligence (AI) so advanced that it is smarter than the human brain. While it does not yet exist, many researchers believe it can.

In recent years, AI has developed to new levels, with examples including ChatGPT, traffic management systems, and digital assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa. AI uses computer systems to mimic how humans think and solve problems, taking data and analyzing it to find patterns, which it then trials at enormous speed, learning new traits and improving performance as it goes.

Superintelligence takes AI to the next level, creating advanced computer systems and robots that are more advanced than other AI, surpassing human intelligence. In this article, you’ll learn about the differences between AI and ASI, what we might use superintelligence for, and its implications, positive and negative. 

Does superintelligence exist?

Superintelligence doesn’t currently exist. It is a hypothetical version of AI, but it is considered by many to be a future possibility, given the rate of development in AI. In the past, it was thought to be the stuff of science fiction, but superintelligence is becoming a more distinct possibility as time progresses. 

This superintelligence would possess unlimited memory, reasoning abilities, speed, and capacity for knowledge. It would outperform a human brain in terms of speed and accuracy and operate at a level far surpassing human capabilities, comprehending concepts beyond our current understanding.

AI vs. superintelligence

When looking at AI versus superintelligence, superintelligence is where AI is heading, but they are not the same. Whereas AI mimics human behavior, superintelligence proposes to go beyond that—it is its form of thinking and behavior, far superior to that of a human. AI currently exists and supports humans at work, using machine learning algorithms to perform specific tasks, such as chatbots and self-driving cars. However, superintelligence requires further advancements in computer science and technology to function, with the goal of performing cognitively better than humans in technical and scientific problems. 

How might we use superintelligence?

With superintelligence looming as a possible reality, it begs questions about how we might use it. In short, superintelligence can help us as humans develop technologies and products that are superior to anything we currently have. This means we can use it to solve problems and answer questions beyond our capability and intellectual understanding. Therefore, you could apply superintelligence to problem-solving tasks in multiple industries, including finance, agriculture, health care, and even politics, using the technology to create advancements beyond modern innovation. 

Potential benefits of superintelligence

The benefits of superintelligence are numerous. It could help us understand space and time, cure diseases, and reduce world disasters, answering many of life’s unanswered questions. Let’s take a more detailed look at some potential benefits of using superintelligence technology in the future. 

Reduce human error

Since superintelligence far outweighs human intelligence, we could use this technology to reduce human error by predicting exactly what will happen. Superintelligence could spot patterns and inconsistencies we cannot see, solve problems to questions we don't consider asking, and eliminate unnecessary mistakes and trial and error processes. 

Innovate and progress

From politics to science to finance, superintelligence could create solutions that progress mankind much further and faster. For example, superintelligence could enable us to spot patterns and inconsistencies in DNA and the environment that could help us understand and cure diseases, developing drugs and treatments above our current comprehension. 

Mitigate disasters

Using superintelligence to understand concepts such as space and time could help us foresee environmental changes, mitigating certain catastrophes like natural disasters and the end of human civilization. 

Possible cons of superintelligence

Although the benefits of superintelligence could bring advances beyond our wildest dreams, we can’t deny that concerns exist. Let’s look at a couple of the key problems that the existence of superintelligence could impose on society. 

Loss of control

The biggest concern with superintelligence, which arguably outweighs all possible benefits, is that creating a superintelligence more clever than humans means we cannot control it. Governments and human constructs used to control and lead populations may have no value, leaving us at the mercy of super AI, something that surpasses us in knowledge and intelligence and has the potential to take control. This is a serious concern as we don't have systems or technology to control superintelligence and stop it from going rogue.

Ethical concerns

Along with a lack of control comes the possibility that superintelligence could be unethically used. People could use it for financial gain, autonomous weaponry, or nuclear attacks. Plus, just like humans have varying opinions on ethics and morality, putting a superintelligence in charge of politics or health care decisions could have controversial or negative impacts, as we couldn’t monitor the AI’s decisions or if it even has humanity’s best interest.


Another concern with superintelligence is that the technology would replace humans in the job market. As superintelligence would function at a higher rate than humans, this could put many people out of work, causing financial and societal turmoil with increased unemployment among large entities of workers.

Could superintelligence really happen?

AI is a rapidly developing industry. Following the same pattern, many believe that superintelligence—in some form—may only be decades away. 

This is still unknown, but given what we know about AI and the changes it is already making within society, it’s important to take advances seriously and ensure systems are in place to mitigate any risk. 

How do we prepare for superintelligence? 

With superintelligence a looming possibility, it’s important to ensure we have systems in place to exert some level of control and to ensure that we use superintelligence for the benefit of humanity. Possible steps include:

  • Governments worldwide can work together to reach international agreement on the advancement of AI, including regulations to ensure it is for the benefit of all people and not limited to the most powerful countries. 

  • Before making advancements, assess risks. This means that before technology develops at a rate we can’t control, goals need to be put in place.

  • We can design superintelligence based on human values and be sure to decentralize it so that no one group benefits more from it than others. It needs to serve all people and have the good of the world as a whole at its center.

  • Humans need a system for holding superintelligence accountable for its actions, such as implementing a set of rules or a code of conduct to ensure that it is working for the benefit of humanity.

How to start a career in AI

Superintelligence is hypothetical, but AI as a technology is already progressing quickly. AI jobs are in high demand as a growing field, offering high salaries. According to Glassdoor, an AI engineer earns an average annual salary of $128,220 [1].

To start your career journey in AI, consider earning a bachelor’s degree in a technical field such as computer science or computer engineering. These degrees offer the knowledge and skills to apply for an entry-level position in an AI-related field. For some senior or specialist positions, you may need a master’s degree.

Next steps with Coursera

Are you looking to start your career in AI? If you don’t already have a degree, you might consider an online degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science offered by the University of London and available on Coursera. 

If you already have a degree, consider brushing up your AI skills with some courses. Check out the Introduction to Artificial Intelligence (AI) course offered by IBM or the AI For Business Specialization course offered by the University of Pennsylvania, both available on Coursera.

Article sources

  1. Glassdoor. “How Much Does an AI Engineer Make?, https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/ai-engineer-salary-SRCH_KO0,11.htm.” Accessed March 5, 2024.

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