How to understand The Coming Wave:
a glossary of key concepts discussed in the book


Artificial intelligence is the science of teaching machines to learn humanlike capabilities. Artificial general intelligence is the point at which an AI can perform all human cognitive skills better than the smartest humans. ACI or artificial capable intelligence is a fast-approaching point between AI and AGI, where AI can achieve a wide range of complex tasks but is still a long way from being fully general.

The coming wave

An emerging cluster of related technologies centered on AI and synthetic biology whose transformative applications will both empower humankind and present unprecedented risks.


The ability to monitor, curtail, control, and potentially even close down technologies.

The containment problem

The tendency of technology to diffuse widely in waves and to have emergent effects that are impossible to predict or control, including negative and unforeseen consequences.

The dilemma

The growing likelihood that both new technologies and even their absence might lead to catastrophic and/or dystopian outcomes.

Four features

The unique characteristics of the coming wave that exacerbate the challenge of containment. They are hyper-evolution, asymmetry, omni-use, and autonomy.

Fragility amplifiers

Applications and effects of coming-wave technologies that will shake the already brittle foundations of the nation-state.

The grand bargain

In exchange for a monopoly over the right to use force, citizens expect nation-states to preserve order and provide public services, including by harnessing new technologies while minimizing the harmful side effects.

The narrow path

The potential for humankind to strike a balance between openness and closure when it comes to containing the technologies in the coming wave that avoids catastrophic or dystopian outcomes.

Pessimism aversion

The tendency for people, particularly elites, to ignore, downplay, or reject narratives they see as overly negative. A variant of optimism bias, it colors much of the debate around the future, especially in technology circles.

Synthetic biology

The ability to design and engineer new organisms or redesign existing biological systems.


The application of scientific knowledge (in the broadest possible sense) to produce tools or practical outcomes.


The global diffusion or proliferation of a generation of technology anchored in a new general-purpose technology.

Everything is
The book cover
about to change