Recursive self-improvement refers to software that is able to write its own code and improve itself in a repeated cycle of self-improvement. This type of software is often associated with artificial intelligence (AI) and has the potential to develop superintelligence, which is a hypothetical form of intelligence that is significantly beyond the cognitive capabilities of humans.
While traditional AI is typically coded by humans and relies on data and formulas to develop its intelligence, recursive self-improving software has the potential to fundamentally change its own design and potentially develop aspects of consciousness, such as intentionality. This is considered a potential existential risk, as a superintelligent AI may develop goals that conflict with the interests of humans and pose a threat to human quality of life and survival.
There are two competing theories about how recursive self-improvement might lead to the development of super intelligence: the hard takeoff and the soft takeoff. The hard takeoff scenario occurs extremely quickly, with each improvement making the next improvement an order of magnitude better in an explosion of intelligence. This leaves little time for humans to prepare or adapt to the new intelligence. The soft takeoff scenario, on the other hand, occurs at a pace similar to the evolution of a corporation, a type of entity that is also recursively self-improving.