Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Today, I Feel Real

According to Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at Oxford (as reported by John Tierney in The New York Times) it is "almost a mathematical certainty" that we are, on one day will be, "living in someone else's computer simulation."

Tierney writes:

This simulation would be similar to the one in “The Matrix,” in which most humans don’t realize that their lives and their world are just illusions created in their brains while their bodies are suspended in vats of liquid. But in Dr. Bostrom’s notion of reality, you wouldn’t even have a body made of flesh. Your brain would exist only as a network of computer circuits. You couldn’t, as in “The Matrix,” unplug your brain and escape from your vat to see the physical world.

The only thing this scenario requires, according to Bostrom, is that technological advances produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world. With that kind of supercomputer, "advanced humans, or 'posthumans,' could run 'ancestor simulations' of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems."

Some computer experts have projected that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century.

Tierney continues:

There would be no way for any of these ancestors to know for sure whether they were virtual or real, because the sights and feelings they’d experience would be indistinguishable. But since there would be so many more virtual ancestors, any individual could figure that the odds made it nearly certain that he or she was living in a virtual world.

The math and the logic are inexorable once you assume that lots of simulations are being run. But there are a couple of alternative hypotheses, as Dr. Bostrom points out. One is that civilization never attains the technology to run simulations (perhaps because it self-destructs before reaching that stage). The other hypothesis is that posthumans decide not to run the simulations.

Bostrom's feeling is that there's a 20 percent chance we're living in a simulation now. Tierney thinks the odds are better than 20 percent.

In any case, Tierney goes on to conjecture that the kind of geeks likely to run these simulations would favor creating huge, bloody wars, because, hey, war's fun, at least for the audience.

It’s unsettling to think of the world being run by a futuristic computer geek, although we might at last dispose of that of classic theological question: How could God allow so much evil in the world? For the same reason there are plagues and earthquakes and battles in games like World of Warcraft. Peace is boring, Dude.

1 comment:

petersim said...

I have another idea. Dogs and cats evolved to a very high intelligence and when looking around realized they were doing too much work. " Let's train the humans to do all the work and then build homes for us, feed us and give us everthing we need"
On NPR I heard a review of a wonderful book called " The view from the center of the universe."

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