Are We Sims?

As it turns out, there may be good reason to believe that we are actually living in a computer simulation. I bet you’re now regretting doing all those horrifying things to the virtual people in The Sims.

At a conference featuring Elon “I have a dickload of money so people listen to me instead of respected academic futurologists, and also my name is silly” Musk, he said the chances that we’re living in a “base reality” are “a billion to one”, an assertion which is assumedly informed by extremely rigorous modelling as the sci-fi Bill Gates.

The Musk man is referring to the “simulation hypothesis”, first put forward by philosopher Nick Bostrom, which states that one of three possibilities is true, either: the human species will perish before being capable of running sophisticated simulations of human consciousness in a simulated universe; if we were capable of doing such a thing we wouldn’t do it for some reason; or we’re most definitely in a simulation.

These draw from two assumptions. Firstly, the concept of substrate-independence, or that it’s possible to have consciousness on things that aren’t brain gunk, like computers and stuff. Secondly, that it’s feasible that humanity could get to the stage where we’re capable of building a Death Star computer and devote it to running said simulation, which Bostrom proves using numbers.

So, we’re either super dead, not real, or dull enough that we wouldn’t want to play God if we had the chance. None of these sound super appealing.

The first option, depending on your point of view and how much you crave humanity’s destruction, seems the most immediately devastating. Bostrom’s paper makes no specific predictions, only some example scenarios he ominously calls “DOOM”. One such case is that before we’re able to run a simulation, we create self-replicating nanotechnology – or mechanical bacteria – to give ourselves a nasty case of mecha-plague.

The second option, being that for some reason if we were able to make a simulated reality we wouldn’t, is possibly the optimist’s choice. If we consider all the suffering in the world, surely it would be immoral to make conscious people do that. Alternatively, it’s the case that the people of the future couldn’t be bothered doing simulations whenever you can toke on quantum joints for all eternity.

Finally, we can consider that we’re living in a simulation. While it is possible that we’re universe prime and could be the first to make the simulation, when considering the near endless simulations that are possible if even one is, it’s pretty unlikely.

Before the existential dread kicks in, consider some of the fun consequences. Firstly, good news! God exists! And He’s some nerd in another universe! Hallelujah. There’s also probably some cheat codes for a bunch of money. And it’s also possible that when you die you may live on in a higher simulation. But that seems unlikely, because who’d want more than one of you? No offence.

[Jimmy Donaghy –@JimmyDonagee}

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