My Simulation Theory Hypothesis

in #simulation4 years ago (edited)

According to smart people like Elon Musk, there's a one in a billion chance we're living in true reality and not a simulation (though some disagree). In his words:

Either we are going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality, or civilization will cease to exist. Those are the two options.

I'm not a fan of non-falsifiable claims, which is why I lost my eternity from a religious perspective, but I also recognize Elon as a pretty smart dude. He and others are using logic to come to these conclusions.

What follows isn't a solid hypothesis as much as a hot tub and whiskey musing.

If Nick Bostrom is right, within this century we will give birth to super intelligence. I've read his book by the same name and recognize this as a really big deal.

It's one of those things we should all get educated on because it might destroy (or save?) us. If the existential risk is real, this might be the most important century for our species. Over hundreds of thousands of years leading up to this moment in time, this century might be the most important one for the continuation of biological life.

If that's true, wouldn't a high intelligence work to simulate possible outcomes of this century?

You see where I'm going with this?

If there is only one moment in all of human civilization which could end all biological life and replace it with computronium (see Bostrom's book for more on that), this might be it. This might be the moment in history some advanced civilization on the brink of releasing super intelligence is simulating over and over again to make sure they don't screw it up.

Here's the summary of Bostrom's paper arguing for why we might be in a simulation:

This paper argues that at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation. It follows that the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor‐simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.

Which one do you think makes the most sense: 1, 2, or 3?

(Side note: I love how this also gets into the Fermi Paradox stuff like the Great Filter).

I'm somewhat of an idealistic optimist who is trying to be rational, so number 3 makes a lot of sense to me. When I combine that with our most recent discoveries in quantum mechanics, which takes spooky action at a distance to a whole new level, and with a recent argument that black holes may actually be 2D structures... well at some point I have to wonder if we're looking so closely at the simulation we might just start seeing the code.

This is why my favorite movies include Inception, the Matrix trilogy, and the Thirteenth Floor. Reality is something we can only perceive through our senses. We are observers trying to observe ourselves. We are limited in our perspective and ability to see beyond ourselves and especially beyond our universe.

What do you think? Does the potential for super intelligence within our lifetime give credence to the simulation hypothesis?


P.S. If you're interested in this stuff, check out my post a couple months ago on the morality of artificial intelligence.


I wrote a few blogs about this topic last month. I know the issue and idea has been going on long before Bostrom and Musk, they just happen to be big names that are giving it momentum within the scientific community.

Super intelligence within our lifetime I doubt. It may happen, but decades from now so that would still be within our lifetime. AI is a passion of mine. Not so much the moving robots about and such, but how do you simulate a conscious mind. There are a lot of things we still are clueless how to approach from a computational perspective. If we solve some of those things then I see no reason why we couldn't have a super intelligence. Our tech is growing exponentially, it is really only some mysteries of the mind that have prevented this from already occurring. Or perhaps it has occurred in a DARPA lab or somewhere secret already and we don't know about it.

Deep Thoughts. :)

Super intelligence within our lifetime I doubt.

Have you checked out Bostrom's work summarizing the expert opinions in the field so far? Chances are good it'll happen in the next handful of decades, according to them. Guys like Ray Kurzweil have a pretty good record of predicting stuff like this also.

Yeah I've been following it too. I also watched the big panel on it with Neil DeGrasse Tyson. The problem with that panel is they could have had some people that knew more about actually making complex computer simulations like happen in some games on the panel. So many of the things that they were thinking would stop it from being true are actually resolved if you know a lot about procedural generation. There was only one person on NDT's panel that seemed somewhat familiar with it.

I do think it COULD happen IF we can solve those few remaining odd things... if we can solve them then it could happen today.

Basically... what is consciousness, what is common sense...

However, thinking about it... does super intelligence necessarily mean something with common sense or consciousness? If it does not then I believe that actually might be doable pretty soon... If it is pure processing facts, logic, and numbers we'll be at the Super Intelligence level with that side of computing soon. It is the more nebulous things that I haven't seen clues of them solving yet.

We haven't even solved that with us.

I don't think AI has to conform to our concept of consciousness. The thing is, we don't really understand (or care) how machine learning works, we just know that it does. I also don't believe it's possible for us to embed any type of empathy for the human condition into machines. I believe they will come their own conclusions about how to move forward. The idea that they might be benevolent is, in my opinion, on par with the how we feel about ants. We don't go out of our way to destroy ants unless they are bothersome to us. A superintelligence will be able to achieve its goals at a rate we cannot even comprehend. Imagine being able to "spin up" a society of millions or billions of humans to learn how to interact with each to achieve the desired end goal. Social engineering at its finest. Nice article Luke.

Thanks Bill. :)

Reminds me of this interaction in the movie Contact:

We pose no threat to them. It would like us going out of our way to destroy a few microbes on some ant hill in Africa.

Interesting analogy. And how guilty would we feel if we went and destroyed a few microbes on an ant hill in Africa?

But yes, whenever people claim Super Intelligence couldn't possible do things like create art or know about human morality or emotions or whatever, I also think about them simulation all of human history a billion times over and being able actually know us better than we know ourselves. They might even be able to "solve" morality for us and help us improve our well being (and not in the Brave New World Soma way either... at least, hopefully not).

Oh yes I agree on all counts. When I said consciousness, and common sense I was not implying empathy with us. Those are simply things we do not quite understand about ourselves.

Raw computation, logic, etc we understand those things and I believe we could have an AI super intelligence on that level very soon. For all we know DARPA or some place like that may already have one.

First of all....any post that says hot tub and whiskey musing gets my upvote!

As for super-intelligence. I personally hope it happens in the last year of my life. So I can see it, but don't have to experience the effect and aftermath of it. :-)

I try to explore not just the doom and gloom side of it, but also the incredible advances it could provide. If we really do discover super intelligence (and can keep it benevolent towards us), you may not have to die. Guys like Kurzweil are convinced life extension will be part of the non-tech, super intelligent future we might experience. Exciting times to be alive, that's for sure. :)

And yes, all good musing should involve whiskey and a hot tub.

Hopefully the super intelligence can bring my a hot tub time machine. I want to go party in the 80's again! ;-)

All kidding aside, it will be very interesting to see how technology continues to develop in coming decades, the advances in the past 20 years are mind blowing as is. Good post, thought provoking.

Thank you! Yes indeed, it's an amazing time to be alive. Almost too amazing... Almost like it was planned. :)

Then again, with 7B people, more are alive now than many times before so chances are good we'd be born now. Then again, it also suggests that great filter is ahead of us and populations won't grow to colonize the universe.

Aye, tis a deep theory that one. I think it's good to take on board but to always be open. Friedrich Nietzsche went nuts thinking about similar stuff for example.

Or maybe Nietzsche was just always crazy. Heheh.

lol too right eh

In an infinite universe, everything that is possible to happen....will.

I wonder about this idea. It's like saying if you run enough loads of laundry, eventually the load will come out of the dryer completely folded. For that to happen, to me, the laws of physics would have to change. Probability alone, I think, may not be enough. Then again, how would we know if the universe is infinite anyway?

read it again...everything that IS possible ...will happen. Is what you suggested possible?
'nuther thing...why do you think that they laws of physics and of probabilty are the same everywhere? what gave you that impression? I'm not saying that it's not so, but why do you think so?

Ah, thanks for the correction, I did indeed miss that. The trick then, I gues, is defining the realm of possibilities.

As to the laws of physics, I guess I've watched a lot of stuff like PBS Space Time. We know quite a bit, even down to the first moments of the universe and when different forces in physics started functioning as we know them. if things acted differently anywhere in the observable universe, I think we'd have signs of it. We're starting to know more about black holes, as an example. We will probably just to update what we know we instead of throwing things out.

it seems to me that there is a contradiction. When discussing cosmology and the big bang they postulate inflation at which time the laws of physics worked differently. By so doing the theory works. Oddly enough we no longer see any such thing as inflation.

odd that?

if the laws of physics worked differently then, in a different place, why not now?
Oh wait...what about the unexpected variation in the speed of the Voyager spacecraft when they got out from underneath the umbrella of the bowshock of the sun? Wouldn't that be an observed "it's acting differently than we expected it to according to the laws of physics"?

Hadn't heard of the Voyager discrepancy. Got a favorite write up or video on it? Sounds interesting. As to the changes in physics and whether the universe is to expand forever, contract, or something else, the Space Time series has covered a lot of that stuff, though some of the physics is well over my head. I do enjoy watching some of them twice in hopes some of it will sink in. :)

Hadn't heard of the Voyager discrepancy. Got a favorite write up or video on it? Sounds interesting. As to the changes in physics and whether the universe is to expand forever, contract, or something else, the Space Time series has covered a lot of that stuff, though some of the physics is well over my head. I do enjoy watching some of them twice in hopes some of it will sink in. :) was Pioneer
..Thirty years ago, NASA scientists noticed that two of their spacecraft, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, were veering off course slightly, as if subject to a mysterious, unknown force. In 1998, the wider scientific community got wind of that veering—termed the Pioneer anomaly

Ah, interesting. Thanks, I'll check it out. Oh, next time please reply to a previous comment of mine when you hit the nesting limit so I get a notification. Otherwise I'll miss your comment. Thanks!

Personally I think option 1 is the most likely to be true. Although I'd like to believe otherwise, the history of the human race thus far does not lead me to be wildly optimistic. It would be awesome if we're actually living in a vast computer simulation like the Matrix. If we were, then perhaps dying is akin to simply waking up (assuming that we ourselves are not just sophisticated AI programs). Maybe near death experiences are glimpses of what life is really like, momentary glitches in the simulation where the user temporarily gets unplugged. Could the bright light at the end of the tunnel actually be the bright light in the room where your real body is being stored? Keep asking those questions and I see how one could get sucked very deep down the rabbit hole indeed.

the history of the human race thus far does not lead me to be wildly optimistic

Check out this 5 minute video by the BCC for a little optimism on the history of humanity:

Also, give Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined a read. It's not all bad news.

I looked into NDE's before and I think the strongest argument going for it now is the brain releases a ton of chemicals as a last ditch effort to keep things going and those chemicals create hallucinations and leave people with memories which are similar because our brains our similar. That my current thinking, anyway.

Ah, thanks for that shot of optimism. Just what I needed to kick start my Monday morning!

That explanation for NDEs seems quite plausible. Yay science for being a downer sometimes. But it's still fun to speculate about wilder alternatives. ;-)

I've been thinking about this a bit lately. With the release of No Man's Sky, I started to wonder if our world might be procedurally generated. You know when you meet someone, and they seem to have qualities remarkably similar to someone you used to know, their facial features and their mannerisms. Is it just because you want to compare things to what is familiar, or is it because those things actually are similar? And could it be because the settings for their character came out close?

Like these guys... completely unrelated, look like brothers

I haven't played No Man's Sky yet. I think if I did, I might get lost in it.

Interesting idea. The gene pool is diverse, but it's also not inconceivable that shared genes from distant relatives for dominant traits stuck around to produce very similar people. It's almost like evolution is the programming language, matter the operating system, and consciousness the program.

I haven't played it either. The reviews make it sound pretty boring, but it intrigues me as a concept.

Loved this, Luke. I had never considered that this moment in history in particular would be an optimal/logical one to simulate.

Thanks Sean. It's an idea I've been brewing for a while. It's nice to get out there.

this is creationism.