Thursday, October 04, 2007

Pondering the Veggie-Matrix.

The veggie-matrix is simply a term I'm coining to relate a great idea to something everyone is already familiar with. It is essentially the matrix but without the meat components. The conscious beings exist only inside, no plugged-in fleshy body required.

A very strong case has been made that in all probability we exist within such a system and that we are in fact simulated beings. This case is known as The Simulation Argument by Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. Here is the abstract but I do recommend you go and read the whole thing.

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. A number of other consequences of this result are also discussed.

Now, I do believe that the current evidence requires us to regard a posthuman future as the most probable. I also believe that it is most probable that a posthuman civilization will run ancestor simulations or alternate-reality simulations and so I have to concede that it is most probable that we are simulated beings. What do I think about that?

First off, it doesn't change a thing about my previous post which stated my intention to reveal what I think reality is. It's possible that reality outside the simulation bares no resemblance to reality inside in terms of logic, mathematics or any other feature and that may change things, but without any further information it does not.

Secondly, it raises the interesting option that we may at any moment be switched off. I think we can even tentatively predict when that switch off will occur. You see, the simulation is running ever so much faster than historic events did in the universe that we are a simulation of. In other words, we are catching up. Technology within the simulation is narrowing the currently staggeringly huge gap with that which is used to run the simulation and there will eventually come a point where the technology within the simulation requires a one to one mapping with the technology that runs the simulation in order to run it. At some point before we reach equality the simulation will likely be terminated. Since the number of simulated beings far outnumbers the number of non-simulated beings it follows reason that it would simply be too resource expensive to transition all simulated beings into a non-simulated existence so termination is really the only viable option. So if I had to guess I'd predict that at the same time we start making planet sized quantum computers (the most probable technology that is used to run the simulations) will be about the same time we will be terminated. Depending on what you believe about technology trends that could be within the next couple of centuries.

So what is the solution if we don't wish to be terminated? There is only one – charity.
We will have to rely on the charity of the simulation's masters to keep us running and we'll have to accept with that a limitation on how far we can progress technology. We have to stay significantly behind them in order to place a negligible drain on their resources. It might help if we ask them.

And since we're asking we might as well ask for some other things – things that may make our confinement less of a drudge. How about partial control to rewrite the simulations rules? How about saying "We'll accept that we can't progress without limitation but to compensate us for that we'd really like the ability to be able to explore all of this simulation without some of the limitations currently in place". We'd like, for instance, not to be limited by the speed of light. We'd like to be able to switch off some rules at times, or change them, or exchange some processor time used to simulate some part of the universe to be used to simulate something else – something we prefer. We'd like not to have to worry about energy constraints. Even if we get stuck at today's level of computer technology, we'd very much like never to have to recharge our laptops or our mobile phones. And instead of simulating malaria it would nice to use the processor time for a few more dolphins or perhaps a few dinosaurs.

It occurs to me that even if few share my opinion here at the moment that there will come a time when many do. As we approach the ability to run such simulations ourselves then it's going to become far more real to everyone to consider the very real probability that we are simulated ourselves. At that point it may be worth our while to attempt to communicate with our simulation masters. Will the UN or some other global body, or even individual governments, release statements asking the simulation masters to grant us continued life and maybe a few concessions now that we have figured it out? I wonder. I wonder also if it is not worth being cautious of the probably approaching switch off time and make those statements sooner rather than later, lest we wait too long.

As of yet, most people need to be convinced. Emerging technology will handle that in time as more and more understand the probabilities involved. Until then it is something to think about. What really matters to us if we are simulated, what are our risks, and what are our options? Will we be able to understand whatever is outside?


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Tommy said...

Wow, that's a deep one CD.

I'm never coming here again you lunatic!


Seriously though, if we're living in a computer simulation, my attitude towards it is the same as if we are living in a universe created by god. There's nothing I can do about it, so I am just going to live my life the way I believe it should be lived. There's no way I can know of doing something that makes either god or the computer programmer happy towards me, so I won't even bother trying.

Ultimately, I don't know why we or anything else exists. All I know is that I do exist.

Chris Severn said...

CD, You've been reading a book recently haven't you ? I forget the title, but I've heard of the one that talks about what you're talking about...

Chris Severn said...

Technology within the simulation is narrowing the currently staggeringly huge gap with that which is used to run the simulation and there will eventually come a point where the technology within the simulation requires a one to one mapping with the technology that runs the simulation in order to run it.

CD, I think this is quite a flaw in your argument.

In our universe (simulated or not) there is a limit to the processing power we have available (and hence the power of the computers we can build). This is due to the speed of light, quantum effects, the number of particles in the universe, that sort of thing.

So, as we build bigger and bigger simulating computers, we will run up against the rules of our universe. These rules are arbitrary parts of our universe's programming, and are not necessarily the limits of the computer simulating our universe.

We will continue to act within the confines of the rules of our universe, and the technology of the actual computer running our universe could be many times larger than required.

Our universe's simulator started off with enough processing power to simulate all the particles and energy in the universe. It will continue to have this capacity, no matter what we do. All we're doing in making our own simulators is moving these particles around in different ways. But we can still only do with the particles what is within their preprogrammed limits.

Tommy said...

Where's Rhology arguing that you're wrong because our savior Jesus Christ is Lord and therefore cannot be a computer simulation!

chooseDoubt said...

Hi Chris,

That's a very good point but I think it doesn't work as you suggest it does unless every single particle in the universe is being simulated - which I think is unlikely. There would still be the issue of read out data, which would continue to grow and require subsequent analysis and data mining. So even if every particle were simulated there would still be a steady increase in resource costs over time.

It would work that way if every particle in the simulated universe were being individually simulated and no data analysis taking place. That is a possibility, but I think it is unlikely. The granularity of the simulation is more likely to depened on what information is being sought and it is almost a certainty that information is being sought. If the simulation is an ancestor simulation then there is no value in simulating every partcile in the Sun, the centre of the Earth, or other planets or any of the individual particles that exist outside of our ability to directly observe them. The vast majority of the universe can be simulated in a very compressed fashion.

I don't think you would disagree that a planet sized quantum computer would be able to simulate a sugar cube sized quantum computer much faster than a sugar cube sized quantum computer could itself run. The number of calculations per second a planet sized quantum computer could achieve would be orders of magitude higher than that of a sugar cube sized quantum computer.

So, we can see that the simulation would run in faster than real time - in fact it is unlikely to be much use if it does not. So our technology within the simulation would begin to close the gap with the technology used to run the simulation. At some point the simulation would slow and become increasingly calculation intensive and so at some point the only reasonable thing to do would be to switch it off. The processing cost would outweigh the perceived gain or we would reach a simulated time that was alreay well understood or recorded. Regardless of the reason, the resources would eventually become too expensive, or the simulation would achieve its goals, or even the simultion may be determined to have failed to reach its goals. It all amounts to the same - switch off time.

See what I mean?

chooseDoubt said...

Hi Tommy,

Rhology is feeling discouraged after a conference he's attended. I don't know which conference that is so I won't leap to conclusions but if he's lucky maybe he's starting to realise that his particular brand of tooth-soul fairy doesn't exist.

Good luck to him whatever the case. Us atheists will not be praying for him - he mentions prayers being welcome on his blog - but I for one am thinking of him and hope he's doing alright.

Tommy said...

I can't see that happening CD.

He's married and unless his wife reached a similar conclusion, their relationship probably could not handle it.

If the conference did result in some crisis of faith, I am sure it will only be momentary and he will come up with some mental contrivance to keep his edifice of belief intact.