If your real life in 2021 feels like too much, take this for breaking news: scientists think the odds are pretty even that we’re living in a computer simulation. Computer Simulation and Simulation Creationism theories that we enjoy watching in high-budget Hollywood films might actually be real. Science matters a great deal on this coin flip of a theory that we may uncover in the near future, scientists say.
The probability of 50/50 is from a calculation whose outcome looks somewhat like 49.77778 or 50.22222. Scientific American cites the marker in the 2003 paper by philosopher Nick Bostrom: “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?” It’s significantly worth reading Nick Bostrom’s abstract in full.
Nick Bostrom argues that, among the following propositions, at least one is correct:
- Before reaching the ‘posthuman’ stage, the human species is very likely to become extinct.
- Any posthuman civilization is highly unlikely to create and run a significant number of simulations of its Evolution theory.
- We are certainly living in a simulation.
It follows that a belief that there is a chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor-simulations is false. He discusses some consequences of the result unless we live in a computer simulation or a part of Simulation Creationism.
Scientific American points out that the Hollywood film, “The Matrix”, and its sequels contribute a lot to push the Simulation theory forward. But the philosophers have speculated in this direction already for thousands of years. Many ideas flirt with simulation in the guise of skepticism and radical solipsism.
However, Nick Bostrom’s Simulation Theory, in particular, pivots on the power of computing. There doesn’t have to be supercomputers in the way we imagine them today. Consider proposed galaxy-scale superstructures such as Dyson Spheres, or concepts in the imaginations of the Star Trek writers. If there existed a computer that could hold our entire universe inside, we most likely wouldn’t be able to recognize its workings.
Professor Nick Bostrom’s claim is bold in terms of probability and philosophy, with considered outcomes Bostrom has written almost on a pure binary. His claim led Columbia University astronomer David Kipping to work with his numbers using Nick Bostrom’s argument as a guide.
David Kipping started with Bayesian analysis. This analysis lets the calculator include assumptions as a way to aid during modeling. Since Nick Bostrom’s first two criteria both posit there is no simulation, he shortened them into one measure. Then, as Scientific American explained, David Kipping assigned “the principle of indifference,” which is the most non-assumptive and nonspecific “prior probability” one can use. The business magnate, Elon Musk, says that it is highly likely we are in a simulation, and the possibility we are in a real world is just one in a billion.
This next part requires you to take a deep breath.
David Kipping then showed that a significant number of simulated realities would be nulliparous even in the simulation hypothesis. Anil Ananthaswami from Scientific American writes that “simulations can’t spawn their own additional simulations.” He says that if simulations started generating more simulations, the computing resources available to each following generation reduces. Among them, the vast majority of realities will be those who do not have the computing power required to simulate offspring realities capable of hosting conscious beings.
That’s a lot to take in. If we try to look into a decidedly human-invented simulation— like a virtual machine— it’s easy to understand. Suppose you own an Apple MacBook and want to run a PC program. In that case, one might consider using a wrapper like Wine to install and run a program in a self-contained computer that, to itself, is a legitimate computer. However, nobody gives their virtual machine their entire hard drive. They will still need some part of it to keep running the scrolling feed on Twitter and the rest of their software. Each creation must fit into and not encompass the parent like Russian nesting dolls.
This concept that simulations are unlikely to give birth to further simulations puts the “indifferent” Bayesian calculation just a shade back into Team Reality. There are at least two catches. The first one is that Professor Nick Bostrom himself thinks it was fanciful to assign the indifference principle initially: to strengthen two parts into one part, and so forth. He says it somehow artificially weighted the outcomes.
Secondly, if programmers on the simulated earth ever make a simulated reality themselves, that includes conscious beings. Its coils turn into a form of a closed system of artificial sentience; for example, the entire David Kipping calculation is voided.
But for the time being, we still have a tiny bit of time left in The Matrix.