The day I realised there was a good chance I didn’t actually exist I was web surfing Google, looking for something academic to support my BCM112 Digital Artefact, The Life of Mindy. I came across Nick Bostrom’s simulation theory and, assuming it was satire, read it through eagerly. Upon realising its depth and logic, I delved into it further. As an avid searcher for the meaning of life (looking at I Ching for Digital Asia and exploring fate and the psychic universe), this seemed like something I needed to know about. Although simulation theory adds flavour to the conversations on life and consciousness, it somewhat challenges these other ventures of mine, given that there’s a significant chance that our memories, personalities, human experience and emotions may be nothing more than freshly-typed code.
This blog post will introduce the idea of post-human study with a focus on Bostram`s ideas, and outline my digital artefact blueprint.
Studies of future humanity are notoriously unreliable, for we are a fair distance from accurate prediction, and further again from concrete information. This does not mean, however, that the area should not be studied. It is viable to measure the intellectual growth of humanity against technology to establish predictions of what future humanity may resemble.
There has been significant discussion on the evidence that may suggest we are in a simulation for decades. These conversations ignite from a variety of fields:
“Look at the way the Universe behaves, it’s quantized, it’s made of pixels. Space is quantitized, matter is quantitized, energy is quantitized, everything is made of individual pixels. Which means the Universe has a finite number of components. Which means a finite number of states. Which means it’s computer. That infers the Universe could be created by lines of code in a computer,” said Rich Terrell, from the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab, California Institute of Technology.
A post-human society, in Bostram’s paper entitled The Future of Humanity, is comprised of at least one of the following characteristics:
- A population of more than one trillion people;
- Each of these people has a life expectancy exceeding 500 years;
- Most of the population possess a cognitive capacity at least two standard deviations above the current human maximum;
- Most of the population have close to full control over the sensory input (what we perceive through our senses of sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing);
- Psychological suffering is diminished; and/or
- Any other similar change of a high magnitude comparable to the aforementioned criteria.
BOSTROM’S THEORY (2003)
Given the steady growth of computing power across the past several decades, it is plausible that the human race (as we know it) will have the technological capacity to manufacture a detailed simulation of humanity, with conscious but unaware participants. Given this premise, it would be exceedingly arrogant and irrational to assume we are not the product of an original race’s simulation – or, indeed, the product of a simulation’s simulation. We are not entitled to believe we may one day create a simulation without considering the likelihood of being one ourselves.
Nick Bostrom uses reasonably simple probability to digest this idea and suggest three core (and roughly equal) possibilities, one of which must be true:
1.Our current human society is unlikely to reach a post-human level
The potential for mass human extinction is sometimes predicted as the result of natural causes, like rogue asteroids, a plague, global warming-related natural disasters or volcanic eruptions. More pressingly, humanity itself is seen as the biggest threat to its own survival. The Doomsday Clock, in early 2018, was set to two minutes to midnight, signalling a “perilous and chaotic” entry into the year, even after 2017’s warnings of nuclear activity. Human behaviour, both on an individual and a collective level, is wildly unpredictable. The threat of nuclear warfare, inaction over climate change or resource inefficiencies for a growing population may destroy the planet before an asteroid ever gets the chance. Science writer Janine Benyus predicts that by 2030, two-thirds of the world’s population will face water shortages. Given previous societies that have grown too fast, exhausted their resources and turned on each other to fight for what was left before collapsing, there is a legitimate chance that our civilisation will collapse under itself in the not too distant future.
Another threat to human survival, which has increasingly been explored in science fiction media since Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818), is that the technology we create will evolve beyond our control and destroy our civilisation. A perpendicular idea is that technological civilisation as we know it will collapse, but primitive humanity will remain behind indefinitely, never reaching post-human level. It’s widely accepted that humanity is around 200 000 years old, but it’s difficult to predict its exact end. J Richard Gott uses probability, at a 95% accuracy margin, to predict humanity will go extinct some time between 5 100 years and 7.8 million years from now – a fairly useless margin based purely on numbers and time, not society and its practices, nor nature.
If any of these hypotheses hold true, we are unlikely to reach a post-human phase.
2. The post-human race is not interested in running a simulated human universe
Assuming humanity continues to survive and evolve at its current technological rate, we can assume we will someday possess the knowledge and quantum computing ability to run a simulated society – but this does not necessarily mean we will do so. Bostrom offers reasonable suggestions as to why a post-human society would be unlikely to design and run a simulation. Firstly, technology may evolve in a different – potentially more ‘vital’ – direction, leaving insufficient resources to invest in a simulated society.
Even if a simulation is on the cards, strong, enforceable legislation may be enacted to combat its creation. Depending upon the social trajectories of the time, there’s a decent chance that making a simulation could be deemed unethical, due to potential suffering inflicted upon the test subjects or inhabitants, depending on the purpose of the experiment. Bostrom argues that creating a human race is not necessarily immoral from today’s perspective, particularly as we tend to place a high value on the existence of humanity, yet we cannot say for sure that this view will carry forward with future generations.
The trajectory of human development may progress so that future civilisations have no legitimate interest in examining past (or different) societies. While this would involve a strong push away from our own desires of understanding today, it cannot be discounted as a possibility.
3. We are living in a simulation
Assuming humanity doesn’t face mass extinction, or reach a post-human stage uninterested in developing such as simulation as we are imagining, it is plausible – or, as Bostram argues, almost certain – that we exist ourselves in a computed simulation. It’s worth noting that, assuming the initial post human creators allow it, it’s perfectly possible for a simulated society to develop into a post-human society and thus generate its own simulations. Therefore it’s possible there are a plethora of realities, all existing at different levels, and it is reasonable to suggest that the post-humans simulating our own world are simulations themselves. It is unclear whether this simulation would be the work of a large-scale corporation or a single hobbyist.
Bostrom argues that if our humanity goes on to create a simulation in the future, the first two probabilities are almost certainly void, and we’d have to assume we are simulations ourselves. However, the technological cost of maintaining a post-human simulated society may be intense, in which case it’s likely our simulation would be terminated before we reach a post-human stage, in which case possibility one becomes more likely.
It’s worth noting that any simulation is unlikely to be immaculate and thus experience glitches. Some prophesise that the ‘creators’ have the ability to rewind and wipe anything that gives away the experiment. Others suggest that Deja vu, lucid dreams and the supernatural are perhaps examples of these glitches live in action.
Digital Artefact: The Life of Mindy
My artefact will be based on another ‘version’ of Mindy Farmer in an alternate universe to the one she existed in for BCM112 and DIGC202. I plan to illustrate and explore the future of humanity through simulation theory, using The Sims as a platform. I’ll examine the potential relationship between creator and creation through an interactive narrative I’ll construct to illustrate Bostrom’s theory in practice, and its implication for humanity today – no matter which possibility one believes in. In accounts published separately on the blog, I will consider the implications of simulation theory on how we imagine the future to be, and look at dystopian fictional media such as Divergent and The Matrix to explore the idea of human experimentation by superior humans.
This proposal first appeared on my personal blog.