Ancestor simulations

October 22, 2007 at 3:00 am 2 comments

Kim photo

I really have to stop reading future predictions. In yesterday’s post, we read about some of the future predictions that didn’t quite happen. Well, here’s a future prediction that I certainly hope doesn’t happen! Well, it’s not really a prediction; maybe it’s already a reality. I thought I’d stick my nose into transhumanist or post-human stuff – you know, humans enhanced by technologies that eliminate stupidity (well, that would eliminate most business people), disease, ageing and involuntary death (mmmm…think most of us don’t want to voluntarily shuffle off). I discovered that transhumanism is sometimes symbolised >H or H+ okay, I’m probably years behind everyone else, because you knew this already.

Anyway, I’ve read Nick Bostrom’s stuff before. He’s a transhumanist philosopher and I very much liked his article, A History of Transhumanist Thought, which you can download here or check out on his site. He makes the logical argument that the human desire to acquire new capacities is as ancient as humanity itself, going back to the Epic of Gilgamesh and the yearning to extend our present life to the work of medieval alchemists transmuting substances.

But in a recent article in the New York Times, Bostrom suggests that “it is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation”. Now, I’ve often thought I’m trapped in a Salvidor Dali painting when the weird or the wonderful happens to me, but here’s a thought: maybe one day computers will be so powerful and have more cognitive functioning than all the combined brains of humanity and advanced humans could run ancestor simulations of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems. The virtual ancestors would have no clue whether they were trapped in virtuality or reality and maybe there are so many virtual ancestors because of the super computing power, that an individual thinks “well, I must be real as there are millions of us”. Why not? Who knows what sort of computing power the future will harness? But maybe advanced humans will have better things to do than run ancestor simulations. And would a simulated entity possess the consciousness to know that it is part of a virtual reality simulation?

Bostrom says: “My gut feeling, and it’s nothing more than that is that there’s a 20 percent chance we’re living in a computer simulation” right now. So I guess he’s thinking that our current world is run by God sitting up there with a copy of Sim City? Or some pimply computer geek from the year 8000 is running our world. Or multiple worlds theory might suggest that there is a landscape of realities – the multiverse – and so there will be exact copies of each and everyone of us but with slightly differing realities. Think of Schrödinger’s Cat experiment – you have one reality with a live cat; another reality with a dead cat and each version you exist in. I realise I’m mixing up virtual reality with reality (and the definition of reality is a whole other topic) – but if Bostrom is right (and if I’ve interpreted him correctly) then transhumans would be able to run such perfect simulations that the distinction between virtual reality and reality wouldn’t be realised.

Freaky stuff! Check out Bostrom’s site for some great reading.


Entry filed under: Alternate reality, Future predictions, Schrödinger's cat.

What didn’t the future deliver? Microsoft wants your brain

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ray  |  October 24, 2007 at 2:36 am

    Thanks for the post and the link to a great essay. If all this ever became real – virtual realities, nano-machines and AI – it would signfify the ultimate victory of science over religion and philosophy.

    At the moment, I don’t believe consciousness can be mapped. I am unclear on whether the brain produces consciousness or merely supports it. After all, the brain is not consciousness itself. The two are separate and it seems impossble to be able to manipulate something as amorphous and abstract as the mind. But in the future, who knows…

  • 2. thinkingshift  |  October 24, 2007 at 3:23 am

    you know Ray, I’m confused about consciousness and hoping to sort my thoughts out in a future post. I’m of the view (at the moment anyway) that the brain facilitates or supports consciousness. And when you die, where on earth does consciousness go? anyway….glad you liked Bostrom’s paper. I very much like his work.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Search ThinkingShift

   Made in New Zealand
     Thinkingshift is?

Flickr Photos

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia License.

ThinkingShift Book Club

Kimmar - Find me on

%d bloggers like this: