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Sunday 4 August 2002

The Matrix was a documentary

I read New Scientist this week and was amazed to read an article about a respected Yale University philosopher who reckons we could all be part of a giant simulation being run on a computer in what we think of as the future.
I know what you're thinking because I thought it too. How ridiculous. But he makes a good argument.
In a paper submitted to the journal Mind, Bostrom has outlined exactly how he reached this chilling conclusion. The reasoning starts with one simple premise. At some point, civilisation will develop enormously powerful computers capable of mimicking what we call consciousness. And if that premise is true, the rest follows logically.
Outrageous? Not a bit of it. Look at it rationally. If it becomes technologically possible to mimic consciousness, the future can only pan out in one of three ways. First, some extinction event - maybe a powerful but deadly technology, maybe a natural disaster - will wipe us out before we actually do it. If that's true, then you can relax. What you're experiencing right now is real life.
The second scenario is also a comforting one: future humans won't be interested in running simulations. They might be too sophisticated to bother with such games, or there may be laws against it. But do either of those noble outcomes sound like a probable future of human civilisation to you? Thought not.
Which leaves us with the least palatable option: humans will one day simulate consciousness, and then go on to create simulated Universes for it to live in. If that's true then the chances are they've already done so, and you're living in one.

He also goes on to say that, if simulations are run, there is likely to be so many of them that the chances of you being one of the few "real" people is next to none.
Right at the end of the article is a quote from Nick Bostrom about the film The Matrix. "Using humans as an energy source is ridiculously implausible," he says. "But that's Hollywood for you."

August 4, 2002 11:32 PM | Stuff of Interest

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