November 04, 2005

Compelling Viewing

Just when you thought the perils of bird flu, terrorism, bio-engineered viruses, grey goo and pathological AI were enough to be getting on with, thank you very much, Kurzweil brings back an old chestnut to put somewhere near the bottom of your list of worries. But whatever you do, try not to be boring – the fate of humanity might depend on it.

“Our Simulation Is Turned Off

Another existential risk that Bostrom and others have identified is that we’re actually living in a simulation and the simulation will be shut down. It might appear that there’s not a lot we could do to influence this. However, since we’re the subject of the simulation, we do have the opportunity to shape what happens inside of it. The best way we could avoid being shut down would be to be interesting to the observers of the simulation. Assuming that someone is actually paying attention to the simulation, it’s a fair assumption that it’s less likely to be turned off when it’s compelling than otherwise.

We could spend a lot of time considering what it means for a simulation to be interesting, but the creation of new knowledge would be a critical part of the assessment. Although it may be difficult for us to conjecture what would be interesting to our hypothesized simulation observer, it would seem that the Singularity is likely to be about as absorbing as any development we could imagine and would create new knowledge at an extraordinary rate. Indeed, achieving a Singularity of exploding knowledge may be the very purpose of the simulation. Thus, assuring a “constructive” Singularity (one that avoids degenerate outcomes such as existential destruction by gray goo or dominance by a malicious AI) could be the best course to prevent the simulation from being terminated. Of course, we have every motivation to achieve a constructive Singularity for many other reasons.

If the world we’re living in is a simulation on someone’s computer, it’s a very good one – so detailed, in fact, that we may as well accept it as our reality. In any event, it is the only reality to which we have access.

Our world appears to have a long and rich history. This means that either our world is not, in fact, a simulation or, if it is, the simulation has been going on for a very long time and thus is not likely to stop anytime soon. Of course it is also possible that the simulation includes evidence of a long history without the history’s having actually occurred.

…[There] are conjectures that an advanced civilization may create a new universe to perform computation (or, to put it another way, to continue the expansion of its own computation). Our living in such a universe (created by another civilization) can be considered a simulation scenario. Perhaps this other civilization is running an evolutionary algorithm on our universe (that is, the evolution we’re witnessing) to create an explosion of knowledge from a technology Singularity. If that is true, then the civilization watching our universe might shut down the simulation if it appeared that a knowledge Singularity had gone awry and it did not look like it was going to occur.

This scenario is not high on my worry list, particularly since the only strategy that we can follow to avoid a negative outcome is the one we need to follow anyway.” (405-6 TS)

Posted by sd at November 4, 2005 11:58 PM | TrackBack




sd - This is the 'psychotic' vision natural to the computer hyperliterate (on -numerate).
Moravec goes as far as to argue that it is overwhelmingly probable that we exist inside a simulation, since the number of these so exorbitantly exceeds the number of 'primary' realities.
[Much more on this, but basking in sublimities of technohell - probably a virus. There's a guy coming to check it out any time now]

Posted by: Nick at November 5, 2005 10:40 AM



A few points on this 'psychotic vision':

1. It is easy to dismiss as the product of hyperactive, paranoid imaginations: until there is hard data to 'prove' we are living in a simulation, 'we may as well accept it as our reality.' It is just a thought experiment, like Descartes' evil demon, which doesn't change how we go about our humdrum daily lives.

2. Strong AI, whether benign, manipulative or pathological will doubtless recognize the power the statement 'Your world is a computer simulation' could have over human psychology. On one level, it would be irrelevant if the statement were true or not - the important thing would be what could be achieved by making humans believe it. So, while it is easy to dismiss the vision when it comes from a human, it won't be quite as easy to treat lightly when it is carefully presented by Strong AI equipped with greater cunning and presentation skills than our own.

3. Whilst the vision can be easily dismissed as a figment of imagination, Kurzweil's treatment of the vision suffers from a lack of imagination, rather than excess. If we are the pawns in an evolutionary algorithm running in a simulation in another civilization's computers, then that suggests the simulation is expendable, in the sense that it could be run again, with variables re-weighted. He acknowledges the interest factor of our simulation, but stops short of considering the entertainment value. If the simulation is being watched, why assume the audience are primarily interested in the explosion of knowledge? The knowledge would be old hat to them, if they have systems capable of running such a complex simulation. It is just as plausible that the simulation is being run to entertain, or satisfy the curiosity of, a civilisation whose aesthetic sensibilies are more extreme than our own, in which case a catastrophic, bloodbath Singularity would be just what the Entertainment Minister ordered for the Virtual Cinema this week.

Posted by: sd at November 5, 2005 12:44 PM



'Psychotic' not meant dismissively - merely that it so thoroughly ruptures concensual reality that it constitutes an implicit 'breakdown' (everything we ever knew was a lie). These are important conceptual experiments, even if they stray into spaces so bizarre that a certain amount of pragmatic bracketing is inevitably required. Also think that Hyperstition should side with the thinkable against the merely psychologically comfortable when the two come into conflict.

Science Fiction has much to contribute to this. I'd especially recommend the fabulously intelligent Australian SF writer Greg Egan (almost everything he writes comes as a comprehensive neural system-shock - or even several).

Posted by: Nick at November 5, 2005 12:54 PM



The thinkable is rendered harmless through pragmatic bracketing - its potential is unleashed when backed up by convincing invocations of psychological and techno-evolutionary processes.

[Greg Egan's site is a labyrinth, looks fascinating, but how to find the gdm time?]

Posted by: sd at November 5, 2005 01:42 PM



computation fetish is what started all holy bookkeeping and we all know they are pernicious as all hell.

Posted by: p at November 7, 2005 11:51 AM



This topic clearly hasn't caught on fire this time around (unlike Paris), but it definitely merits revisiting soon IMHO. (It took several tries to get the Singularity question burning - and look what happened to that ...)

Posted by: nick at November 10, 2005 04:39 AM



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