The Simulation Argument

Are you just a more advanced version of a Sim?

Weird Fact: The Simulation Argument states that it’s highly likely you are living inside a computer simulation.

That is the conclusion of philosopher Nick Bostrom of Oxford University. But how could he possibly make such an extraordinary claim?

It’s all a process of elimination – Bostrom’s probability equations conclude that at least one of the following statements are true:

  1. The human race will become extinct before we develop the technology to create a convincing virtual reality computer simulation.
  2. Any race with such technological ability would choose not to run a large number of simulations of their evolutionary history.
  3. We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

The reason why The Simulation Argument is compelling is because we can virtually eliminate the first and second conclusions above.


Issue #1: Technological Barriers

Intelligent human life has been evolving for billions of years. We have survived meteor strikes, ice ages, diseases, droughts, famines, wars and more. Perhaps most impressively, now we have developed the technological ability to create basic virtual life simulations like The Sims and Spore. But where next?

Analysts predict that we will reach the point of technological singularity in the year 2045, when Artificial Intelligence will become self-aware and surpass human intelligence. This is the only remaining ingredient we need to create a “conscious” virtual reality world.

The chances of the entire human race becoming extinct before that point are small. Within decades – and possibly sooner – we will have the technology to support a computer simulation depicting our entire evolution, from the very first single-celled bacteria. We may do it on the grounds of scientific research, for entertainment, or just because we can.

And all this is just proof that such a virtual reality simulation is possible. It could therefore already exist on another planet out there in the vast universe.


Issue#2: Ethical Barriers

If you could create such a computer simulation where the inhabitants made their own decisions according to your pre-set life rules – does that mean you would?

By highlighting this issue, Nick Bostrom admits that there could be ethical barriers to The Simulation Argument. Yet the likelihood is still extremely low.

Take The Sims computer game as an example. Characters in The Sims are assigned specific personalities, appearances, work schedules, and even romantic relationships. We are already playing God, but because of AI limitations, they are not self aware… yet.

Would you draw the line at creating conscious Sims?

Could it be argued that they aren’t really “conscious” – not in the sense we are. What if they were deemed “conscious robots”? Would that make it ok?

What if our simulated entities started out as really basic, non-conscious lifeforms – but developed consciousness all by themselves over the course of time?

Surely the “creator” can’t be held ethically responsible for the results of this self-evolution?

Wait… isn’t that exactly what happened to us?


Living Inside The Matrix

The conclusion of The Simulation Argument is inescapable: if we have the technology and we aren’t afraid to use it, then we must be living in a computer simulated world.

It’s all a game of numbers… A single computer simulation would involve a universe containing billions, if not trillions, of organisms. As each civilization in that universe became technologically advanced, they too would begin making AI simulations of their own. And in those virtual worlds, there would eventually be even more virtual worlds.

So we have a single true reality, containing the creators of the very first computer simulation. They are the oldest civilization of all. Then we have infinite offspring simulations that arose from their virtual creations.

The likelihood that you exist in the original “real” universe are infinitesimal… So you must be living inside a computer simulation.

Now there’s a terrifying thought.