…here’s Tom with the Weather.
That right there is comedian/philosopher Bill Hicks, sadly no longer with us. One imagines he would be pleased and completely unsurprised to learn that serious scientific minds are considering and actually finding support for the theory that our reality could be a kind of simulation. That means, for example, a string of daisy-chained IBM Super-Deep-Blue Gene Quantum Watson computers from 2042 could be running a History of the Universe program, and depending on your solipsistic preferences, either you are or we are the character(s).
It’s been in the news a lot of late, but — no way, right?
Because dude, I’m totally real
Despite being utterly unable to even begin thinking about how to consider what real even means, the everyday average rational person would probably assign this to the sovereign realm of unemployable philosophy majors or under the Whatever, Who Cares? or Oh, That’s Interesting I Gotta Go Now! categories. Okay fine, but on the other side of the intellectual coin, vis-à-vis recent technological advancement, of late it’s actually being seriously considered by serious people using big words they’ve learned at endless college whilst collecting letters after their names and doin’ research and writin’ and gettin’ association memberships and such.
So… why now?
Well, basically, it’s getting hard to ignore.
It’s not a new topic, it’s been hammered by philosophy and religion since like, thought happened. But now it’s getting some actual real science to stir things up. And it’s complicated, occasionally obtuse stuff — theories are spread out across various disciplines, and no one’s really keeping a decent flowchart.
So, what follows is an effort to encapsulate these ideas, and that’s daunting — it’s incredibly difficult to focus on writing when you’re wondering if you really have fingers or eyes. Along with links to some articles with links to some papers, what follows is Anthrobotic’s CliffsNotes on the intersection of physics, computer science, probability, and evidence for/against reality being real (and how that all brings us back to well, God).
You know, light fare.
First — Maybe we know how the universe works: Fantastically simplified, as our understanding deepens, it appears more and more the case that, in a manner of speaking, the universe sort of “computes” itself based on the principles of quantum mechanics. Right now, humanity’s fastest and sexiest supercomputers can simulate only extremely tiny fractions of the natural universe as we understand it (contrasted to the macro-scale inferential Bolshoi Simulation). But of course we all know the brute power of our computational technology is increasing dramatically like every few seconds, and even awesomer, we are learning how to build quantum computers, machines that calculate based on the underlying principles of existence in our universe — this could thrust the game into superdrive. So, given ever-accelerating computing power, and given than we can already simulate tiny fractions of the universe, you logically have to consider the possibility: If the universe works in a way we can exactly simulate, and we give it a shot, then relatively speaking what we make ceases to be a simulation, i.e., we’ve effectively created a new reality, a new universe (ummm… God?). So, the question is how do we know that we haven’t already done that? Or, otherwise stated: what if our eventual ability to create perfect reality simulations with computers is itself a simulation being created by a computer? Well, we can’t answer this — we can’t know. Unless…
[New Scientist’s Special Reality Issue]
[D-Wave’s Quantum Computer]
[Possible Large-scale Quantum Computing]
Second — Maybe we see it working: The universe seems to be metaphorically “pixelated.” This means that even though it’s a 50 billion trillion gajillion megapixel JPEG, if we juice the zooming-in and drill down farther and farther and farther, we’ll eventually see a bunch of discreet chunks of matter, or quantums, as the kids call them — these are the so-called pixels of the universe. Additionally, a team of lab coats at the University of Bonn think they might have a workable theory describing the underlying lattice, or existential re-bar in the foundation of observable reality (upon which the “pixels” would be arranged). All this implies, in a way, that the universe is both designed and finite (uh-oh, getting closer to the God issue). Even at ferociously complex levels, something finite can be measured and calculated and can, with sufficiently hardcore computers, be simulated very, very well. This guy Rich Terrile, a pretty serious NASA scientist, sites the pixelation thingy and poses a video game analogy: think of any first-person shooter — you cannot immerse your perspective into the entirety of the game, you can only interact with what is in your bubble of perception, and everywhere you go there is an underlying structure to the environment. Kinda sounds like, you know, life — right? So, what if the human brain is really just the greatest virtual reality engine ever conceived, and your character, your life, is merely a program wandering around a massively open game map, playing… well, you?
[Lattice Theory from the U of Bonn]
[NASA guy Rich Terrile at Vice]
[Kurzweil AI’s Technical Take on Terrile]
Thirdly — Turns out there’s a reasonable likelihood: While the above discussions on the physical properties of matter and our ability to one day copy & paste the universe are intriguing, it also turns out there’s a much simpler and straightforward issue to consider: there’s this annoyingly simplistic yet valid thought exercise posited by Swedish philosopher/economist/futurist Nick Bostrum, a dude way smarter that most humans. Basically he says we’ve got three options: 1. Civilizations destroy themselves before reaching a level of technological prowess necessary to simulate the universe; 2. Advanced civilizations couldn’t give two shits about simulating our primitive minds; or 3. Reality is a simulation. Sure, a decent probability, but sounds way oversimplified, right?
Well go read it. Doing so might ruin your day, JSYK.
[Summary of Bostrum’s Simulation Hypothesis]
Lastly — Data against is lacking: Any idea how much evidence or objective justification we have for the standard, accepted-without-question notion that reality is like, you know… real, or whatever? None. Zero. Of course the absence of evidence proves nothing, but given that we do have decent theories on how/why simulation theory is feasible, it follows that blithely accepting that reality is not a simulation is an intrinsically more radical position. Why would a thinking being think that? Just because they know it’s true? Believing 100% without question that you are a verifiably physical, corporeal, technology-wielding carbon-based organic primate is a massive leap of completely unjustified faith.
Oh, Jesus. So to speak.
If we really consider simulation theory, we must of course ask: who built the first one? And was it even an original? Is it really just turtles all the way down, Professor Hawking?
Okay, okay — that means it’s God time now
Now let’s see, what’s that other thing in human life that, based on a wild leap of faith, gets an equally monumental evidentiary pass? Well, proving or disproving the existence of god is effectively the same quandary posed by simulation theory, but with one caveat: we actually do have some decent scientific observations and theories and probabilities supporting simulation theory. That whole God phenomenon is pretty much hearsay, anecdotal at best. However, very interestingly, rather than negating it, simulation theory actually represents a kind of back-door validation of creationism. Here’s the simple logic:
If humans can simulate a universe, humans are it’s creator.
Accept the fact that linear time is a construct.
The process repeats infinitely.
We’ll build the next one.
The loop is closed.
God is us.
Heretical speculation on iteration
Even wonder why older polytheistic religions involved the gods just kinda setting guidelines for behavior, and they didn’t necessarily demand the love and complete & total devotion of humans? Maybe those universes were 1st-gen or beta products. You know, like it used to take a team of geeks to run the building-sized ENIAC, the first universe simulations required a whole host of creators who could make some general rules but just couldn’t manage every single little detail.
Now, the newer religions tend to be monotheistic, and god wants you to love him and only him and no one else and dedicate your life to him. But just make sure to follow his rules, and take comfort that your’re right and everyone else is completely hosed and going to hell. The modern versions of god, both omnipotent and omniscient, seem more like super-lonely cosmically powerful cat ladies who will delete your ass if you don’t behave yourself and love them in just the right way. So, the newer universes are probably run as a background app on the iPhone 26, and managed by… individuals. Perhaps individuals of questionable character.
The home game:
Latest title for the 2042 XBOX-Watson³ Quantum PlayStation Cube:*
Crappy 1993 graphic design simulation: 100% Effective!
- *Manufacturer assumes no responsibility for inherently emergent anomalies, useless
inventions by game characters, or evolutionary cul de sacs including but not limited to:
The duck-billed platypus, hippies, meat in a can, reality TV, the TSA,
mayonaise, Sony VAIO products, natto, fundamentalist religious idiots,
people who don’t like homos, singers under 21, hangovers, coffee made
from cat shit, passionfruit iced tea, and the pacific garbage patch.
And hey, if true, it’s not exactly bad news
All these ideas are merely hypotheses, and for most humans the practical or theoretical proof or disproof would probably result in the same indifferent shrug. For those of us who like to rub a few brain cells together from time to time, attempting to both to understand the fundamental nature of our reality/simulation, and guess at whether or not we too might someday be capable of simulating ourselves, well — these are some goddamn profound ideas.
So, no need for hand wringing — let’s get on with our character arc and/or real lives. While simulation theory definitely causes reflexive revulsion, “just a simulation” isn’t necessarily pejorative. Sure, if we take a look at the current state of our own computer simulations and A.I. constructs, it is rather insulting. So if we truly are living in a simulation, you gotta give it up to the creator(s), because it’s a goddamn amazing piece of technological achievement.
(This post originally published I think like two days
ago at technosnark hub www.anthrobotic.com.)
iPhone 5 Hyper-Anticipation: It Didn’t Mean What You Think it Meant (AGAIN)
Okay, now — bear with me on this — and check it out:
For now and for better or worse, The United States is home to a plurality of the world’s techiest technology, investment capital, productive creativity, and cutting edge research. As such, hiccups in those technology-driven economies of real currency and ideas can ripple around the entire planet.
Amid considerable anti-intellectualism and various public & private R&D funding issues, American tech leadership and innovation is stuttering and sputtering and might be in danger of faltering. While we’re not at that point just yet, there is an interesting harbinger with a peculiar manifestation: New iPhone Anticipation Loopiness. As I said, bear with me.
This is a repost & redux from an October 5, 2011 Anthrobotic.com piece — published a day before the suspected-to-be-iPhone 5 was released as the iPhone 4S. While the fanboy drool and mainstream gee-whiz was considerably dialed down this time around (in part due to lots of leaking), the sentiment of this piece remains relevant and largely unchanged. Now, we did have theÂ Nuclear-Powered Science Robot Dune Buggy with Lasers (AKA the rover Curiosity) this year, and that was very big, but on a societal level we still have a sad hole in our technology heart.
Of course any hand-wringing about the underlying catalyst for weird iPhone fervor is a so-called first-world luxury, but to that I say “Shhhh, Trickle Down TechnonomicsÂ©Â® is real.“
The Great Want
I was half-seriously saying to my friend Jason last night that waiting for the iPhone 5’s release is like waiting for Christmas morning when we were 10. Except that the reveal of this present will be more like “Here’s what we got you, but you can’t actually have it for another two to four weeks.“Â That part’s kinda cruel. He’s at 3G, I’m at 3GS — upgrade is ferociously justified (and cheap here in Japan). So, like lots and lots of Americans and other people around the world, we’ve been not so patiently waiting for Tuesday morning; we have also been part of thisÂ peculiar intensity.
Troubling Telecommunication Technolust
Now, is there any other product, across any and all areas of industry, for which a pending release has been the subject of such anticipation, such broad media coverage, and so much conjecture? And how is it that the key marketing strategy for a company’s flagship revenue source is their absolute refusal to talk about the product until after its launch? Do we consumers really want the new hotnessÂ thatÂ badly? How are all these strings being pulled? How can so many otherwise reasonable adults have so much longing for this device?
Even if one’s not an iPhone user and has no plans to convert, chances are one is at least curious about what Apple’s got. I mean, be honest, even if you’ve got only a very general interest in technology, you’re going to be paying attention to the announcement. And if you’re not actively following the story, you’ll hear about it passively — it will be everywhere for a few days or a week or so.
So… what’s this all about?
It’s just a pretty new phone, right?
We know that a phone hasn’t been just a phone for several years now — a lot of us hardly use the telephone part of the device at all. And, they’ve become, well, you know — smart. This guyÂ (Mike Elgan) and this woman (Amber Case) have developed theories suggesting that smartphones are actually highly personalized digital information prosthetics, and we users are already cybernetic organisms (Anthrobotic.com nods in agreement). Smartphones connect us as individuals to the vast stream of human communication; they non-invasively enable the RAM & ROM of all recorded human history into the palm of our hands, and devices’ elegantly rapid penetration into everyday life has been… (drama pause) profound. Ask organizers and participants in the Arab Spring. Ask villagers in developing countries who lack roads and electricity — but do have respectable data plans. And ask again, if you like.
Mobile phones have become much more than the name implies, and as a practical tool, the iPhone 5 in particular will be an exciting addition to comms and gaming and entertainment blah blah blah. As per usual, Apple will probably introduce hardware and software features that will shape mobile technology on a global scale — that’s what Apple does.
And all that’s awesome whoo-hoo way to go, but still, it’s #5, just the latest iteration.
Not really THAT big of a deal, so why the hell do we care so much?
It seems to me that shallow, mindless American consumerism, certainly a well-documented species, is not the primary force driving our overblown iPhone 5 excitement and anticipation and media coverage and hyperbole. You’d think so, but…
Listen for the thud — here drops a cheesy armchaired macro-diagnosis:
Subconsciously — in my country — the rabid anticipation for the iPhone 5 is actually about hope, inasmuch as it’s about the American Dream. In a way.
Or, more accurately, the corpsification thereof. In a way.
And that is because we the people have almost nothing else to be excited about.
(except: The Nuclear-Powered Science Robot Dune Buggy with Lasers)
We of the Uninspiring Slump
Over at Anthrobotic.com, fundamental to my silly-ass take on tech is the primary tenet of the 51%+ Positive Technological Utopianism Movement (that I totally just invented), which is:
Technology is the fundamental precursor to civilization and is therefore the most powerful social force in the universe, yo. Srsly.
Humanity is in the midst of a rapid upswing in almost all facets of human development. Things are just getting better, all across the board. BUT, there are still some crappy little downward notches in the larger upward curve. We’re in one of those — the American Dream has lost coherence - and we are desperate for something big, something to inspire and unite us, something more than, oh I don’t know, the impotent & mentally retarded discourse of America’s pathetic political charade, for example.
A leap too far? Overgeneralizing? Pandering to the Dumb? Just dumb?
Well, I suppose it’s possible that the population of the U.S. who find themselves anywhere on the mildly-curious-to-completely-rapt scale of interest in the iPhone 5’s pending release are a poor sample from which to gauge the attitude of a nation. But for that to be the case it would have to be in another universe with different rules. Because A: There are around 310 million people in the U.S., and about 100 million are smartphone users, and I’d guess (and read survey data reporting) that a strong percentage of them are pretty interested in learning about or buying the iPhone 5 — so if you think such a massive population block that is engaged and ready to take action on an issue provides a poor statistical sample, well then, you can’t count. And because B: those 100 million people have nothing else to give a shit about.
The iPhone 5, Insidiously Alluring in a Vacuum!
So what the hell am I saying here? Well, The iPhone is an incredible device that quite literally represents a truckload of previously impossible mobile functionality. Think about it — just 4.5 years ago it didn’t exist, and the App Store (which has been copied by, ummm… everyone) is barely over 3 years old. It’s a beautifully designed tool, elegantly powerful in so many ways. But, it’s no revelation, it’s just a very precedented technological creation of late 2011; it’s a consumer product — and in another year, we’ll want the next version, and the next, and so on.
Physical artifacts are usually outshined by big ideas, but the thing is this: while we’re lousy with the former, we’re fresh out of the latter.
Now this isn’t about dorks like myself and those inhabiting this higher ranks of sciencyness and geekdom — we’ve got plenty to excite us. But everyday humans in the U.S., where traditional notions of culture are diffuse and diluted, tend to unite around ideas and ideals — and very often those drive and/or are a product of scientific or technological advancement of some kind — and sometimes, that can inspire others around the world.Â The mass-production of automobiles and human flight inspired notions of the freedom of movement, TV launched and inspired vast visual creativity, and following the Soviet advances, the Apollo missions united the nation, gave new appreciation for the Pale Blue Dot, ROI-ed ten$ of billion$, and inspired the rest of the world to continue pushing into the frontier of space. And, American computer technology, much of it pioneered by Apple, jumpstarted what will probably be the single largest paradigm shift in the history of our species. It’s become natural for us to see great positivity and opportunity in our technological achievements.
Americans fundamentally appreciate and embrace innovation, and we want look to the future with hope, longing for new ideas and new developments that create new economies and new possibilities. But for the time being now, our American Dream is stuck in neutral and we have no common rallying point. Our nation’s greatest point of unity and excitement and anticipation is for the release of another mobile telecommunications device — the best thing we have to look forward to is Tim Cook, 10:00am, PST.
Well That’s not so Uplifting Now, is it?
We desperately want good news, we desperately want a new great project stabbing toward some awesome goal — and there’s just… nothing there. The economy is crap, there is no great leader to inspire us, and there is no great undertaking for the betterment of all humankind. That’s where the iPhone 5 anticipation energy comes from. Americans want what is new, we want to push forward, we want profound ideas to inspire us now and for decades to come — it’s in the fabric of the nation. If we were about to launch a manned mission to Mars, or a Manhattan Project-style energy initiative, or building hotels on the moon, this announcement would be but a spark.
Myself and millions will soon have a state of the art, super cool new phone. And the Dream will stay on break. Such is life. But it’s not gone, and do check back later — we might have space tourism and near-infinite fusion energy pretty soon!
It’s Tuesday night here in Japan — going to sleep.
I’ll check the morning news straight away, and I’ll be excited about the phone I will own in a few short weeks. It’ll be awesome, I’m sure. And the world’s most valuable company will get more valuable, I’m sure.
Aside from the next-next iPhone and a new figurehead, will another year bring anything new? Not so sure.
(The Nuclear-Powered Science Robot Dune Buggy with Lasers came close, didn’t it?)
Thanks for reading!
-Reno at Anthrobotic.com