Blacker Mirrors

The question of whether or not we’re living in a simulation has cropped up in public fora recently. The thrust of the argument is that future societies are going to love computers and love simulating stuff.

a technologically mature “posthuman” civilization would have enormous computing power; if even a tiny percentage of them were to run “ancestor simulations”… the total number of simulated ancestors, or “Sims”, in the universe … would greatly exceed the total number of actual ancestors. [1]

So if we’re in a simulation it’s most likely being run by a far-future posthuman civilization. That’s totally fine by me. I’m not going to lose any simulated sleep over it.

But consider a similar, but very low probability scenario: near-future simulation.

Suppose that Moore’s law makes computing power more abundant over the next hundred years (or some pre-post-human time-frame), but simulating a universe is still extremely resource intensive. Simulations run on custom-built hardware and are only within reach for major governments and a few hedge funds. The number of simulated realities is low enough (<100) that there is active monitoring. The administrators aren’t interested in individuals, but the behavior of societies at-large. They want to win wars, craft policy, and beat the market. Like an applied version of Foundation’s psychohistory. This scenario is a little depressing, but doesn’t bother me too much more than the far-future hypothesis. It’s depressing, but not invasive.

The much more concerning scenario is that our simulation is owned not by BlackRock, but by a really well-capitalized Viacom. Our simulation is scoured by editors for juicy tidbits that are edited into compelling reality TV segments, a la The Truman Show. In this scenario, the most embarrassing internal monologues of every person on earth are played over laugh tracks for millions of fans in the base reality.

I am less concerned about free will and determinism than I am about being laughed at by someone higher up in the simulation chain.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulation_hypothesis#Bostrom.27s_trilemma:_.22the_simulation_argument.22
note: Why is there a photo of Nick Bostrom on that page? What value does that add?

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