Sunday, October 16, 2016

Really Baking Your Noodle or How To Break Out Of Simulated Reality With Money

If you've ever (re)watched The Matrix as an adult, you may have realised how poorly it is written. Of course, when I first saw it through my 13 year old eyes, I thought it was pure genius. But lets be honest, I was wrong about a lot of things back then. The artistic merits of The Matrix were only a small and insignificant misconception of my 13 year old self. I'm trying to pick a quote from the film that would embody its infantile dialogue but it's harder than I anticipated because, honestly, any exchange would do the job. Let's go with this one:
Trinity: Neo... no one's ever done anything like this.
Neo: That's why it's going to work.
Yes, Neo. That's exactly why it's going to work. "No one's ever taken 20 cyanide pills and lived, Neo!" "That's why it's going to work, Trinity!" 

Forks are definitely real though.
Let's not even get into the whole premise of "machines needed energy and since the sun wasn't available anymore, they're using humans". God forbid they used geothermal power, nuclear power or, you know, burned the food they gave to their "batteries". 

But all of that asinine lazy sci-fi aside, the concept of simulated/unreal/illusory reality isn't new and wasn't created by the Wachowskis. It goes all the way back to sceptical hypotheses like the Descartes' Evil Demon or Zhuangzi's Dream Argument. Then there's mythological manifestations of the same idea like Vishnu sleeping and dreaming the world we live in. They all boil down to roughly the same concept of 'what if the world we perceive as real isn't real'. What if there is a more real world beyond it and we can't perceive it because of either our own inability to do so or because we are being actively deceived by powers beyond our grasp. 

If this kid wakes Vishnu up, I'm going to be so pissed.
And yeah, fine, whatever, what if the real isn't real, what is real anyway and all that. Great. If you have time to be bothered about that, you're probably not worried about food and shelter. Good for you. 

The reason I'm writing this, however, isn't me getting nostalgic about The Matrix. It's because the simulation theory (or simulated reality hypothesis, however you want to call it) has been gaining some non-ironic traction in what may or may not be the real world and the angle that those with power and money are taking on it is somewhat disturbing.

The modern discussions around simulated reality are less about demons and dreams and more about computer simulated ancestors (that's us!). Hence why I was reminded of The Matrix.

This is Hans.
Even though Hans Moravec is probably the first person to have written about the modern version of the simulated reality, it's Nick Bostrom's trilemma that most people rely on for their posthuman computer simulated reality needs.

This is a photo of Nick.
In his 2003 essay Are You Living In A Computer Simulation? Bostrom argues that at least one of the following statements has to be true:
(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage;
(2) any posthuman civilisation is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof);
(3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.
For an unknown reason, a lot of people seem to have concluded that Bostrom's trilemma somewhow means that we're living in an ancestral simulation. Among them is our beloved future King of Mars - Elon Musk. In June he said that he's been having so many conversations about AI and simulated reality that "my brother and I finally agreed that we'd ban any such conversations if we're ever in a hot tub. Because that really kills the magic".

Here's the full thing Elon said at Recode regarding ancestral simulations:
The strongest argument for us probably being in a simulation is the following: 40 years ago we had Pong — two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic, 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it's getting better every year. And soon we'll have virtual reality, augmented reality... If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then games will become indistinguishable from reality. Even if that rate of advancement drops by 1,000 from what it is right now. Then you just imagine 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing in the evolutionary scale. So it's a given that we're clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or a PC and there would probably be billions of such computers and set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we're in base reality is one in billions. Tell me what's wrong with that argument?  
I will do so in a moment. Then he also added:
Arguably we should hope that that's true, because otherwise if civilisation stops advancing, that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilisation. So maybe we should be hopeful that this is a simulation, because otherwise... We are either going to create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilisation ceases to exist.
And to hell with the second statement in Bostrom's trilemma, I guess. God forbid the posthumans decide not to simulate their ancestors out of ethical concerns. What kind of venture capitalist future would that be? To be able to do something exciting but refrain from it because you may cause immeasurable pain to billions of people is probably the definition of silly at this point in Elon's hot tub of magic. I'd much rather be in a base reality that never makes it to the posthuman stage than one of the ancestors of the civilisation that would actually go ahead and create our world so full of misery. If you don't agree, next time you feel any significant pain, physical or emotional, think how you have to go through that because someone had too much time and processing power on their hands.

If you're thinking, fine, Andro, sure but who cares which image of the future Elon Musk and his brother (or any other billionaires) are masturbating to in their hot tub, I guess you haven't been following the 2016 election campaign in US at all. But it potentially gets worse.

Artists depiction, not to scale.
A very recent profile of Sam Altman (the president of Y Combinator, among other silicon things) in The New Yorker has the following line: "two tech billionaires have gone so far as to secretly engage scientists to work on breaking us out of the simulation". (Read the entire piece if you want to get more depressed about life, by the way). There aren't that many tech billionaires out there to not be worried that one of them is the infamous Trump endorser and lover of secret funds - Peter Thiel - who just before I wrote this sentence donated 1.25 million dollars to the campaign of the most famous pussy grabber in history.

If the line about the not-so-secret funding for simulation research is true, not only are our entrepreneurial elite burning money on an altar of a pointless endeavour but potentially devising a way to terminate it. Let's examine both of these ugly potentialities in turn.

Maybe I'm growing old and losing my penchant for "the truth" but imagine that we are indeed in a simulation. Imagine that it has been proved beyond doubt that it is a simulation, we are all virtual entities in some great future computer and there's a more real reality beyond. Now let me ask you, how exactly would this improve anyone's life? If you think there was an increase of violence and hatred after Brexit vote, you better get ready for unprecedented levels of nihilism and wanton disregard for human life. Finding out that we live in a simulation is like finding out that you were adopted and the reason your biological parents abandoned you wasn't because it was an unwanted pregnancy or they didn't have enough money to raise you but because they though you were a very ugly and dumb looking baby and they were ashamed to have you. They kept all the other ones, by the way, because they looked fine. Now you still have to go about your life just the same but I bet you feel like shit.
You were adopted!
So how does one break out of a simulation which is the only place where they exist? Neo had it easy, he took a pill that a stranger gave him. Hm. Maybe we should ask someone who has actually tried it. How about Joshua Cooke?
Josh Cooke, a 19-year-old in Oakton, Virginia, owned a trenchcoat like the one worn by Neo, the character played by Keanu Reeves in the movie, and kept a poster of his hero on his bedroom wall. Then he bought a gun similar to the one used by Neo to fight evil [sic]. In February, he shot his father and mother in the basement of their home and then called the police. His lawyers say he believed that he was living inside the Matrix.
Ah cool. Murder. That's how. Nowadays Josh is campaigning from his prison cell for the ban on assault weapons. Says he would have killed a lot more people if he had a shotgun or an AR-15. Or a lot of money? I guess you can dismiss Josh as "crazy" but does Peter Thiel look "sane" to you?

Hell yeah!
Fine, fine. Maybe I'm being too sensationalist and vulgar here, letting my imagination run loose. My simulated imagination. If that's the case, I apologise. All I'm saying is 783 million people living in the world right now do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. So fuck your simulation and its research.

No comments:

Post a Comment