At root, Bostrom’s argument hinges around a single controversial question. Is it possible to truly create or simulate a person? Is there any point, with any level of technology, no matter how advanced, that this becomes possible?
We left off last week with the question of how much weight we should give to Nick Bostrom’s argument that we are not only possibly simulated, but likely to be so. This argument, or at least our representation of it, rests on two key claims: first, that our descendants will be able to create people just like ourselves; and second, that they will create a lot of them. The argument is compelling only in the case that both are true.
Although there have been attempts at creating true simulations of intelligence, machines that can learn and respond appropriately to unbounded input, they have not, as of the time of this writing, progressed significantly far in the way of believably duplicating human interactions (although they have mastered tasks as diverse as as playing chess, competing on the television game show Jeopardy, and identifying other robots as robots). Are these major steps on the pathway, or deceptive dead ends? Could technology ever improve to the point where it could convincingly simulate, not you perhaps, but other people, in all their deep, multifaceted, and endlessly surprising soulfulness? Is true artificial intelligence, to the point that computers could believably create people, actually achievable?
The technological ability to emulate a convincing world is plausible in the not-so-distant future. We additionally know that the motivation to create one already exists, given the huge popularity of video games, and the amount of money and effort put into making them. A big difference, however, between a current-day video game and this potential game of tomorrow, is that the player of a current game knows she is playing a game. Could we really be in a game and not know it?
We all have a solipsistic experience nightly, when we sleep and dream. Each night we inhabit a universe which seems to us, convincingly at the time, to have a wealth of external people and places in it. But all of those people and places are created inside our brains solely for the benefit of the dreamer. In the modern world, however, we can place an additional, familiar experience of a solipsistic reality next to that of the dream: the single-player video game.
One of the first things people discovered when modern computing became a reality is that it’s relatively easy to simulate laws of physics, representing aspects of the real world. This theoretically enables an approach to simulation that builds an entire universe from basic building blocks. A quark could be a tiny bit of fundamental matter (whatever that might be), but it could just as easily be a rule programmed into a computer—or perhaps even a coherent thought in the mind of an all-powerful intellect.
In the year 1999 CE, just on the cusp of a new millennium, the then Wachowski Brothers released “The Matrix,” one of the most influential, imitated, and widely discussed movies of its times. It was only four years later, in 2003 CE, that philosopher Nick Bostrom of Oxford University introduced an argument that it is not only possible we are living inside a computer simulation, it is actually significantly likely. Although it may have sounded like a high-concept science-fiction thriller, the argument drew upon well-established lines of logic and a widely held series of assumptions.
Did Nick Bostrom, professor of philosophy at Oxford University, provide the first convincing modern proof of the probable existence of God? At first glance it seems more than unlikely. Bostrom—best known for his notorious theory that the world exists only on a giant computer—isn’t a notably religious man. What’s more, philosophers and theologians have argued for thousands of years whether God exists; whether the existence of God can be proven; and whether demonstrating proof of God’s existence is something we should even try to pursue. Despite all this, in the year 2003, when Bostrom published a new theory detailing the strong probability that God does in fact exist, nobody noticed (except David Pearce).
Advances in technology, such as virtual reality systems and video games, have served to breathe new life into some of the oldest attacks on realism.
by Chris Sunami
Lev Grossman, author of the bestselling Magicians trilogy, imports entire set pieces from C.S. Lewis’s Narnia. But he has a higher aim behind his thievery: he interrogates the elements of the Narnia myth one-by-one, sussing out their weaknesses and inconsistencies, and tirelessly searching, along with his characters, for the secret of exactly where the magic lies.
Entry into the end zone is admission to a place that can only be reached against opposition, passage through a door that cannot open without people trying hard to keep it closed. The poetry in a touchdown is success against the odds. A beautiful game is one where both teams play their best, each pushing the other to a higher standard—competition as collaboration.
In Plato’s view, we perceive God not in the fulfillment of the promises of our ordinary knowledge, but in its absence.
Is the dreamlike aesthetic of celebrated Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami serving a hidden psychological function?