Wednesday, August 30, 2023

"Do We Live In A Simulation? Elon Musk Thinks So, Here's Why"

From SlashGear, August 26:

Just Elon Musk's name is enough to evoke an emotional response in many people, ranging from hope and glee in some to anger and disgust in others. But how about existential dread? It's true that one of Musk's primary drivers in founding SpaceX — his spacecraft manufacturing and launch company — was to create a self-sustaining colony on Mars. This lofty goal would make humanity a multiplanetary species, thereby reducing the risk of human extinction from global catastrophes such as pandemics, nuclear war, or asteroid impacts. But there's another threat Musk is concerned about that can't be evaded anywhere in the universe, from Mars to the Andromeda Galaxy: the fact that we could be living in an enormous computer simulation.

That's right, Elon Musk suspects that he himself — along with you, everyone you know, and indeed the entirety of the observable universe itself — are merely simulations. He's said as much many times throughout the years, admitting, "I've had so many simulation discussions it's crazy," during a Q&A at the 2016 Code Conference.

Taking the argument at face value leaves one grappling with some seriously heady questions. If reality is a simulation, how could we ever know? Would it render all life meaningless? And what happens if someone trips over a power cord and the whole simulation shuts off? To tease out the answers, we'll have to take it from the top.

What is the simulation hypothesis?
At first blush, the idea that we're all NPCs in some sort of cosmic game of "Sims" sounds like the kind of pseudo-scientific technobabble expected from a philosophy minor and an overenthusiasm for "The Matrix." However, it's actually a question that's been around for thousands of years: how can we be sure that reality is real? The technological bent to what's now called the simulation hypothesis was formalized in the paper "Are we living in a computer simulation?" by Nick Bostrom in 2003.

The argument starts something like this: computer processing power will continue to improve. Compare the convincing graphics and immersive experience of today's best VR games to, say, Frogger. Now project that amount of technological advancement forward a few decades. Then consider another few decades after that, and again, and again. Eventually, simulations will become so advanced they'll be indistinguishable from reality. Not only that, but with enough processing power they could theoretically simulate people, along with their memories, thoughts, and fears around finding out that they're simulated.

Given this technological trajectory, there are only three possible outcomes. First, no intelligent species survives long enough to ever create this type of simulation. Second, even though they become capable, no intelligent species ever creates such a simulation. In both of these scenarios, we are not in a simulation, because none ever exists. The third possibility is different though: an intelligent species reaches the threshold to create a simulated reality, and then does so. And this is where the bottom falls out, and we descend into the rabbit hole....


For what it's worth, Einstein's thought experiments were probably more fruitful than puzzling out whether or not we're in a matrix. At least the WEF seems to think so.

If that's not how you roll, "Can You Solve [not] Albert Einstein’s Famous House Riddle?"

Not interested? Howse about physics jokes:

A neutron walks into a bar and asks, “How much for a whiskey?” The bartender says, “For you, no charge.” 

Still no? Don't make me break out the Einstein + economist jokes:

When Albert Einstein died, he met three New Zealanders in the queue outside the Pearly Gates. To pass the time, he asked what were their IQs. The first replied 190. "Wonderful," exclaimed Einstein. "We can discuss the contribution made by Ernest Rutherford to atomic physics and my theory of general relativity". The second answered 150. "Good," said Einstein. "I look forward to discussing the role of New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation in the quest for world peace". The third New Zealander mumbled 50. Einstein paused, and then asked, "So what is your forecast for the budget deficit next year?" (Adapted from Economist June 13th 1992, p. 71).

All right forget Einstein, here's an economist telling a non-economic joke:

....This tale is said to be told by John Kenneth Galbraith on himself:

    As a boy he lived on a farm in Canada. On the adjoining farm lived a girl he was fond of.

    One day as they sat together on the top rail of the cattle pen they watched a bull servicing a cow.
    Galbraith turned to the girl, with what he hoped was a suggestive look, saying, "That looks like it would be fun."

    She replied, "Well.... She’s your cow." 

Please help, it appears the matrix has glitched and I can't stop this descent into babbling madness.
(apologies to long time readers who have suffered through this exact simulation multiple times over the years)