Is the Universe a Computer?
Each year researchers get closer to the goal of being able to simulate the workings of an entire human brain. This year IBM introduced two prototype chips which mimic the workings of neurons and synapses, allowing them to learn from their experiences and rewire themselves, much like our brains. With computing power continuing to double every couple of years, we are not that many years away from being able to entirely simulate a person and then not that many more years away from being able to simulate an entire civilization or planet full of brains. Some more doublings down the road and we will be able to simulate the entire history of a universe, including maintaining separate states for the result of every decision or random event along the way. In other words, we will be able to simulate a complete many-worlds quantum universe, and later we’ll be able to simulate a lot of them.
Thinking about this as I was doing homework for my Artificial Intelligence class, I was reminded of the Simulation Argument, first proposed by Nick Bostrom of Oxford University. Essentially the Simulation Argument states that one of the three following statements must be true:
1. Chances are very high that a species will go extinct before it becomes able to simulate minds.
2. Chances are very high that a species which is technologically able to simulate minds is unwilling to simulate, or uninterested in simulating, minds.
3. Chances are very high that you are a simulated mind.
Basically, if a species reaches the point where it is actively simulating minds, then the number of simulated minds in the universe will quickly dwarf the number of non-simulated minds in the universe, meaning that the odds of any particular mind being simulated become very high. Since those simulated civilizations will presumably also get to the point of creating their own simulated worlds, the odds of you not being a simulation become infinitesimally small.
Have a great afternoon!