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December 06, 2007

Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?

Living in a Computer Simulation
© iStockphoto.com / geopaul

The Matrix

Perhaps you have seen The Matrix trilogy and contemplated the idea that we ourselves may be living inside a computer simulation. In fact, given the current understanding of human consciousness and models of cognition, in theory, it's completely possible.

What is difficult to determine, however, is the actual probability that we are in fact being simulated, given that we have only one representative data point - our own existence.

Oxford University Research

Nick Bostrom, philosopher and Director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University has spent some time thinking about exactly this question. He gives a logical argument that comes to the conclusion that at least one of the three following statements is true:

  1. The human species will go extinct before reaching a posthuman stage.
  2. Any posthuman civilization is unlikely to run computer simulations of its history.
  3. There is a high probability that we ourselves are now living in a simulation.

Simulated Humans

Assume that we will not go extinct before acquiring the capability to run simulations. In other words, that item one above is false. Given the fact current predictions of computing technology put us on a course to eventually have the capability to run full computer simulations of humans, then item two is also false.

Since simulations can be run over and over, in multiple environments in parallel, and computing power keeps increasing, then in fact, the number of simulated humans that will ever exist is vastly greater than the number of real humans that have ever existed. Statistically speaking, if you lumped all of these conscious entities together - real and simulated - and picked one at random, your chances of picking a simulated human would be greater than those of picking a real human. Simulated humans can't tell that they are simulated, and this leads to the essential conclusion that there is a greater likelihood that you are actually living in a computer simulation right now than not.

You can read more about the idea, including the original article and popular synopses of it, at www.simulation-argument.com

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Chris K. Haley, NestedUniverse.net. Subscribe Get free RSS or email updates here.