Sunday, April 20, 2008

Are we living in a simulation?

Today I came across one of Dr. Nick Bostrom's existential philosophy papers regarding life vs. sim-life (aka are we living in the Matrix?).

To me, the really interesting question is the assumption of substrate-independence (because I don't believe we're living in a simulation, more on that in a bit) -- that sentience, sapience, and self-awareness can arise from any appropriately complex material, including computer processors. Is there some minimal complexity bound for intelligence? (First, tell me what you mean by intelligence.) On one hand, we already know that a virus is just a particular aggregation of molecules, and that any assemblage of those particular atoms will exhibit the same viral behavior. On the other, does that extend to a connection between viruses and the rest of the living world, and by analogy, to bottom-up intelligence?

Will computers be able to exhibit sentience, sapience, or self-awareness?

As an aside, although most people seem to know Seth Lloyd's paper on the ultimate limits of computing, I tend to prefer Warren D. Smith's Fundamental Physical Limits on Computation and Fundamental physical limits on information storage as being more useful equation-wise (and he has very interesting papers on election systems and voting, which doesn't surprise me when it concludes that our current voting system is nearly the worst mathematically possible, and that Range Voting is a much better algorithm).

(Note that some the papers are in PS format, so you will need a PostScript reader such as GSview along with GPL Ghostscript to read.)

Before I get too sidetracked, let me outline my reasoning for why I don't believe we're living in a simulation:

  • A simple quantum computer with 500 entangled pairs generates more information than could be simulated by any non-quantum computer in this Universe (2^500 >> 10E123)
  • If the Universe is not simulated to a quantum degree of accuracy, the simulation can be immediately exposed via Bell's inequality
  • Thus, in order to create a virtual universe sufficient to withstand experimental quantum physics tests, you need 10E123 qubits (e.g., the Universe)

Anyways, this is a very interesting topic, but I should continue my sidetracking avoidance and get back to my research.