We may not be able to prove that we are in a simulation, but at the very least, it will be a possibility that we can’t rule out. But it could be more than that. Chalmers argues that if we’re in a simulation, there’d be no reason to think it’s the only simulation; in the same way that lots of different computers today are running Microsoft Excel, lots of different machines might be running an instance of the simulation. If that was the case, simulated worlds would vastly outnumber non-sim worlds — meaning that, just as a matter of statistics, it would be not just possible that our world is one of the many simulations but likely.
I am also reminded of Hervé Le Tellier’s novel The Anomaly where a plane full of people pops out of the clouds for the second time creating an anomaly where there are two instances of each person on the plane. This is taken as a glitch that may indicate that we are in a simulation raising all sorts of questions about whether there are actually anomalies that might be indications that this really is a simulation or a complicated idea in God’s mind (think Bishop Berkeley’s idealism.)
For me the challenge is the complexity of the world I experience. I can’t help thinking that a posthuman society modelling things really doesn’t need such a rich world as I experience. For that matter, would there really be enough computing to do it? Is this simulation fantasy just a virtual reality version of the singularity hypothesis prompted by the new VR technologies coming on stream?
AI Dungeon, an infinitely generated text adventure powered by deep learning.
Robert told me about AI Dungeon, a text adventure system that uses GPT-2, a language model from OpenAI that got a lot of attention when it was “released” in 2019. OpenAI felt it was too good to release openly as it could be misused. Instead they released a toy version. Now they have GPT-3, about which I wrote before.
AI Dungeon allows you to choose the type of world you want to play in (fantasy, zombies …). It then generates an infinite game by basically generating responses to your input. I assume there is some memory as it repeats my name and the basic setting.
Gerard Quinn’s cover for the December 1956 issue of New Worlds
Thanks to Ali I cam across this compilation of Adventures in Science Fiction Cover Art: Disembodied Brains. Joachim Boaz has assembled a number of pulp sci-fi cover art showing giant brains. The giant brain was often the way computing was imagined. In fact early computers were called giant brains.
Disembodied brains — in large metal womb-like containers, floating in space or levitating in the air (you know, implying PSYCHIC POWER), pulsating in glass chambers, planets with brain-like undulations, pasted in the sky (GOD!, surprise) above the Garden of Eden replete with mechanical contrivances among the flowers and butterflies and naked people… The possibilities are endless, and more often than not, taken in rather absurd directions.
I wonder if we can plot some of the early beliefs about computers through these images and stories of giant brains. What did we think the brain/mind was such that a big one would have exaggerated powers? The equation would go something like this:
A brain is the seat of intelligence
The bigger the brain, the more intelligent
In big brains we might see emergent properties (like telepathy)
Scaling up the brain will give us artificially effective intelligence
This is what science fiction does so well – it takes some aspect of current science or culture and scales it up to imagine the consequences. Scaling brains, however, seems a bit literal, but the imagined futures are nonetheless important.
What ‘Blade Runner,’ cyberpunk, and Octavia Butler had to say about the age we’re entering now
2020 is not just any year, but because it is shorthand for perfect vision, it is a date that people liked to imagine in the past. OneZero, a Medium publication has a nice story on How Science Fiction Imagined the 2020s (Jan. 17, 2020). The article looks at stories like Blade Runner (1982) that predicted what these years would be like. How accurate were they? Did they get the spirit of this age right? The author, Tim Maugham, reflects on why do many stories of the 1980s and early 1990s seemed to be concerned with many of the same issues that concern us now. He seems a similar concern with inequality and book/bust economies. He also sees sci-fi writers like Octavia Butler paying attention back then to climate change.
It was also the era when climate change started to make the news for the first time, and while it didn’t find its way into the public consciousness quickly enough, it certainly seemed to have grabbed the interest of science fiction writers.
On the Humanist discussion list John Keating recommended the short video Slaughterbots that presents a plausible scenario where autonomous drones are used to target dissent using social media data. Watch it! It is well done and presents real issues in a credible short video.
While the short is really about autonomous weapons and the need to ban them, I note that one of ideas included is that dissent could be silenced by using social media to target people. The scenario imagines that university students who shared a dissenting video on social media have their data harvested (including images of their faces) and the drones target them using face recognition. Science fiction, but suggestive of how social media presence can be used for control.
Blanket no-punching policies are useless in a world full of terrible people with even worse ideas. That’s even more true in a world where robots now do those people’s bidding. Robots, like people, are not all the same. While K5 can’t threaten bodily harm, the data it collects can cause real problems, and the social position it puts us all in—ever suspicious, ever watched, ever worried about what might be seen—is just as scary. At the very least, it’s a relationship we should question, not blithely accept as K5 rolls by.
The question, “Is it OK to kick a robot?” is a good one that nicely brings the ethics of human-robot co-existence down to earth and onto our side walks. What sort of respect do the proliferation of robots and scooters deserve? How should we treat these stupid things when enter our everyday spaces?
AI is not going to take over the world the way the sci-fi stories have it.
The effect will be on tasks as AI takes over tasks that people are paid to do, putting them out of work.
How then will we deal with the unemployed? (This is a question people asked in the 1960s when the first wave computerization threatened massive unemployment.)
One solution is “Keynesian policies of increased government spending” paid for taxing the companies made wealthy by AI. This spending would pay for “service jobs of love” where people act as the “human interface” to all sorts of services.
Those in the jobs that can’t be automated and that make lots of money might also scale back on their time at work so as to provide more jobs of this sort.
Emil Johansson, a student in Gothenburg, has created a fabulous site called the LOTRProject (or Lord Of The Rings Project. The site provides different types of visualizations about Tolkien’s world (Silmarillion, Hobbit, and LOTR) from maps to family trees to character mentions (see image above).
Ars Technica has a good article on Cybergeddon: Why the Internet could be the next “failed state”. The article all the ways the internet is being abused (from porn to the theft of information.) The article starts by reminding us of all the abuse on the internet from revenge porn to the theft of personal information. It then summarizes a paper by Jason Healey, The Five Futures of Cyber Conflict and Cooperation that outlines five possible cyber futures from the unlikely Paradise to Status Quo, Domain (where cyberspace is a domain like any other for conflict), Balkanization, and Cybergeddon.
One wonders what the futures for cyberspace for the academy are. Here are my speculative futures:
Balkanization: universities create their own internets (intranets?) to keep out the great unwashed. Alumnae get to keep their university email addresses if they behave. The elite universities (like the University of Alberta) then create a ivory tower subnet where only the important hang.
Cybergeddon: trolls drive academics off the internet as we are all Social Justice Warriors who should be doxxed, swatted, and watched. Risk management takes over and academics are not allowed on the internet without grant-funded insurance.
Paradise: universities finally succeed is teaching ethics reliably and the world is made a better place. Philosopher rulers are put in charge. The internet becomes the nice safe place it was originally. Microsoft goes out of business, but wills Bob to the internet to be its AI policeperson.
Therein lie the frustrations of Kurzweil’s brand of tech punditry. On close examination, his clearest and most successful predictions often lack originality or profundity. And most of his predictions come with so many loopholes that they border on the unfalsifiable. Yet he continues to be taken seriously enough as an oracle of technology to command very impressive speaker fees at pricey conferences, to author best-selling books, and to have cofounded Singularity University, where executives and others are paying quite handsomely to learn how to plan for the not-too-distant day when those disappearing computers will make humans both obsolete and immortal.