New Technology Makes It Plausible the World Is a Simulation

A quantum computer at the IBM Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The notion that the world might not be real may seem like madness, but it is a serious proposition, at least in academic circles. Max Tegmark, an MIT physicist invited to a debate over whether the universe was a simulation, finds it suggestive that everything we see is driven by information.


“The more I learned about [reality] later on, as a physicist, the more struck I was that, when you get deep down into how nature works… the rules are entirely mathematical, as far as we can say,” Tegmark said. If he were a character in a video game or simulation, he’d begin to realize that the rules were rigid and mathematical in just that way, Tegmark said.

Experiments showing that “reality does not exist until it is measured” have added weight to the notion that if the world is so weird, maybe it really is not real.

Physicists at The Australian National University (ANU) have conducted John Wheeler’s delayed-choice thought experiment, which involves a moving object that is given the choice to act like a particle or a wave. Wheeler’s experiment then asks — at which point does the object decide?

Common sense says the object is either wave-like or particle-like, independent of how we measure it. But quantum physics predicts that whether you observe wave like behavior (interference) or particle behavior (no interference) depends only on how it is actually measured at the end of its journey. This is exactly what the ANU team found.

“It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said Associate Professor Andrew Truscott from the ANU Research School of Physics and Engineering.

That weirdness may have impelled Preston Greene, an assistant professor of philosophy at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, to opine in the New York Times that we would be better off not finding out. “I am writing to warn that conducting these experiments could be a catastrophically bad idea — one that could cause the annihilation of our universe. Think of it this way. If a researcher wants to test the efficacy of a new drug, it is vitally important that the patients not know whether they’re receiving the drug or a placebo. If the patients manage to learn who is receiving what, the trial is pointless and has to be canceled.” If given a choice, he advises, take the Blue Pill.


Most will probably prefer to regard the world as actual base reality rather than adopt the more complicated hypothesis that it’s all made up, which would require unknown technology and huge amounts of energy to explain ordinary experience. Yet there’s another direction in this simulation take: not from God (or space aliens) to man but from man over man. Humans strive to create fictions for other people, even whole populations, so they can control them.

Simulated reality is the hypothesis that reality could be simulated—for example by quantum computer simulation—to a degree indistinguishable from “true” reality. It could contain conscious minds which may or may not be fully aware that they are living inside a simulation. This is quite different from the current, technologically achievable concept of virtual reality. Virtual reality is easily distinguished from the experience of actuality; participants are never in doubt about the nature of what they experience. Simulated reality, by contrast, would be hard or impossible to separate from “true” reality.

Bernie Madoff knew how to do this and politicians try to create rudimentary artificial worlds using the now-familiar mechanism of the Narrative.  But while these blocky, pixelated universes work on the level of culture, not even the most powerful human agencies have been able to alter individual sense experience. One could always see the flaws close up. That may now change and the first steps in that direction have already taken place.

Elon Musk wants to insert Bluetooth-enabled implants into your brain, claiming the devices could enable telepathy and repair motor function in people with injuries. … The devices will be installed by a robot built by the startup. Musk said the robot, when operated by a surgeon, will drill 2 millimeter holes in a person’s skull. The chip part of the device will plug the hole in the patient’s skull. … He has invested some $100 million in San Francisco-based Neuralink, according to the New York Times. Musk’s plan to develop human computer implants comes on the heels of similar efforts by Google and Facebook. But critics aren’t so sure customers should trust tech companies with data ported directly from the brain.


How long until memories, desires, thoughts are implanted through exactly the same neural chips that sucked them out? If they work, observer-created reality and a world-as-simulation can be implemented within an individual mind. There is nothing in principle to prevent software developers from creating games or worlds so immersive that people with brain interfaces might actually prefer to live in the simulated reality. Nor is there anything to prevent states from creating experiences so repulsive to match the worst imaginings of hell. If it were good enough, one would never know it wasn’t “real.”

The possibility of being locked up in an illusion was the premise of a 2017 science fiction movie entitled OtherLife, about a technology which “can create realistic memories … for use by the government as an alternative to prisons; inmates would be trapped for years inside their own head while only a minute would pass in real time.” Technology, unless the public can take back their data, can result in the expansion of state or corporate power into the very soul of man.  Many — even if they were aware of it — would like it.

Nathan Copeland, one of the few human beings with a working Musk interface, broke his spine in a car accident and is paralyzed from the chest down. He explained what he would do if it were perfected: play video games.

Q: What does it feel like to be able to control things with your mind?
Ooh. Very cool. When you have an accident like mine, and you are limited to what you can do, and limited in what you can interact with in your environment, doing something like this is very cool and very rewarding, even if there are no health benefits.

Q: What’s your favorite thing to do with the interface?
I like playing video games. So far, I play Sonic Hedgehog 2 mostly. I really want to play Final Fantasy XIV, and I have played Pac-Man Championship Edition DX. Usually I just let them do the regular beneficial science stuff, though.


There are already plans afoot for a human brain/Cloud interface. Through it, we can be turned into the Borg, sharing each other’s thoughts and sensory data. That’s even better than video games.

A neuralnanorobotically enabled human B/CI might serve as a personalized conduit, allowing persons to obtain direct, instantaneous access to virtually any facet of cumulative human knowledge. Other anticipated applications include myriad opportunities to improve education, intelligence, entertainment, traveling, and other interactive experiences. A specialized application might be the capacity to engage in fully immersive experiential/sensory experiences, including what is referred to here as “transparent shadowing” (TS). Through TS, individuals might experience episodic segments of the lives of other willing participants (locally or remote) to, hopefully, encourage and inspire improved understanding and tolerance among all members of the human family.

Will it be “understanding and tolerance” or the ultimate form of slavery, where human knowledge is harvested from unwitting captives? George Gilder observed that “in an information economy, growth springs not from power but from knowledge. Crucial to the growth of knowledge is learning, conducted across an economy … Prehistoric man commanded all the material resources we have today. The difference between our age and his is the expansion of knowledge.” Human knowledge is the only thing worth stealing and the door is open. Making everyone but the elite oblivious to the heist would be the equivalent of putting the whole planet to work for free.

Nick Bostrom, one of the pioneers of the “world as simulation” idea, argued in 2003 that while it was highly unlikely that a post-human civilization would run a large simulation, if it were true, then almost everyone — except for a very few — would be living a dream. The problem, if humanity ever lets things get past a certain point, is how could we know it had taken the road — past Facebook Drive and Google Avenue — to slavery?


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