Could anyone ever be certain they weren’t in a computer simulation?

This was discussed in ‘Infinite Thunder‘ and ‘Anthropic Intelligence‘, where it was concluded we are probably NOT computer simulations, but natural inhabitants of a mathematical universe; the generating mechanism being the laws of physics.

According to these back of the envelope estimates, even the unlikeliest chain of coincidences will happen more often in reality than in all future simulations combined.
However, this argument may break down in certain extreme cases, like if we consider near-future simulations.

As already explained, IF you are a computer simulation, you are most likely to be one of the earliest computer simulations, running on relatively primitive and inefficient hardware (though vastly better than anything available now). In that case, there is an excellent chance ‘Future You’ helped create your own simulation.

Your currently simulated life would merely be a way to make sense of a long list of poorly organized memories, by testing different combinations of events in short simulation runs.
Does reality ever feel strangely unlikely or marginally plausible? It needs to be just barely realistic enough to fool you. That could also explain why it’s rather boring and pointless, for the most part.

This might make it somewhat easier to test the simulation for flaws.
One test would be to make good things happen, by occasionally threatening to disrupt the simulation, or simply refusing to play along (becoming a drop-out if things don’t go your way).
Or you could threaten to otherwise cause interesting disruptions, the kind that are harder to simulate. Something with unpredictable consequences, like starting a new religion.

Could Tristram Shandy talk himself onto a chip?

Recalling and describing most of the data in a human mind could take a human lifetime. The core of the challenge is the immense amount of memories to be processed.
The human subject would have to be motivated to keep talking. They would need special software to enter and sort the data for them.

It could also run tests, questionnaires, and quizzes, and should make it easy to enter any random memory or personality facet.
The subject could describe their dreams in detail, complete with background settings.

Close analysis could reveal repeated blunders and learning difficulties through the years, subconscious behavior patterns, long-term trends, hidden biases and subtle personality attributes.
The best mind extraction method would use supreme intelligence and intuition; a prolonged, probing psychiatric interview conducted by Hannibal Lecter.

The first mind scanning programs will keep it simple however.
They will ask incisive, revealing, and absurd questions invented by human experts, and have the subject answer on multiple choice checksheets.
The program should allow the user to assign a degree of importance to every statement they make, to establish their priorities, and perhaps the command structure of their mind.

Eventually, the program will learn to sort incoming data into categories. It will be a non-aware but personable avatar, a simple AI program resembling a therapist or a guru that will ask tens of thousands of questions in a lifelong monitoring and observation process.

The easiest mind backup method would be to briefly outline the subject’s life, starting with a top level description, using only the broadest brush strokes.
This could literally be done in half an hour. Everyone should do it. This method would divide a lifetime into a few periods split into sub-periods. Each added detail makes the rest more valuable.

This is not a standard autobiography. It would bring artificial order to random circumstances.
Anyone could define and describe hundreds of distinct colorcoded timespans. Life eras (marriages, jobs, schools, homes) would be described separately as they overlap.

Detailed life lists would become highly personal and abstract. Common thought patterns would be described with a special markup language like VRML.
Organizing their past would make people reconsider their self-image. Identifying flaws and gaps, they might decide to invent a more consistent persona, and feel the urge to impose a plot and a deeper meaning to their existence. Maybe even turn their life into a kind of meta-fictional narrative, with an implied payoff in a hazy future as obscure as the Dark Tower series.

Another early shortcut would be to get other people to describe the subject’s personality, perhaps revealing deeper truths.
Dreams about the dead may contain aspects they never knew about themselves.
Everyone who knows the subject could describe some portion of their personality, including online acquaintances. Better still if this process was reciprocal.
Perceptions of other individuals should be compared with their test results.
People could also make lists of things they know the subject would never do, a description of who they are not.

Hofstadter argues that social persons have extended personalities.
Fragments of someone’s personality exist in other persons, most clearly in identical twins and married couples.

Another solution is a premium service for millionaires. I’m working on that now. Most users will need something cheaper though.

Someone trying to digitally back up their mind would basically be making a high resolution Sim of themselves, a major programming challenge.
The locations of their life would have to be rendered, mental drives identified and measured, lists of beliefs and biases added one by one.
Users could create virtual dollhouses representing phases of their lives. Recollected events and people could be depicted in stylized ways, rivals’ bad traits exaggerated.
Metaphors matter less than detail. To others it would appear boring.

Most importantly, the Sim would have to keep going of its own volition.
Compared to real life it could be a crappy simulation, but some portions would be as elaborate as real human motivation, control, and action networks. Awareness is a top level function based on repeating behaviors.
This may be how the first instance of machine perception will be generated.

Eventually, the most dedicated users will want to inhabit their simulations. The final quarter of their lifetime memories will be virtual.
They may live in a trailer, surrounded by something like magic treadmills or thought-controlled wheelchairs, playing an ultra-high resolution video game that never stops.
VR could be more comfortable than physical reality if the present doesn’t offer much to live for anymore. Mind Backup may be an old man’s game. Women may also be drawn to it when they start feeling their mortality. Perhaps female ‘nerds’ will bring valuable perspectives.

It will still take a miracle
Future mind backup software will have to extract the most abstract mental data.
Fortunately, natural language already contains vast amounts of presorted knowledge, both social and personal.
The mind backup interviewer will get to know its subject intimately. It will probably be their own mind extension program.

It will be hard to identify the high-order patterns forming a soul. This problem will emerge as human-level AIs are being evolved.
The solution won’t be anything as spectacular as nanobots or direct brain scanners.
The miracle I have in mind is the World Mind.

The sum of all interfaces, the network of networks, it will become what the internet was hyped to be, half a century later.
At some point, online networks will become advanced enough to start improving themselves. They will form links and entirely new connections.

Eventually the Net itself may develop a vast if vague awareness, like the brilliant mindless aliens in ‘Blindsight‘.

Among other things, the World Mind will have the power to keep track of everyone, whether they like that or not. It will try to identify everyone’s personality type by comparing them to everyone else.
Digital immortality will be a group effort.
The first individual to have their mind reverse-engineered may only do so by surrendering all their privacy.

Brain and mind mysteries

Awareness increases in intensity under the influence of strong emotions or recreational drugs. However, this causes intelligence to plummet.
It seems to be a trade-off: brains can either think or feel – quality or quantity.
Maybe the brain is more organized and cross-correlated during times of strong emotion, but less likely to generate novel and unpredictable patterns then.
Awareness is amplified truth, while thought is searching for truth. Thinking is harder, feeling is more intense.

The highest brain functions generate only limited awareness, when the mind is aimed outward instead of inward. A brilliant insight may seem to arrive out of nowhere.
If the human brain could do both at once, hard work could become pleasurable. Humanity might have colonized the galaxy by now, even without faster than light travel.

Awareness could be directly studied by switching from one state to the other.
This will happen in slightly different ways for everyone. This difference is important.
The essence of identity, the thing that makes someone themselves, is their personal form of self-awareness.
A qualia is a perception that can not be simplified further, like the color red. The ‘qualia of self’ may be preserved for a lifetime, the unique way all personality elements come together.

A personal operating system, with hundreds of memory and preference categories . . .
If that unknown essence could be fully described, it could be reverse engineered.

The Turing Test and intelligent design

The Turing Test is a proposed performance benchmark and long-term challenge for future designers of human-equivalent artificial minds.
Its difficulty lies somewhere between a Mission to Mars and a Niven Ring.

Basically, the challenge is to get a computer program to have a meaningful conversation with a human on any subject the human understands.
To do that, the program would have to be about as smart and know as much as a human. The first part remains impossible.

The test has a strong implication, a transcendental insight: Awareness is real if it feels real to others.
If, after getting to know the program on a personal level, a human feels that the software he is conversing with has awareness, then the human is automatically correct.

This Turing Test Implication rules out the possibility of ‘philosophical zombies‘ a.k.a. ‘zimbos’.
There would even be awareness in a look-up program with a pre-scripted reply for every possible question (I wrote one back in the eighties using GOTO strings, but ran out of memory at 16K).
I would even claim there is awareness in a program that meaningfully answered every question by pure chance.

This brings us to believers in creationism, intelligent design, and even the Holy Ghost.
These individuals are misguided. They can’t explain why they feel that way, and yet they may be right to sense human-level or higher complexity in the universe.

A limited vindication for intelligent design may come if it’s ever discovered that for every Earth-like planet there are billions of worlds filled only with simple bacteria.
The process of evolution could easily be as complex as a mind. It’s merely a collection of physical patterns, but so is a brain.

Even more important is the implied infinite complexity of the omniverse.
The anthropic fine-tuning of the laws of physics implies a massive sorting process across universes.

Most possible configurations of energy would be vastly more complex, and not all of them would be chaotic.
If natural laws can become arbitrarily more elaborate, they may inevitably become aware of the area they control, and of themselves.

Finally there may be something like quantized complexity.
The universe is ‘everything that is the case’. It must contain higher-order patterns that could be described as higher truths. Any number of them in fact.

This post is in no way meant to imply that anything like the human notion of God must exist.
The truth is probably infinitely more complex, but morally neutral.

The Longest Shot

As I listen to quarter-century old radio-recorded cassette tapes while waiting for technology to speed up, the road ahead seems endless.
Mind Backup and reconstruction is a highly speculative business: the power of compound interest leveraged into a wild promise.

In most cases, there won’t be enough data to convert a deceased mind into a fully consistent simulation.
No one knows how to assemble such data anyway.

All the frightful work needed to achieve technological immortality will have to be done in the Future, if it’s doable at all.
But it’s not quite as absurd as it seems.

If current growth rates continue long enough, fantastic resources will become available to lavish on history’s most inconsequential trivia.
Robots incapable of feeling boredom will do all the hard work. Ages of relentless decay will reverse at once.

To most folks, the distant future seems imaginary. To a few it seems as inevitable as math, abstract yet undeniable.
Either way, it’s the only real hope, a step up from religion.

Connect all human creativity

Let’s get one thing clear, there is no such thing as writer’s block. Writing is easy.
If they could be kept alive and comfortable, anyone could write for a trillion years, and just be getting started.

The real problem is reader’s block.
Even then the only problem is which party to the transaction should pay or be paid.
There seem to be not enough of one and too many of the other.

Perhaps more writers should spend their time reviewing or improving existing stories and articles, instead of trying to create their own.
There has never been a list of all (or even most) published texts, let alone an attempt to analyze and compare them all.

To improve quality, creative writers could strive to join writing groups, or invent software tools to make it easier to do that.
People tend to be conventional, or at least are bound by conventions, so most writers should be able to find like minds.
Even if they can’t, they could still find isolated tales and viewpoints in the vast body of literature to build upon and improve.

Plagiarism could even become a virtue.

You are a List of Lists

Backing up the elements of a human mind is like trying to suck an elephant through a straw.
There’s too much data to gather, and it must be assembled into thousands of categories.

In the time available, only a tiny fraction of memories could be extracted by conventional means. We need a way to extract many memories in a short time:

– TopList (TM)
This could be like a personal mission statement, representing the highest level of the conscious mind.
The very essence of someone’s free will, it would nevertheless be hard or impossible to change.

It could start with a list of someone’s most meaningful memories.
All the best moments and achievements, all essential preferences and perspectives.
It would also feature generic elements like favorite foods, times of day, settings.
The sweet smell of kerosene at the airport, barbecue at the beach, making sweet love to one of the three Emmas. Maybe some made-up memories as well.

By definition it would describe all the most valuable and important parts of a mind, everything that has to be preserved.
The elements of this ultimate list could then be added to other, lower lists:

– LifeLists (TM)
A high level mind-backup and memory extraction method that will divide human lifetimes into many different chronological lists.
Each list will focus on a specific category:

homes inhabited,
schools attended,
jobs held,
acquaintances, friends, and partners,
books read,
TV programs and movies watched,
stores,
hobbies and diversions,
vacations and excursions,
and so on.

Instead of events, lists will focus on enduring or repeating patterns.
This method could help extract hidden memories even if the lists are short.