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Are we in a simulated reality? Part II

In Part I, we discussed two (of perhaps more) potential "modes" in which we might inhabit a simulated reality: NCVR (Natural Consciousness, Virtual Reality) and ACSR (Artificial Consciousness, Simulated Reality).

Of the two, NCVR seems a much more straightforward extrapolation of current technology: it is easy to imagine current visual and audio VR becoming more high-resolution, rich, and convincing even over the next couple of decades. Replicating senses of touch, taste, smell, proprioception, equilibrioception, hunger, etc., will be quite a bit harder, probably requiring neural implants and an exquisite understanding of human sense perception – but such implants exist now in very crude form and their extrapolation does not seem in tension with other basic ideas of how reality works.

ACSR is much more contentious, requiring the assumption not just that true Artificial Intelligence will be developed, but that it can take a form that experiences just what we do. It is generally assumed that this would occur via the mechanism of simulating (or "uploading") a human brain's operation into a simulation of that operation. (Though it might occur via other paths.) Nobody knows on what timescale this is possible, and it is possible (and believed by some) that there are fundamental obstacles such simulations/uploads. Further, the uploaded mind must exist in a reality that is carefully enough simulated to convincingly replicate a full physical reality (just as in the NCVR case.)

Both modes raise a very tricky challenge of deciding how much to simulate. The sensory stream of an individual mind should be no challenge several decades from now. On the other hand, an ab-initio full simulation of physical reality for a region even of solar-system size seems likely to require a completely prohibitive amount of computing power using any foreseeable technology. (There are a lot of interesting considerations here, that would take much more space to flesh out.)

As a definite question, we'll ask something about the distant but not impossibly-distant future:

By the year 2100, will computer simulations be run with sufficiently high fidelity to the current consensus physical reality experienced by Metaculus users in 2016-2018 that all of the participation in Metaculus thus far and over the coming ~2 years could in practice be so simulated?

By implication, if P is the probability given assigned to this question, and Q is the probability that the experience of Metaculus will in fact be simulated given the capability of doing so, then the reader of this question could reasonably attribute a probability exceeding PQ/(1+PQ) to being part of that simulation. The probability could be much higher if many, many such simulations are run, and a flat probability measure is taken over the simulated and real beings, per the discussion in Part I.

Note that the question is stronger than whether any convincing NCVR is possible, or whether ACSR is possible at all: in particular, the NCVR would have to include implanting of false memories (of a life before Metaculus), and ACSR would have to stand up to close scrutiny by all Metaculus participants for two years, some of which are scientists studying the nature of their reality in quite rigorous method and detail.


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