Thursday, 23 October 2008

Nick Bostrum - "Ancestor Simulations"

In 2003 Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom had an article published in the journal Philosophical Quarterly. In this article he suggested that at least one of these three propositions must be true:

i. We humans will become extinct before we can develop into a 'posthuman' stage of civilisation.

ii. Any posthuman civilisation will have access to computer power so vast that time travel will be routine using computer-generated simulations of the past. (Bostrom calls these ancestor simulations ).

iii. That we are all living in one of these ancestor simulations.

With the potential advances of computer power offered by quantum computing such simulations are entirely possible. Bostrom suggests that the computing power available in a few million years will be so advanced that the human beings simulated in these programmes will be conscious!

Of course this idea is not absolutely original - the 1999 movie The Thirteenth Floor suggested something very similar. However Dr. Bostrum attempts to explain how such a circumstance could come about and is a very well respected academic. I am delighted to see that such ideas are now taken seriously.

Of course this has elements of the "Brain In a Vat" thought experiment of Hilary Putnam as discussed in a previous posting of mine:

So could it be that the 'designers' of my Bohmian IMAX may, in fact, be future software engineers?

Some of you, Ed in particular, have long suggested that consciousness works like a computer programme so could it be that the living of our lives over and over again is taking place in some super version of the computer game The Sims?


SM Kovalinsky said...

Tony: In the last two years, I have encountered this theory often within the American Blogoshpere. Steinhart at WPU has compared our lives and "ressurrections" thereof to computer programs in a very detailed and analytical way which has charmed many. I still believe if a lecture of your own were to follow his on the New York floor, sparks would fly mightily! Jung himself told of the importance of the "ancestral archetypes" and their ability to guide and shape scenarios. It all comes together, unfolds as ideology and inspiration. Rene Descartes, bless his heart, was haunted by a daemon who might be his "deus deceptor", "allowing even my corporeal senses to make me imagine that I, and my environs are real, and not his projection, O merciless great deceiver!" ( see my forum post when you have the time, which I know you often do not, cursed fate (thus far only)).

ken said...

The problem I have is with simulating human consciousness. The following assumes that Jung's ideas are valid so if you're not a Jungian, mutter that I'm full of it and go back to updating your facebook page ;-)

The unconscious is greater than, that is, encompasses, our consciousness and is unknown to us simply because it is unconscious. But the unconscious affects our consciousness in ways we realize and in ways we don't. For an example of the latter, simply look at President Bush.

So, it seems to me that to FULLY model or simulate human consciousness, we would have to include these unconscious influences. But, we can't because we don't fully comprehend them. Therefore, any simulation will not be complete.

As an aside, a very interesting take on the Turing test suggests itself. Everyone has a neurosis or two and everyone has complexes. We all have trigger points that, when touched, make us blow up or overreact or do something irrational. But these are intimately connected to the unconscious. Therefore, any AI program or human simulation which does not model the unconscious cannot have true neuroses or complexes. Of course, irrational behaviour can be approximated but I wonder how accurately. So, my budding theory for a Turing test is to try and trigger a complex or neurosis reaction and determine the validity of the reaction. Since simulations do not model the unconscious, their reactions will not be realistic.

But back to my main point -- since we can't model the unconscious because we do not comprehend the unconscious, how close to real human consciousness can we get?

Furthermore, does the fact that I have complexes (and I KNOW I do because one was unmistakably triggered, in front of witnesses, a few weeks back) mean that I cannot be a simulation but must be a "real" human?

JM said...

Jim Elvidge reckons that we're living in a programmed reality already and has written a book about it - 'The Universe Solved!'.

C D McNaughton said...

Ken: I like your points about how our subjective consciousness essentially remains limited in it's experience to what has been presented to it.

Our consciousness may be "consciousness experiencing itself subjectively", but that does not mean that our subjective consciousness, personally, will experience or become aware of all that consciousness could possibly experience or present us with, i.e., all of what we might be unconscious to; nor perhaps, be aware of consciousness, itself, if that is possible.

So, yes, I agree, what we are unconscious to (albeit something more might be presented to us to experience), well, what we are unconscious to, how can it be simulated, at least by us ?

And, yes, it can be stimulated, i.e., what we are unconscious to. Next time I have a fit about something, perhaps I'll ponder some of this, some more.

That said, it does raise the interesting question of whether or not a more advanced consciousness, aware of, perhaps, or having being presented with, a full range of things that might be experienced from our present unconscious; or, being itself, a part of that unconscious realm; or, a part of the full spectrum of consciousness, if you like, might not be in a better position to create a simulation.

Lots of room for speculation, there, at least.

You wrote:

"The unconscious is greater than, that is, encompasses, our consciousness and is unknown to us simply because it is unconscious."

I think yes, consciousness itself, would encompass our own subjective consciousness along with the unconscious.I'm not sure, though, that the unconscious encompasses our aware subjective consciousness.

An important distinction, however, may be that while we may be unconscious to the unconscious, perhaps, consciousness itself, is not. In that case, while our subjective consciousness may be limited to knowing what is presented to it, consciousness itself, if this makes any sense, may not be limited that way.

It's just hard to fathom, perhaps, that consciousness, i.e., consciousness itself, or what Karl may term objective consciousness.

In our journeys, however; it seems we may have more awareness and information available to us than we might have otherwise realized, to examine all of this, and the processes by which things may be taking place, if the CTF theories of the Eidolon / Daemon dyad, bear out.

Cheers - Cam

C D McNaughton said...

JM: Another interesting book to look at. Thx

Cheers - Cam

Karl L Le Marcs said...

Oh my!!! SUCH a lot to say on this, but very little time, may add more later or in next day or two but..........

Tony: Could you place a post in FORUM under CONSCIOUSNESS on this as I feel that Cam, Ken, SMK and I could really discuss and debate some issues here, and I have MUCH to add in a CtCw light.

Cam and Ken: Interesting comments guys, superb and yes I will contribute some things to make everyone think when I have time.

ken said...

Consciously awaiting your cerebral input with baited breath, as always, Karl.

Karl L Le Marcs said...

Ken: Thank you my friend, I will find some time over the next couple of days.

I notice that Tony has placed this also on the Scientific & Medical Network FORUM, so I include the link below, but I hope he also places it in the CTF FORUM (CONSCIOUSNESS) as I feel we can have a good discussion on this.

SMN FORUM: Are We Living In A Computer Simulation

(I've answered the "Computer Simulation" question MANY times on BLOG so I won't go off on one again!

More soon.....................

Anthony Peake said...

For those of you that are interested in another Blogsite the SMN Forum is well worth looking at and maybe even placing a comment or two.

I have been rather surprised at the lack of postings on this site thus far.

Anthony Peake said...

KARL: I will place this posting on the FORUM post haste.

SM Kovalinsky said...

ANTHONY: Speaking for myself, I think I was a bit intimidated by that network, and uncertain as to whether, with my philosophical background, I was qualified to give input in the scientific discussions. I do intend to get organized for some posting on the Philos forums you led me to.

Karl L Le Marcs said...

Tony: Yes, my apologies for not saying much yet on the SMN FORUM, as you know, I have been ludicrously busy but do intend to get more involved there very soon.

And thanks for creating a FORUM post on this. I hope Cam, Ken, SMK, You and I can have a good discussion (and include more FORUM regulars in the discourse)