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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Commentary: Are we in a simulation?

Everything, nothing is real 

Since the dawn of artificial intelligence (AI), theories about the nature of our existence tend to  credit some greater power — human or otherwise — with the creation of our artificial reality. This concept sounds absurd to most, but there are believers, and they make some fair points. 

There are different hypotheses that explain the formation of our supposed simulation. Some believe AI gained self awareness, took out humanity and created this world to keep us at bay, making us, too, AI. Others believe we’re simply living in a computer generated reality, not necessarily created with malicious intent. It could be that humans produced us for research to better the human race. These ideas are explored in academia and the media alike. 

With the creation of increasingly more advanced technological systems, these questions become more relevant. Is it possible to construct consciousness? If so, should we be worried that those systems out-conscious, or out-human, us, potentially taking over the world we’ve created? Did we even create this world? Do we even have a say over our own lives? 

There’s a jump in logic there — perhaps justifying why most of us don’t believe the simulation theory. But there are also those who don’t believe that our level of complexity and intelligence was purely created by nature. It’s not so bizarre of a concern when you think about it. Why are we so much higher up on the ladder than the rest of our fellow animals on Earth? There are solid scientific theories for how we became the highly sentient and intelligent species that we are, most of which are believable. But we are still theorizing, so what’s to say one theory is more plausible than the next?

Well, for starters: evidence. There is countless scientific data that argues we started out as cells, growing and forming and reforming until we were two-footed, fire starting cavepeople, and of course, we quickly excelled from there. This, along with the fact that we are all experiencing a pretty convincing version of life, wherein physical sensation and free will seem awfully real. 

There are those moments, though, that trip us up. Some may call them coincidences, but to others, it’s a “glitch in the simulation.” For Cole Creedon, a second-year design and cognitive science double major, these coincidences are too precise to just be a random, perfect alignment in time and space. 

“My roommate and I met randomly after he slept through his orientation group,” Creedon said. “We learned we had super similar experiences growing up, similar interests and dislikes. Oftentimes we can communicate stuff without even saying anything. I think we are similar lines of code.”

This is a situation we’ve all encountered. Maybe not so spot-on, but most of us have at least heard of those two people who have a mysteriously similar past, or have personalities so alike that you’d think they were twins if you heard them speak. Why does this happen? It could be that there’s some overlap in experience or type of person. But the odds that they come into contact with each other? That seems slim. And yet, it happens. So maybe there’s an alternative explanation. Maybe when they, whoever they are, coded us, they slipped up or got lazy and replicated a little too much code among us, resulting in all these “coincidences” we come across. 

Another viewpoint is that the simulation is at least a possibility. Henry Kavanaugh, a second-year design major, explains why it can’t be totally ruled out.

“I just think that humans have only been alive for a short amount of time, and we’ve already started creating these crazy virtual realities that are getting so close to mimicking real life,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s impossible to rule out being in a simulation because we already have second worlds that are so similar. It just seems eerie.”

This idea was originally put forth by Nick Bostrom’s simulation hypothesis, which argues the same idea: High computing power is in the foreseeable future, and it’s fair to assume that future generations will use it to create simulations in order to observe their forebears. Elon Musk also backs this concept, along with Bostrom’s proposal that superintelligent AI may be a threat to humanity.

It’s definitely worth a thought. If we are on our way to creating something that looks like this life, then the idea of other beings constructing our world seems a lot more plausible. 

The idea of a simulation is also rationalized when compared to other existential belief systems humans have drafted. Think about religion, specifically Abrahamic faiths. There’s a man in the sky who came along to create life. He made some statements, snapped his fingers and voila, the seas, the trees and all nine million animals appeared on Earth. There is less logic behind that than the simulation theory, and yet half the world’s population is convinced it’s true. 

There’s a fine line between creative and crazy, and this theory walks it perfectly. On the one hand, it’s an interesting thought experiment, one into which you can delve pretty deeply. There are several existential questions that are readily answered by the fact that nothing is real,  that we are living in a game of sorts. On the other hand, this appears to be my life, and I’d like to think it’s more than just a game. 

It doesn’t make any sense that this wouldn’t be real, but this raises the  question, what does real even mean? Can life be real, without truly being real? That is to say, could my experience of this simulation feel real to me (and is that enough), despite it potentially being a series of algorithms of which I am merely unaware?

There is clearly no definitive way to know how real our existence is. Many have posited ideas that question the reality we believe that we understand. That sounds a little vague, because it is. No one really knows why we’re here or what we’re doing, which is arguably why these radical ideas are thought up: to give us some reason for existing. 

In my opinion, what’s real is my experience of life, regardless of its origins. If some greater being is controlling my life, or if I’m really just an algorithmic machine following a set of rules, it’s all the same to me. As far as I’m concerned, I chose to wear a green sweater today, and my deep love for french fries is completely genuine and specific to my personality. But maybe I was just coded to say this for you, and as I write it’s not me who’s controlling my fingers but someone or something else who wants to make sure we never find out that —

Written by: Allie Bailey — arts@theaggie.org


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