Wait, Are We Living in a Giant Video Game Simulation?
Happy Friday Sim Champs! Today we celebrate the upcoming weekend with a fun little article exploring the theoretical discussion computer scientists have been suggesting for years, that we may all be living in a giant video game like computer simulation! In a recently publish influential paper that laid out the theory, Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom showed that at least one of three possibilities is true! From time to time we explore simulation topics from other industry verticals outside of healthcare simulation to broaden our minds regarding our own domain — so here then is some interesting hypothesis about living in a computer simulation, followed by our take on what this means for medical simulation in the not-too-distant future!
Vox Article: “Are we living in a computer simulation? I don’t know. Probably.”
In an influential paper that laid out the theory, the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom showed that at least one of three possibilities is true: 1) All human-like civilizations in the universe go extinct before they develop the technological capacity to create simulated realities; 2) if any civilizations do reach this phase of technological maturity, none of them will bother to run simulations; or 3) advanced civilizations would have the ability to create many, many simulations, and that means there are far more simulated worlds than non-simulated ones.
We can’t know for sure which of these is the case, Bostrom concludes, but they’re all possible — and the third option might even be the most probable outcome. It’s a difficult argument to wrap your head around, but it makes a certain amount of sense. Rizwan Virk, a computer scientist and video game designer, has just released a new book, The Simulation Hypothesis, that explores Bostrom’s argument in much greater detail and traces the path from today’s technology to what he calls the “Simulation Point,” the moment at which we could realistically build a Matrix-like simulation.
Rizawan further shared in the Vox interview that “There are lots of mysteries in physics that are better explained by the simulation hypothesis than by what would be a material hypothesis. The truth is that there’s much we simply don’t understand about our reality, and I think it’s more likely than not that we are in some kind of a simulated universe. Now, it’s a much more sophisticated video game than the games we produce, just like today World of Warcraft and Fortnite are way more sophisticated than Pac-Man or Space Invaders. They took a couple of decades of figuring out how to model physical objects using 3D models and then how to render them with limited computing power, which eventually led to this spate of shared online video games. I think there’s a very good chance we are, in fact, living in a simulation, though we can’t say that with 100 percent confidence. But there is plenty of evidence that points in that direction.”
The history of video game development is all about optimizing limited resources. If you asked somebody in the 1980s if you could you render a game like World of Warcraft, which is a full three-dimensional or a virtual reality game, they would say, “No, It would take all the computing power in the world. We couldn’t render all those pixels in real time. But what happened over time was that there were optimization techniques. The core of all these optimizations is “only render that which is being observed.”
If we are NPCs, or simulated characters, then I think it’s a more complicated answer and more frightening. The question is, are all of us NPCs in a simulation, and what is the purpose of that simulation? A knowledge of the fact that we’re in a simulation, and the goals of the simulation and the goals of our character, I think, would still be interesting to many people — and now we’re back to the case of the holodeck character from Star Trek that discovers that there is a world “out there” (outside the holodeck) that he can’t go to, and perhaps some of us would rather not know in that case.
I lay out 10 stages of technology development that a civilization would have to go through to get to what I call the simulation point, which is the point at which we can create a hyperrealistic simulation like this. We’re at about stage five, which is around virtual reality and augmented reality. Stage six is about learning to render these things without us having to put on glasses, and the fact that 3D printers now can print 3D pixels of objects shows us that most objects can be broken down as information.”
What Does This Mean for Healthcare Simulation?
Knowing that computer scientists are imagining a future where massive super computers are creating entire simulated universes should give us all pause to reflect on the opportunities such technologies will present medicine. One day we will be able to simulate entire medical systems, from the vehicle accident weather conditions, to the emergency department’s clinical decision making processes for each individual, to a hospital’s foot hallways traffic, to thousands of patient’s vital signs, symptoms and needs. Administrators, researchers, clinicians, and educators will all be able to explore any minute detail of a simulated hospital work flow years before that medical center is ever built. We will literally be able to create simulated patients so real, and in such vast numbers, that global health issues will constantly be simulated for every possible outcome to every possible situation. And it is all coming, sooner than you think!
More on “Are We Living in a Simulation”?
15 Irrefutable Reasons Why We Might Be Living in a Simulation: It may be easier to prove that we’re living in a simulation than to prove we’re not. Nuclear physicist Zohreh Davoudi believes that cosmic rays — the most energetic particles known to man — would appear as pixel-like chunks if we are within a simulation, and unending beams if we’re in base reality. Meanwhile, NYU philosopher David Chalmers doubts it’s possible to prove that we don’t live in the Matrix: “You’re not going to get proof that we’re not in a simulation, because any evidence that we get could be simulated.”
Scientific American: “Are We Living in a Computer Simulation?”: Moderator Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the museum’s Hayden Planetarium, put the odds at 50-50 that our entire existence is a program on someone else’s hard drive. “I think the likelihood may be very high,” he said. He noted the gap between human and chimpanzee intelligence, despite the fact that we share more than 98 percent of our DNA. Somewhere out there could be a being whose intelligence is that much greater than our own. “We would be drooling, blithering idiots in their presence,” he said. “If that’s the case, it is easy for me to imagine that everything in our lives is just a creation of some other entity for their entertainment.”
Are you living in a Matrix Simulation? Leave us a comment below Neo!
Lance Baily, BA, EMT-B, is the Founder & CEO of HealthySimulation.com, which he started while serving as the Director of the Nevada System of Higher Education’s Clinical Simulation Center of Las Vegas back in 2010. Lance is also the Founder and acting Advisor to the Board of SimGHOSTS.org, the world’s only non-profit organization dedicated to supporting professionals operating healthcare simulation technologies. His new co-edited Book: “Comprehensive Healthcare Simulation: Operations, Technology, and Innovative Practice” is available now. Lance’s background also includes serving as a Simulation Technology Specialist for the LA Community College District, EMS fire fighting, Hollywood movie production, rescue diving, and global travel. He lives with his wife Abigail in Las Vegas, Nevada.