The future of humanity lies in spun up virtual universes where anything is possible, and probable.
With physical restrictions in the current world starting with lifespan, disease, and accidental damage to oneself to the scientific limitations of space exploration, energy production, and the current technological enhancement that drives them — are we as a race better to concentrate on migrating to a simulation as a first step?
Let us consider some of the key points of such a technological feat and some of the possible ramifications of such an endeavour.
To enable simulation on a large scale requires four things,
- Computing Capacity
- Advanced Coding
- Human Migration
As a race we need to concentrate scientific research on renewable energy production be it solar, wind, tide, or optimally nuclear fusion until such a time as we can directly harness the power of the sun directly through a Dyson construction of some kind and then move on to more exotic, longer term solutions.
Fossil fuels have no long term reliability, even if the entire race is inhabiting a simulation and has no need of a breathable atmosphere, as they are finite and as such will eventually be exhausted. Even moving to a different celestial body and mining further only delays the problem and has other detrimental consequences such as waste disposal and extended transmission issues.
Longer term reliable sources are always to be preferred — especially those that offer high energy rewards for as little maintenance as possible.
Initially renewable energy sources would be preferred on Earth, as mentioned previously these would include a baseload of nuclear fission power along with solar, wind, and tidal power for redundancy.
Once inside the simulation research can be accelerated to enable nuclear fusion power and onto space based solutions such as orbiting solar collectors, Dyson swarms and spheres, and other exotic supplies such as black hole generators for the very long term.
Current capacity growth has stalled due to the ever smaller etch sizes required to increase performance on CPUs themselves. We are approaching what is currently a hard physical limit in this direction and new ways must be found either to circumvent this limit or a new and novel approach to increasing capacity must be found.
Research into fundamental physics may reveal better ways to densely populate processing units or perhaps increase communication speeds through the use of photons rather than electrons as information carriers.
Through greater communication speeds married with increased concurrency or parallel processing it may be possible to advance enough with current physical limits to bootstrap an initial simulation where faster research can take place to rapidly advance the field.
Computing capacity would then be extended by initially devoting more physical real world resources, increasing their efficiency, and finally moving to better and novel systems as they are developed.
To support a simulation housing billions of individuals will require significant processing power and energy — but more importantly it has to be both robust, scaleable, and extendable.
Future simulations that house actual living individuals cannot afford to throw errors when the result is the effective death, or more likely restoration from recent backup, of individuals.
Initially it may be acceptable to have existing physical bodies be forcibly disconnected, but not tens of millions all waking up and having little knowledge of what happened — surrounded by banks of static blue screens, loud sirens, and flashing red warning lights...
Having to restart individuals and situations is both tedious and time consuming, let alone inconvenient, and can have enormous ramifications leading to exponential increases in the amount of data required to be restored — perhaps having a snowball effect on other linked simulations and their like.
The coding to support such an endeavour must be able to isolate and act to repair, in advance, anomalous conditions in such a way as not to affect the stability of the overall simulation — very much as the ‘glitch in the Matrix’ effect as seen in the film of the same name.
It goes without saying that it’s unacceptable to pause a simulation in order to install ‘updates’ so any such system must accept live updates, perhaps in isolated shards initially, before propagating out to the system at large.
Whomever controls this process has great responsibility.
There is no point in having such an elaborate and convincing simulation if it has no users thus ways must be found of migrating human individuals into the simulation.
A non-lethal scanning system to transcode a human to executable code that maintains consciousness within the simulation must be a first step such that on failure the individual can return to their physical body.
The integration of experience gained within the simulation would be an additional requirement such that an individual could enter the simulation, live for a time, and exit back into their physical body with full memories of the experiences gained.
Naturally, once the system is perfected (or beyond a suitably measured reliable state), individuals would be free to leave their physical body completely and inhabit the simulation on a permanent basis.
There are a host of ethical questions around the last point — whether it be the ability of spinning up multiple instances of yourself within multiple simulations, whether ones have the necessary access to shut down other instances, whether simulated instances have the right to return to their original physical body (if it is to be preserved) or to a grown clone body, and suchlike.
Ideally, the requirement to preserve any biological physical bodies in the real universe would be negated when the simulation has become widely accepted. Manipulation of the real physical world would be through artificially created automatons, direct computer control, or deliberately grown clone bodies if required — for short periods — only as a when necessary.
It is most likely that individuals choosing to remain in the ‘physical realm’ be quickly left behind in terms of technology and some reacclimatisation would be necessary for them to reintegrate into the whole.
Individuals may, of course, choose to leave the simulation to live out in the physical realm — bearing in mind the risks involved — but instructions could easily be left in the system for them to be restored should their physical body be destroyed or inhibited in some way.
Expansion and Exploration
Once the species has migrated to existence as conscious code inside a simulation, anything imaginable is possible — but this does not rule out exploration of the real physical universe, if it is desired.
Communities could either be put into stasis for longer periods of travel or have their ‘clock speed’ reduced such that they tick one second of their simulation time for 1,000 years of original time and physically travel in the real universe to new physical locations. Indeed, this may become necessary to increase the amount of computing capacity required in due course.
Conversely, to accelerate research and development, clock speed of the simulation may be increased for engineers working on improving technology, expanding simulations, and similar community driven projects.
As better hardware becomes available, and as the underlying substrate expands, many kinds of simulation can be spun up with individuals able to migrate between them or, perhaps, send copies of themselves to experience where memories may later be integrated back into the original — much like conventional source control methodologies merge branches back into a main code line.
There are many consequences of such a migration, let’s consider some possibilities.
One of the inevitable consequences of the migration of humanity into a large scale set of simulations is that of the emergence of artificial intelligence — if that is not what we as a race have already become on migration.
As humans are able to be transcoded into conscious code entities it becomes a small matter to edit, update, and enhance the underlying running program.
A clock speed increased simulation may be concentrated to focus on which underlying enhancements may be best suited to increase intelligence and skill in any number of areas which may then be retrofitted into all individuals.
This will become a form of electronic eugenics.
Communities, Ideologies, and Fiefdoms
Collections of individuals may choose to spawn a simulation depicting a specific lifestyle — perhaps medieval England, 1950s USSR, or Napoleonic France (with or without the necessary safeguards) — from known history.
Others may choose to forge a new community based on a specific ideology — back to nature neolithic, bronze age villages, Star Trek Federation, a future fantasy world incorporating Harry Potter magic, or perhaps an absolute despotic Monarchy where they choose to be the rebellion.
Would safeguards be built into simulations or would an individual be able to choose an ‘iron man’ or ‘permadeath’ mode? And, more importantly, who would oversee things such that the agree rules, if any, are obeyed.
Will those of knowledge of the underlying simulation become effective gods of all realms, with the power of literal life and death, and who would watch the watchers in this case?
Perhaps a level of meta would be necessary where the community at large is required periodically to ‘tab out’ of their current immersion into the metarealm where their participation in regulatory matters is possible.
Indeed, a superior AI, or group of AIs, may oversee many such matters as described in The Culture novels of Iain M Banks where AI ‘Minds’ take that role.
In any case, it must be considered that there will be individuals that may attempt to tamper with the infrastructure, poison the programming, and take control of the whole system — so there will very likely be some form of constitution, policing, and ultimately government.
Does that put us back where we started?
Finally, once a sizeable number of people have successfully migrated into the simulation it may be difficult to tell whether an individual originally came from a human physical body — they may be an AI of a specific intelligence (from an NPC to an Overseer), an original migrator, or an offspring of original migrators given existence in some yet to be established form.
Of course, it was never going to be simple and the more one delves into the intricacies involved with a large scale migration into simulation the more complex things become.
Ultimately we must weigh the advantages against the disadvantages — the physical world as it is now is limited and dangerous to our form, and limits our abilities through either physical laws or insufficient technical prowess to cope.
It is inevitable that we progress as a species, as we have done over our time already, but it’s not just a question of technology — we must also consider the deeper ramifications of such an existence when it comes to what will be the new rules, if any, and how can we improve as a species both ethically and morally.
Clearly the politics of the 21st century are woefully inadequate
A complete overhaul of thinking, as well as technology, will be necessary