Should We Message The Programmer? The Ethics Of A Simulated World
Having discussed how you should generally approach living in a simulated world in our last article, we can now enquire a little further into specific acts. And, don’t worry, we will cover a fair few. So lets talk about Genocide through knowledge. In fact, let’s ask the question a different way. If you ran the risk of destroying the entire simulation universe simply through sending a message to it’s creator, should you? Or would the potential benefits of talking to it’s ‘creator’ outweigh the risks? And how even may you contact them, let alone convince them either way? Today we will consider an automatic message, i.e ‘universe.exe’ realises that ‘entity x’ has become aware. Let’s take another trip into a simulated universe through a thought experiment.
‘Why does the eye see a thing more clearly in dreams than the imagination when awake?’ – Leonardo Da Vinci.
Messages and Knowledge
Firstly we must consider why, not how, we have come to be in a simulation. And the two main theories, based on why we ourselves would create one, would be either ‘for entertainment’ or ‘for experiment.’ Although both seem simple, each is full of a multitude of ethical concerns and open questions. So lets start by saying what we can, that is logical and valid, for both. Firstly, there is significant evidence that we are living in a simulation. Simulations are built on some sort of code, that is readable and checkable. Certain actions of the simulation may prompt review by its creator and user, much like an ‘Error’ on your PC. And that prompt can be automatically or manually dealt with. For example (in a manual response;)
Observation: Entity no. 3216732178 has become aware of ‘universe.exe’
Warning: Universe.exe ”experimental” parameters now biased. Terminate program Y/N?
We can be assured logically that since you are reading this, there is no automatic action to destroy the simulation if one person becomes suspicious of, or convinced that, they are living in it. You can also logically conclude that the realisation of ‘Entity no.3216732178’ has not been deemed enough concern to terminate the program manually. The creator is okay with it, at this level of penetrance at least. But imagine that the program running the simulation has an in-built threshold, by which the program offers a new prompt for manual decision making, or worse automatic. It may go something like this;
Observation: 51% of known ‘Human’ entities (and Parrot No. 321132892190) have become aware of ‘universe.exe’
Warning: Universe.exe ”experimental” parameters breached beyond tolerable levels. Terminate programme Y/N?
Warning: User override denied. ‘Universe.exe’ has breached operable parameters. Data corrupted. Terminating in 10 seconds.’
As scary as this thought may be, it makes a number of assumptions. The first is that there is a tolerable level by which the simulation could operate whilst entities were aware of it. For The Truman Show, that was 0. Day to day many of us labour under delusional beliefs, and yet the universe does not shut down. So it can be inferred that it is the specific belief that matters to a creator. They are happy to let millions believe in Thor as it doesn’t effect the purpose of the simulation in a negative way. So be it an experiment or entertainment, the simulation runs on. The eventuality that concerns us here is in which circumstances would a creator click ‘Yes’. (Note, this ignores an automatic deletion.)
‘Good morning, and in case I don’t see ya, Good afternoon, good evening, and goodnight.’ – Truman Burbank, The Truman Show.
Messages And Response
For the sake of argument let’s first consider that we live in a simulation designed for ‘entertainment.’ In our last article we discussed how this may be bad news for the world if we realised it. So much of our top TV shows rely on violence and shock to stay alive, it could be argued that we should do the same to ‘stay switched on.’ But lets consider what may happen ‘naturally’ if the simulation hypothesis was not just proven, but widely accepted. There are two extremes of outcome that are immediately apparent, each with a multitude of potential responses by the creator.
- We lose our minds. The Universe is a joke and there are no repercussions, as long as we stay on air we will stay alive. Prep the nukes.
- Okay, perhaps the watchers want peace, lets go with that.
We cannot predict exactly how the creator would respond to either (1) or (2), suffice to say that as long as its entertaining enough to stay watched, they will not terminate the simulation. But remember, reality TV either adapts, becomes a circus act, or dies.
A second argument, that we are an experiment, offers both concerning and reassuring extremes. The first option is that a clear realisation that the test subject has become aware of the experiment and it’s potential hypothesis may have three obvious outcomes;
- The experiment is terminated as any new data is no longer reliable.
- The experiment is left running as ‘knowledge’ of the experiment is just another variable.
- The experiment will continue until x percent of test subjects become aware.
In (1) the creator relies on the ignorance of ‘us’, the ‘test subjects’, for the experiment to succeed. We cannot know that we may be in a simulation, and therefore cannot bias the test. But since I am sitting here typing this piece, the presence of my frontal lobes and ability to use information renders the ‘cannot know’ irrelevant. We clearly can. So we are left with option (2), which is that realisation in the experiment is not a contrary to its operational parameters. This could be for a number of reasons, including that the creator is interested in what may happen with this specific realisation, or is running a study of a populations response to chaos. And since we can consider this option, the experimenter has enabled us to do so.
So, since I am still here, option 2 or 3 can be argued as reasonable deductions.
‘A place where we all go can’t be bad, can it girl?’ – Chris Nielsen, What Dreams May Come
Should We Send A Message?
Well, we already have. The first time a scientist, or more likely an author, even briefly considered the ‘simulation’ then that data became available. The question here is when does that information become troublesome to the creator, at what level of penetrance? And do we risk a universal genocide? In the entertainment hypothesis, it depends what we do with the information, how we react and whether the watchers are entertained. If it is an experiment, the stakes are higher.
If option 2 is to be believed (The experiment is left running as ‘knowledge’ of the experiment is just another variable,) then we are probably fine. This is not a new idea, and has been atlas considered by thousands. But if its option 3 (The experiment will continue until x percent of test subjects become aware,) then we may approach a point of no return.
So, in that sense, this may not just be a ‘thought experiment’ after all. And hypothetical creators up there, please retweet and comment.
‘I find myself exposed, tapping doors, but irritate, in search of destination.’ – Damien Rice, Eskimo (O)
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of Dr Janaway alone and may not represent those of his affiliates. Featured image courtesy of Flickr.
Note: Once again, as per with the previous article, the subjects discussed are not done so exhaustively. There are many other intermediate conclusions that can be drawn between the extremes presented, but for the sake of discussion I have chosen polarising outcomes. You may also be able to fairly debate my inferences and deductions, and it would be useful to do so. Furthermore this entire article has been a rather meta experience. If we are iliving in a simulation, I have broken the fourth wall and rendered the Universe susceptible to the conclusions drawn. If not, then this may provide an entertaining discussion alone. Awaits ‘Mad Scientist’ badge.