Do We Live in a Computer Simulation?

Do We Live in a Computer Simulation?

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A decade ago, a British philosopher put forth the notion that the universe we live in might in fact be a computer simulation run by our descendants. While that seems far-fetched, perhaps even incomprehensible, a team of physicists at the University of Washington has come up with a potential test to see if the idea holds water. The concept that current humanity could possibly be living in a computer simulation comes from a 2003 paper published in Philosophical Quarterly by Oxford’s Nick Bostrom. In the paper, he argued that at least one of three possibilities is true:

  • The human species is likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage.
  • Any posthuman civilization is very unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of its evolutionary history.
  • We are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

He also held that “the belief that there is a significant chance that we will one day become posthumans who run ancestor simulations is false, unless we are currently living in a simulation.” With current limitations and trends in computing, it will be decades before researchers will be able to run even primitive simulations of the universe. But the UW team has suggested tests that can be performed now, or in the near future, that are sensitive to constraints imposed on future simulations by limited resources.

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