Are humans a computer simulation of an advanced species?

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At first, the words from New York Times science columnist John Tierney’s story struck me as shocking:

“…It is almost a mathematical certainty that we are living in someone else’s computer simulation.”

Tierney was referring to a conversation he had with Nick Bostrom, an Oxford University philosopher, who has proposed the simulation hypothesis. The hypothesis suggests that it is very possible for an advanced species, known as post-humans, to create a computer simulated universe that we are now living in.

In fact, Bostrom tells Tierney in the article, he believes there is a 20 percent chance we are living in a computer simulation.

Bostrom goes on to say that whether this is true or not, the feelings we all experience are still real. It’s just that we could be the imagination of some advanced supercomputer.

I’m all for some crazy explanation for the world in which we live. But I’m not nearly smart enough to really grasp whether this is possible.

So I thought I’d run this story by Brian Chess, founder and chief scientist of Fortify Software. (We had met to chat about Chess’ new book).

Chess hadn’t read the Times story yet, but once he did, he had an interesting take, one that I had actually thought about myself:

“I think the biggest argument against us living in a simulation is the fact that our world is remarkably predictable. All of the simulations I’ve written and played with had one thing in common: they had bugs. How would those bugs look from the point of view of the people in the simulation? They’d be bizarre occurrences that could not be explained within the normal rules of the simulation. We just don’t see enough things like that. Or maybe the being who’s running things does a lot of save/restore game?”

If you think about this too much, it starts making your head hurt. But perhaps there’s hackers trying to find vulnerabilities in our computer simulation. And, when they release exploit code, you get hurricanes? Wars? Plagues?
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Dan Kaplan
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