Friday, December 14, 2018 | ePaper

Chained in the Processor

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Md Sadat Hussain Rafsanjani :
The world that we are living in, are you sure it is real? Is there any chance that we are living in a simulation? It is possible that the life we are enjoying, the foods we are eating, the cars we are driving or natural events like rain fall, earthquake are all a part of a computer simulation, just a recreation of an actual world. Sounds like a skeptic!
If you are a movie fanatic than you have probably guessed, the story sounds familiar. A whole movie was made back in 1999 in Hollywood based on the simulation theory called The Matrix. The plot revolves around a programmer who started to believe that the life he is living is actually a simulated computer program called matrix and later is discovered that in reality human are kept asleep in specially designed capsules to use their body heat as a power source by sentient machines.
With the advancement of modern science and technology, scientists and philosopher are really started to reconsider the concept that was approximately opinioned almost three hundred years ago, back in seventeenth century by a French philosopher and mathematician named Rene Descartes.
Rene Descartes, also called the father of modern western philosophy, was born in France. His father was a member of court and thus expected his son to study law. After finishing his two years studies from University of Poitiers with a license in civil law, Rene embarked on a journey to search for the unknown. He traveled throughout the country, forming alliances with military personnel and eventually joined military as a mercenary. After joining the military, he was introduced with advanced mathematics. Descartes soon realized that the pursuit of science is the true form of wisdom of which he was very obvious. Sometimes later an important thought changed his philosophy.
Descartes noticed that what we believe or perceive are not always right. A human can hold both right and wrong beliefs at the same time. For instance, as we start to grow up we realize that there is no such thing called ghost or fairy. It is all about perception. Imagine, a bowl contains some crystals which look pretty familiar to sugar. So, if we ask someone to tell what is on the bowl, from his early experience he can easily predict that it is sugar but when he tastes the crystals to be surer to his utter surprise he found out that it is salt. Rene soon started to realize that it is not possible that he all the things he knows are right. May be some of them are false. He became a skeptic. And the concept later came to known as cartesian skepticism. A person is called skeptic if he questions whether anything can be known with certainty. Rene argued that if a basket contains bunch of apples where some are fresh and some are rotten, then there a good chance that those rotten apples will affect the fresh apples. This is the same way a false idea can spread out ruin other true ideas. We can identify each fresh apple and separate it from the rotten apple to keep them fresh. Most of the time we believe our empirical senses that means by touching hearing or seeing. But our senses are not always reliable and perfect; in fact sometime they proved us wrong. For example, pretty often we tap on someone's shoulder who are look-alike to our acquaintance from behind but we often mistake.  For more example, we can say after coming from cool weather room temperature water may sounds hot, even tasty foods tastes bad when we are sick. So, human senses do not provide perfect always. Rene called this local doubt, doubt about a particular sense experience or some other experience at a particular point in time. Descartes opinionated that there may exist an entity who has put everything in to our minds, this means everything we believe we, we taste, we sense and we hear. That entity also created this illusionary world that there is no way for us to detect that we are living in a simulated world. Descartes was in a fix but soon he understood that we must disbelief everything except that we are disbelieving. As disbelieving is a thought itself, then there must be a thinker. So, in that sense there exists a single entity with mind who can think. On his book Meditation on First Philosophy published in 1641 Rene quoted, Cogito ergo sum (I think therefore, I am). He argued that I couldn't doubt my own existence but others. This also called solipsism means the view or theory that the self is all that can be known to exist.
Scientists also begin to doubt that the world we are living in is not real because they found pattern in string theory. They researched on numerous equations and left with computer codes, ones and zeros. These computer codes are exactly the one that was intervened by mathematician Claude Elwood Shannon back in 1940s.
Simulation is costly in a sense because it will need faster computation and processing power. Let us have a look in to the matter in details. Intel co-founder Gordon Moore predicted in 1965 that the number of transistors per square inch will be doubled approximately every 18 months. In simple terms, we can say overall processing power of a computer is doubling in every two years. Such a faster calculation rate was somehow probable for two decades but after that period the law begin to fail. For instance, is our cell is twice as functional as the smartphone from two years age, certainly not. As transistors shrink in size, the current and voltage that make them work also scale in proportion. But this leads to voltage leakage. Consequently, heating becomes a problem for microprocessor manufacturers. So, as we can see, size is a problem. Another thing is the number of calculation we can perform in a computer is measured in floating point operations also called flop. A typical Intel manufactured six-core processor can perform 100 giga flops. Supercomputers can perform tera flop or peta flop easily. It is easier now to simulate something in a computer with that much computational power. Possibilities cannot be omitted that we are in a simulated reality, trapped in a computer program that is developed by some advanced nation or intelligent life form.
Swedish philosopher Nick Bostrom, PhD approached the talk in a different way by publishing a collection of arguments back in 2003 namely "Are you living in a computer simulation". There are total three propositions in which at least one of the arguments is true although we don't know which one exactly, claimed Nick Bostrom. According to the first proposition, all most all the civilization of our stage of technological development goes extinct before they reach technological maturity. His second thought is a strong possibility exists that there is a strong convergence among the technologically matured civilization in creating ancestor simulation. Bostrom argued that in near future scientists will be able to simulate all the actions of human brain and the sensory input to the neurons with enough fidelity can be convinced that it is a real person. It sounds like crazy but scientists say it is achievable within a generation or two. In that sense an advance civilization can be interested to simulate the minds of his predecessors from history to better understand them or study their mind. This is called ancestor simulation.
A typical human brain has 100 billion neurons and over 100 trillion binary computer operations, the connection between the neurons. It will require 100 trillion to 100 quadrillion neurons to simulate a single seconds of a human brain experience. To simulate a 50,000 yearlong simulation let's assume that a person has a 30 years long lifespan on average which is equal to a billion seconds. Each of the seconds requires 1014 to 1017 operations. If we multiply the number with the total number of population from history which is 100 billion, the result will be 1034 to 1037 which is the number of required binary operations for total human history simulation. For this we will be needed a massive computer. Such computer is called Matryoshka Brain, a term coined by nanotechnologist Robert Bradbury. The name evolved from Russian Matryoshka doll, set of toys that can be put inside of one another as a nested single doll.  It is a large planet size computer, also called Jupiter brain, which can perform 1042 binary operations per second. The Jupiter brain can simulate the entire human history million times in a second.
The third argument says that there is a possibility that we are already in a simulated reality. The paper involves probability theory to support these arguments. The hypothesis tries to prove that if first two possibilities are false than the third argument is true. This sort of conditions is called trilemma. Of course, the moment a mind becomes conscious that it is in a simulation, that experience can instantly editable. This may sound like an advanced version of brain in vat thought experiment which is itself an advanced version of Descartes evil demon though experiment. Brain in a vat (brain in a jar) imposes a scenario that suppose the human brain is preserved in a jar and all sensory inputs are supplied to it through a computer. So, the brain feels it has body; it can experience life like a normal person without knowing that it is living in a virtual world. The concept is like a video game character. In a video game, a character's view is limited to the horizon. When he turns left, the right part of the game is vanished and the character cannot see that. When he looks right, the left part goes down and right part of the world with the best possible graphics is created, just to minimize the GPU calculations and loads. Therefore, as we can see, the minimum requirement is the virtual consciousness of the character.  
But how can we prove that we are already not in a simulation? Again, there come some technical difficulties. We can only come to some conclusions for now and that is the hypothesis is a bogus thought experiment. But let's finish this by discussing an age-old story written by Plato. It is called allegory of the cave. The goes something likes this, in a cave some prisoners are chained and faced towards a wall. There is a fire behind them so every time something passes by the fire; the shadow of that thing is casted on the wall, which the prisoners think real. One day a prisoner escapes the cave and comes outside the cave. He founds that what he had perceived so far is not the reality in fact everything is totally different. He becomes confused and comes back to the cave. The case is human impressions are bound to the sensory orangs. In case we escape to the other realm, the world with real fact, pure fact, we will not understand it and come back to the previous realm.   n 

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