The Turing test, devised by British code-breaking genius and AI pioneer Alan Turing, is a test of a machine’s ability to exhibit intelligent behavior equivalent to, or indistinguishable from, that of a human. Some people are seriously suggesting that we should be applying a sort of inverse Turing test to ourselves. Are now we now and haven’t we always been avatars in a giant game played by extra-terrestrial beings?
It’s the sort of existential argument that writer Douglas Adams satirized in his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (a trilogy in five parts). You’d think that would be the end of it, but all this talk of the metaverse is apparently pushing the sanity of some theoreticians over the edge.
One of them is Rizwan Virk, who has the credentials of founding MIT startup incubator Play Labs. He’s also written books, one of them called The Simulation Hypothesis, published in 2019.
In the book he argued that humanity would reach the “Simulation Point,” a sort of collective transcendence where we won’t be able to distinguish our virtual worlds from the physical world, or AI characters that live in those virtual worlds from real humans.
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Now that the metaverse has taken off (in print at least) he’s written an article in Scientific American essentially saying he was right, only that the timeframe for it to happen had been jumped forward from a hundred years hence to today.
This kind of argument is so absurd in its apparent face-value seriousness that it’s actually fun — and disturbing.
In his 2019 book, Virk says he concluded that if our civilization could reach this Simulation Point, “then some advanced civilization elsewhere in the real universe had probably already done so, and that we are already inside one of their Matrix-like virtual worlds.”
Yes, really. We are according to Virk already trapped, just like the Ryan Reynolds character in Free Guy, only we’ve yet to wake up to that fact.
The metaverse has moved beyond science fiction, he now writes, to become a “technosocial imaginary,” a collective vision of the future held by those with the power to turn that vision into reality.
By those in power he means Zuckerberg, of course, and also Microsoft, which just spent $69 billion buying massively multiplayer online games developer Activision Blizzard.
Virk is no outlier in his thought process. Philosopher David Chalmers has been getting a lot of attention and some flack for his popular science book Reality+, in which he also seems to think that the odds on us all being in a giant computer sim are pretty high.
Chalmers also believes that eventually we will all be spending so much time online wrapped in immersive VR that we won’t be able to distinguish — or frankly care — what’s physically real and what’s computer generated. To get there he talks about brain machine interfaces (BCIs) replacing VR headgear over the next century.
“BCIs will eventually allow us to not only control our avatars via brain waves, but eventually, to beam signals from the metaverse directly into our brains, further muddying the waters of what is real and what is virtual,” Virk says.
“If Silicon Valley continues its obsession with building the metaverse…[therefore jumping mankind to this ‘Simulation Point’ much faster] then it’s likely that a more advanced civilization (imagine one that is hundreds or thousands of years ahead of us) already got there,” he adds. “They would then create billions of simulated worlds with billions of simulated beings who do not realize they are in a simulation.”
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Founded in 1845, Scientific American is an esteemed publication and claims to be the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. It has published articles by more than 200 Nobel Prize winners. What it is doing airing this nonsense — without any counter to the argument — is beyond me.
Virk doubles down: “As we get closer to building out the full technosocial imaginary of the metaverse, we will be proving not only that [this] is possible, but also that it is likely.
To be clear, he is saying that we are all right now puppets in a computer game, one of a billion such games being played by some god? Super-alien AI? mice?
“While some of us might be players from the ‘outside’ world, trapped in the metaverse playing characters in this virtual reality, like in the Matrix, most of us, statistically speaking, would be simulated AI characters in a simulated virtual world, thinking that we are actually in the ‘real world.’
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Like Chalmers, Virk seems to suggest that in which case we have no agency. That there is no point worrying about climate change or poverty or politics. Red pill or blue, we’re all locked in a sim from which there’s no escape.
This is disturbing on many levels, not least of which right now a democratic country and its citizens are being torn apart by a dictator. That’s real, it is happening, people are dying. Get offline and do something about it because you know what? We can.