Are we all just part of a magnificent computer simulation?

About a year ago I was the host of a business dinner in New York, half a dozen men and women met at a fine restaurant after a day of intensive meetings. Perfect food, some great wine and a very nice group of people from hard- and software companies, the majority from the USA, some from Europe.

The conversation focused on business, but soon turned to other topics. We discussed politics, history… and computing. These people were all computer specialists, many with engineer degrees. At a certain point the discussion turned to the theory that we do not exist, but instead are just avatars on a piece of very advanced hardware. This theory is not new: Elon Musk is one its proponents (seems to be favored by engineers). It is based on the observation that computers are becoming more and more advanced dnd that the distinction between virtual reality (VR) and reality seems to be disappear. Some time in the far future, somebody will be able to create a computer that doesn’t just simulate my brain (which according to some estimates may be possible in 50 years or so), but the brain of all humans. It is just a matter of scale; throw in some quantum computing, sufficient hardware and real-time analytics with artificial intelligence, and it should be possible to do this.

We could thus easily just IMAGINE that we are physically alive, today and here on this planet; whereas in reality we are just characters in a very advanced computer game played by a acne-faced teenager 200 years in the future. Everything that we experience; all pain and suffering and love would then only be simulation.

Little speaks against this theory from a technical standpoint: as long as technical progress continues (to accelerate) at the pace it has for the last 150 years, this is easily imaginable. This is naturally also a weakness of the theory: life on Earth and history hardly ever were linear (although this may seem so to us, as we only experience a fragment of history); for instance, about every 1000 years or so, major volcanic eruptions happen, which tend to dramatically alter the development of human culture and progress. But still; these may delay development of a super computer, but a delay doesn’t mean that it would never be created.

So why do I still think there is no value in this theory? The main argument is that although this theory MIGHT be true, there is NO way to prove or disprove it. It is a theory that isn’t falsifiable. By what criteria could anyone prove that we are, or are not part of a simulation? It is similar to stating that we are created by a supernatural being, or that after death we go to heaven, or that an invisible fairy is living in the back of my garden.

A theory that cannot be falsified has no value.

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