What would be one rule of nature that you’d alter if you had the power to do so?
Perhaps it’s the annoying restriction imposed by the speed of light on intergalactic travel, not to mention the possibility of war, plague, and an incoming asteroid with the name of Earth written on it. You may wish you could travel back in time to give your younger self advice on how to cope with your parents or to urge yourself to invest in Google stock when you were younger. Wouldn’t it be great if there were some ways to make the cosmos even better?
Recently, David Anderson, a computer scientist, musician, and mathematician at the University of California, Berkeley, posed this question to his coworkers and friends. Anderson is also a fan of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), which is an organization that investigates the possibility of intelligent life beyond Earth.
In recent years, the concept that our world, including ourselves and all of our most private thoughts, is a computer simulation that is being run on a thinking machine with the capacity of the cosmos has made its way into all aspects of society, from the most serious to the most frivolous. Nick Bostrom, a philosopher at the University of Oxford and director of the Institute for the Future of Humanity, proposed the idea in an influential essay in 2003. He added that it was probably an easy accomplishment for “technologically mature” civilizations wanting to explore their histories or entertain their offspring. Bostrom’s essay was published in 2003. When Elon Musk previously said that there was only a one-in-a-billion possibility that we lived in “base reality,” he appeared to be echoing this concept when he made the statement. For all we know, Elon Musk is the star of this simulation.
It is difficult to prove, and not everyone feels that such a significant expansion of our computer capacity is either conceivable or inevitable or that civilization will endure for a sufficient amount of time to see it through. However, because we are unable to discredit the speculation either, some philosophers, like Dr. Bostrom, argue that we need to consider the prospect seriously. The concept of a Great Simulator is reminiscent, in some ways, of a recent hypothesis that was proposed by cosmologists. According to this idea, the universe is a hologram, and the quantum codes that line its boundaries define what is going on within the hologram.
A few years ago, when the coronavirus epidemic was at its height, Dr. Anderson started having conversations with his teenage son about the potential repercussions of this concept. If everything was, in fact, a simulation, then making changes would be as easy as modifying the software that was running the simulation. This would be the case whether or not everything was a simulation. In an email, he said that he had “thought about precisely what these modifications may require since I am a programmer.”
He reasoned that making adjustments to the program should not be difficult if it had been correctly developed. The modifications may modify our rules of physics or add new features to the cosmos, such as speed filters, closed captioning, pop-up blockers, and menu choices, which would give us buttons to click that would make our lives more enjoyable and enriching.
Dr. Anderson’s colleague in Berkeley, Dan Werthimer, suggested that if the software that runs the universe was open source, which means that it is publicly available for other programmers to inspect and manipulate, then these “meta-hackers” might be open to our feature requests and might even be looking for them. To petition the Great Simulator, you may think of it as a cybernetic equivalent of praying to a higher power.
Dr. Anderson recently asked his colleagues for their input on how they would modify the Unisym algorithm, which he refers to as the cosmic algorithm. He then shared the replies on his blog, along with his thoughts on how these alterations may be implemented and how well they would function in the future.
The ability to pause the simulation for a short period so that the player can think of a witty comeback to make during a conversation; a rewind option that allows the player to undo a regrettable remark or revisit an opportunity that was passed up; these are all features that I would enthusiastically support if they were implemented.
In a similar vein, traveling back in time may cause changes to the events that you recalled taking place in the future. It is possible that as a result, you will cease to exist, much like the time traveler in the famous short story “A Sound of Thunder” by Ray Bradbury who, after stepping on a butterfly, is sent to a future in which the Nazis control the whole planet.