Updating towards the simulation hypothesis because you think about AI

by SoerenMind 4y5th Mar 201621 comments


(This post is both written up in a rush and very speculative so not as rigorous and full of links as a good post on this site should be but I'd rather get the idea out there than not get around to it.)

Here’s a simple argument that could make us update towards the hypothesis that we live in a simulation. This is the basic structure:

1) P(involved in AI* | ¬sim) = very low

2) P(involved in AI | sim) = high

Ergo, assuming that we fully accept this the argument and its premises (ignoring e.g. model uncertainty), we should strongly update in favour of the simulation hypothesis.

Premise 1

Supposed you are a soul who will randomly awaken in one of at least 100 billion beings (the number of homo sapiens that have lived so far), probably many more. What you know about the world of these beings is that at some point there will be a chain of events that leads to the creation of superintelligent AI. This AI will then go on to colonize the whole universe, making its creation the most impactful event the world will see by an extremely large margin.

Waking up, you see that you’re in the body of one of the first 1000 beings trying to affect this momentous event. Would you be surprised? Given that you were randomly assigned a body, you probably would be.

(To make the point even stronger and slightly more complicated: Bostrom suggests to use observer moments, e.g. an observer-second, rather than beings as the fundamental unit of anthropics. You should be even more surprised to find yourself as an observer-second thinking about or even working on AI since most of the observer seconds in people's lives don’t do so. You reading this sentence may be such a second.)

Therefore, P(involved in AI* | ¬sim) = very low.

Premise 2


Given that we’re in a simulation, we’re probably in a simulation created by a powerful AI which wants to investigate something.

Why would a superintelligent AI simulate the people (and even more so, the 'moments’) involved in its creation? I have an intuition that there would be many reasons to do so. If I gave it more thought I could probably name some concrete ones, but for now this part of the argument remains shaky.

Another and probably more important motive would be to learn about (potential) other AIs. It may be trying to find out who its enemies are or to figure out ways of acausal trade. An AI created with the 'Hail Mary’ approach would need information about other AIs very urgently. In any case, there are many possible reasons to want to know who else there is in the universe.

Since you can’t visit them, the best way to find out is by simulating how they may have come into being. And since this process is inherently uncertain you’ll want to run MANY simulations in a Monte Carlo way with slightly changing conditions. Crucially, to run these simulations efficiently, you’ll run observer-moments (read: computations in your brain) more often the more causally important they are for the final outcome.

Therefore, the thoughts of people which are more causally connected to the properties of the final AI will be run many times and that includes especially the thoughts of those who got involved first as they may cause path-changes. AI capabilities researchers would not be so interesting to simulate because their work has less effect on the eventual properties of an AI.

If figuring out what other AIs are like is an important convergent instrumental goal for AIs, then a lot of minds created in simulations may be created for this purpose. Under SSA, the assumption that “all other things equal, an observer should reason as if they are randomly selected from the set of all actually existent observers [or observer moments] (past, present and future) in their reference class”, it would seem rather plausible that,

P(involved in AI | sim) = high

The closer the causal chain to (capabilities research etc)

If you read this, you’re probably one of those people who could have some influence over the eventual properties of a superintelligent AI and as a result should update towards living some simulation that’s meant to figure out the creation of an AI.

Why could this be wrong?

I could think of four general ways in which this argument could go wrong:

1) Our position in the history of the universe is not that unlikely

2) We would expect to see something else if we were in one of the aforementioned simulations.

3) There are other, more likely, situations we should expect to find ourselves in if we were in a simulation created by an AI

4) My anthropics are flawed

I’m most confused about the first one. Everyone has some things in their life that are very exceptional by pure chance. I’m sure there’s some way to deal with this in statistics but I don’t know it. In the interest of my own time I’m not going to go elaborate further on these failure modes and leave that to the commentators.


Is this argument flawed? Or has it been discussed elsewhere? Please point me to it. Does it make sense? Then what are the implications for those most intimately involved with the creation of superhuman AI?


My friend Matiss Apinis (othercenterism) put the first premise like this:

“[…] it's impossible to grasp that in some corner of the Universe there could be this one tiny planet that just happens to spawn replicators that over billions of painful years of natural selection happen to create vast amounts of both increasingly intelligent and sentient beings, some of which happen to become just intelligent enough to soon have one shot at creating this final invention of god-like machines that could turn the whole Universe into either a likely hell or unlikely utopia. And here we are, a tiny fraction of those almost "just intelligent enough" beings, contemplating this thing that's likely to happen within our lifetimes and realizing that the chance of either scenario coming true may hinge on what we do. What are the odds?!"