Imagine this choice: you can live in the real world with all its limitations and shortcomings or you can live in a perfect simulation of reality…where “perfect” means not only that you will never know the difference — never suspect for a moment that you are experiencing anything other than reality — but also that all weakness, frustration, and limitation of your current existence is removed. In the simulation you can have everything you want to have, do anything you want to do, and be anyone you want to be.
Which would you choose?
Phil and Stephen welcome Futurist Aurelian Carpathia, who believes that such a choice will soon be available to all of us, and that moving our experiences to a simulated reality (or “simulaity”) will not only make it possible to fulfill our wildest dreams, it will solve the longstanding problem of material scarcity.
A world with no limits — is it possible? Tune in and explore.
About Our Guest
At eighteen, Jacob Stephen Cook broke from a lifetime of religious indoctrination and spent the next three years completely reconstructing his worldview while overcoming depression, engaging on his wall-turned-timeline and in discussion groups a broad spectrum of views with a no-censorship policy. To symbolically transcend his past, he decided to change his name, finally becoming Aurelian Solaris Carpathia. As a young boy in the 1990s, he was introduced to futurism by three major discoveries – a now-defunct ZDNet Australia article entitled “Sony Heralds Biotech in PlayStation 9,” which only years later did he understand referenced a PlayStation 2 advertisement rather than actual research, a picture book featuring a projected future timeline showing an isolated brain with attached microchip in the year 2100, and a brief 2002 news report on the Ted Williams scandal.
In high school, Carpathia connected with the transhumanist online community after reading Michael Anissimov’s Accelerating Future and finding Anissimov on Facebook. Subsequently, Carpathia joined the Singularity Network group, where he eventually became an administrator, and learned more about the concepts – neural interfaces, life extension, cryonics, cyborgs, virtual reality – which had fascinated him as a child, interacting with such thoughtful and creative minds as Philippe van Nedervelde and David Pearce. He attended the Alcor Life Extension Foundation’s fortieth anniversary conference in 2012. Although he currently studies English and history at the University of Houston, he increasingly considers shifting his academic focus to neural interfaces.
Here is Aurelian’s essay which inspired tonight’s show:
In the first-ever such experiment, neuroscientist Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University and team used Brain–computer interface to enable mice to see in infrared – normally an impossible feat for mammals – through a head-mounted sensor wired into the somatosensory cortex. Additionally, the Nicolelis team enabled a monkey to physically sense texture in virtual objects through a bidirectional interface, and Nicolelis envisions a future of artificial objects incorporated into our distributed sense of bodily self, and neural impulses transmitted to and from virtual environments.
The ongoing goal of researchers such as Nicolelis and Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading (the first to perform both a Human Nervous System-to-internet uplink and HNS-HNS interlink) is to augment human perception and ability, allowing sonic, subsonic, and ultrasonic, x-ray, electromagnetic, thermal, and radiowave sensation, increased reflexes, expanded cognition through direct comprehension of digital computation, telepathic operation of remote machinery (Surrogates, Sleep Dealer) and physical sensation and natural navigation of simulated environments (The Matrix, Neuromancer). Warwick noted in his 2011 Christmas address at Coventry University that neural interfaces may even allow us to think in more than three dimensions.
We’re beginning to realize the brain and nervous system aren’t magic. Although highly complex, our brain and body are essentially an input-output system; sensory organs (five primary types as well as 15+ secondary types, including balance, acceleration, and Chemoreception) detect the atoms, photons, and gravity around us (exteroception) plus position of bodily parts and strength being employed (proprioception) and internal sensations of pain, hunger, and movement of organs (interoception) – three datasets which the brain continuously convolves into a sense of self and being. As various signals enter our brain, triggering perception, we react by sending signals back to our body, causing fine (speaking, playing piano) and gross (running, jumping) motor activity.
However, this process is highly inefficient. In order to have the experiences we desire, atoms must be collected, arranged, shipped, and positioned around us to trigger what are ultimately just bioelectrical impulses sent to and interpreted by our brains. The relative rarity of the atoms, difficulty in assembly, and transportational expense determine cost, a measure of value in a scarcity economy. Luxury items cost more than other items (ignoring pricefixing scams such as with De Beers and diamonds) because the former are more difficult to produce. In the future, rather than arrange atoms around us in pleasing combinations, we will supply our brains with pure signals directly from computers.
This will eliminate scarcity, and contrary to what many uneducated people think, the brain will be wholly unable to detect any difference, which is the distinction between virtual and Simulated reality; virtuality is an indirect approximation of reality, while simuality, from a neural perspective, *is* reality. The same exact brain I/O will occur, but with the middleman eliminated; neural impulses triggered by computer code rather than by atoms. As the computer supplies our brains with stimuli, creating perception of hyperrealistic fantasias outside the laws of physics, our response signals will be rerouted into cyberspace, leaving our physical bodies motionless (perhaps automatically maintaining hygiene and fitness) until we decide – with a thought – to exit the limitless world of photons and return to the comparatively dreary world of atoms. We’ll also be able to teleport to anywhere on Earth.
With a sufficiently advanced neural interface enabling instantaneous manifestation of any and all imagination (What Dreams May Come, Inception), physical possessions and lands, bodily appearance, resource scarcity, and all associated drama and conflict will become obsolete overnight. People will want just five things a) an uplink to the Matrix, b) medical care, c) nutrition for their vacated bodyshells, d) protection of their vacated bodyshells, and e) access to physical avatars for teleportation in atomspace. These five items and services will incur some resource cost. Everything else – supercars, superyachts, megamansions, banquets, the finest wines, art, clothing, and book collections, bodyskins, simulated companions, museums, private islands, private planets – will be free.
In this future, society could progress at a staggering rate, as people migrate into simuality, leaving almost all physical resources free for environmental restoration, the development of massive supercomputers, planetary engineering, and space colonization. The American state of Texas could hold the entire human population in simulation pods, and HowStuffWorks.com founder Marshall Brain believes we’ll eventually eschew our bodies altogether, migrating our brains into more stable, secure, containment chambers, thus allowing a global population in the trillions, with every last individual living in physically impossible luxury.
Of course, a high degree of automation is anticipated to develop alongside neural interface, but it is conceivable at least some work will require humans, for at least some amount of time after the Matrix goes live. Perhaps citizens will not have to earn a living, but will be required to complete a share of labor from time to time. We could see a society in which people compete to minimize their work obligations, but even the poorest would have lives infinitely more enjoyable than the billionaires’ of today.
Though terrestrial distance will effective cease to exist, due to the hard limit of lightspeed – 186,000mps – we won’t be able to teleport to other planets and star systems. Even jumping to Luna would incur massive lag, with signals taking 2.5 lightseconds roundtrip between Earth and its moon. Thus, those unsatisfied with the endless vistas of the mind will – for power, prestige, or curiosity – though certainly not for fortune, look to the stars and begin to seed life throughout the solar system and, eventually, the galaxy, thereby simultaneously increasing humanity’s chance of survival through cosmic deep time, and fracturing human civilization.
Communication between Earth and Luna will be limited to simplex circuit, “walkie-talkie”-style live but slightly disjointed conversation. Out in translunar space, only periodic bursts will be possible – 3-21 minutes to Mars, 33-53 minutes to Jupiter, five hours to Pluto, and over four years to Alpha A/B and Proxima Centauri (times all one-way).
Futurists debate whether scarcity will exist in the future. The answer is both no, and yes; we’ll have unlimited amounts of everything we enjoy today, but competition will still exist among those few (?) who wish to see the stars – the *real* stars.
…unless we develop superluminal communication, warp drives, or mind uploading.