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IEET > Life > Access > Enablement > Innovation > Vision > Fellows > Nick Bostrom

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Video Interview of Nick Bostrom by Adam Ford

Nick Bostrom

Adam Ford

Posted: Feb 2, 2013

Nick Bostrom is a Swedish philosopher at St. Cross College, University of Oxford known for his work on existential risk and the anthropic principle. He holds a PhD from the London School of Economics (2000). He is currently the director of both The Future of Humanity Institute and the Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology as part of the Oxford Martin School at Oxford University.

In addition to his writing for academic and popular press, Bostrom makes frequent media appearances in which he talks about transhumanism-related topics such as cloning, artificial intelligence, superintelligence, mind uploading, cryonics, nanotechnology, and the simulation argument.


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I think a 4th element should be added to the simulation argument- a moral one.

The simulation argument just relocates the justifiable argument people have always made about God, namely, why is there so much suffering in the world? If our world is indeed a simulation why does the constraint seem to exist that makes pain and suffering so very real?

The science-fiction author Greg Egan came to this same conclusion. Here's his quote about his novel Permutations:

"What I regret most is my uncritical treatment of the idea of allowing intelligent life to evolve in the Autoverse. Sure, this is a common science-fictional idea, but when I thought about it properly (some years after the book was published), I realised that anyone who actually did this would have to be utterly morally bankrupt. To get from micro-organisms to intelligent life this way would involve an immense amount of suffering, with billions of sentient creatures living, struggling and dying along the way. Yes, this happened to our own ancestors, but that doesn't give us the right to inflict the same kind of suffering on anyone else. "


Perhaps civilizations with the capacity to create such simulations realize such realistic renderings in which pain and suffering is real would be morally bankrupt.

@Rick: I don't see any moral quandary, much like the decision to bring a child into the world whose life will likely entail at least some suffering. If our reality is some sort of ancestor simulation, and the simulators don't knowingly add anything extraneous to simply increase the amount of suffering, just like one wouldn't intentionally torture someone, then what our reality consists of isn't wrong or immoral, it simply is.


On the torture point: I've heard of people doing this with versions of the SIMS; they create a person, lock them up, stave them etc. Of course, these simulated individuals don't feel any pain,
but if at some point they did wouldn't we make this behavior illegal?

Perhaps more advanced civilizations reach a similar point: that the knowledge to be gained by running realistic ancestor simulations does not pass the moral bar of justifying how much pain is experienced in such a world. Perhaps they ban such practices.

The difference between such simulated world's and having a child is that there is only one world to bring the child into- ours with its suffering and its joys. But an advanced civilization that could create realistic ancestor simulations could could surely create a "child" that lived in a simulated world without any suffering- or at least the extremes of suffering we sometimes experience at all.

But the Grand Architect has already built more than several versions of the perfect Matrix previously, and Humans rejected them all - subconsciously?

Seems to understand and define joy and happiness one needs to understand suffering and despair?

Much of human effort is aimed at alleviating suffering whatever its supposed benefits, so should we stop those?

If not, then we seem to be suggesting that there is too much suffering in the world. Perhaps the architect works for the equivalent of MicroSoft.

No, of course we should not stop.. and there you have touched on another religious tenet/meme? pertaining Free will and choices and this obsession with creators as entity, instead of focus on creation as impartial..


You are not the words you say, nor the actions you take, you are the choices you make?

An important reason to distinguish between the Simulation Hypothesis and the Simulation Argument is that the latter can be generalized into a Creation Argument across all feasible creation mechanisms, such as cosmoforming, terraforming and otherwise, thereby subjectively increasing the persuasiveness of the Creation Hypothesis in accordance with whatever a given individual thinks to be a likely creative capacity in the future.

@Rick: But simulating an entity towards a predetermined outcome, ie a state without suffering, is not the same thing as simulating an entire universe from first principles and seeing how intelligences emerge out of that. You might as well just build a robot at that point, as the knowledge to be gained from doing that would not be of the same kind. As for only having one world to bring the child into, perhaps the simulators feel the same way, having measured the physical parameters of their own world and trying to approximate them as closely as they can into ours, to maximize the value of the resultant information.


I have never heard of a sufficient reason for why a super-intelligent civilization would want to run such a simulation. They presumably already know how intelligence came about- given that we have a pretty good idea of this ourselves- and the idea that they are some sort of history buff that needs to recreate the world of the past to see how it really worked seems like something that came out of the mind of a Civil War re-enactor.

Perhaps what we have instead is something like our own ethical codes regarding animal experimentation. Researchers are not allowed to cause suffering unless there is a very clear scientific benefit. Perhaps super intelligent civilizations do not find the knowledge to be gained by such simulations worth the moral cost.

@Rick: I don't find the fact that you or some other human can't find a sufficient reason to run such a simulation particularly compelling or pertinent. The logic of the simulation argument stands regardless of our ability to comprehend the utility of simulation.


In fact the third part of the simulation argument is that civilizations remain interested in creating such simulations. It is perfectly to reasonable to speculate with our limited intelligence as to why they might not be interested and coming up with a good reason why they would not be interested would indeed undermine the argument that we are living in a simulation.

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