Monday, July 28, 2014

Ellen Week, Part 1

Our daughter, Ellen, has written some of my favorite pieces. Here's one of her college admissions essays:

Can I Be Admitted if I Don’t Exist?

“Well, that was the most interesting conversation I’ve heard in a long time,” the waiter told us as he dropped off the receipt. “Just don’t strain your brains too much.”

We grinned at each other as we stood up from our table. Who could blame him – after all, it’s not very often you overhear arguments for the moral imperative to build AI, Fermi’s Paradox, the efficacy of SETI, the factors of Drake’s equation, rooting for the machines in The Matrix, all discussed while scarfing down a scrumptious vegan feast.

I think the line that got the waiter was: “So you probably don’t really exist.”

Well, your consciousness may exist, but not ‘you’ in the form you’re used to. More specifically, there’s a good chance you are a simulation running on an alien computer.

You shouldn’t worry, though: everyone around you is, too.

How can that be? I’m glad you asked.

Take a technological civilization – even ours in the not-too-distant future – and allow it to create sentient artificial intelligences. If you assume all the people – or even a significant fraction of them – choose to create their own simulations with these AI (and, given the current popularity of games such as World of Warcraft or the Sims and Spore, this isn’t an unreasonable hypothesis), the AI would soon outnumber the corporeal members of the civilization.

Therefore, if an individual is conscious, it is more probable they are an artificial, simulated intelligence, rather than a physical being.

It is counter-intuitive, at least superficially troubling, and ultimately irrelevant; there’s no way to test the hypothesis. And even if I don’t exist, I still want to attend sim-Pomona – the aliens have done a great job putting together my dream school!

Or is this just what they want me to think?

Team Green-Ball on Ellen's 20th Birthday.

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