Recently, my 12-year old daughter read Ready Player One (a particularly fun read for gamers, Dungeons & Dragons players, children of the 80s, and the rest of my motley crew) and conjectured that since you could–in principle–build a virtual reality that people can wander through, then it’s entirely plausible that we live in a virtual reality. She’s wrestling with ideas that enthuse the scientists celebrities of our time (don’t believe me? see here).
She is primed to wonder about such questions, as she’s grown up with a father who investigates them and in a family that plays videogames, including massively multiplayer games like World of Warcraft. But I had certainly never brought up the simulation hypothesis with her and she’s never wanted to read any of my academic research (she tells me she’d like to someday but that she figures it will be boring to her right now). So a smart kid who lives in a world where people talk about digital technology and use it regularly reads a book in which the videogame of the future is one where you operate in a fully immersive virtual world and subsequently decides maybe our world is a virtual one also.
So, I suggested that she write her monthly report on the simulation argument and gave her the first meaningful claim to it: Hans Moravec’s essay “Pigs in Cyberspace,” which was published from conference proceedings of an annual meeting of the Library and Information Technology Association. Those proceedings, by the way, include a few terrific essays on digital technology, and I highly recommend them. I also suggested she look into some stories by Frederick Pohl and others. Pohl’s “The Tunnel Under the World” is probably the first story to suggest something akin to the simulation hypothesis. I’ll have her read Bostrom, who elaborates Moravec’s ideas (and unfortunately gets credited with them), and I’d love to push her into cyberpunk…but it’s just a bit too early for Gibson, Stephenson, and such (but maybe not Vinge’s True Names).
What an interesting turn that people were baffled by my research when I began it…and now a 12-year old can presuppose it before I’ve begun. I can barely imagine how Moravec–clever enough to see it all decades ago–must feel. And then one wonders what questions our children will ask…