June 21, 2003

Notable people. I came across

Notable people.

I came across this guy a couple of weeks ago through the ever-amazing collective powers of observation of the Slashdot folks. Nick Bostrom
is one of those people you sometimes wish you could be. This guy is
smart. Very smart. He apparently pulled off three, sorry, three and a
half Bachelor's degrees, simulataneously, in the space of 16 months. I
guess things started to go downhill a little for him from there: it
took him over a year to pull off a single Master's degree, and almost 4
years to finish his PhD. Here's the write-up on Slashdot that grabbed
my attention (understandably, I think!):
"Nick Bostrom discusses the computational requirements needed to
simulate human existence. He offers a proof based on the anthropic
principle, that you are almost certainly a computer simulation and not
"real". The idea is that given that humans don't go extinct in
geologically short time then eventually computer capability will allow
complete simulation of the human cortex. Consequently, there must be
far more simulations running in future millennia than seconds since you
were born. Thus its astronomically more likely you are a simulation
than real... if humans don't go extinct shortly. Recalling the 13th
floor, Robin Hanson discusses how one should try to live in a
simulation. David Wolpert also weighs in on the physical limits of
Turing machines for simulation of the universe. This also may explain
why time travel seems impossible: we dont meet visitors from the future
since only the present is being simulated."

So I read Nick's paper,
and what I liked most about it was the criterion for ultimate proof
that we *are* in fact living in a simulation: the act of actually
launching such a simulation ourselves would make it virtually certain
*we* are a simulation :-) That's nice.
Nick's a big thinker. He as a book, "Anthropic Bias: Observation
Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy", of which he says:
"There are implications for cosmology, evolutionary biology, the
interpretation of quantum mechanics, the Doomsday argument, the
Sleeping Beauty problem, the search for extraterrestrial life, the
question of whether God exists, and traffic planning."
See what I mean? He can, simultaneously, tackle the mundanities we all
ponder on a daily basis (the origin of life, God, the universe, etc)
*and* the single biggest issue that remains beyond the grasp of even
the brightest among us: traffic planning! I have to hand it to the man.
As if all this weren't enough, Nick is also a transhumanist.
I *think* this means he is all for the notion of people "evolving" into
Borg-like assemblages of biological and what might be labeled synthetic
or technological components (what we already are, plus some mechanical
spare parts), and possibly even through this stage into a cyberpunk
vision in which uploaded human psyches exist indefinitely in a
(presumably self-repairing) technological infrastructure. Hmm... Maybe
the there was less of the "A" in the AI of The Matrix and more of the
uploaded human elite (I have no idea if that turns out to be the case,
by the way - I haven't even seen "Reloaded" yet. I may, in fact, be the
only one).
Nick wants to live forever. Sometimes, I think people like him should.
Turns out there were two X-files episodes that dealt with the themes of
living forever and uploading. I'm not going to put links to them here,
I'm afraid - all this typing of <a href=... >, and so on, is
wonderfully nostalgic, and takes me back to the days when I coded all
my web pages that way, but it gets old fast. That and the time it would
take me to find the links. Anyway, there was the episode with the old
(very old, as it turned out) guy who could see Death coming and was
always there to photograph people dying - he sold the photos to the
papers. Course if he had a camera phone, he'd be uploading them
instantly to his photoblog :-) All he wanted was to be able to die.
He'd cheated Death when it was his time, and his reward was to wander
the Earth indefinitely, trying to eke out an existence using his
peculiar talent to get crime scene shots. He was so old, he couldn't
remember his first wife's name, and was was sick of it all. And there
was the cyberpunk episode, in which these, well, cyberpunks were
actually working on uploading themselves into the Internet - a domain
which I'm afraid they would find woefully barren as it stands...
The X-Files is a bit like the original Star Trek, for the true fan:
there's an episode for every situation in life :-)
But back to Nick Bostrom. I'm not sure most of us are ready to live
forever. Of course, the closer we get to our appointment with the Grim
Reaper, the more ready we believe we are, and in this regard, as in so
many others, maybe Nick is simply precocious (i.e. he wants to do
something about it before he has one foot in the grave). When death is
the only alternative, life almost always seems preferable. Unless
you're a freakin' suicide bomber, but that's something else altogether.
I like Nick. I don't know anything about him other than what I've read
on his website, but I like his optimism, I like his smarts, and I like
the way he's not afraid to dive in and just *think* about things the
huge majority of us just don't give a thought to. I admire him. So if I
sound here as if I don't, it's probably just envy seeping through :-)

Posted by dettifoss at June 21, 2003 10:43 AM