The technological singularity is a hypothetical moment in the future when artificial intelligence becomes indistinguishable from human intelligence—and capable of creating smarter iterations of itself. Apply the same general idea to simulations and you get the “simulation singularity”: when a simulated world is indistinguishable from reality.
This was the theme of a talk this week at London’s Digital Shoreditch festival by engineer Andy Fawkes, who works for global simulation software company Bohemia Interactive Simulations (BIS) and is director of tech and training company Thinke. “Will there be a world where the simulation may be just as good as the real world?” he asked. Could it even be better than the real world?
“In a sense, I think in some regards it’s already happening,” Fawkes told me in an interview. If people’s minds are already accepting a simulated world as “real” somehow, then we could perhaps consider that we’ve already reached the tipping point. In his talk, Fawkes showed examples of driving simulators from a game that were very nearly visually indistinct from real-life footage.
Another example that shows the power of realistic simulators is in the military sphere: pilots learn to fly using simulators that effectively trick the brain into thinking it’s actually controlling a plane. In the US, a quadriplegic woman was able to “fly” an F-35 fighter jet using nothing but her mind. Fawkes looks forward to strapping on an Oculus Rift in old age and “escaping” his weary body.
But are photorealistic 4K graphics and easily-misled human senses enough to constitute a true simulation singularity? Reality is not just about visuals; it’s a whole complex system that, so far, we’ve found pretty impossible to model with any great accuracy (presuming for the sake of argument that we’re actually not living in a sim, that is).
Fawkes gave the example of the weather, which we’re still not great at modelling a few days in advance, never mind 100 years. In this sense, the chaos of reality still beats our best simulators by a long way. “That idea, that you could predict precisely the weather—would just be transformational,” he said.
He also thinks it may never be possible, but even improvements that are minor in scope compared to the idea of a total singularity could have a huge effect, like being able to predict the weather for a month, or better model asteroid impacts.
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