Does the simulation have an evil or indifferent designer?

by on May 14, 2008 at 5:38 pm in Philosophy | Permalink

On the plane I was reading Stanislaw Lem’s famous essay on personoretics.  It occurred to me that if we are living in a simulation we can make Bayesian inferences about the intentions of the designer.  Let’s say many designers are creating many simulations.  Will the good or the evil designers be more productive in terms of numbers of simulations created?  If we define "good" as subject to some ethical constraints, I believe the good designers work under a competitive disadvantage.  It’s harder to produce cheap apples, for instance, if you pledge to do so only in a "green" way.  And so on.  Oddly the evil designers may be under a competitive disadvantage as well.  Intention has a cost and so in competitive settings it tends to fall out.  In our current world most things are made by indifferent machines.  I believe the rational inference about the simulation is that at least the demi-urge — and possibly the Master Creator as well — is indifferent to our plight.

Rick May 14, 2008 at 6:49 pm

Maximizing number of simulations seems like an unlikely optimality criterion. The simulations presumably have some goal besides existence, such as creating happy little software lives (which would select for “good” simulations), messing with things like a kid pulling off bug legs (selecting for evil simulations) or for research (favoring a wide array of goodness).

Sam May 14, 2008 at 7:07 pm

I hope Tyler is poking fun, if only slightly, at this whole simulation idea. That or he has been reading too much of Overcoming Bias. Personally, I find this an unlikely and unappealing answer to the problem of theodicy. I prefer the thoughts of John Stuart Mills and Thomas Malthus if you catch my drift. I wonder how many other early economists were part of the clergy…

Greg May 14, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Can we make inferences about whether we have a can opener on the desert island? These seem equally valid to the simulation inferences Tyler makes. We can make any inference we want, but there are enough degrees of freedom that our inferences aren’t any more useful than random guesses. Is our simulation created for artistic purposes, for some research purpose, or as a Monte Carlo process? We don’t know. Furthermore, we can’t make any useful guesses as to what the simulator would consider good art, what the Monte Carlo simulation (of simulations) would be approximating, and so on. The bottom line is that we have no way to conceptualize what indifferent, good, or evil intentions would mean and whether their costs would outweigh benefits.

Robin Hanson May 14, 2008 at 10:02 pm

If there is a competitive advantage to making simulations of people, then yes most sims will be those that are most competitive, which isn’t obviously concerned about us. But possibly there is no competitive advantage to making sims, in which case sims are a side effect of slacker lazy silly whatever motives. And perhaps being good or evil comprise a large fraction of those motives.

Bob Murphy May 14, 2008 at 11:14 pm

I believe the rational inference about the simulation is that at least the demi-urge — and possibly the Master Creator as well — is indifferent to our plight.

I don’t see how that follows. Why does the designer bother giving us rainbows, and the Pythagorean Theorem?

One could retort, “OK, then why did the designer give us torture and parallel parking?”

I think the right answer is, “Not exactly sure. It’s obviously a lot more complicated than I realize.”

But there’s no way I could agree that the answer is, “The designer doesn’t care about what happens to the homo sapiens put into the simulation.”

Leif May 14, 2008 at 11:26 pm

sorry, the above should actually read ‘there won’t BE ANY reasoning’ etc

Steve R May 15, 2008 at 12:13 pm

Borges has no use for endings.

Scott Scheule May 15, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Of course, Borges would speak of there eventually being some reality that isn’t just a simulation in another world, but leave it open whether or not such exists. Still, “My solitude is gladdened by this elegant hope.”

techreseller May 16, 2008 at 12:09 pm

Does this mean I might be living in an incredibly sophisticated Civ game? So while I am playing Civ, a higher level being is playing the game in which I am “living”? Gosh

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