Today we are going to begin exploring the concept of Ancestor Simulations. Why “ancestor simulations”?  Well as you know, I am GeekGirlJoy (I should really trademark that huh? 😛 Let’s just say I call dibs! 😉 ) so I enjoy SCIENCE!!! therefore what better way to get paid than to employ my 1337 compsci skills by teaching you a little something about simulations and amuse myself with my own virtual denizens in the process… come closer padawan there is much to discuss…

In a nutshell the concept proposed by Nick Bostrom in 2003 goes like this:

  1. “The fraction of human-level civilizations that reach a posthuman stage (that is, one capable of running high-fidelity ancestor simulations) is very close to zero”, or
  2. “The fraction of posthuman civilizations that are interested in running ancestor-simulations is very close to zero”, or
  3. “The fraction of all people with our kind of experiences that are living in a simulation is very close to one”

Personally I tend to agree with #1 outright simply because it “jibe’s right” although it is important to stress that “very close to zero” part. Very close to zero is NOT zero and even if the odds of there being other intelligent “tool making” species who have advanced to the point of being so called “posthuman” are really low, it’s not zero.

Further, if you spend any time at all considering the Drake Equation you are forced to consider the possibility if not outright conclude that even if they are so far away that we can never see or communicate with them they must be there and, likely not just a handful either!

Below is some code so you can experiment with the Drake Equation yourself! Its setup so that you can call the DrakeEquation() function without arguments and it will randomly select values within the appropriate margins.

The Drake Equation: N = (R* * fp * Ne * fl * fi * fc * L)



// Reference the Drake Equation:

function DrakeEquation($Rs = 0, $Fp = 0, $Ne = 0, $Fl = 0, $Fi = 0, $Fc = 0, $L = 0){

	// The average rate of star formation in our galaxy.
	// Per the aforementioned Wiki Article:
	Latest calculations from NASA and the European Space Agency indicate that the current rate of star formation in our galaxy is about 0.68–1.45 M☉ of material per year.[26][27] To get the number of stars per year, this must account for the initial mass function (IMF) for stars, where the average new star mass is about 0.5 M☉.[28] This gives a star formation rate of about 1.5–3 stars per year.
	    $Rs = mt_rand(0,3) . '.' . mt_rand(0,99);

	// Fraction of stars with so called "Habitable planets".
	// Per the aforementioned Wiki Article:
	Recent analysis of microlensing surveys has found that fp may approach 1—that is, stars are orbited by planets as a rule, rather than the exception; and that there are one or more bound planets per Milky Way star.[29][30]
		$Fp_decimal = mt_rand(0,99); 
		if($Fp_decimal == 0)
			$Fp_decimal = mt_rand(0,9); // this may not be absolute 0
			                            // so if it is we will set it to 1/100th - 9/100th
	    $Fp = "0.$Fp_decimal";

	// Average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
	// Per the aforementioned Wiki Article:
	In November 2013, astronomers reported, based on Kepler space mission data, that there could be as many as 40 billion Earth-sized planets orbiting in the habitable zones of sun-like stars and red dwarf stars within the Milky Way Galaxy.[31][32] 11 billion of these estimated planets may be orbiting sun-like stars.[33] Since there are about 100 billion stars in the galaxy, this implies fp · ne is roughly 0.4. The nearest planet in the habitable zone may be as little as 12 light-years away, according to the scientists.[31][32]
		$Ne_decimal = mt_rand(0,99); 
		if($Ne_decimal == 0)
			$Ne_decimal = mt_rand(0,9); // this may not be absolute 0 since were here
			                            // so if it is we will set it to 1/100th - 9/100th
	    $Ne = mt_rand(0,1) . '.' . $Ne_decimal;

	// Fraction of habitable planets that actually develop life.
	We're here (humans) so it can't be 0.00 and we don't know that it's 1.00 because then it would mean that wherever life evolves, intelligent live WILL ALWAYS evolve EVENTUALLY... and we don't know that is the case, so we'll set this as such:
		$Fl_decimal = mt_rand(0,99); 
		if($Fl_decimal == 0)
			$Fl_decimal = mt_rand(0,9); // this may not be absolute 0
			                            // so if it is we will set it to 1/100th - 9/100th
		$Fl = "0.$Fl_decimal";

	// Fraction of habitable planets with life on them that also evolve intelligent life
	Defined using the "short scale"
	0.001 one of one thousand planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.0001 one out of ten thousand planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.00001 one out of one hundred thousand planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.000001 one out of one million planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.0000001 one out of ten million planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.00000001 one out of one hundred million planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.000000001 one out of one billion planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.0000000001 one out of ten billion planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.00000000001 one out of one hundred billion planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	0.000000000001 one  out of one trillion planets with life, will evolve intelligent life.
	$Fi = '0.00' . str_repeat('0', mt_rand(0,9)) . '1';

	// Fraction that survive long enough to sufficiently develop long range communications technology (wireless transmissions)
		$Fc_decimal = mt_rand(0,99); 
		if($Fc_decimal == 0)
			$Fc_decimal = mt_rand(0,9); // this may not be absolute 0
			                            // so if it is we will set it to 1/100th - 9/100th
		$Fc = "0.$Fc_decimal";

	// How long those civilizations last
	$L = mt_rand(500,25000); // Anyone's guess could be indefinite
	                         // So lets have it max at 25K years

	return $Rs * $Fp * $Ne * $Fl * $Fi * $Fc * $L;


// the number of planets with detectable signs of life
echo DrakeEquation();



If you would like to get a copy of this code you can get it over on GitHub here.

It’s important to note two things however:

  1. The value returned by the Drake Equation represent how many other advanced civilizations (aliens) there are and the values returned by the Drake Equation will fluctuate depending on the values used.
  2. Because not all the values are known and we have to guess at what they are, we tend to think of the Drake Equation not as an algorithm that yields truth (like e=MC2) but rather as a tool that helps us test the possibilities.

In regards to Bostrum’s #2, no arguments here. It is basically just saying that even if possible to do so, many civilizations will simply opt not to do so, whatever their reasons may be, but again even if just a few or even one (us/humans) chose to do so then #2 becomes “irrelevant” because not ALL civilizations will chose to do ancestor simulations but some (we/humans) will.

This brings us to #3, basically Bostrom is saying that if #1 & #2 are not absolutely false (ZERO), #3 has to be correct simply due to probability. I definitely concede points 1 & 2. However #3 is saying that YOU & I must conclude that the odds are VERY high that you and I are in one of those so called “ancestor simulations”, so therefore we must be.

This one bothers me a bit… not because I have any real problem with the idea we are all living in a simulation, we could be, however it simply seems like a “lazy” conclusion that isn’t substantiated by any empirical evidence.

Yes, its true I asked you to consider the Drake Equation but I would be remiss in leading you to believe that you should accept any of the numbers produced by it as hard facts and not thought experiments. Although one day we may know all the right values to use in the Drake Equation and then of course it would rest on a solid empirical footing.

Having a high probability that we are in a simulated reality does not automatically make it so and I will give you some examples.

Consider the US “Powerball” Lottery.  the odds are 175,223,510 to 1 against you, for a probability of 0.0000005707% of wining. Put a different way, 1 out of 175 Million tickets should win the “Grand Prize”… but even with such long odds… people play and still win. Most lose, the game requires it in fact and you would basically be correct in believing that if you bought a handful of tickets every day of your life you would still lose. However, people say hang the odds and promptly lose their money but 0.0000005707% of them… win.

Now consider image recognition Neural Networks, they basically operate off of probability and even though they can get amazingly accurate with their responses, they DO make errors (see wiki articles on Confabulation for example) because of their probabilistic approach to problem solving. There are examples where white noise images are given to Convolution Neural Networks and they will say it’s a dog or something even though it’s clearly evident to you and I that it is not a dog.

I could also point out that your odds of dying in a commercial plane are something like one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent (.000014% – basically impossible) and yet here is a list of all the commercial airplane crashes that based on probability should not have happened!

My point is to show that operating on probability alone is not enough! It’s not enough to say that we are “probably” in a simulation therefore we are because even if the odds are exceedingly against us being in “base reality” (true non-simulated reality) it fails to prove or disprove anything and as proofs of my position I have provided the examples that some people win the lotto, neural networks occasionally make mistakes and airplanes do occasionally fall out of the sky!

Now that we are past the hurdle of if we are or not in a simulation, the answer is it doesn’t matter and to quote Rick Sanchez (Rick and Morty) “it’s best not to think about it” :-P, we can talk about building an Ancestor Simulation of our very own!

It goes without saying that our simulated creatures will not be “conscious” or “self-aware” like you and I and therefore falls short of a true Ancestor Simulation like Bostrum is talking about but it very well could be our code base that leads to the creation of the first real ancestor sim.

In any event I will be developing this concept over the next week and I hope have something really interesting to bring you next Monday!

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With that, have a great week & I will see you all in the next post!

Much Love,