“Maybe God is just a smelly hacker in the next universe up.” – David Chalmers
When I was in elementary school, we got to go the computer lab one day a week. Once we passed our lesson in Mavis Beacon’s virtual typing classroom there were two choices: The Oregon Trail or SimCity 2000 (mid-1990s internet wasn’t exactly a blast for a kid).
Most days I would load up the covered wagon and venture out west. But on days I wasn’t feeling like traveling, or if cholera happened to take me down early, I would load up a virtual city.
The game took some time to learn and even more to do well in, so most weeks resulted in turning on the natural disasters and annihilating everything for fun. There was only so much you could do though—everything was on the full-scale macroeconomic city level.
As the years go by other games like the Civilization series or Roller Coaster Tycoon made it more fun to run a city (or empire or amusement park). They seem to get more interesting as they get more personal. Watching Bob the Sim make personal decisions about his life is more thought provoking than trying to keep Bob’s faceless city out of bankruptcy.
I really wanted The Sims when it was released. The game was a big deal when it came out and it got cooler with each new expansion pack—which gave you more furniture, more pets, more clothes—and progressively each sequel gave you a smarter, more lifelike character.
So let’s cut to the chase: What will The Sims be like in twenty years? How about 120 years?
At the pace it’s on now, computers will surpass not only the processing power of one human brain, but of all human brains (they progress exponentially, not linearly) within 40 years (that’s a $1000 computer anyone can buy, not a supercomputer in some random lab).
Once you’ve got the newest Sims game running on a computer like that, why not simulate an entire planet of six billion people and see what happens? Or why not run the latest version of Spore, which will start at the molecular level and allow for evolution?
And when you create this world, what prevents those who populate it from thinking they are real? Nothing.
You know, just like we’re real…