From the New York Times: Are We Living In A Computer Simulation? Let’s Not Find Out.
It lists the standard reasons for thinking we might be in a simulation, then brings up some proposals for testing the hypothesis (for example, the cosmic background radiation might look different in simulations and real universes). But it suggests that we not do that, because if we learn we’re in a simulation, that might ruin the simulation and cause the simulators to destroy the universe.
But I think a little more thought suggests we don’t have anything to worry about.
In order to notice we had discovered our simulated nature, the simulators would have to have a monitor watching us. We should expect this anyway. Although humans may run some simulations without monitoring them carefully, the simulators have no reason to be equally careless; if they can simulate billions of sentient beings, their labor costs are necessarily near zero. Such a monitor would have complete instantaneous knowledge of everything happening in our universe, and since anyone who can simulate a whole planet must have really good data processing capabilities, it would be able to understand and act upon the entire content of its omniscient sensorium. It would see the fall of each sparrow, record the position of ever atom, have the level of situational awareness that gods could only dream of.
What I’m saying is, it probably reads the New York Times.
That means it knows these experiments are going to happen. If it cares about the results, it can fake them. Assuming for some reason that it messed up designing the cosmic background radiation (why are we assuming this, again?), it can correct that mistake now, or cause the experimental apparatus to report the wrong data, or do one of a million other things that would prevent us from learning we are in a simulation.
The Times’ argument requires that simulators are so powerful that they can create entire universes, so on-top-of-things that they will know the moment we figure out their game – but also so incompetent that they can’t react to a warning published several years in advance in America’s largest newspaper.
There’s another argument for the same conclusion: the premises of the simulation argument suggest this isn’t the simulators’ only project. Each simulator civilization must simulate thousands or millions of universes. Presumably we’re not the first to think of checking the cosmic background radiation. Do you think the simulators just destroy all of them when they reach radio-wave-technology, and never think about fixing the background radiation mismatch or adding in some fail-safe to make sure the experiments return the wrong results?
For that matter, this is probably a stage every civilization goes through, including whatever real civilization we are supposed to simulate. What good is a simulation that can replicate every aspect of the real world except its simulation-related philosophy? The simulators probably care a lot about simulation-related philosophy! If they’re going around simulating universes, they have probably thought a lot about whether they themselves are a simulation, and simulation-related philosophy is probably a big part of their culture. They can’t afford to freak out every time one of their simulations starts grappling with simulation-related philosophy. It would be like freaking out when a simulation developed science, or religion, or any other natural part of cultural progress.
Some other sources raise concern that we might get our simulation terminated by becoming too computationally intensive (maybe by running simulations of our own). I think this is a more serious concern. But by the time we need to think about it, we’ll have superintelligences of our own to advise us on the risk. For now, I think we should probably stop worrying about bothering the simulators (see also the last section here). If they want us alive for some reason, we probably can’t cause them enough trouble to change that.