Star Trek, Computers and Pulling out the Plug!

So…here is an idea. A science fiction idea? I will let you decide.
It is a fact that the processing power of computers is growing exponentially. And there is nothing to make us suppose that this will not continue to be the case. I still marvel at the things that can be done and continue to be done by computers.
I grew up watching Star Trek – in the early seventies I used to walk around the corner with my brother to my aunt’s house to watch it, she had that most wondrous of things; a colour television. Our TV was black and white and you had to get up from the sofa to change between one of the three (yes only three!) channels.
Anyway, my young self marvelled at the original series of Star Trek. It captured my imagination in many ways. Of course I loved the thought of travelling to distant alien worlds. I grew up thinking that if I ever got into a fight with an alien then the worst that could happen was that my shirt would get ripped and a small drop of blood would appear at the corner of my mouth, just like Captain Kirk. I loved the possibility of the Enterprise and all the technology contained within. Phasers and tricorders and replicators and communicators. All of that seemed so impossibly wonderful and distant to my young self.
And yet, here I sit, typing this on an iPad. Just like Star Trek. I can talk to my phone and it can talk back. Just like Star Trek. I can find vast amounts of information on the internet. Just like asking the computer on Star Trek. And some clever scientists and engineers are building machines now that might even mimic replicators (I will blog about that soon hopefully). I couldn’t have imagined those things would happen. And I can’t imagine the wonders of technology that my five year old daughter will experience in her life.
So, here’s the thing. The ‘Science Fiction’ idea. As I said, the capacity of computers grows ever larger as does the things they can do (compare the computers on Apollo 11 to an iPhone!). If this continues then it is conceivably possible that eventually computers will have the processing power to re-create everything within them. Yes, everything. A future computer could re-create our whole world for example, down to the molecular and sub-atomic level. Every animal, plant, human being and object re-created and modelled. And perhaps, the whole universe too.
Now I know this isn’t a new idea (I bet some of you are thinking about ‘The Matrix’). But here’s the part of this idea that gets me thinking; if that will be possible in the future (and we have no reason to suppose it won’t) then how do we know it hasn’t already happened…
I can envisage two scenarios:
1. An alien race has already done this, and our world and universe are part of some vast computer science project.
2. Humans develop computers in the future to do this and they re-create our world in order to study history.
In both scenarios I imagine that we are being watched and observed and studied.
If we are part of some vast computer project, then what will happen when we develop computers fast enough to create and re-create worlds? Worlds within worlds going on forever?
Some of you may think this idea is far-fetched and it probably is. Is this Science Fiction? The truth is that we have no way of knowing. You could be part of a computer generated world right now. And my question is this: what if someone pulls out the plug?

Β© 2012 Simon Poore

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“It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!”

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12 thoughts on “Star Trek, Computers and Pulling out the Plug!

  1. It’s a very interesting idea, and though it shares some things with the idea in Matrix, it’s not the same since the owners of the simulation would be living beings, not machines.

    Here are my thoughts and speculations on this idea:
    1. We’d have no way of knowing if the re-creation is accurate or a completely fictional invention;
    2. The universe, by what we know so far, is endless, and no amount of computation (however advanced) can handle infinity or generate infinite amounts of data. Infinity is an abstract concept, and computers are not abstract, and cannot render interminable quantities.
    3. The energy needed to sustain such a simulation is, again, infinite in any given moment, and infinite in length of time.
    4. Experiments, by definition, are made in a clearly defined and limited space, with limited amount of data that can be evaluated. Generating an infinite experiment goes against the definition of an experiment.
    5. Even if all this knowledge of the universe that we have (of it being infinite) is false as a result of the simulation, and the “real” universe is in fact finite, we’d have no way of knowing.
    6. If the plug is pulled, we’d disappear without any knowledge of our disappearance until the computer is restarted. The information of our existence is either stored on some physical drive, in which case we’d continue to exist until deleted, and if not, we’d completely be erased from existence as soon as the plug is pulled. Either way, we’d be (obviously) unable to care about any of that.

    And as a sidenote, the motivation to create and sustain such a simluation by another species (even humanity from a distant future) is highly questionable. What could they gain by creating such an enormous simulation, with an enormous number of galaxies?

    Nonetheless, I do like the idea very much, and it’s certainly a very interesting hypothesis for a work of science-fiction.

    1. I agree with pretty much all you say. Infinity is obviously a difficult one, but then again we don’t know if infinity exists, apart from as a philosophical concept. For example, the first Voyager spacecraft is approaching the limit of what scientists think is the very edge of our solar system as we speak. It would be a revelation if it is stopped by some kind of limit or wall then. Maybe that will be the limit of the program? I imagine some kind of super massive glass sphere upon which all the stars and galaxies are projected. And maybe then humanity is ready to get to the next level of the game?
      Motives for creating such a world are many it seems to me. And we probably cannot comprehend yet how they would power it. Imagine a historian now – if you told them you could program a computer with every single fact we know about Elizabethan London for example – they would want to witness that. We already do this with simulations of the architecture of ancient Rome for example. A historian would want to observe a living breathing model of such a world. It might be inaccurate but it may answer questions about the past we have yet to answer.
      Another possibility is that an alien race may find evidence of our existence long after the human race is extinct. They may want to recreate us, from fragments of DNA perhaps. Again for study. Like we might try to recreate a woolly mammoth that is long gone.
      Or the motive might simply be entertainment. Like the holo-deck on Star Trek…

      1. Maybe we’re living in a Dyson sphere, and the sun is real, but we’re labrats. That would answer the energy question for the experiment. I like this. πŸ™‚

    1. I keep having this funny feeling that they pull the plug and then plug it back in again, re-booting us all…so I feel like I am missing something…or maybe that’s just me…

  2. Love Star Trek in all its varieties….but you still have to have the ‘plug’ as well as power….you might want to study Revelation where a new earth is created after this one ends, after Christ’s thousand year reignβ™«

  3. This sounds like a great base to a new story. A story about faith or science…at that level the two always seem to merge. I hope you run with the idea and create a novel with it. πŸ™‚

      1. It never hurts to keep an idea ready for next year. Sometimes NaNo comes around all too quickly. πŸ™‚ Good luck with this November! πŸ™‚

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