Cover of Matrix-Trilogy [Blu-ray]Are We Living in the Matrix?
Dr. Bostrom assumes that technological advances could produce a computer with more processing power than all the brains in the world, and that advanced humans, or "posthumans," could run "ancestor simulations" of their evolutionary history by creating virtual worlds inhabited by virtual people with fully developed virtual nervous systems.
Some computer experts have projected, based on trends in processing power, that we will have such a computer by the middle of this century, but it doesn't matter for Dr. Bostrom's argument whether it takes 50 years or 5 million years. If civilization survived long enough to reach that stage, and if the posthumans were to run lots of simulations for research purposes or entertainment, then the number of virtual ancestors they created would be vastly greater than the number of real ancestors.
Do we live in a computer simulation?
Oxford University: Future of Humanity
A lot of Dr. Bostrom's thoughts have been discussed in another venue by post-modernist philosophers such as Baudrillard (see Simulacra and Simulation) where he posits that we are already living in a simulation. He has some interesting things to say about how our world is manipulated through the use of symbols and language delivered through television and, now, the Web.
A lot of these thoughts were incorporated in the movie, the Matrix. In the Matrix, "reality as perceived by most humans is actually a simulated reality created by sentient machines to pacify and subdue the human population, while their bodies' heat and electrical activity are used as an energy source." The creators of the Matrix, the Wachowsky Brothers, were heavily influenced by Baudrillard's thoughts. However, Baudrillard himself, doesn't believe that the movie is a completely accurate representation of his philosophy.
Some of these questions are interesting when you look at them in light of therapies for neurological disorders. A lot of the therapies are human to human, such as Balametrics; but a number of them are computer-mediated such as Tomatis, the Interactive Metronome, brain implants, neurologically based "brain games" such as Brain Fitness, and, of course, Neurofeedback. A lot of us are plugging into a matrix designed to make us more healthy.
I am speculating that it is only a matter of time before our therapeutic data becomes networked and shared and our bodies virtualized for analysis by specialists. Currently, our specialists like to do "integrative therapy" and we are currently managing our integration by toting around a stack of medical records and signing HIPAA releases for our specialists to confer by phone and fax. Electronic Health Records that are coming into use will digitize this coordination. Once our data is digitized and shared, it will be possible for this data to be remixed and reconstructed in a variety of ways. Symptoms noted by one professional may have a lot of meaning for a professional in another professional. More accurate timelines of therapeutic interventions will be possible.
As time goes on, it will be possible for more sophisticated modeling of human systems. We will be able to construct models that will be able to integrate medical, psychological, functional, educational, and occupational models of our human condition. Once we can model human systems, we can start to manipulate them. Therapists can run simulations of projected therapies before they use them.
The power to perform such manipulations on such an intimate level begs the question: To What End? If you watch the Matrix or read Baudrillard, you start with the premise that the world is fundamentally Evil and that Technology furthers Evil. I think that their concerns are valid and precautions need to be taken to avoid excesses. However, I think that starting with the premise that the world is Evil cuts you off from the great noosphere (a stage of human evolution dominated by a concern for consciousness, the mind, and interpersonal relationships) of human connectivity for Good. I think that the understanding of the workings of the brain will lead you to understanding the importance of the body, the Earth, the Cosmos, and the need to moderate the connection with the virtual world. I think that being part of this great connected noosphere is the antidote to the depressing future scenarios: that people of good will will band together.