Why we simulate reality
“There’s no new world my friend, no new seas, no other planets, nowhere to flee.
You’re tied in a knot you can never undo. When you realise Earth is a starship too.”
- Kim Stanley Robinson, Aurora (cont.)
Co-founder and CEO, SenSat
It occurred to me a while ago that planet Earth is a starship
It was Christmas time, and I was bracing the frost lying on my back staring up at the frozen night sky. All I could see were hundreds of stars - as if I was peering out of a window aboard a rocket in deep space. On my back was a rucksack containing an entire planet, floating in space, on a seemingly never ending journey.
Planet Earth is an immensely complex spaceship. The weather, the animals, the plants, the people, the plate tectonics, the economics. All these systems are intricately linked in ways beyond our comprehension. Yet understanding them is the key to not just flourishing but surviving.
The physical world, with its innumerable daily interactions, has never been understood as a single system before. Our greatest technological feats avoid it, our collective academics dice it and our business sectors struggle with it. Yet understanding starship Earth as one system may be the most important challenge ever faced by humanity.
It’s undeniable that the order of things is changing, the fine balances that have allowed life to thrive are out of set. Some anthropologists (and the occasional geologist) refer to this new unbalanced era as the anthropocene; denoting the current geological age, viewed as the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.
At present over 90% of the large animals on spaceship Earth are humans or domesticated animals. Our nuclear-weapons tests and burning of fossil fuels have also left distinctly elevated concentrations of black carbon, inorganic ash, and spherical carbonaceous particles in recent sediments across the world. We’ve left our distinct mark on spaceship Earth and changed the way it functions, for good.
But what are the effects, why does it matter and who’s problem is it anyway? In short we don’t know. It’s up to us to begin to understand the world and unravel its complex physical interactions so that we may continue to live sustainably on spaceship Earth. But this level of complexity is beyond the human brain alone. We need help from our thinking machines.
Over the course of human history, language has always played a significant role. I’d go as far as to call it the greatest of all human inventions. It has allowed us to share knowledge, collaborate en-mass and create technological feats that rapidly ascertain knowledge.
The internet connected all of this knowledge, instantly and freely available so that the human colossus could march forward into a bright future of never ending progress. That is until it hit a bump in the road, a bump that creaked and caved until it became a chasm. By this time our thinking machines had developed the ability to begin to learn and think for themselves. Artificial Intelligence was already vastly outperforming humans at millions of specific tasks, such as booking the cheapest airfare or slowing a car rapidly on an icy road. But these intelligent thinking machines were stunted; they didn’t have the language to talk to one another, knowledge share and discuss the real world the humans all lived in. Language was the enabler that had allowed their creation, but it was the blocker that halted their progress.
To truly understand the world these intelligent thinking machines needed to talk, to collaborate and to understand the dimensions beyond binary, the dimensions from which the tangible world where everything else existed depended.
Creating a universal language that allows Artificial Intelligences to understand and discuss the physical world we all live in. This is why we simulate reality, to unlock the thinking power of Artificial Intelligence so that we may begin to understand spaceship Earth as one system.
Our thinking machines can never live in the real world, so we must digitally replicate what is happening for them in their language. In doing so we can begin to teach them to perceive and understand the world the way we do, gradually unravelling the complexities of spaceship Earth so that we can operate it in a less impactful, more sustainable way.
CEO and Co-Founder, SenSat