Second Nature Home > Short Essays by Dan Bruiger >

Limits of Simulation

Computer simulation rests on the principle that a digital program can indefinitely approximate any analog reality. This is a useful principle for devices such as televisions and CD players, whose product is not a truly exhaustive replication of an analog original but a subjectively satisfactory representation in the consciousness of the human user. In other words, simulation is useful for creating entertainments and virtual realities, for eyes and ears that cannot tell the difference, but not for exhaustively replicating reality. The fact that digital sound, for example, subjectively passes for the original does not mean it exhaustively replicates it. This distinction, unimportant to most music listeners, becomes highly relevant in AI and robotics. It is only laxness about it that permits cyberspace fantasies of reverse-engineering brains, downloading minds, or fabricating artificial creatures, where the motive to create a useful artifact is confused with the unconscious drive to create life and reality itself. It is one thing to seek humanly useful technology, fully cognizant of the tradeoffs involved. It is quite another thing to dream of total control over matter, as though it were possible, desirable, and inevitable.

RELATED TAGS: [computer/limits of simulation, digital approximation, exhausting the analog, virtual reality, exhaustive replication, download(ing) mind, total control of matter, digital technology]

© Copyright Dan Bruiger 2008. All rights reserved.