The Simulation Argument proposed by Nick Bostrom in 2003 remains the single most perplexing answer to the Fermi Paradox yet proposed.
The short version of these two arguments are:
– Fermi Paradox: Given how many habitable planets there are in the Galaxy and how long they’ve been about… where the hell are all the aliens? They should have over run the place with von Neumann probes already!
– Simulation Argument: Given that it will become possible in the future to simulate not just individuals but whole populations, it is significantly more probable that we are ancestor simulations being run by our future prodigy rather than real world residents who will first develop that technology.
So SA’s answer to FP is simply: You are a Sim. The simulation does not include the aliens.
I never really got into playing The Sims, but I’ve watched friends gleefully torture the innocent bundles of pixels – taking away the ladder to the pool while they are in it and hiding the doors before setting the house on fire were two of the more cruel and effective ways of killing off a Sim that had become boring and wasn’t fullfilling their basic reason d’etre: to entertain the god behind the keyboard.
We have to hope that our Ancestor Sims playing descendants are bound by some sort of moral, legally enforced, code that remembers these Simms are concious entities that deserve some basic rights.
Now assume for a moment that this is true and we are indeed Sims living in a grand archaeological reconstruction of our era, painstakingly built by trawling through our flickr pictures, Facebook posts, blog entries and random musings on Twitter. Imagine that the digital trail that you are leaving when you search for stuff in The Google is in fact what is being used to reconstruct your life – it is not a trail you are leaving, it is a trail that is being followed.
That significantly re-frames the question about what you should do about your digital privacy in a whole new light. It’s not just Evil Marketers or Crypto-Anarchist Hacktivist ID Thieves you need to protect your information from… it’s also your great, great(^n) grand child. But on the flip side, if a good deal of what goes on in my life is guided by the whim of that descendent, is it not a better idea to give them as much rich, good content to work with as you can?
My father’s cousin has recently turned up a photograph of my Great, Great, Grandfather and his family. It is fascinating to see and spot the family resemblances and so on, but the amount we can hope to really know about them is only what can be dug out of official records or from dusty memories of people that met one of the children in the photo when they themselves were a child.
Future geneologists are not going to have this problem. In fact they are likely going to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information. (Hello future descendants, I hope you are enjoying this!) What better way to experience an ancestors life than to re-simulate it and see for yourself what happened?
Therefore it is probably in your best interests to pour out as much information about yourself as at all possible into digital reconds of one form or another and to try your damnest to do stuff that is interesting. If it works out well, you might find that even more interesting things start to happen as your descendents have more material to add to the reconstruction of your universe. If it doesn’t work… well, don’t get into any swimming pools you don’t think you could climb out of if the ladder mysteriously disappeared.