On most days, we do not wake up anticipating that we may be suddenly thrust into the sky while popcorn shrimp rains down like confetti, as some guy roars from above: “Hey, there, I’m Jack. And you are in a computer simulation.” Instead, we wake up thinking that an atom is an atom, that our physics is inherent to this universe and not prone to arbitrary change by coders, and that our reality is, well, real.
Yet there may be another possibility. Game developers have opened up massive, explorable universes and populated them with computer-generated characters based on advanced A.I. The experiences still lack some key components of reality, but a precise simulacrum of our world and its denizens may just be a matter of time. Someday soon, you could spend your waking hours wandering through alternative worlds where most of the people you meet aren’t really people. Indeed, how will you know whether you’re a person? When virtual humans come to outnumber real ones, then as the Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom argued in an influential 2003 paper, any given person should rationally conclude he or she is made of ones and zeros rather than flesh and blood.