Some time during the past weekend, I ended up in a rather silly but for me entertaining thought experiment: I was musing about that there should be a way to produce the so called “hindsight bias” in advance of an event. What started as a joking idea quickly led me to some more serious reflections.
The term hindsight bias (according to Wikipedia also called “knew-it-all-along effect”) refers to a cognitive bias which brings people to the belief that the outcome of a certain event or situation was the only logical and possible result. Before the specific event, uncertainty about what happens next is widespread and predictions about the future are varying widely. But in the aftermath people experience a feeling of obvious and overwhelming retroactive predictability of whatever happened. Suddenly, everyone claims to always have expected this very outcome.
If you debate the question of how Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality or self-driving cars will change human life, you can hear plenty of different theories and predictions. However, in 20 or 30 years, people will point out that whatever will have happened after AI, VR and self-driving cars took over, was the one and only logical scenario.
Now, if you could somehow produce the hindsight bias about the outcomes of AI, VR and self-driving cars today, instead of in 20 or 30 years, that would be pretty neat and useful, wouldn’t it?
While my thought experiment for apparent reasons was not meant seriously, it made me mentally recapitulate the book about accurate forecasting which I reviewed briefly a few weeks ago. It also made me think of the article about the upcoming, revolutionary video game No Man’s Sky which I linked to last Thursday. This game is built to simulate an artificial universe and, according to the description, will be different from conventional games by that it does not rely on “faked” physics but on a real simulation of physical conditions (such as that planets rotate). You might be wondering what this has to do with my initial thought experiment? Bare with me, I’ll explain soon.
I am not a gamer, but I had periods in which I enjoyed the occasional session of GTA or similar titles. What always annoyed me was the fact that all other characters within a game did not have an actual life within the simulated world. If you created a massive scene of destruction involving other cars and objects, or a large traffic jam, and walked away for a short moment, the whole situation was gone shortly after, as if nothing ever happened. The computing capacity and probably also the type of software required to create a simulated game world in which all objects would be “existing” all the time, even if you as the player hang out in another part of the game, was simply not available. But if No Man’s Sky or the similarly exciting plans of the cloud-based gaming platform Improbable are an indicator, the status quo is changing and full, real-time simulations of virtual worlds are becoming possible.
People will never be able to produce the hindsight bias beforehand. It’s inherently impossible. But instead people will be able to rely on digital simulations in order to make more accurate predictions – and decisions. Here is the mind-boggling thing: Thanks to the advances in computing which now allow for the creation of a full-fledged universe simulation, one day a simulation of the world and its 7+ billion inhabitants might become reality.
Imagine if you could feed a system with a lot of real-world data and then let it generate a real-world simulation of what happens in a scenario in which the UK leaves the European Union. What impact will it have on the E.U. and the U.K.? How will the currency and economies be affected? What consequences to the political landscape have to be expected? How will the public opinion evolve after the split? Will any new political movements appear as a consequence of the split?
Simulations of that kind are already being performed in many places (a discipline dubbed “Modeling & Simulation“, M&S), even if still at a comparatively primitive stage and often limited to specific fields, such as weather, the stock market or science & education. The capabilities and capacities of such simulations will only keep getting better though, and many video games of the future will probably be build around full simulations. I am the wrong person to assess how fast this progress will be and whether near-accurate simulations of planet Earth and all its inhabitants will be possible within a near future. But if you consider the truly exponential advancements in computer science, it might not take too long. Let’s remember Ray Kurzweil’s words: We won’t experience 100 years of progress in the 21st century, but more like 20.000 years of progress.
There is obvious potential for misuse of such simulations by governments, intelligence agencies or certain commercial players. But that’s a topic which deserves more than 1 or 2 paragraphs so I won’t debate that at this point. As usually with new digital technology, it comes with possibilities and dangers.
The idea of simulating life or (virtual) worlds without relying on faked physics fascinates me. It looks like there is reason to be excited.
P.S. If this is a topic that you know a lot about or if you have interesting links which can improve and deepen my and the readers’ understanding of this topic, please share it in the comments.
If you like what you read, you can support meshedsociety.com on Patreon!