## Are the Sims self aware?

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According to Professor Nick Bostrom of Oxford University:

...at least one of the following propositions is true: (1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation.

Given the fact that we could potentially be the directors of our own mini-universe, in video games like the Sims how do we know if its inhabitants are self aware? If they aren't currently self aware, at which point would we be able theoretically to say that they could wonder about their own existence?

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– Jon Ericson – 2012-12-17T22:54:25.090

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Hi Cayetano and welcome to [Philosophy.SE]. You might be interested in Brian Weatherson's response to the Simulation Argument [PDF]. He directly references The Sims and, I think, answers your question. I'm not sure how constructive the question is, however, since there are just so many factors to consider. One could argue that any instantiation of of an object that has access to it's self reference is self aware. But that's probably not what you mean by the term.

– Jon Ericson – 2012-12-17T23:04:05.963

1This sentence is self-aware then. – artm – 2012-12-18T07:55:17.857

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"Given the fact that we could potentially be the directors of our own mini-universe, in video games like the Sims how do we know if its inhabitants are self aware? If they aren't currently self aware, at which point would we be able theoretically to say that they could wonder about their own existence?"

You first need to define "self aware", and the quality of your Sim. Why could any future civilization not apply a "Turing Test", and a "mirror test", a measure of self-awareness, to a Sim? This question reminds me of the classic "brain in a vat" problem:

Why must the referents of our terms be accessible to us in experience? One cannot, for example, have experience of other people's private states of consciousness; does this imply that one cannot meaningfully ascribe mental states to others? (Wikipedia)

Someone might argue that if there is no empirical evidence to appeal to in order to establish whether we are, or there are, brains in a computer model of the world that can simulate human conscience, then the hypothesis is metaphysical. Many philosophers would maintain that such metaphysical possibilities do not amount to pragmatic cases of doubt: At present, it is physically impossible to make a computer model of the world that can simulate human cognition and replicate the qualitative phenomenology of a human conscience. Nevertheless, one should hesitate before making possibility claims when it comes to future technology. As films like the Matrix and even the Truman Show indicate, the idea of living in a simulated world indistinguishable from the real one is likely to continue to fascinate the human mind.

References
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Wikipedia

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In all of existence, the human person has stood unique and never shared this quality of personhood with any "lower" entity. Simulations may simulate things like self-awareness, or may even be designed specifically for self awareness.

But even a supercomputer running such a program would be no more than a machine, not a person. Would such a machine regret an error? Would it enjoy beautiful music? Would you chuckle at it if it was cranky first thing in the morning?

Also, the amount of computing necessary to predict the next nanosecond of your brain's zillions of voltages and chemical signals as they dynamically compute and commute in your "wet brain" is not available now, and will by all accounts not become available in our lifetimes. This is not a simulation.

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It partly depends on how you define consciousness and self-awareness, and partly on how the Sims themselves are structured.

Definitions

I take the view that intelligence, consciousness and self-awareness are spectrums, not thresholds. We might set a threshold defining human-level intelligence, but even the Turing Test cannot escape the maxim that "man is the measure of all things [related to man]".

If you take the position that an amoeba is conscious because it perceives its environment and reacts, then why wouldn't a Sim also be conscious, albeit in a very limited way?

Sim™ Structure

The software architecture for a sim™ may also be a factor. If each sim™ is a discrete, self-contained program, then they would qualify for the basic level of consciousness defined above.

However, if each sim™ is merely a template of behaviors, with the decisions for all sims™ being made by a MCP (Master Control Program) then there is only a single, multi-cellular organism of the MCP that has consciousness in interacting with the Sims™ environment and making decisions.

Self Awareness of Sims™

Self-awareness is the hitch because it's highly unlikely either a sim™ or hypothetical MCP ever really regards itself.

Although a sim™ may be said to have a limited form of consciousness in interacting with its environment and making decisions, it seems unlikely the sim™ has any sense of self, or "me-ness".

Alternately, if the Sims™ is architected in such a way that that sims™ have goals which are evaluated in relation to other sims™, there might be a case that a given sim™ is self-aware in seeking to achieve objectives based on the, albeit limited, sim™ self.

I might think about self-awareness in relation to autonomous vehicles which constantly check their operational status and location in regard to other entities.

It seems to me that even sims™ are aware of their operational status (the "call of nature" is one example) and location in regard to other sims™ and objects.

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Nick Bostrum's main assumption in "Are You Living in a Computer Simulation", Philosophical Quarterly (2003) Vol. 53, No. 211, pp. 243‐255 is that

a computer running a suitable program would be conscious

If that is not the case, that is, if the computational theory of mind is not true, then no simulation would be conscious, let alone self-conscious.

Consider the OP's question:

Given the fact that we could potentially be the directors of our own mini-universe, in video games like the Sims how do we know if its inhabitants are self aware? If they aren't currently self aware, at which point would we be able theoretically to say that they could wonder about their own existence?

We can engage in video games today pretending we are directors of our own mini-universes. However, if the computational theory of mind is false, then we can say that the inhabitants of a video game need not be conscious simply by being programs running on a computer.