Sunday, April 22, 2007

Historical Simulation Ethical Issues

Historical Sims will be a tremendously useful tool but they are also rife with ethical issues, even without considering that ethics will also evolve morefold by the time historical sims are a norm.

Sim Influencing and Harvesting
To what degree (if any) will external influencing, probing, shifting, etc. be acceptable once the sim has begun? Outsiders do not bring medicine and electricity to tribes living on Earth, the general thought is not to interfere with less-technologically advanced cultures if they are found elsewhere in the world or the universe, but many might want future technology introduced from outside if it were possible. One of the great potential benefits of a sim would be to extract and deploy any developed technologies that do not exist; is this ethical? Both the technology extraction and the introduction would need to be considered, for example, should attribution and royalties accrue to the sim world?

Sim Participant Ethics
Perhaps the largest class of ethical issues relates to sim participants. Self-aware agents (either recruited or created) as sim participants will presumably be more effective than non self-aware agents. The sim participants will either know that they are in a sim and have accepted the historical terms (as in Charles Stross' Glasshouse), particularly the primitive pain and misery of historical harm and death (war, disease, etc.), or not know that they are in a sim, in which case perhaps some argument could be made that it is all right that they do not know since in fact we cannot prove that we are not in a sim ourselves.

Sim Mindfile Access and Participant Privacy
One benefit of sim space is that not just the event outcomes can be known but also much more about the views and experiences of all of the participants not just those who wrote about it or were written about and even before writing and records were preserved. Is it appropriate and ethical to "mindtap" without the sim participant's permission? If the participants know they are being mindtapped, will that heisenberg behavior? Although lifecasting is rapidly approaching normalcy in the current technophilic world, it would be culturally unacceptable in historical periods.

Sim Termination
The issues concerning the termination of sims are non-trivial. Given unlimited processing power, and as a test of existential risk, there is an argument to let all sims continue indefinitely. How is extinguishing a sim not the murder of the self-aware participants or will it be desirable and possible to offer mindfile backups to all participants? This can be tricky, should "death rights" be different for those dying naturally within the sim vs. those dying in an extinguishment of the sim? What are the best approaches if the sim culture does not yet have mindfile backup technology; introduce the idea to sim participants and let them choose, save everyone irrespectively (this could be the future law anyway) with or without their knowledge or allow extinguishment? What would the options be for a mindfile exiting a sim? A state-assigned runtime area and survival resources, and access to the dial-a-world console?


Anonymous said...

Hi Melanie:

George Dvorsky sent me the link to your blog. You raise some interesting issues particularly the sim termination one - my own theory is that faced with the strong existential risk of potential runaway replication of sims and thus crashing the base world computer, and potentially eliminating itself in the process, a future society (in about 2050) would be able to overcome any ethical concerns and unplug the sims it has created at the time when those sims first acquire the technology to create sims of their own. I covered some of this in my paper on historical simulations. You may have seen it already.

Peter S. Jenkins

LaBlogga said...

Hi Peter, Thank you for the comment, I will look at your paper. I think one of the interesting uses of a sim is precisely to surpass the world that launched it. If sim participants are sentient and non-knowledgeable about clones/copies of themselves then sim termination is non-trivial.