Simulated Reality

I’ve spent the holidays chasing after a 64gb Nexus 6. I failed. In the process, I found two phones more preferable to the top heavy, slippery monster: The Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and the Motorola Maxx. This post is not about phones though. I just realized that Rick, the bounty hunter from Philip K Dick’s ‘Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?’ better known as its movie reincarnation, ‘Blade Runner’ happened to be chasing down six escaped Nexus 6 androids. Rick is armed with an ‘empathy’ detection tool to determine androids posing as human and almost fails at this with one particular Nexus 6 model with embedded emotion.

Philip K Dick is one of my favorite authors. I’ve always been intrigued by the recurring themes of simulation, what is real, what is illusion, ideas manifested in his other works and movies you may have seen – Minority Report, Impostor, The Adjustment Bureau, Total Recall and Blade Runner to name a few. Another author – Hugh Howey, tackles similar ideas in ‘Wool’ a post apocalyptic novel. In this book, what people think they’re looking at through windows are not what they think. I do wish he’d only written the first book though.

I find it particularly interesting that we’re working so hard to simulate our environment with technology. For instance, the upcoming Cadillac CT6 will use a streaming video rearview cam – brilliant! This not much different from what some airlines do with letting you look outside the plane through your video screen. One of the biggest beneficiaries of gigabit internet connections will be virtual reality – Oculus Rift anyone? Simulated environments are necessary. They help us solve problems (safety, education, travel, etc). Most importantly they allow us to live in alternate realities – and escape. What’s to say we aren’t living in someone’s simulated environment right now… a statement that causes many existential debates.

Philip K Dick himself was obsessed with simulation as evidenced by his quote: “We are living in a computer-programmed reality, and the only clue we have to it is when some variable is changed, and some alteration in our reality occurs. We would have the overwhelming impression that we were re-living the present – déjà vu – perhaps in precisely the same way: hearing the same words, saying the same words. I submit that these impressions are valid and significant, and I will even say this: such an impression is a clue, that in some past time-point, a variable was changed – re-programmed as it were – and that because of this, an alternative world branched off.”

I’m less interested in the ‘living in a simulation’ debate and more interested in ideas around developing simulated environments we create and control ourselves. It is both exciting and terrifying to think that all the work that is going into simulating touch, taste, vision, hearing and smell will one day fuse into a single piece of technology. The future is bright.