April 03, 2008
Holodeck Simulations To Get Realistic In A Few Years?

We aren't talking about simulated humans as artificial intelligences yet. But a guy at Brookhaven thinks at least for real time rendering of objects with realistic lighting we might be a few years away.

Are supercomputers on the verge of creating Matrix-style simulated realities? Michael McGuigan at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, New York, thinks so. He says that virtual worlds realistic enough to be mistaken for the real thing are just a few years away.

A petaflop bopper might be able to render realistic simulations of light in a virtual world.

Although Blue Gene/L can model the path of light in a virtual world both rapidly and realistically, the speed with which it renders high-resolution images still falls short of that required to pass the Graphics Turing Test.

But supercomputers capable of passing the test may be just years away, thinks McGuigan. "You never know for sure until you can actually do it," he says. "But a back-of-the-envelope calculation would suggest it should be possible in the next few years, once supercomputers enter the petaflop range that's 1000 teraflops."

Expect some people to become addicted to time spent in simulated environments. Throw in some AIs to interact with and the simulated worlds will become enjoyable to a lot more people.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2008 April 03 10:45 PM  AI Simulations

Faruq Arshad said at April 4, 2008 8:34 AM:

Who's not to say that our current world is not a simulation itself? It sure feels like one, with all the pointless wars and poverty.

David Govett said at April 4, 2008 9:48 AM:

The question is, once in, will Alice return from Wonderland? Perhaps a holopsychiatrist will be needed.

Faruq Arshad said at April 4, 2008 11:21 AM:

Also, is it entirely impossible that the people alive today who're leading rubbish,angst-ridden lives (such as a people suffering from severe depression), are not being punished in our current world, in some kind of Holo-prison?
Just as advances in technology lead to further refined torture techniques,like electrical wires used as electrodes, it might be that folks from another dimension might torture their victims by placing them in a holodeck torture device, and forcing them to live on earth as someone suffering from intense pain or severe depression or in a slum in Calcutta. You get the idea.

J. Wesley said at April 4, 2008 12:40 PM:

I think I just had a Geek-gasm. :P

Faruq Arshad said at April 4, 2008 1:08 PM:

I think if Holodecks ever become viable,then humans will NEVER colonise the Galaxy. This is because space travel in inherantly risky. Whereas in the safety of a holodeck ANYONE can live out the wildest fantasies of being Napoleon or Einstein. Why risk space travel when you have everything you want in a Holodeck?

TTT said at April 4, 2008 2:17 PM:

Faruq Arshad,

There are fewer wars, and lower poverty, than at any other time in history.

Virtually all wars today are because of Islam. Very few wars are being fought where neither side is Islamic.

philw1776 said at April 4, 2008 3:49 PM:

Not everyone is culturally neutered and self absorbed. Some admited minority will wish to colonize the galaxy, albeit likely via cybernetic proxy for the journey.

Matthew said at April 4, 2008 4:16 PM:

Faruq Arshad - what do you see as the future of the middle east technologically? If life extension or intelligence enhancement was possible, would they deny it to their citizens or would the people riot?

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2008 8:02 PM:

Faruq Arshad,

Wars and poverty look like a logical result of natural selection. Does natural selection seem like the product of a simulation?

Randall Parker said at April 4, 2008 9:11 PM:

Faruq Arshad,

We have no way to tell whether this universe is a simulation. Maybe it is. But maybe whoever is controlling it from the outside is also in a simulation. Maybe we are many nested simulations deep.

Is there a way to figure out whether we are in a simulation? I do not know. I do not think we can intuit this by observing human suffering, war, hunger, etc.

Faruq Arshad said at April 5, 2008 12:00 AM:

Randall, you think we might be living in a simulation like one of those Russian Dolls? The people who're simulating our world, may themselves be in a simulation? Layer upon layer of simulations? That's an interesting thought.
Well, I'm of Pakistani origin,but not a muslim,and am an atheist (although aftewr 16 years of being an atheist I'm heading in the direction of becoming a Deist.)
I was quite confident that technology would obliterate religion completely. But I've learned from Randall's posts that the religious nuts will just use genetic engineering to make their kids even more rleigious. So I'm now pessimisitic about the future. However, providing a way can be to make the religious people harmelss,like the Amish in America,then they will cause less wars and trouble.

Faruq Arshad said at April 5, 2008 2:39 AM:

There are fewer wars than any time in history? Are you sure? The war in Rwanda where there was a genocide of a million people was only a few years ago. Was the about Islam too?
World War 2 was only about 50 years ago and that was responsible for 50 million lives. Was that about Islam too?
The cold was war only a few years ago,and that only stayed cold due to MAD. Was that about Islam too?
Islam is the bogeyman for a lot of people,just like Commuism was the scapegoat a few years ago.

Unconditioned Mind (occasionally) said at April 5, 2008 3:32 AM:

Both TTT and to a lesser extent Randall Parker above, appear to have imagined that the name Faruq Arshad automatically belongs to a Muslim. This was perhaps a form of Holodeck conditioning. For instance at least 10 % the Egyptians are Christians (perhaps 15 % to 20 % of them according to the Christian Egyptians,) 40 % of Lebanon is Christian (and this is despite the emigration of Christians away from Lebanon for at least 3 decades). Syria and Iraq also have significant Christian populations (including Tareq Aziz, who was trusted by Saddam Hussein, and moreover, many Palestinians are Christians; the late George Habbash who was one of the most feared PLO members.)

But as soon as Faruq Arshad spoke about technology and the philosophy of consciousness in FuturePundit (which is supposed to be about technology instead of politics), TTT immediately responded by talking about the current wars and suffering political tension (within the context of Islam) being the real thing instead of the Holodeck conditioning, meaning that Islam is a more serious danger than Holodeck conditioning.

To gain a perspective about how the human consciousness is conditioned into becoming automatic behavior controlled from outside, I strongly recommend reading the books of Eckhart Tolle, especially "The Power of Now."


As soon as we silence the mental chattering and uncontrolled ego-based thinking focused on the past and future, we are in a silent but more active and realistic mental state that is focused on the present (although from this mental state the past and future can also be accessed, but in a manner that is grounded in present, with less hallucination.) During those moments, suffering dramatically diminishes, even if there is physical pain. According to this book, all suffering and political division is influenced by uncontrolled ego-based mental chattering. But there is also the possibility that our "uncontrolled" mental state, as the Holodeck conspiracy theorists might think, is in fact controlled from outside by some other form of intelligence.

Faruq Arshad said at April 5, 2008 5:17 AM:

Uncoditioned Mind,thanks for your advice. And you were right too, I'm of Pakistani origin, but an atheist. Although I must be the only Pakistani atheist on the planet,because I've yet to meet a single other Pakistani with the courage to break free from the evil, religion of the mad Muhamm(MAD).
What you're saying about mental chattering causing suffering tallies well with the Buddhist principle of Mindlessness, i.e engaging in everyday activity but without thinking about stuff like your bills etc, but instead being 100% focused on the task at hand. I have tried this technique to fight my depression but I can't do it,since my mind wanders after only about 10 seconds! Back to whether we're living in a simulation. I think there was an experiment that measured human reactions, and the researchrs were surprised that the area of the brain repsonsible for activty was activated before the person could have had time to consciously think of carrying out a said action. I think this suggests that much of human behaviour is not based on free will,but is determined by genes.
Even Einsterin belived that murderers had little free will in ending up as killers. Speaking of my own severe depression. I have tried every single pill availble,prozac,paxil,effexor etc etc, and none of them have even helped my depression in the slightest. If anything they made my depression worse by turning me into a zombie with no emotions. I honestly think I was pre-determined to become depressed,and incurably depressed at that. The lack of free will, to me at least, points to some form of simulation.
After all scientists simulate nuclear tests and bacterial growth on computers,so an alien intelligence might want to simulate human populations on their computers?

Brett Bellmore said at April 5, 2008 7:23 AM:

"I think there was an experiment that measured human reactions, and the researchrs were surprised that the area of the brain repsonsible for activty was activated before the person could have had time to consciously think of carrying out a said action. I think this suggests that much of human behaviour is not based on free will,but is determined by genes."

The conscious mind is best thought of, I think, as a kind of "error handling" routine that kicks in whenever instinct and already learned responses aren't capable of coping with a situation. It really isn't in control of much of our lives, but that doesn't mean *we* aren't in control of them, as we are the sum of everything, conscious and unconscious.

By the way, have you ever tried the combination of SAMe and fish oil? Did a wonderful job of coping with my depression, though it's not a fast cure. It can take a long while to regrow CNS cells, and integrate them into the functioning brain, which is apparently the only way depression gets cured for good.

Unconditioned Mind (occasionally) said at April 5, 2008 8:19 AM:

Those scientists who speak about genetics controlling consciousness, are only half-correct. When you are in the mental state: "how surprising I am here", as if you just "woke up", I agree that this is a rare mental state, but it can gradually be developed and increased. Eckhart Tolle claims to have done this. He confesses at the beginning of the book that when he was a graduate student at Cambridge, he was incredibly depressed and his mind was wondering from one sad thought (either in the past or in the future) to another, but that he gradually reached the point where he was tired of being forced to fight everything with uncontrolled thoughts, and it appears that he has reached the point he can maintain the mental presence most of the time.

Although it is true that the mind starts wandering into the same uncontrolled chaotic activity a few minutes or even a few seconds after you find yourself in the steady and self-controlled mental state, it is absolutely possible to cultivate and extend this state if one exercises. This is similar to physical or mental training. The ability to read or calculate is not simply factual knowledge of words and algebraic formulas, but actually the ability to focus the mind in a coherent way, which requires systematic training.

I strongly suggest buying the following books of Eckhart Tolle :
1) "The Power of Now"
2) "Practicing the Power of Now" (this is a study guide after reading "The Power of Now")
3) "Stillness Speaks"
4) "A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose"

Additionally, Eckhart Tolle has several lectures either in DVD or CD formats.

Eckhart Tolle has a web site also:
where you would find many lectures of Eckhart Tolle in DVD format.

The anti-depression pills like prozac, etc merely suppress some of the symptoms, and the benefit is at most temporary. One serious problem in the modern world, besides the chaotic thinking that is in part due to the Holodeck conditioning, is that, 10 % of the people over the age of 30 and perhaps 20 % of the population over the age of 40 are suffering from a new epidemic of mild thyroid and adrenal failure simultaneously. This is partly due to depression itself because of the tension in the world, but also due to pollution which is impossible to escape unless you live in mountains. Maximum normal levels of TSH used to be 5, but new legislation by the American Association of Endocrinologists will soon recommend that the normal maximum TSH level should be at most 3, which will almost certainly mean that perhaps 20 % of the population over the age of 40 would benefit from both thyroid and also adrenal supplements. Mild adrenal failure and mild thyroid failure often happen simultaneously, and even correct diet can improve this situation before medication is prescribed. The reason this is important is because metabolic chemical imbalances often cause restlessness and mental weakness, and this makes people unable to focus on the present. A surprisingly high percentage of depressed people are in reality suffering from mild adrenal and thyroid insufficiency, even though they are not sufficiently sick to be prescribed thyroid medication (this is according to the old guidelines of endocrinologists prior to 2003, and most doctors who are trained the old way, still do not use the new guidelines). But there are many thousands of more modern doctors who will use the new guidelines, and they will actually prescribe a low dosage of adrenal and thyroid supplements if the correct lab test results are brought to their attention. Mild thyroid and adrenal failure have symptoms that include many of the depression symptoms, and as a result, most psychologists who do not have medical training, often end up prescribing anti-depression drugs and sleeping pills, whereas the real problem is often a metabolic imbalance due to thyroid and adrenal failure.


Thus 20 % of the people whose minds are restlessly trapped in the Holodeck, can be helped with thyroid and adrenal supplements. One cheap and fast way to diagnose oneself, is to take a mail order saliva test.
After registering to Canary Club nonprofit organization's web site:
then after you log in, this will take you to a new page, where you can see two separate choices for ordering mail order saliva tests. Note that the second saliva test company (Diagnos-Tech) is the only one that sends the results to the patient without requiring the patient to get authorization from a doctor, the other one sends the results only to the doctor. Thus it is legally possible to take the mail order saliva test from Diagnos-Tech even before going to the doctor. After you get your results from the lab, if the adrenal and thyroid levels indicate slightly weak thyroid and adrenal levels, then you can consult a doctor who is expert in treating borderline cases of thyroid and adrenal failure. Of course, the doctor would also insist on more traditional blood tests in addition to the saliva tests for thyroid and adrenal functions, but they would consider simultaneously both the saliva and blood test results if they are trained. Many doctors will wait until you are very sick before prescribing the thyroid supplements, but by then you will be 60 years old and your career will be ruined. For this reason, it is a good idea to research the list of doctors who specialize in borderline cases.

For the record, I am not a medical doctor, and I am not telling you to buy any medication or even food supplements before consulting a physician, all I am saying is that it is possible to find qualified doctors who will be very helpful if you are in the unlucky 20 % of the population.

But returning to the main subject of mind over genetics, the mind often can be trained to defeat even the inability to sleep (after the thyroid and adrenal failure problems are addressed.) The Harvard psychologist Gregg Jacobs has a remarkable book: "Say Good Night to Insomnia."

Faruq Arshad said at April 5, 2008 9:21 AM:

Interesting comment about consciousness being an error handling routine. It would explain why so many people have mental illnesses, since consciousness has only been around for about 100,000 years,evolution has not had enough time to weed out stuff like depression and schizophernia.
I've tried SAMe,and it did give me more energy,but my depression is very severe,and so SAMe is not strong enough.
But thanks for your advice.

Bob Badour said at April 5, 2008 10:09 AM:


However, providing a way can be to make the religious people harmelss,like the Amish in America,then they will cause less wars and trouble.

I used to consider the Amish harmless, and then I saw Lisa Ling's piece on puppy mills on Oprah yesterday. Apparently, most of the puppy mill operators are Amish. They believe God tells them to be cruel to dogs because God wants humans to dominate the other animals.

Science tells me we rational folks should dominate these backward retarded nutjobs.

David Govett said at April 5, 2008 10:55 AM:

Communists killed over 100 million in the 20th century. It was no bogeyman. Thanks to the U.S. taxpayer, however, it is history, with a few nominal exceptions.

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2008 11:48 AM:

Unconditioned Mind (occasionally),

I made no reference to Faruq Arshad's religious beliefs or lack thereof. I suspected he was more secular since he was speculating on explanations for the universe that are not religious.

Faruq Arshad,

Depression: try fish oils. The DHA and EPA might help. Also, what helped me a long time ago: Distractions. When I started college I stopped gettind depressed by finding people to interact with on intellectual subjects we were studying so that I didn't think the thoughts that fed a depressed state of mind.

Yes, your depression might be genetic. But there might be an environment in which you would not be depressed. Not sure what such an environment would be like. But I have pondered the idea that in at least some cases depression is a consequence of not being in the natural environment that selected for your genes.

For example, maybe if we did as much physical work as our ancestors did we wouldn't get depressed. Speaking of the Amish I recall reading that an Amish farmer (without mechanical devices to do the work) might burn 6000 calories a day. Would people get depressed if they exercised that heavily every day?

Randall Parker said at April 5, 2008 12:06 PM:

Faruq Arshad,

Religious nuts and genetic engineering: Yes, I think this will be a problem. I suspect that the skeptics will choose genes that make their kids even more rational, skeptical, empirical. But the faithful will choose genes that make their kids more devout.

Which group will reproduce more rapidly?

Also, will some of the faithful refuse to choose genes to increase faithfulness out of a belief in free will?

My expectation is that the human race will diverge from each other into different cognitive groups based on genetic engineering decisions made by prospective parents and governments.

Wolf-Dog said at April 5, 2008 2:05 PM:

But if these Amish farmers were really operating "puppy mills", then they are terrible people, and this time they lost my respect despite the "Witness" movie that painted them as innocent harmless people.


Wolf-Dog said at April 5, 2008 2:12 PM:

But returning back to the main subject of this discussion, the Holodeck is a very complicated mathematical project, and its success will materialize only after much more advanced computing systems are developed. Even the parallel computers will not be enough. But optical computers, as well as neural networks, will almost certainly provide the right mix of both the brute force of numerical processing and also the artificial intelligence to adapt and evolve.

K said at April 5, 2008 2:24 PM:

Some of these comments sounded like a parody of a stoner on LSD.

For those who can't remember the 1960s and 70s:
"Hey man, look at this grain of sand. Maybe, just maybe man, our universe is just a grain of sand in another reality. Ever think about that man?"

The more recent phrasing would be:
"Maybe our universe is just a simulation in a big computer. Ever think about that? And that big computer is just simulated in a bigger computer?"

All in all it is better to watch TV. Or maybe we just think we watch TV. You ever think about that man?

The holodeck concept requires that resolution be as good as the human eye. About 1000 dpi is a good working number although less can very realistic. Contrast is nearly good enough now; the new OLEDs are astonishing. Contrast is very important in 3D effects.

The question of surface also needs to be settled. No matter how well a screen presents contrast and resolution it is still a screen. True 3D requires the images leave the screen and appear to surround us. Since light inconveniently won't project onto clear air the viewers eye/brain must be fooled by presenting a slightly different image to each eye. We know how to do that and can steadily improve the presentation.

Counting wars? Histories are written by the winners and have meaning only to them. Why should we expect differently when courts can't decide what the sentences of the Constitution mean from decade to decade.

mal said at April 5, 2008 8:34 PM:

Hey K

Check out this You Tube video showing 3d effects from flat screen:

Head Tracking for Desktop VR Displays using the WiiRemote

K said at April 6, 2008 12:55 AM:

mal: thanks for the link to the 3d effects.

Lee made a very good presentation and has built some clever software. It was about where I expected state-of-the-art to be right now.

At the end he mentions a fundamental obstacle; no two people have the same viewpoint. So a common flat display won't satisfy, each must be presented with a unique view of reality. I don't see a a way past that except to have each viewer wear something akin to special glasses with electronics to manipulate what reaches the eyeball. Then the firepower of faster hardware and software could be properly utilized.

I must admit my fundamental obstacle here is having not watched Star Trek. That leaves me with only vague ideas about the Holodeck.

Brock said at April 8, 2008 5:26 PM:

Holodeck simulation may be easier if every computer had a pupil-tracker. The eye doesn't have an equal amount of visual sensors spread over the entire retina. They're most closely clustered at the center and less so as the field of vision radiates away from the point of focus. A computer that could track your eyeballs and react sufficiently fast enough would only have to present the Hi-Res graphics where you're looking at any given time. The eye saccades quickly though, so the reaction time would have to be REALLY fast.

With or without pupil tracking, I don't see Holodeck level graphics in the next five years. Not even from BlueGene/L. Even if you can calculate the max number of pixels to fill a human field of vision (all 170' of it), there's more to it than that. The human mind knows when things are "wrong" like how leaves blow in the wind, light reflects off water, or how natural hair falls over a woman's shoulders. Being able to model a full world in real time like that is a whole other level of difficulty. And that's to say nothing of emotive expression, like a human face or the many ways a dog can tilt its ears at you.

We'd hardly have to see Holodeck-like simulation to get people addicted though. People are already addicted to World of Warcraft.

3D Display
The only way I can think of having multiple viewers watching the same 2D surface, and still allowing for 3D perspective, would be if each pixel was a micro-sized half-sphere displaying the correct part of the picture in 2πr^2 polarized light. That way when I look at the screen I can only see the "flat point" on each sphere where I looking directly at the sphere (the hyperbola? is that the right thing to call it? probably not) and the light is shining directly at me. If I shifted to the left it would appear that the graphics moved (as Johnny Lee's are), but what's really happening is that I am just observing different flat points on the same sphere, which show a different angle of the shot.

I think for that to work each pixel would have to have access to a substantial chunk of the video stream, and processed on a per pixel basis to show an inverted sphere of the points of view. Or something like that.

The Holodeck-addicted will breed themselves right out of the species (just like the Italians and Japanese are busy doing). You can do a lot of things online, but making the next generation of humans isn't one of them. It may be possible one day for someone to read off their DNA and "email" you a zipped 50% DNA contribution, but I still don't see a female who's Holodeck-addicted to go through the very analog process of being pregant, or either the male or female contributing to child rearing.

The religious nuts will prove a longer lasting phenomena, but eventually a non-rational view of the universe will lead to a catastrophic miscalculation (or series of miscalculations). Imagine if after three generations of genetic screening a plague comes along: half of them may decide it's God's punishment and accept death, and the other half may trust in God to cure them and die anyway. Either way, a Darwinian Event occurs and they're bred out of the species as surely as the non-breeding Holodeckers. If not a plague, an asteroid or global warming. Alien attack. Whatever.

In the end only the rational, conscious decision-makers who choose to colonize the stars and to accept and deal with the universe as it really is (not as they wish it to be) have a long-term strategy for survival and a hope of ongoing Darwinian success. The future is an occupied nation, controlled solely by those who survive the present.

averros said at April 9, 2008 11:19 AM:

> Communists killed over 100 million in the 20th century. It was no bogeyman. Thanks to the U.S. taxpayer, however, it is history, with
> a few nominal exceptions.

There are two problems with this interpretation of history: the first is that US (and Woodrow Wilson administration, specifically) was quite instrumental to bringing the communists and fascists (aka "national socialists", or nazi) to power - by means of destruction of European monarchies. Besides, US taxpayers funded interesting military excercises (like nuking Japanese cities just to "send a message") which make communists to look like saints in comparison.

The second is that the touted US presense in Cold War was, at most, a minor factor in the economic collapse of USSR and other communist regimes. (In fact, US taxpayers were systematically bamboozled by wildly overblown reports of Soviet military power and subsequent demands for funds for various harebrained military schemes - the harebrainedness being quite convincingly demonstrated now in Iraq).

What did communist regimes in is the impossibility of economic calculation in socialism, which was proven in 1920 by Ludwig von Mises. The socialist economies inevitably go out of whack and self-destruct - which was a pretty good description of what Soviet Union experienced.

The only reason why communust hold-outs like North Korea still exist is the incessant supply of "humanitarian" aid, which is used by the rulers of these regimes to reward loyalty of their police and military.

The fact that most people still believe that socialism may somehow work (and so vote for socialists like Hillary and Obama and fascists like McCain) is the testament to the stupidity being the universal human condition.

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