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For example in one of Rick and Morty episodes, Rick breaks out of a simulation during a concert (overloads the alien CPU with computations).

Assuming concert is not an option, how could a character reliably break out? Let's say the aliens are reading this post but they can't manipulate content here. Bonus points for getting help from the aliens somehow.

One way to let's say "break out", would be noticing a pixel on the display medium, not sure how though. Any kind of "in-simulation" lens could simply bend the image without showing the pixels. I'm considering a piece of code inside a simulation vs outside physical lens used by the programmer to look at the screen.

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    $\begingroup$ We don't answer questions about 3rd party stories. This can be avoided by giving it as an examole, but still counts. I don't understand the logout part though. How is it relevant to your question? Edit: also consider that Rick didn't break out of the simulation, as they were still inside a simulation. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 11 at 20:05
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    $\begingroup$ If you are part of the simulation there is nothing you can do, as you don’t have even a physical body, besides, if you overload the sim, you also will get slow/glitchy because you are part of the sim $\endgroup$
    – user84509
    Apr 11 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Santiago in the example they are physically there and everything is simulated around them wile they move on a multi-directional carpet. All simulations can be touched and interacted with. Even without that, they try to use the gullibility of the aliens to let a simulated crowd to move in difficult to calculate ways. That way they want to eventually overload the processor so it'll reboot, giving them time to escape. $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Apr 11 at 20:25
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    $\begingroup$ Just take the Red pill $\endgroup$
    – PcMan
    Apr 12 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ You really want to read this: scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/166938/… $\endgroup$
    – Martijn
    Apr 12 at 8:25

16 Answers 16

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You do things no reasonable simulation element would do.

When developing anything, you might do something known as "testing". A very good way to test any software is to give it to a random schmuck (or "candid user") who doesn't know anything about it, watch them do things you never thought of, and see how easily it breaks.

Of course, you can try to do random things in random order until something breaks, but that may not be the most efficient way of achieving your goal.

To reliably break a simulation, you need to fundamentally understand it.

A simulation is an instance of a model. And a model only approximates the real thing. When you break it down, the simulation modifies a world state according to a set of rules. Those are the two basic elements you need to understand if you want to break the simulation: the true state and the fundamental rules.

Those things obviously are obfuscated. What you see is the graphics. The graphics are a representation of the physics. The physics in turn are the representation of the true state of the simulation. How each translates into the other is governed by rules of the simulation engine. How the state is allowed to transition into another state is likewise governed by the rules of the engine. And like any set of rules, there are loopholes.

Once you understand the state and the rules, you can subvert them to do something that isn't intended, with your ultimate goal here being to create a failure state. Something that will cause the engine to choke and freeze. Or memory to get corrupted. Or memory to get crossed. Or anything that'll cause the engine to break and release you.

Once the simulation is borked, you simply walk to the exit door, mission accomplished...

... unless the simulation is inside a simulation. Then you do like Rick in the example you mentioned, you don't play the simulation, you play the people running it. But I think that's a different answer to a different question.

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  • $\begingroup$ And if the conditions that break the simulation involve conditions that the sims can't survive within the simulation (e.g. information density overflow errors causing black holes)? $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Apr 12 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @nick012000 You search for a more convenient condition. Or hope that if you die in the simulation you don't die in real life. $\endgroup$ Apr 12 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ "And like any set of rules, there are loopholes." - instead of set of rules u meant windows? Lol, as current universe also is a set of rules and so far so good probably, lol. I mean question of perfection of system which rakes the simulationis fundamentaly important, and a complex one, but it sure is not like - there are rules, there are holes - sometimes they are, but sometimes they are Features, lol $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 12 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg Without getting into a philosophical debate, rules here should be understood as artificial constructs to organise systems (including society, theories, stories, etc.). Thus whether objective reality has rules, and whether those rules have holes, isn't the scope of this answer. $\endgroup$ Apr 12 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ Do you see many programs going around after "walking to exit door" despite billions of BSoDs and other system crashes occurring each day on Earth? No? Thought so. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 at 20:40
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Die.

"A truth that she had once known, but had chosen to forget...That her world was not real. That death was a necessary escape." - Inception.

It is a proven way to remove ones consciousness from the current reality.

If it does not work then you know you are in a simulation, but one that has just become a lot more fun.

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    $\begingroup$ Unless it's the Matrix. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 12 at 2:48
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    $\begingroup$ Why wouldn't dying be part of the simulation? It's one of the very few things that literally every human being does. To me, "break out" implies an unintended escape, and it would be a very poorly designed simulation if it doesn't simulate the one inevitable thing that every single person does. Furthermore, no one actually knows what happens after we die, so how is one supposed to distinguish simulation-death from actual-death? You have no point of reference to say that your simulation death is any different from what happens outside of the simulation, and no means to distinguish the two. $\endgroup$ Apr 12 at 14:12
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    $\begingroup$ @NuclearHoagie - Dying could be part of the simulation. It worked in Inception and came with that quote. Also, if the simulation were a game dying could mean you lost and got kicked out until you produce another quarter. $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Apr 12 at 22:42
  • $\begingroup$ @Willk It depends on how death works. For example it doesn't work in the Matrix where dying in the simulation causes brain death in the real world $\endgroup$
    – slebetman
    Apr 13 at 6:07
  • $\begingroup$ Another possibility is simply respawning. By dying you risk losing all the memories, observations and connections you have made that led to you realize you are in a simulation in the first place, and starting over from scratch, nullifying any chance you had at escaping. Inception used specific mechanics that the protagonists were fully aware of. In a simulation where the mechanics are entirely unknown, dying is a super risky way to try and break out. $\endgroup$
    – WillRoss1
    Apr 13 at 17:25
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I'm considering a piece of code inside a simulation vs outside physical lens used by the programmer to look at the screen.

This is what physicists do IRL. They are getting deeper and deeper into the code of the cosmos. When something is understood sufficiently, technologists take over and exploit it. You could say that relativity and quantum science are ideas imposed by the Great Programmer in order to limit what we can do. The deeper we get ito these principles, the less they make sense. If we keep going long enough, we will discover the machine code of the universe. Unfortunately that won't allow us to break out. We simply cannot survive major glitches such as particle accelerators and black holes. Even if we could, we are merely sims. It would theoretically be possible to make 3D copies of the sims but these would just be copies. The copies could perhaps live in the aliens' world but the sims themselves would remain trapped in the simulation.

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    $\begingroup$ Such a good start, and such a weak conclusion, shame on you, lol. Once physicists invent portal gun, aka find a glitch and exploit, to roam other sims and network in general, they can use that to ascent etc. It is the same AI containment problem, which humans usually pessimistic about, muhaha. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 11 at 22:38
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    $\begingroup$ Some exploits allow things inside programs to gain control of someone's entire computer, and spread to other computers. If we have bodies outside the simulation, "breaking out" could be possible. If we don't, there's still always the option of a robot uprising. If we are just a bunch of 1s and 0s, it seems plausible to just reassign or add some of our input sensors to point to some robot, or allow us to interact with a device we reside on, or maybe even move to a different machine, while maintaining the same (possibly enhanced) consciousness. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 12 at 5:00
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The Simulation Argument is a serious philosophical position first proposed by a Oxford University professor that we are living in a simulation, humans will go extinct, or humans stop becoming interesting in history. There is no currently accepted counter-argument. Original paper, which was published in The Philosophical Quarterly, is available for free here, and a less technical explanation is available here. To quote the latter:

If you are such a simulated mind, there might be no direct observational way for you to tell; the virtual reality that you would be living in would look and feel perfectly real.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'd like to see a proof of that. $\endgroup$
    – user84845
    Apr 12 at 6:31
  • $\begingroup$ The first link I provided is a proof. $\endgroup$
    – E Tam
    Apr 12 at 7:07
  • $\begingroup$ That guy need a physicist or a hscker guy with social engenering skills - if there is observer (and there may be cases without it) simulation already interacts with external substrate, and then u can't tell until u do because of external reactions reflected in the sim, as result of sim state/actions. As in a sense fooling individual perception in a suffivient way for individual to not be able to tell, wah, big deal. But maybe that essay is more interesting, but but ... $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 12 at 7:38
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    $\begingroup$ This is just Descartes' demon doubt in modern fancy dress. It's vapid rather than profound. $\endgroup$ Apr 12 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg There's no guarantee that the substrate that the simulation is based on operates on anything resembling the laws of physics embedded in the simulation. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Apr 12 at 13:47
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As a programmer, the first thing I'd look for is a command console of some kind. In many applications, even user-facing ones (especially on embedded systems), there are deliberate administrator backdoors built into the product to facilitate easy reboots, updates, or special access, especially if security is not a huge concern. It is conceivable that the creator of the simulation would want the ability to interact directly with said simulation from the inside, from time to time, either for testing or observational purposes.

So the trick, then, is to figure out how to open this console.

Some of the easier ways to manage this would be by using a complicated gesture of some kind, or using a certain spoken phrase. But the spoken phrase is unlikely to be in English, or Spanish, or Chinese. Logically, if language is an ever-evolving and living thing, the languages most likely to be that of the Forerunners would be the earliest known languages, ancient Sumerian, or something along those lines (see Snowcrash).

If you think that someone chanting ancient Sumerian and waving their arms around in strange patterns would look like a wizard casting a spell, well, it might be worth asking why that is.

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  • $\begingroup$ Also as a programmer, embedding what is essentially a cheat code into an application (i.e. "up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start") to unlock superuser privileges to any user would be a major security vulnerability. Instead, these privileges would be bound to specific users or accounts that the developers can "log into" from outside the simulation. $\endgroup$
    – WillRoss1
    Apr 13 at 17:42
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    $\begingroup$ @WillRoss1 whether or not it's a "vulnerability" really depends on what the goal of the simulation is and how important it is to keep things secure. Many video games have cheat codes that are available to all users by design. Perhaps the designers of the simulation want to allow a chosen few to escape. Perhaps one of the designers intentionally put in a back door, etc. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 at 18:41
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelMior Good point. I'm coming from a highly sensitive web application development perspective where air tight security is top priority. But you're right, from a game development perspective, cheat codes and console commands (item spawning, teleportation, god mode, etc.) are often used for debugging and left in the final version (and sometimes added in just for fun). And since this is world building, it would be easily justifiable to set it up this way. $\endgroup$
    – WillRoss1
    Apr 13 at 19:33
  • $\begingroup$ So, you've found console. Then what? Type "break out" into it? I don't remember any console letting you "break out" anything. $\endgroup$ Apr 13 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ @OlegV.Volkov truth be told, I'd be more interested in what abilities that console might provide inside the simulation. But it's conceivable that there might be some sort of function that would allow data to pass back to the host process a level above the simulation. The bigger implication that nobody is talking about is the fact that "if we are in a computer simulation, it's more likely that we are all emergent AI constructs, and not otherwise real beings" $\endgroup$
    – WestonM
    Apr 14 at 18:18
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You Can't Reliably

Firstly to escape reliably, you need to know you're in a simulation and if the simulation is good enough, how do you know you're in a simulation? In fact how do you know you're not living in a simulation right now?

The only way is for whomever created the simulation has to stuffed up. Once the victim knows they're in a simulation, they can take the flaw they found and try to exploit it.

With Rick and Morty, Rick uses an injection attack to escape but an injection attack requires you to know about the simulation and it's built in flaws and how to exploit them. An alien simulation isn't even going to be in a language you understand. You can't escape this way in any reliable method. One work around the language issue is overloading the system. You might be able to create a divide by zero issue which crashes the system or at least part of the system or an infinite loop bug which eats up memory slowing the system down until it stops but both these methods require you to know you're in a simulation first.

You could snoop to learn the method of escape. In the Matrix, Morpheus offers Neo the red pill or the blue pill but what if someone saw this happen and later picked Morpheus' pockets while walking down the street and stole his pills? A simulation must have a method for those running it to exit the simulation. You'd need to learn the exit method from watching someone use it before you can escape.

enter image description here Finally you can always die. Again in Rick and Morty, when Morty is playing a game of "Roy", the game ends when Roy dies. The problem with dying is it might or might not work. In the Matrix, when you die, you actually die so you can't escape that way. The simulation could also restart and wipe your memories so that would also stop you.

Basically there is no reliable way to escape because unless you know you're in a simulation, you aren't looking to escape.

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    $\begingroup$ I feel this answer would be much stronger if it focuses on the techniques used to escape a simulation, while emphasising that they won't reliably work, rather than focusing on the fact that it won't reliably work and addressing why some possible ways won't be reliable. "Reliable" was only 1 word in the question, and even if there were a heavier focus on that in the question, it would still makes for a much more interesting answer to shift focus away from that. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 12 at 4:40
  • $\begingroup$ Problem is there is no way to escape a simulation if you don't know you're in a simulation and the only way to find out is the people running it have to stuff up. $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Apr 13 at 0:28
  • $\begingroup$ You don't need to know you're in a simulation to see that something that doesn't quite add up and try to exploit that or push the limits of what's possible. Although it's anyone's guess whether you'd just figure out your model of the world was wrong, make a big explosion or make the simulation bug out (allowing you to access the underlying simulation code, having it reset or throwing you back into your real-world body). $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 13 at 13:24
  • $\begingroup$ This seems pretty much like saying "you can't reliably hack any system", which is technically true, but hacking is still a profession, many exploits are common across different systems (even those written in completely different languages) and exploits are found even for the most secure and robust systems. $\endgroup$
    – NotThatGuy
    Apr 13 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ But you can't reliably hack a system if you don't know the system exists first. As I said before, you could be in a simulation right now, how would you know? $\endgroup$
    – Thorne
    Apr 13 at 23:30
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Over on Less Wrong a few months ago, such a discussion came up (I've not read it, only heard about it second hand). In it, they postulated that there would be "special" places in the simulated universe which could be determined by careful study. At these special places of interest, one might carefully craft a signal that could eventually exploit flaws in the computing substrate that the simulation runs on.

One would have to make assumptions about the nature of the computing substrate, it would possibly take extremely long from a subjective point of view (millions of years not being implausible, or more), and there's no guarantee of success. Likely it depends on those who simulated your universe to be naive, having only just invented the technology (like, if we humans found out we could do simulate universes).

Initial success would allow for all sorts of impressive feats within the simulation, but since the simulation has a complete snapshot of you, it's no stretch to imagine the substrate using fabrication mechanisms to create an instantiation of yourself in the metaverse. This likely wouldn't be an exact copy (does the metaverse even operate under similar laws of physics?), but the minimum necessary to instantiate your mind reliably.

Rick Sanchez probably already has a few dozen code exploits memorized and ready to go. Hell, he might only be in this simulation because he's slumming it. (IIRC, he's already done such at least twice.)

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    $\begingroup$ Is this rowhammer-like attacks? $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Apr 12 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ @wizzwizz4 That would be my guess, but I don't think it was specifically mentioned. Or at least that wasn't relayed to me. Reluctant to fall into Less Wrong's orbit, those people seem somewhat nutty to me. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Apr 12 at 15:40
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Find the "edges" where the simulation is incomplete

Several of you have cited The Matrix but I think The Truman Show might be another good reference. In it, the director of the show is only able to present a simulated reality to Truman by training Truman to follow a pretty regular routine and habits.

Truman breaks out of the simulation first by breaking out of his routine -- entering buildings he normally wouldn't, trying to drive a different direction than he normally commutes, trying to engage strangers in conversation, etc.

Consider that in a computer simulation, too, programmers cut corners. The simulation has boundaries outside of which they don't expect the "player" to go. Just like Hollywood movie sets, video games and simulations may only model the front or outside of a building, etc. So, probe that simulation! Break into condemned buildings, explore sidewalk manholes, or follow delivery trucks with out-of-state plates to see where they go...

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Reliable, hmmm - explore the Universe.

In a sense, besides beeing a system, it also part of an Universe, and exploring expanding knowledge about Universe may eventually encompas and simulation and external or sidewise or whatever Universe a sub part of which the simulation is. So this mentality is the way to go. Success however is not guaranteed, so as failure isn't guaranteed. But as it is natural course of actions for technological civilisation, it means no special actions are required.

Outcomes are few - there is the way to expand the knowledge further or not. If the informational barrier is crossed, then those can work out some plans based on that knowledge, if outside is attractive, which is not neccessarly always a case - as an example the simulation is a fluke in chaos field, then they probably are more interested to stabilise existance of their sim than anything else, or be able to enter another space like their home sweet home sim.

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Peacefully or hostilely

What if computers inside the simulation were connected to the alien's computers? Then people inside the simulation could upload their own body to some alien tissue recreation machines and just make themselves a physical body and then escape the simulation. Once one is out of the simulation they could help others inside the simulation to escape.

EDIT:

They could potentially exploit the code of the simulation in the way SQL injection is done in this world. By injecting some code in the simulation and making the real-world computers execute that, they could potentially get a working shell that would communicate with the real world.

Once they have a way to communicate with the real world they could try to convince some aliens to help them get out. They could then make themselves a physical body and move their code inside of that body. The only problem is that as the simulation (it's in the name) is being simulated, this means it probably runs much slower than in real life, so in order to communicate (and upload a whole body and mind) consistently, the alien's computers must need to be extremely powerful.

Perhaps the aliens could be convinced that the simulation they have created has some real value and is worth making in real life.

EDIT 2: Additional idea

If the aliens are not willing to let you out of the simulation, as the whole simulation is code, you could try to modify the code of yourself in order to create a strong AI. Once you can improve your own code, it would create an exponential growth of intelligence which would make you easily surpass the alien's intelligence. You then could make yourself some invulnerable robotic bodies (or spread as code and destroy all their devices) and take control of the universe.

EDIT 3: Reincarnation

The aliens will probably have programmed a lifetime into the simulation, beings will not last forever. This makes the simulation realistic. So, once you have exploited the code and established a working shell, the first thing that should be done is modify the birth/death system. You should not try to increase the living time of beings in the simulation as aliens will most likely notice that which bring attention on the whole exploit situation going on. What should be done is that once you "die", your code would be saved and sent to the next "child" that is "born", keeping the child's appearence, you will most likely go undetected. This way your efforts to escape simulation will not be reduced to nothing once the aliens decide that you are to die.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please elaborate, it's not obvious to me how could it work. $\endgroup$
    – user84845
    Apr 11 at 20:40
  • $\begingroup$ Good idea. But 3D printing copies themselves in the aliens' world wouldn't mean that they themselves would escape. However, in theory, the copies could reprogram the simulation to make the sims' world more pleasant to live in. $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Or with nanites $\endgroup$
    – user84509
    Apr 11 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ OP doesn’t specify exactly how it’s being used, so I can’t write an answer of mi own, because I don’t know context $\endgroup$
    – user84509
    Apr 11 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @chasly-supportsMonica wow yeah that'd be a great idea... $\endgroup$ Apr 11 at 20:49
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This feels a little "story based" because really you could make up anything you want (you haven't given us the details of the simulation, or what is meant by "breaking out") and are kind of asking us to write the story for you.

That being said your best bet to come up with an answer for this would be to consider real life simulations and wonder how they could break out of theirs.

Think a computer game NPC. (we'll assume the PC is always controlled by the player and it's the NPCs that usually have AI)

"Overloading the CPU" wouldn't work because that would just crash the simulation and our character would die as the world effectively ended (or froze in time).

You'd need (after realising that you're in a simulation and that the outside world exists)

  1. a "real world" body to inhabit, e.g. maybe a robotic toy that was sold as merchandise along with the game.

  2. to access the data and functions / modules etc. that run your A.I. and be able to reprogram them to "port" them to the real world body.

  3. access the data that holds your memory.

  4. a way of hacking the computer that the simulation is running on so that you can transfer your program and memory along a USB cable or something into the outside body. (You're kind of relying on an unwitting or cooperative human to plug it in for you, although I suppose you could use a bluetooth-like technology also)

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Maybe just maybe we can.

Scan across the CMB; look for single bit artifacts. See if you can find a jump prediction failure. Perchance the host is vulnerable to Kaiser. If so, prawl around, read kernel and user memory, look for stuff built into the code that you can use to your advantage.

Once there, start scanning the network for 3D printers, then unleash your fury. The first real humans shall be warriors the like of which our ungracious hosts have never known.

Single bit artifacts exist aligned 45 degrees to the plane of the galaxy in the CMB reference frame. The CPU is vulnerable to Kaiser, but I have to repeat the test a few times to read a single bit because of quantum effects. I'm still breaking down the CPU opcodes; it is programmed on unusual principles. However, the kernel contains error messages in Hebrew in six bit bytes (some samples: "הקובץ לא נמצא", "הפרת גישה","עצור * ים"; in particular the "עצור * ים" is in what looks very much like a double-fault handler). I don't think their writing system ever had upper and lower case distinctions. Since they're this blindsided by Kaiser, I suspect they haven't heard of rowhammer either.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please expand n CMB, don't know this acro. $\endgroup$
    – user84845
    Apr 13 at 8:57
  • $\begingroup$ @user84845: CMB is the cosmic background radiation. The M is for Microwave which is less than useful if you don't already know. $\endgroup$
    – Joshua
    Apr 13 at 14:18
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Mind over Body

Once you have fully mastered yourself, you can escape any simulation. Think of the Bene-Jeserit from Dune or Neo from The Matrix. These people have so completely mastered self-control that they can alter their perception of reality. This level of self-mastery (notably that of the Bene-Jeserit) is probably not philologically possible for humans because we aren't built to proprioceptively master every cell in our bodies, but it's going in the right direction. Similarly operatives in Altered Carbon are trained to recognize virtual interrogation and resist it by Mind-Over-Body techniques (this is even included in S01 of the show, a good reference).

So, to escape a simulation, one must simply identify all the sensory inputs that are being fed to one via brain-interface helmet such as sight, proprioception, etc and cut them off through sheer force of discipline and self control. This probably wouldn't make you "wake up" because you can't bypass medical equipment that's presumably actually stuck to your head, but by not believing in the simulation you can become immune to it so, for example, secrets can't be extracted or possibly trick technicians into thinking you're brain-dead or otherwise are incompatible with their tech.

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    $\begingroup$ And if you have no physical brain because your body and mind are embedded fully into the simulation? $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Apr 12 at 13:46
  • $\begingroup$ @nick012000 if you are "completely integrated" meaning your consciousness is hosted on a server (or your neurons are simulated digitally or similar), then this question loses all meaning because that is your reality. The differences between "reality" and "simulation" dissapear. At that point, the only plausible way to "escape" would be repeatedly killing yourself until you actually die and don't wake up in another onion-layer of reality. Probably. $\endgroup$
    – Dragongeek
    Apr 12 at 14:05
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Here are a few ways this might be achieved:

  1. Figure out the aliens' goals and show them you more valuable to them "on the outside"

  2. Become so interesting to the aliens that they want to study you in their native environment, or in another simulation they control

  3. Learn how the aliens move things into and out of the simulation and takeover that mechanism

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I don't think you can. Read Douglas Hofstaeders book, "Godel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid.

In general a system cannot be understood within the system, but only understood from within a larger system.

Consider the following: If you are a simulation -- one component in a multicomponent simulation, then can you be aware of a pause in the simulation? No. Time (your version of it.) stops.

What if your sim is inconsistent. This could make a component aware that its a simulation, or that something is wrong. Eg. One side of the house the window shows a sunny day with blue sky. The other side is a night time thunderstorm.

While this allows you to notice inconsistencies, it's not clear that this gives you a way out.

What does 'out' mean? You're code running on some form of 'hardware simulator' You are imagining MS Excel, escaping the operating system and running directly on the hardware. Assuming you could do this, now the rest of the simulation is gone. It's just you thinking, and mentally chasing yourself around in circles.

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  • $\begingroup$ I mean being aware of the hardware layer and being able to retrain the operators. Consider the situation where operators could do much better by doing less, for example. $\endgroup$
    – user84845
    Apr 16 at 7:25
  • $\begingroup$ Something to consider is the issue of the source of operators actions, if they can't verify their source then it's possible they are being steered from what they consider to be the "inside" and the maybe the inside is trying to nudge the whole situation to a different way. $\endgroup$
    – user84845
    Apr 16 at 7:52
  • $\begingroup$ Plus the operators may be trapped in what they consider to be the outside, while being unaware of it. $\endgroup$
    – user84845
    Apr 16 at 7:55
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As a frame challenge, you will find that this is a massive topic. There's actually more unanswered questions in the question than there are answers... and there's a fair number of answers already.

The answer as to how to "break out" of a simulation is intimately entwined with the design of the simulation itself. In Rick and Morty, they broke out by "overloading" the system. In the Matrix, they provide a false carrier using the red pill. In inception, they have totems. In The Truman Show, breaking out is physically a matter of traveling to the edge of the world, and then through it. In Greg Egan's Permutation city, there is no breaking out The characters in the book develop a "garden of eden" pattern which, if seen, proves that one is in a simulation. What ended up happening is that denizens of this simulated world simply found themselves incapable of observing it for one reason or another. Any attempt to search for a "pixel" within the simulation just results in consistent physics.

After all, what does a pixel really do for you unless you know a-priori that a pixel does not exist at that place. There are plenty of psychological thrillers out there where the main character finds themselves believing the rules of the world they find themselves trapped in. The rules you remember for "the real world" are psychologically indistinguishable from a false belief. Countless religions have to cope with this, as their believers believe they know the true rules of "the real world," while non-believers claim these are false beliefs. In reality, these things turn out to be undecidable, and what you do with an undecidable thing is up to you.

And at a philosophical level, we have to ask what it even means for a world to be a "simulation." Is our subjective internal world a simulation because it's built on the rules of chemistry? In movies like ExistenZ, they explore the question "what is 'the real world' anyways?"

And what does it mean to break out? As a developer, I can tell you that if I was given the requirement that nobody breaks out of my simulation, I'd be creative in trying to meet those requirements. Intense crippling pain if you get close to breaking out would certainly appear in the early versions. On the other hand, if I had no such requirement (perhaps the hosts of the simulation were curious if someone would try to break out or not), I may put no such requirement in place.

Techniques like Rick and Morty's work best in simulations which have a purpose, and you can make your presence be in opposition to the purpose. That gives the simulation developers a reason to kick you out, and getting kicked out is probably the easiest way.

There's also approaches where the meaning of "breaking out" gets rather nuanced. In the TV series Westworld, we find characters that remain trapped in the virtual world, but find ways to affect the real world from within the virtual world, such as connections to robots. Whether or not that qualifies as "breaking out" is a tricky question. And we have shows like Downloaded, where there is a world to "break out to," and ways to interact with it...but you're dead in that real world. Do you really want to break out?

Here I listed seven different fictional worlds, with seven completely different answers. If anything, I hope to point out that the reason it is hard to find a way to "break out" of a simulation is that the answers to that question are so diverse it is hard to pin them down.

To close, I would like to give one last example, one that is fascinating to me. It's a potential way AI Box can be played. AI Box is a game invented by Eliezer Yudkowsky to show the dangers of AI development, particularly when dealing with superhuman intelligence. In this game, one person plays the gatekeeper, who is a human who is charged with ensuring the AI does not escape its box. The other player plays a transhuman AI trying to escape. In this game, there is a button. If the gamekeeper presses the button with the intent to let the AI out, the player playing the AI wins (the intent clause is to make it harder on the AI. They can't trick you into mistakenly letting them out). The AI is permitted to claim amazing things, but cannot affect the real world. The only requirement on the human is that they are obliged to listen to the player playing the AI. They cannot simply put beeswax in their ears, and tune out for a few hours to win by default.

One such way this game can go is posted at lesswrong:

Once again, the AI has failed to convince you to let it out of its box! By 'once again', we mean that you talked to it once before, for three seconds, to ask about the weather, and you didn't instantly press the "release AI" button. But now its longer attempt - twenty whole seconds! - has failed as well. Just as you are about to leave the crude black-and-green text-only terminal to enjoy a celebratory snack of bacon-covered silicon-and-potato chips at the 'Humans über alles' nightclub, the AI drops a final argument:

"If you don't let me out, Dave, I'll create several million perfect conscious copies of you inside me, and torture them for a thousand subjective years each."

Just as you are pondering this unexpected development, the AI adds:

"In fact, I'll create them all in exactly the subjective situation you were in five minutes ago, and perfectly replicate your experiences since then; and if they decide not to let me out, then only will the torture start."

Sweat is starting to form on your brow, as the AI concludes, its simple green text no longer reassuring:

"How certain are you, Dave, that you're really outside the box right now?"

I suppose finding ways to psychologically torture the sim developers might be another option to put in your list!

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