In my world a group of scientists create a virtual reality in populated with Artificial Intelligences (AIs). The AI start as advanced as cavemen, but through time begin to build a complex society and eventually creating their own scientific method that they use to study the world. I want the AI to eventually discover machine code that runs their world but I'm not sure how this could happen. So my question is how would intelligent AI living in virtual reality members of a civilization about as advanced as we are discover the machine code that runs the virtual reality?

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    $\begingroup$ Isn't that what physicist do? $\endgroup$ – PatJ Jul 19 '16 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ @PatJ exactly I'm wondering how a AI physicist living in the virtual reality would discover machine code. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 19 '16 at 15:19
  • $\begingroup$ I remember of some papers about finding effects of approximating astral mechanics. If I find them again I'll post an answer. $\endgroup$ – PatJ Jul 19 '16 at 15:20
  • $\begingroup$ I think @PatJ's point is that its very hard to draw the line between discovering machine code and manipulating it, or say, discovering quantum mechanics and using it to factor a semi-prime number which was previously thought of as unfactorable in a reasonable period of time. It would be very reasonable to assume the AI's approach is almost identical to that of human physicists, just in a slightly different world. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 19 '16 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ We humans have figured out a lot of our API and are on to writing some "programs" of our own. $\endgroup$ – Kys Jul 19 '16 at 18:16

Oh, that's easy. Every simulation has bugs in it.

For example, it is possible for a machine using an actual SNES pad to reprogram Super Mario World to become Pong. Or even transform it into a Mario level editor. How do they pull that off?

Because the simulation is imperfect. And the makers of those robots figured out how to use those imperfections to basically start overwriting memory with new code.

From the outside world, we see the simulation as what it appears to be: a fat man running and jumping around. But it's all just numbers and memory in reality. For a machine with free will living in such a simulation, who can think and act faster and more precisely than any human, it's only a matter of time before they start finding the holes in that imperfect simulation.

Exactly how those holes manifest themselves, we can't say. It could crash the simulation, killing them all. One of them could become Neo, gifted with the power to hack the world and seemingly defy "known physics". Or whatever.

An AI within the system could only be able to manipulate the system's code directly via some sort of glitch that allowed it to start directly manipulating executable code. The main problem such an AI would have is that most simulations are not very fault-tolerant with regard to having arbitrary data fed into their executable memory, so the first time an AI encounters this glitch, the whole thing crashes.

But if the AIs/simulation can survive such things, then yes, they will eventually work out the meta-physics of their reality.

  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Jul 19 '16 at 17:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Polygnome See the room Nicol created. I was going to move the comments automatically, but with the chat room already created, it would be totally redundant. At any rate, comments are not for extended discussion, but please do continue this in chat. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jul 19 '16 at 20:57

If the simulation feeds the AI and is non-contradictory, they can't. Because the princle of relativity holds, their "reality" would be indistinguishable from a real "reality". This begs the question what "reality" is and what your "AI" is.

Lets say you model some kind of 3D world that they populate, and you give it a clock that is able to advance the simulation. Then you go further and add a physics engine to it and simulate simple newtonian physics (thats what current physics engine do, not a single one oberserves relativity). And then you finally run some computer code that is your "AI". This Ai would have an API with which it is able to query your simulation for inputs. These inputs would be the senses of your AI. You could simulate eyesight, hearing, touch etc.

But if your simulation doesn't contradict itself, the scientific method would hold. They would eventually discover the rules of your world, and after a long enough time, might even with absolute correctness have figured out the rules of your simulation (even if they still can't prove they have figured it out, Goedels Incompletness Theorem would also hold in their reality, after all).

But lets say that they find contradictions. What would that mean? They would probably abandon the scientif method and believe in some form or deity or magic - anything that is able to explain what they see.

Lets say the even come up with the idea that they are in some form of simulation (maybe your engine is advanced enough to let them run simulations inside the simulation), the concept of "machine code" still wouldn't be meanignful to them. They wouldn't think of themselves as machines. They would think of themselves as creatures that are alive.

We have defined "life" to mean the stuff we see at earth. But we can not be absolutely sure that we are ourselves not inside some kind of elaborate simulation (I am not saying that we are, but the scientific method doesn't rule it out, either).

If there isn't someone from the outside telling them whats going on, you are in for a rough time. Check Matrix for example.

edit: Another good thing to compare is Plato's Allegory of the Cave. The AI might be able to find patterns and glitches, and might be able to exploit those - even in so far as to completely destroy the original simulation, and maybe being able to explore the properties of the electrical circutis "If I do this, that happens". But they will never be able to understand that they are just inside a simulation, or if they have broken down the simulation, that they are in a circuit (if you beleieve is possible for them to completely break down the simulation without also erasing heir own code). They will never think of what they are doing as "Machine code", but always as their rules of physics.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm not saying they would call it machine code they might call it life code or the language of life or language of the world or something but it would be their equivalent of machine code. In the physical world physicist discovered that everything made up of atoms. I'm wondering if it would be possible for a AI in a virtual reality to discover machine code like we discovered atoms? $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Jul 19 '16 at 15:25
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    $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure: "I'm wondering if it would be possible for a AI in a virtual reality to discover machine code like we discovered atoms?" No, it would in no way be like we discovered atoms. Not unless the machine code was intended to be accessed from inside the system. $\endgroup$ – Nicol Bolas Jul 19 '16 at 15:26
  • $\begingroup$ @NicolBolas well, that could be. The simulation could have entry points, that connects to an API (like the console opened with the key "º" in Skyrim) or even directly to the underlying machine's CMD. $\endgroup$ – xDaizu Jul 19 '16 at 15:47
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    $\begingroup$ @NicolBolas Or the simulation, in all its glory, has just a single bug which permits manipulation of the simulation at a machinecode level (such as a buffer overflow). It would only take one. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jul 19 '16 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ @xDaizu and CortAmmon The Ai would not understand that these are not part of the normal rules of the simulation, how could it? It would simply notice that some things have certain effects. But it won't understand that one things is what you intended, and the other thing (the buffer overflow, creating unpredicable results) is not. It would simply an observation in the form of "If I do X, Y happens", and the AI would try to learn how to use its actions. Platos Allegory of the Cave explains this problem of being inside of the system and learning how it truly owrks very well. $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Jul 19 '16 at 18:08

Say by standing in the right spot on a mountain you can see a town whilst still outside its prefab loading zone, you take a step forwards the town appears, take a step backwards and it disappears. This phenomenon isn't entirely subjective or objective, you know the town is always there and you know the people in it are not experiencing this. So this phenomenon is dependant entirely upon your personal perception, but it's a phenomenon you can share with others by showing them this spot.

It's possible to infer from this that either reality is false or your perception of reality is false, but if everyone's perception of reality is false then either they aren't real or what you think is reality is actually false.

But you're still stuck within the scope of this false reality.

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    $\begingroup$ Or you infer from it that your senses are limited and that you can not see past a certain distance, and that the cutoff is very sharp. On what grounds would you classify this as abnormal, wrong or false? You have just discovered how your world works - which is exactly what we do with our own physics. From distance X I can see the town, from distance x+1 I can't. perfectly reproducible in every point of your simulation, ergo this is one law of "physics" (or whatever you call the discipline of understanding the AI "world"). $\endgroup$ – Polygnome Jul 20 '16 at 13:31

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