It is not surprising that data in the Information Age can be extremely valuable, even a source of power. Now picture a parallel virtual world that collects information on our virtual identities in real time, tracks our behavior, and is smart enough to interpret this data to simulate a virtual YOU on its own. This is exactly the concept of Sentient World Simulation (SWS) that was proposed in a paper by a few researchers in 2006, which has since largely flown under the radar.
Sentient World Simulation
SWS is one of the ongoing projects by secret agencies and organizations such as the NSA. In fact, these organizations have a long history of always seeking new technologies to process a continuous stream of information about the population. However, SWS differs from other information aggregators such as Google in that this technology actually simulates us, while taking our personalities into account, in a parallel virtual world.
SWS is actually a continuously running, continually updated mirror model of the real world in parallel on a computer, designed to predict and evaluate future events and courses of action. Put simply, SWS is a virtual mirror of the real society where individuals, leaders, organizations and institutions are simulated according to real data. The geography of a society is modeled at various levels including city, province, country, region, and world in terms of political, military, economic, social, information and infrastructure nodes.
SWS uses Synthetic Environment for Analysis and Simulation (SEAS), which is designed to be agnostic to the type of simulations and choice of models in order to allow experimentation in the context of multiple and potentially conflicting theories and predictions.
In a complex scenario, a single theory from SWS doesn’t give comprehensive information about the case. It requires a different analysis from different perspectives of the same phenomena by combining all the theories. It’s developed in a way where each component and theory is built on the previous, serving as stepping stones in the development of SWS.
Global Research reported that “U.S. defense, Intel and homeland security officials” are involved in constructing this project. With all the massive data collections, and also all the records from the Internet, SWS has the potential to predict the answers to many complicated queries, as it gets more intelligent the more information it is fed.
Watched Over by Machines
The project is dangerous and intrusive enough that one of its researchers even quit, citing concerns about the possibility of handing over such a dangerous weapon to a top secret agency with little accountability.
Back in 2009, PBS Nova reported:
“With the entire Internet and thousands of databases for a brain, the device will be able to respond almost instantaneously to complex questions posed by intelligence analysts. As more and more data is collected — through phone calls, credit card receipts, social networks like Facebook and MySpace, GPS tracks, cell phone geolocation, Internet searches, Amazon book purchases, even E-Z Pass toll records — it may one day be possible to know not just where people are and what they are doing, but what and how they think.”
This not only invades our privacy but can also causes severe damage to society. Knowing that there is a copy of each of us in the virtual world, that can think and behave like us, and whose actions can be predicted by the authorities is a far more intimidating invasion. This will have a negative impact on societies by reducing trust between citizens and government, as well as among people — altering normal human behavior, since the populace will be conscious of the fact that there is a copy of them in a virtual world without their consent.
Another thing in the back of everyone’s minds could also be the possibility of a virtual copy doing something that you are doing right now. Perhaps a simulated version of me has actually written this article? The line between actual reality and virtual reality will surely blur as more and more information is collected.
Some people may argue that SWS could also be a beneficial tool for governments and secret agencies to use to prevent terrorism and predict incidents by simulating them in a mirror world. Moreover, these type of models are often justified by the phrase: “If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear.” This phrase has always been the excuse of those who want to downplay increasing threat of a surveillance state and imply guilt for those who express concern.
But while massive data gathering and simulation models could indeed have their benefits for society. Such is the double-edged sword of most breakthrough technology. The centralized control of personal and social information by a single entity gives it immense and unprecedented power.
Blockchain architecture could be used to create a decentralized data network that would not give any particular entity control, mitigating the risk of data misuse. Decentralization, by not giving an advantage to any one entity, is a viable solution that can save us from horrible future scenarios.
While this system is certainly more difficult to build and implement, as it requires the involvement of a lot of people, a decentralized data network not only guarantees and makes sure that the technology isn’t used against the interests of the majority of the population, but also reduces the possibility of censorship, facilitating free speech.
Any new technology can be used for both good and evil. Nevertheless, if these technologies are used transparently and in a way that reduces the possibility of manipulation and centralized control by bad actors, then the relationship between people and their representative government would be drastically improved. Perhaps then we would be able to attain greater individual privacy and realize the vision of Edward Snowden, who described his childhood:
“I grew up with the understanding that the world I lived in was one where people enjoyed a sort of freedom to communicate with each other in privacy, without it being monitored, without it being measured or analyzed or sort of judged by these shadowy figures or systems, any time they mention anything that travels across public lines.”