Amanda hadn’t eaten breakfast that morning. She’d been too excited to sit still for more than a few seconds, let alone to get a spoon safely in and out of her mouth.
She was about to book the holiday of a lifetime. She’d saved for years, and now she finally had enough. Today she was booked in for her initial consultation, all part of the process of crafting her dream get-away.
Amanda was waiting in the reception of Reality Incorporated. It looked just like you’d expect. The walls were painted a fashionable shade of grey, the furniture was white and ergonomically curved, the art was abstract and probably unjustifiably expensive.
Amanda sat on her hands and tried to pretend she was calm. She’d spent years planning this trip, she knew exactly what she wanted, she was desperate to start the consultation and get the ball rolling.
The door at the back of reception eventually slid open. A tall woman wearing glasses strode through. She looked like a perfectionist’s wet dream, her hair was so glossy you’d swear it was airbrushed, her suit was as sharp as razors and black as the void. She spoke. “Amanda Quaid?”
Amanda realised she was staring. She jumped up. “Yes, that’s me, I’m Amanda Quaid, I’m here for a consultation. But you know that already don’t you?” She forced her mouth shut to prevent more words falling out.
“I do.” The woman nodded and smiled. “I’m Doctor Stone, if you’d like to step into my office we can get started.”
Amanda followed Dr Stone through the sliding door and sat in the armchair indicated. Her excitement was giving way to nerves now. Her stomach felt empty, she wished she’d been able to master that spoon at breakfast after all.
Dr Stone sat opposite Amanda, across a desk made from some sort of shiny, black wood. She made a quick gesture with one hand and a virtual screen materialised in the air beside her. She inspected it. “OK, Miss Quaid…”
“Call me Amanda, please.”
Dr Stone smiled again. “I have the preferences you’ve already provided us with Amanda – the age, sex, dimensions, and ethnicity of your avatar. We’ve already mocked up some draft designs to show you, but first we need to discuss what type of reality you’d like to visit.”
“Earth please,” Amanda was excited again and her words came fast, “I want to go to the past, the real past. I want to see 2019, you know, just before the Event?”
“Of course.” A look of surprise blossomed briefly over Dr Stone’s face, before her flawless composure returned. “We want to create the perfect experience for you Amanda. If we’re going to build you your very own private universe, we want to make sure it’s just right. Now, what role would you like to have; film star, famous athlete, tyrannical CEO, President?”
“I can be anyone right?” Amanda asked. “Anyone I want to be, no matter how… unusual?”
“Of course Amanda, you can be whatever you want. You can rule the world, save the world, or even destroy it. The only stipulation for the package you’ve chosen is that your avatar must be consistent with the reality of,” she glanced at the display again, “Earth in 2019. If you’d like to upgrade to a Version 2.0 avatar we can discuss superpowers?”
“No thanks,” Amanda said. “I don’t need anything like that. I’d actually like to be a research scientist please, one of the scientists working on the project that caused the Event? I’m a bit of a physics nerd you see, and I want to see it happen, I want to be there at the moment the world changed forever.”
“Well that’s a first.” Dr Stone’s professional mask briefly failed again. “But of course, a research scientist you shall be Amanda. Such an unconventional role may take us a few more days to program though.”
“I understand.” Amanda leaned forwards and whispered, she didn’t know why she whispered, but she did. “Are you sure this will feel real, like, really real?”
“I can assure you of that Amanda. The weather, the food, the people, everything, all of it will feel indistinguishable from reality. As real as real.”
“That’s what your commercials say, but it’s hard to get my head around,” Amanda said. “The Earth is such a big place, and there were nearly eight billion people alive in 2019, how can you simulate everything, all those people?”
“Rather easily actually.” Dr Stone couldn’t hide the look of pride on her face. “One planet of eight billion people isn’t so much, it’ll take our algorithms seconds to generate it all. And all the eight billion people in your simulation will have unique personalities and detailed memories of course, just as if they’ve lived long and rich lives before the simulation began. They’ll behave just like real people, they’ll work, eat, sleep, fall in love, die. They’ll be indistinguishable from people in this reality.”
“It sounds very impressive.”
“It is, and it isn’t. You’d be amazed how little memory it takes, how many of these simulations we run at the same time.”
“Is this strictly ethical though?” Amanda was whispering again, she felt she shouldn’t be asking such questions, but she was paying a small fortune for this and she didn’t want it to be tainted by guilt. “I mean, you’re creating eight billion conscious people who think they’re alive, then after a month you’ll end them with a flick of a switch. Isn’t that mass murder, the death of a whole planet?”
“You don’t have to worry about the ethics Amanda, we’ve been cleared by the Commission. And if it helps, remember they’re not real people, they’re just code, they’re nothing but a long string of ones and zeroes.
It still felt wrong. “Do you give them an afterlife?” Amanda asked. “You could, couldn’t you?”
Dr Stone shook her head. “We could, but there’s no reason too, it’d be a huge cost, and with no benefit to us.”
“OK,” Amanda nodded. She had more questions though. “Do any of them ever realise they’re not real?”
“It does happen, but rarely,” Dr Stone said. “The simulated scientists cause us the most problems, the particle physicists and the like. But we’ve learned how to deal with it, we introduce mechanisms to stop them digging too deep into their realities, a layer of fuzzy physics that prevents them getting to the underlying code.”
The hairs on the back of Amanda’s neck stood up. “Like the uncertainty principle?”
“Yes, exactly,” Dr Stone nodded.
“But, we have the uncertainty principle in our world, the real world.”
“Yes we do Amanda.” Dr Stone smiled in a way that Amanda couldn’t quite understand.
“But we’re not in a simulation, this is the real world?”
“You know Amanda, you’re the first person to ever ask me that. Of all the hundreds of consultations I’ve led, no one has ever seemed interested. Everyone just wants to dive into their private versions of paradise as quickly as they can.” Dr Stone took her glasses off, she leaned towards Amanda. “I’d say the chances are one in trillions upon trillions upon trillions that we’re in the real world Amanda.”
“You can’t be serious Dr Stone? You’re joking, right?”
“Do I seem like the jocular type Amanda?”
“But you work here, a company that makes simulations, and you think we’re living in a simulation too?”
“You can’t work here for long and think otherwise Amanda. We’ve created four million simulated worlds at Reality Incorporated in the last six months alone. We don’t just create simulations for private clients like yourself you see, most are for research purposes, exploring alternate histories, possible futures, alien ecosystems, you’d be amazed how many simulations we’re running at any one time. And we’re not the only company that does this, it’s a busy marketplace, can you imagine how many trillions of simulated realities are created each year alone?”
Amanda’s head was starting to spin.
“And each simulated world is populated by billions of people Amanda, all of them convinced they’re flesh and blood, all of them sure they’re living in the real world. How can you be certain you’re not one of them? If there’s only one reality Amanda, but an almost limitless number of simulations, don’t you think it’s more likely you’re in one of the simulated worlds?”
“But it feels real, I feel real.” Amanda realised how stupid it sounded as she said it.
“That’s kind of the point.”
Amanda started to feel nauseous. “You’re saying that, based on probability, it’s much more likely we’re living in a simulation than the real world?”
Dr Stone nodded.
“So I’m probably not a real person?”
“Probably not,” Dr Stone agreed.
“Fucking hell,” Amanda said. “Oh shit, sorry about that, but still, fuck. I’ve been obsessing about my own simulation for months, but it never occurred to me that I could be living in one already. It sounds crazy, but I can’t think of a good reason why it’s not true. I want to say it’s wrong, I want to laugh it off, but we have the uncertainty principle don’t we? Fuck. This reality could have popped into existence this morning, all my memories could have been put into my head by an algorithm, and there’s no way for me to tell is there?”
Dr Stone shook her head.
“Hang on,” Amanda said. “Doesn’t the fact that we create simulations mean that we’re living in the real world? You can’t have simulations within a simulation?”
“Why not?” Dr Stone said. “It happens often actually, run a simulated world with advanced technology for long enough and it’s inevitable. Often our simulated worlds create their own simulations, and then those simulations create their own simulations too.”
“Like Russian dolls?”
“Exactly. Think of it Amanda, we could be living in a simulation within a simulation within a simulation. There could be hundreds, thousands, millions of layers of simulations between this world and reality.”
Amanda shook her head. “This isn’t quite what I had in mind when I came in for my consultation today Dr Stone.” She sat quietly and thought for a moment. “But could I have been based on a real person? Could there have been an Amanda Quaid in the real world? Could there be lots of us, billions of Amanda Quaid’s living in billions of simulations?”
“It’s possible,” Dr Stone agreed. “But unlikely. You’re still thinking too small Amanda, what makes you think humans created the simulation we’re living in now?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
Dr Stone smiled again. “We simulate millions of non-human civilisations here at Reality Incorporated Amanda, alien worlds, alternate histories in which other species took our place, that sort of thing. The non-human simulations actually outnumber the human ones. If we’re talking probabilities again, the chances are that humanity is nothing more than a figment of the imagination of some other sentient life form.”
Amanda sat and thought again. Dr Stone folded her hands and watched her. Eventually Amanda spoke. “I’m not sure how I feel about this. If I’m not real, then what’s the point?”
“Does it really change anything though?” Dr Stone said. “We’re probably not flesh and blood, we’re probably not living in the real world, but if we feel real, if we can’t know any different, isn’t that enough? Take your trip and keep living your life Amanda, what else can you do?”
“I’m not sure I can,” Amanda said. “Everything feels different now.” She stood up. “I don’t think I want to buy my simulation anymore Dr Stone, it all feels a bit silly now, why buy a simulation when I’m already living in one?”
“Some would say that’s a wise choice Amanda.”
“Goodbye Dr Stone, thank you for the consultation, I think it was exactly what I needed.”
Dr Stone sat back and smiled at Amanda. “What are you going to do now?”
“Whatever I want,” said Amanda. “I’ve been taking life too seriously, now I know it’s not real, it’s time to have some fun.”