Oxford Philosopher Nick Bostrom Describes his Simulation Argument

Via Boing Boing

Oxford philosopher Nick Bostrom describes his Simulation Argument on a recent episode of the excellent Philosophy Bitespodcast. He proposed the argument in 2003, and it is interesting to hear him discuss it here.

As I understand it, one of the following three statements must be true:

1. Civilizations go extinct before they are able to create advanced simulations.

2. Advanced civilizations are not interested in creating advanced simulations.

3. There are so many advanced simulations that is is far more likely that we are inside a simulation than in the physical universe.

I might be oversimplifying things here, but I think that’s the gist of it.

If we are in a simulation (and I don’t think we are) it is upsetting to imagine a cruel operator who could flip a switch and send all of the people in the simulation into agony for all eternity (using Freeman Dyson’s Eternal Intelligenceidea for extracting infinite computation during the heat death of the universe).

Listen to Nick Bostrom on the Simulation Argument


Entrepreneur Anshe Chung Makes A Fortune Selling Virtual Land, Banking and Fashion

Via Singularity Hub

How much would you pay for a piece of imaginary real estate? Anshe Chung has made millions renting it. Maybe your investment portfolio needs to include more fake property. A decade ago Ailin Graef was just another player in online games with a virtual avatar named Anshe Chung. Now the young entrepreneur’s China-based company manages online video game property worth millions in US dollars. How? In some online worlds, like Second Life, in-game currency (in this case, Linden Dollars or L$) can be sold for real money. Ailin/Anshe started making virtual money by designing and selling virtual fashion items for her fellow avatars. She leveraged that into virtual real estate investments. Today, Anshe Chung Studios has 80+ employees managing thousands of rental properties, helping design new 3D virtual chat rooms, and making tons of money on virtual to real currency exchanges. Anshe was the first person whose virtual property exceeded a real world value of 1 million dollars, and Anshe Chung Studios is perhaps the single largest third party developer of virtual property ever. Hers is a model for a new kind of online mogul: not one who makes the games, but someone who works inside the system to make a killing. Anshe Chung is a digital life mogul. Who wants to be next?

Anshe Chung is the online persona of Ailin Graef, world's first virtual millionaire and a developer of digital property.

Each online video game has its own way of handling currency. Some just give you points, some allow you to perform repetitive tasks to earn coins, and many will allow you to trade virtual goods and currency back and forth. The true goldmines (so to speak) are those games where the currency can be exchanged for real world money. Second Life allows its users to readily exchange L$ for US dollars or Euros, etc. Entropia actually sets the rate to a fixed amount. Either way it means that the activities you do in the video game can translate to an actual income. Some people, like Graef/Chung see that as an opportunity to make a fortune.

Graef started off in mid 2004 designing small scale animations/styles for virtual fashion. “Give me a few fake bucks, I’ll give you this nifty alternate design for a normally bland accessory.” (Something like that.) Anshe Chung Studios continues to make customized goods you can buy to dress your avatars in several online worlds.

Here's what 21,000 L$ (about $80) per week can get you. Not a bad island, even if it is virtual.

Once you start accruing virtual currency, however, investment opportunities outside of fashion begin to arise. In some virtual worlds, like Second Life, you can buy land to modify and develop. That’s what Graef did, and soon “Anshe Chung” was managing vast tracts of land in Second Life. And the scope of that real estate continues to expand. Today you can go to Azure Islands, some of the custom built and designed landscape built by Anshe Chung Studios, and get yourself your own parcel to rent starting at around L$ 821 or $3 USD per week. The really fancy plots go for as much as 13000 L$ a month (about $50), and the prices just keep going up from there (check out the picture to see what $80 a week will buy you). Anshe’s tenants may simply want a fancy place for their avatars to live online, or they could be more business minded. Virtual dance clubs and other meeting places can draw in good business by having the right landscape and design. It’s not just Second Life selling to Anshe Chung Studios who’s selling to users. There are many more tiers in the economy as everyone in Second Life, Entropia, IMVU and the other online worlds find places to live their virtual lives.

Online real estate is just the beginning. AnsheX is a virtual currency exchange. Do you have USD but want Linden dollars? AnsheX will sell you some. Same for Euros and PED (the currency for Entropia) or IMVU credits and Hong Kong dollars. While AnsheX rates are pretty close to the going rates, they make real world money on each purchase. Customers are willing to buy and sell at slightly disadvantageous rates because they can get the currency in 24 hours or (much) less rather than having to barter or arrange their own deals by hand.

So, you’re a fashion mogul, a real estate developer, and a banker – what’s next for your virtual empire? You might as well step behind the video game. Anshe Chung Studios is one of the major partners with a hand in Frenzoo, a social network and online chat program based in Hong Kong. Create an avatar, spend money (or time or both) dressing them just right, then go and meet other avatars and chat. Frenzoo has a pretty standard formula for success. IMVU is similar and has 50 million+ users and six million items up for sale. Catch the demo video for Frenzoo below and judge for yourself whether it has the same potential:

We’ve certainly seen people make real money on virtual property before. A single piece of territory sold for $635,000 not too long ago. What makes Ailin Graef and Anshe Chung Studios different is that their endeavors highlight the diverse paths one can take to gaining wealth by augmenting the way people play online games. The appearance of avatars, the design of locations, and the facilitation of trade are three big virtual markets and Anshe is tapping them all.

Talk about expanding markets - did we mention that many of these virtual worlds, like Frenzoo, are going mobile?

I also marvel at the value of the secondary markets that Anshe represents. If the actual producers of these virtual spaces are the ones reaping in billions of dollars (as Blizzard is with World of Warcraft) there’s still hundreds of millions to be made as players trade not with the owners, but with each other. Most of those business deals are probably going to be small – probably for virtual property valued at less than $1, but when you multiply that by millions of items for sale and tens of millions of regular users…that’s a lot of cash. The efforts of Anshe Chung Studios exemplifies how these games constitute real economies. Er, virtual economies. Or real virtual economies – look, you get the idea, these games are real revenue generators. Graef accrued a million dollars worth of online wealth way back in 2006. Others have followed and it looks like the future could support a wave of new VR moguls who build their riches on nothing but digital living.

Which isn’t to say it isn’t all some elaborate bubble. After all, when you buy Linden dollars, or an island paradise, or a new broach for your avatar you aren’t owning anything physical. Some day the entire affair could come crashing down. Imagine if people suddenly lose interest in a simulated environment because a new and better one arrives. Your investments could turn out to be worthless.

The same could be said of any investment on Earth.

Take a good long look at the multi-tiered empire Anshe Chung has built, and think of all the people it took playing those games to help her build her fortune. Those millions of players represent a growing part of our population. As online living continues to gain ground, the virtual economies (however temporarily) will thrive as well. There’s money to be made in those digital hills. Ailin Graef was the first virtual millionaire. The first billionaire could be right around the corner.

[image credits: Anshe Chung Studios]

[sources: Anshe Chung Studios]

Facts About Sparta’s Women

Via Heritage Key

Skimpy clothes - if not quite as skimpy as those sported by Lena Headey in '300' - were commonly worn by women in Sparta. It was just one of many freedoms they enjoyed which weren't shared by their Athenian sisters.

As documented in the article ‘Woman of Sparta: Tough Mothers’, Spartan women enjoyed all kinds of rights not shared by their Athenian sisters – albeit plenty of plights too.  Sparta’s unique social system and constitution, which was completely focused on military training and excellence, afforded females a level of freedom and responsibility uncommon in the classical world – as child bearers, they were vital to replenishing the ranks of an army that suffered an almost constant stream of casualties; with so many men constantly away at war, they were crucial to running their households and the community at large.

Yet, Spartan women were also subjected to brutal and demeaning rituals and rites, in what was a cruel and strange society. Their glorious duty in life was to facilitate the fiercely macho city state’s status as the prominent military power in Greece, or die trying. The only family and the only love they were allowed to know was Sparta itself.

Here we count down key facts, good and bad, about Sparta’s fairer sex.

1. They Were Citizens of Sparta

This was a crucial factor in Spartan women’s relative empowerment. Unlike the perioikoi, an autonomous group of free inhabitants of Sparta, or Helots, state-owned serfs, essentially slaves, women of Sparta were considered Spartiates – that is, full citizens of the city state. They were exempt from manual labour, could own land, amass wealth and were entitled to an education.

2. They Could Dress Daringly

They probably weren’t quite as revealing as some of the dental-floss sized outfits sported by Lena Headey in her role as Queen Gorgo in300, but certainly Spartan women’s dresses were notoriously skimpy for their age, allowing them to flash not just leg but thigh too. This was deemed acceptable since women, like men, were expected to be models of physical fitness and proud of it. Spartans believed that the stronger the Spartan mother, the stronger the son. Long hair was banned though.

3. They Had to Give Up Their Sons at a Young Age

As much as it was an honour for a woman to bear a child in Sparta – particularly a boy – it was also an incredible emotional burden. For starters, in a society that practiced eugenics – that is, the process of trying to improve a race’s genetic makeup by killing off inferior children – a baby needed to be deemed fit enough to live by a council of elders. If it failed, it would be left out to die. Male children that passed the test would be wrenched from their mothers when they reached just seven years old, and placed in theagoge – an extremely harsh educational system preparing them as soldiers.

4. The First Ever Female to Win Gold at the Olympics Was a Spartan

Just about every event at the modern day Olympics has a men’s and women’s category, but it wasn’t always so. At the ancient games, the Olympics were originally exclusively for male competitors. The Spartans, who – unlike the Athenians and other Greeks – prided their women’s physical prowess and skill, changed that. Spartan princess Cynisca became the first ever female Olympic victor when she won the four-horse chariot race not just once but twice, in 396 BC and then again in 392 BC.

5. They Expected Their Sons to Triumph or Die on the Battlefield

“They would tell their sons as they saw them off into battle to return ‘with their shield, or on it’.”

A famous quote by a Spartan woman, recorded by Plutarch, is that they would tell their sons as they saw them off into battle to return “with their shield, or on it.” That is: shield in hand and triumphant, or carried on their shield, dead.

Plutarch also gives various accounts of Spartan women murdering their sons if they showed cowardice, or celebrating their deaths if they occurred on the battlefield. Clearly the ethos of Sparta was ingrained deep into women’s minds.

6. A Spartan Woman’s Greatest Honour Was to Die During Childbirth

There was only one way a Spartan man was entitled to have his name etched into his headstone, and that was if he died in battle. The equivalent death for a woman was deemed to be while performing her divine duty to Sparta – giving birth. Therefore, only women who passed away while in labour were allowed to have their names recorded on their graves and be remembered immortally.

7. They Were in Competition to Bear the Most Sons

It wasn’t quite Soviet Russia – where women were awarded a medal for giving birth to more than 10 children – but Sparta too had a system for hailing mothers with the strongest and most fertile wombs. If a Spartan female gave birth to three or more sons, she was rewarded special privileges and status, similar to veteran soldiers who had triumphed on the battlefield several times.

8. They Had to Make Love in Secret

The Spartans weren’t shy or conservative when it came to sex – Spartan men were openly encouraged to have sexual relations with other men and young boys as a means of strengthening masculine bonds. But sex with women was considered to be exclusively for the purpose of fathering children.

It was subject to all kinds of strange rules and rituals – one of which was that all liaisons between husbands and wives had to be conducted secretly. The idea was that, since contact would be limited, sexual desires would be heightened and potency increased, resulting in healthier offspring.

9. They Were Major Landowners

As mentioned above, because Spartan women were full citizens, they could own land. And own it they did, in massive amounts – perhaps as much as a third of all of Sparta at one stage. Every Spartan male was allotted a portion of land, called a kláros orklēros, upon completing military service. When he died, this would be passed to his male heir if he had one, but if not, then his daughter profited. Property was shared between married couples, meaning wives could also inherit from their husbands. It was theirs to keep, tend, and profit from even if they divorced.

10. Spartan Women Caused the Decline of Spartan Society?

Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that a contributing factor in Sparta’s decline around the late 4th century BC was that Spartan husbands had become so dominated by their wives. He alleged that Spartan womens’ ability to acquire wealth and land, coupled with the fact that they lived – as he put it – “in every sort of intemperance and luxury” while the male population all the while dwindled, caused disorder to reign in a city state that needed militaristic discipline to survive.


About The Author

Malcolm Jack

Malcolm Jack (follow me: e-mail or RSS feed for MalcolmJ)
Malcolm Jack is a freelance arts and entertainment journalist based in Glasgow, Scotland. He graduated from the University of Edinburgh in 2004 with an MA Honours Degree in History.