In the last few generations of video games an interesting change has taken place. Games were once wholly hard scripted: Landscapes had invisible walls you could not pass beyond and possible actions were a limited decision tree of if/then statements.

A number of relatively recent games like Minecraft and Diablo have broken out of this box and approached level creation in a whole new way. Procedural generation of levels means that each new map is one of a kind flowing from a range of controlling factors; things like sea level, atmosphere height, a range of different biomes and all the flora and fauna that go them, including the surface materials and even deep subterranean composition. From forested mountains to swamp, to ocean there are ranges of likelihood and possibility for everything. For example, there are rules about things like how a shore line has a range of possible grades, a sheer drop off would be silly. A canyon will have a certain raggedy unevenness to it as well as a range of possible depths. Biomes will flow into each other at the edges in a way that crossfades each rulebase into a blended compromise.

These are algorithms. They are sets of rules and probabilities and variables for each of these issues. There is a possible range of randomness to all of them and of course limiting HOW MUCH randomness can happen. In most such games you have an option to set some preferences but you won’t really know what that world looks like till you walk around in it.

In more than an abstract way, the universe around us has these algorithms shaping events all the time. Newtonian physics is a catalog of algorithms measuring the variables of gravity, momentum, etc. The periodic table outlines the rules for the materials around us. The weather  expresses another set of algorithms about atmospheric variables like warm moist air hitting a high pressure cold front, how hurricanes and tornadoes form, etc. And of course the plants in the various ecosystems have a range of likelihood of thriving and reproducing under different conditions. Animals have a range of possible behaviors in response to various situations determined by species and personality. They also have a range of possible “personality” based upon nature and nurture. For every organism, physical homeostasis is an interrelated cascade of algorithms  that dovetail at the borders of all the others I just mentioned.

Natural laws are physical information. They are machine code. They are modules of the programing language of reality.

It’s fascinating to me that the question “are we living in a simulation?” has become a serious scientific and philosophical focus just as we begin to manipulate a technology where we could soon create exactly such a thing in miniature for some unsuspecting AIs. In fact, the word miniature would be illusory because to those AIs the universe would fade off in one direction into impossible vastness and in the other direction telescope down to impossible tininess with themselves stranded on the beach in between.

Exactly like us.