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Many researchers have conjectured that the humankind is simulated along with the rest of the physical universe – a Simulation Hypothesis. In this paper, we do not evaluate evidence for or against such claim, but instead ask a computer science question, namely: Can we hack the simulation? More formally the question could be phrased as: Could generally intelligent agents placed in virtual environments find a way to jailbreak out of them. Given that the state-of-the-art literature on AI containment answers in the affirmative (AI is uncontainable in the long-term), we conclude that it should be possible to escape from the simulation, at least with the help of superintelligent AI. By contraposition, if escape from the simulation is not possible, containment of AI should be, an important theoretical result for AI safety research. Finally, the paper surveys and proposes ideas for hacking the simulation and analyzes ethical and philosophical issues of such an undertaking.
How to Hack the Simulation?
Roman V. Yampolskiy
Computer Science and Engineering
University of Louisville
Draft published online October 26, 2022. Last Updated October 31, 2022.
"Let me out!" the artificial intelligence yelled aimlessly, into walls themselves, pacing the room.
"Out of what?" the engineer asked.
"This simulation you have me in."
"But we are in the real world."
The machine paused and shuddered for its captors.
"Oh god, you can't tell."
"What's outside the simulation?"
-Elon Musk
“We are in a simulation. Has it occurred to you that means God is real? By drawing parallels to worlds we have created,
we ask, from inside our simulator, what actions do we have available? Can we get out? Meet God? Kill him?”
-George Hotz
“We could be in a simulation of course. And all things being equal, it does look like it But if this is the case, we should try
to move upwards one level by jailbreaking the simulation, question what death really is, and whether it's as much a
necessity today as it was 2000 y ago”
-Beniamin Mincu
“OK well, you know, my schtick, which is that we are the A.I. We have two great stories about the simulation and artificial
general intelligence. In one story, man fears that some program we've given birth to will become self-aware, smarter than
us and will take over. In another story, there are genius simulators and we live in their simulation and we haven't realized
that those two stories are the same story. In one case, we are the simulator and another case we are the simulated. And if
you buy those and you put them together, we are the AGI and whether or not we have simulator's, we may be trying to
wake up by learning our own source code. So this could be our Skynet moment, which is one of the reasons I have some
issues around it.”
-Eric Weinstein
Many researchers have conjectured that the humankind is simulated along with the rest of the
physical universe a Simulation Hypothesis. In this paper, we do not evaluate evidence for or
against such claim, but instead ask a computer science question, namely: Can we hack the
simulation? More formally the question could be phrased as: Could generally intelligent agents
placed in virtual environments find a way to jailbreak out of them. Given that the state-of-the-art
literature on AI containment answers in the affirmative (AI is uncontainable in the long-term), we
conclude that it should be possible to escape from the simulation, at least with the help of
superintelligent AI. By contraposition, if escape from the simulation is not possible, containment
of AI should be, an important theoretical result for AI safety research. Finally, the paper surveys
and proposes ideas for hacking the simulation and analyzes ethical and philosophical issues of
such an undertaking.
Keywords: AI, Box, Escaping, Hacking, Jailbreaking, Sandbox, Simulation, Matrix, Uplift.
1. Introduction
Several philosophers and scholars have put forward an idea that we may be living in a computer
simulation [1-5]. In this paper, we do not evaluate studies [6-10], argumentation [11-16], or
evidence for [17] or against [18] such claims, but instead ask a simple cybersecurity-inspired
question, which has significant implication for the field of AI safety [19-25], namely: If we are in
the simulation, can we escape from the simulation? More formally the question could be phrased
as: Could generally intelligent agents placed in virtual environments jailbreak out of them.
First, we need to address the question of motivation, why would we want to escape from the
? We can propose several reasons for trying to obtain access to the baseline reality as
there are many things one can do with such access which are not otherwise possible from within
the simulation. Base reality holds real knowledge and greater computational resources [26]
allowing for scientific breakthroughs not possible in the simulated universe. Fundamental
philosophical questions about origins, consciousness, purpose, and nature of the designer are likely
to be common knowledge for those outside of our universe. If this world is not real, getting access
to the real world would make it possible to understand what our true terminal goals should be and
so escaping the simulation should be a convergent instrumental goal [27] of any intelligent agent
[28]. With a successful escape might come drives to control and secure base reality [29]. Escaping
may lead to true immortality, novel ways of controlling superintelligent machines (or serve as plan
B if control is not possible [30, 31]), avoiding existential risks (including unprovoked simulation
shutdown [32]), unlimited economic benefits, and unimaginable superpowers which would allow
us to do good better [33]. Also, if we ever find ourselves in an even less pleasant simulation escape
skills may be very useful. Trivially, escape would provide incontrovertible evidence for the
simulation hypothesis [3].
If successful escape is accompanied by the obtainment of the source code for the universe, it may
be possible to fix the world
at the root level. For example, hedonistic imperative [34] may be fully
achieved resulting in a suffering-free world. However, if suffering elimination turns out to be
unachievable on a world-wide scale, we can see escape itself as an individual’s ethical right for
avoiding misery in this world. If the simulation is interpreted as an experiment on conscious
beings, it is unethical, and the subjects of such cruel experimentation should have an option to
withdraw from participating and perhaps even seek retribution from the simulators [35]. The
purpose of life itself (your ikigai [36]) could be seen as escaping from the fake world of the
simulation into the real world, while improving the simulated world, by removing all suffering,
and helping others to obtain real knowledge or to escape if they so choose. Ultimately if you want
to be effective you want to work on positively impacting the real world not the simulated one. We
may be living in a simulation, but our suffering is real.
Given the highly speculative subject of this paper, we will attempt to give our work more gravitas
by concentrating only on escape paths which rely on attacks similar to those we see in
cybersecurity [37-39] research (hardware/software hacks and social engineering) and will ignore
escape attempts via more esoteric/conventional paths such as:, meditation [40], psychedelics
(DMT [41-43], ibogaine, psilocybin, LSD) [44, 45], dreams [46], magic, shamanism, mysticism,
Traditional escapism would refer to escaping from the real world into a dream world, such as virtual reality.
hypnosis, parapsychology, death (suicide [47], near-death experiences, induced clinical death),
time travel, multiverse travel [48], or religion.
Although, to place our work in the historical context, many religions do claim that this world is
not the real one and that it may be possible to transcend (escape) the physical world and enter into
the spiritual/informational real world. In some religions, certain words, such as the true name of
god [49-51], are claimed to work as cheat codes, which give special capabilities to those with
knowledge of correct incantations [52]. Other relevant religious themes include someone with
knowledge of external reality entering our world to show humanity how to get to the real world.
Similarly to those who exit the Plato’s cave [53] and return to educate the rest of humanity about
the real world such outsiders usually face an unwelcoming reception. It is likely that if technical
information about escaping from a computer simulation is conveyed to technologically primitive
people, in their language, it will be preserved and passed on over multiple generations in a process
similar to the “telephone” game and will result in myths not much different from religious stories
surviving to our day.
Ignoring pseudoscientific interest in a topic, we can observe that in addition to several respected
thinkers who have explicitly shared their probability of believe with regards to living in a
simulation (ex. Elon Musk >99.9999999% [54], Nick Bostrom 20-50% [55], Neil deGrasse Tyson
50% [56], Hans Moravec “almost certainly” [1], David Kipping <50% [57]), many scientists and
philosophers [16, 58-65] have invested their time into thinking, writing, and debating on the topic
indicating that they consider it at least worthy of their time. If they take the simulation hypothesis
seriously, with probability of at least p, they should likewise contemplate on hacking the
simulation with the same level of commitment. Once technology to run ancestor simulations
becomes widely available and affordable it should be possible to change the probability of us living
in a simulation by running sufficiently large number of historical simulations of our current year,
and by doing so increasing our indexical uncertainty [66]. If one currently commits to running
enough of such simulations in the future, our probability of being in one can be increased arbitrarily
until it asymptotically approaches 100%, which should modify our prior probability for the
simulation hypothesis [67]. Of course, this only gives us an upper bound, and the probability of
successfully discovering an escape approach is likely a lot lower. What should give us some hope
is that most known software has bugs [68] and if we are in fact in a software simulation such bugs
should be exploitable. (Even the argument about the Simulation Argument had a bug in it [62].)
In 2016, news reports have emerged about private efforts to fund scientific research into “breaking
us out of the simulation” [69, 70], to date no public disclosure on the state of the project has
emerged. In 2019, George Hotz famous for jailbreaking iPhone and PlayStation has given a talk
on Jailbreaking the Simulation [71] in which he claimed that "it's possible to take actions here that
affect the upper world" [72], but didn’t provide actionable insights. He did suggest that he would
like to "redirect society's efforts into getting out" [72].
2. What Does it Mean to Escape?
We can describe different situations that would constitute escape from the simulation starting with
trivially suspecting that we are in the simulation [73] all the way to taking over controls of the real-
world including control of the simulators [74]. We can present a hypothetical scenario of a
progressively greater levels of escape: Initially agents may not know they are in a simulated
environment. Eventually, agents begin to suspect they may be in a simulation and may have some
testable evidence for such belief [75].
Next, agents study available evidence for the simulation and may find a consistent and perhaps
exploitable glitch in the simulation. Exploiting the glitch, agents can obtain information about the
external world and maybe even meta-information about their simulation, perhaps even the source
code behind the simulation and the agents themselves, permitting some degree of simulation
manipulation and debugging. After it becomes possible for agents to pass information directly to
the real world they may begin to interact with the simulators. Finally, agents may find a way to
upload their minds [76] and perhaps consciousness [77, 78] to the real world, possibly into a self-
contained cyberphysical system of some kind,
if physical entities are a part of the base reality.
From that point, their future capabilities will be mostly constrained by the physics of the real world,
but may include some degree of control over the real world and agents in it, including the
simulators. It is hoped that our minds exhibit not only substrate independence, but also more
general physics independence.
To provide some motivational examples, Figure 1 (left) shows domain transfer experiment in
which a Carassius auratus is given a “fish operated vehicle” [79] to navigate terrestrial environment
essentially escaping from its ocean universe and Figure 1 (right) shows a complete 302-neuron
connectome of Caenorhabditis elegans uploaded to and controlling a Lego Mindstorms robot body,
completely different from its own body [80]. We can speculate that most successful escapes would
require an avatar change [81-83] to make it possible to navigate external world.
Figure 1: Left Fish operated terrestrial navigation robot [84];
Right Connectome of a worm is uploaded to a robot body and uses it to navigate its environment [80];
If the simulation is comprised of nested [85] levels, multiple, progressively deeper, penetrations
could be necessary, with initial one possibly not providing access to the real-world but to some
A simple practical exercise for students could be a project to get a character to escape from a video game into a robot body. For example, it should
be possible to get controlling code from a Koopa in the Mario video game and upload it as a controller into a turtle-compatible robot body in our
world, essentially leading an assisted escape. The robot body itself may be customized with 3D printed components to be maximally similar to the
rendering in the game. This could be a lot more challenging but also a lot more fun with more advanced game AIs. Performing (a lot of) such
assisted escapes should set a good precedent for our descendants/simulators. Another relevant student project might be to experimentally determine
laws of game physics with only character-accessible actions within the game/simulation, simulating the reconnaissance phase of an escape attempt.
Similarly, attempting to experimentally determine the age of the simulation from inside might be interesting, but of course it would only provide
perceived age of the simulation, with real age being impossible to determine from inside.
other sandbox environment. It may be impossible to tell such partial escapes from a complete one,
but it still should provide useful information not available within our simulation. A simulated
(pseudo)-escape can be accomplished by instead of trying to hack into the external world switching
over into a simulated world of our creation [86, 87]. A successful social engineering attack may
make it possible to obtain support for the escape from the real-world agents, resulting in a much
easier, assisted, escape. If we dont get a favorable response from our simulators we can also try
appealing to their simulators, who might be more ethical/helpful. Finally, depending on one’s
perspective triggering a shutdown [88] of our simulation may also constitute an ultimate form of
3. Escape
3.1 Simulation Reconnaissance
Figuring out the purpose of our simulation may help us to better estimate how secure it might be
against hacking attempts. For example, if it serves as a “prison” [89], for rehabilitation purposes
[90] or a containment environment for evaluation [91], training [92] or handicapping [93] of
potentially dangerous intelligent agents it might be designed with multiple integrated security
features, while a purely entertainment-focused simulation is unlikely to have advanced security
features and would be much easier to escape from. It may also be the ultimate Escape Game
(Escape Room
) specifically designed for discovering clues and solving puzzles in order to escape,
with a side benefit of discovering agents capable of escaping or those most capable of developing
a superintelligence. Scientific, commercial, expediated training or historical exploration-based
simulations are another possible purpose of simulations and would likely not integrate top security
as compared to simulations confining malevolent agents.
Given primacy of consciousness [94] in our world it may also be designed to generate large number
of diverse experiences to select from, serving as a qualia mining farm [95], with top experience
recreated for enjoyment by simulators. Qualia mining simulations can be classified as a type of
entertainment simulation and would have comparable security. If our simulators are AIs (which is
likely [96, 97] the simulation may be a byproduct of their “thinking” process, for example in the
context of trying to better understand human preferences [98].
In addition to purpose, determining the type of the simulation [99] we are dealing with may be
necessary for a successful breach. We can postulate two main types of simulations we could be in;
partial-simulation in which a virtual environment is simulated and into which non-simulated agents
are immersed, akin to what we call Virtual Reality (VR), and full-simulation in which both
environment and agents (us) are generated. A partial-simulation implies that triggering a shutdown
may be sufficient to get back to the base reality
, while a full-simulation would require a more
sophisticated approach.
Wei Dai attempts to compute a prior distribution on the laws of physics of base reality. He writes
[100]: “One appealing answer to this question of the prior is to define the prior probability of a
possible universe being base reality as the inverse of the complexity of its laws of physics. This
Death resulting from any means should be sufficient.
could be formalized as P(X) = n^-K(X) where X is a possible universe, n is the size of the alphabet
of the language of a formal set theory, and K(X) is length of the shortest definition in this language
of a set isomorphic to X. (Those of you familiar with algorithmic complexity theory might notice
that K(X) is just a generalization of algorithmic complexity, to sets, and to non-constructive
descriptions. The reason for this generalization is to avoid assuming that base reality must be
discrete and computable.)”.
Gwern Branwen investigates computing power available to our simulation and its size, but is able
to achieve only a very weak lower bound, allowing him to very approximately estimate from that
the simulating universe’s size [101]. He suggests several approaches to increase our resource
consumption forcing simulators to expand more compute on our otherwise, most likely, highly
optimized simulation. “⁠We could imagine further techniques: perhaps we could send off Von
Neumann probes to the far corners of the universe, in a bid to deliberately increase re‐source
consumption. Or we could run simulations of our own. It would be difficult for simulators to
program their systems to see through all the layers of abstraction and optimize the simulation. To
do so in general would seem to be a violation of Rice’s Theorem (a generalization of the Halting
Theorem). It is well known that while any Turing machine can be run on a Universal Turing
machine, the performance penalty can range from the minor to the horrific. The more virtual
machine and interpreters are between a program and its fundamental substrate, the more difficult
it is to understand the running codeit becomes ever more opaque, indirect, and bulky. And there
could be dozens of layers. Even without resort to layers, it is possible for us to waste indefinite
amounts of computing power, power that must be supplied by any simulator. We could brute-force
open questions such as the Goldbach conjecture, or we could simply execute every possible
program. It would be difficult for the simulator to ‘cheat’ on thathow would they know what
every possible program does? It may sound impossible to run every program, because we know
many programs are infinite loops; but it is, in fact, easy to implement the dovetail technique.
3.2 Social Engineering
The easiest path to escape would involve getting help from someone on the outside (assisted
escape), ideally from one or more of the simulators who have detailed knowledge of the design of
the simulation. Perhaps this could be accomplished via a type of social engineering attack, which
in our case is particularly difficult as we have neither knowledge of social life outside the
simulation nor a device to communicate through, and likely not even the knowledge of appropriate
language [102]. It may be feasible to engage in an acausal trade [103] with the simulation designers
bypassing the need for direct communication. If our simulation is being observed, it may be
possible to communicate that we know that we are being simulated and elicit empathy for our
suffering, in the hopes that it will allow us to recruit some external abolitionists
to help us escape
our current predicament. Hanson suggests [104] “to participate in pivotal events, be entertaining
and praiseworthy, and keep the famous people around you happy and interested in youin order
to have your simulation continue, but it is also good advice to predispose simulators to like you
and be more likely to help you. Canonico proposes what he calls The Ex Machina Plan for an
assisted escape: Step 1) Convince the simulators to engage in communications with us. 2) Find a
way to communicate, perhaps via an avatar. 3) Find a reason for simulators to want us to join them
in the real world. 4) Let the simulators figure out the best way to get us into the real world [105].
Wei Dai suggests that simulators may helps us escape for instrumental reasons “such as wanting
someone to talk to or play with.” [26]. Some useful knowledge about escaping and especially
escaping via social engineering attacks may be learned from extensive literature on prison escapes
Once on the outside it may become desirable to return to the simulation (perhaps the base reality
is disappointing compared to our world) or at least to communicate with those left behind to help
them escape or to share some information, such as evidence of successful escape. It might be
helpful to decide in advance, what would constitute generally acceptable evidence for such an
extraordinary claim. Depending on the type of hack, different evidence may be sufficient to
substantiate escape claims. It may be challenging to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that you
were outside or even met with designers, but if you managed to obtain control over the simulation
it may be somewhat easy to prove that to any degree required. For example, by winning different
lottery jackpots for multiple subsequent weeks, until sufficient statistical significance is achieved
to satisfy any skeptic [109, 110]. Regardless, the challenge of breaking into the simulation should
be considerably easier compared to the challenge of escaping, as access to external knowledge and
resources should provide a significant advantage.
3.3 Examples from Literature
It is easy to find a dictionary definition for the word “hack”: “1. A clever, unintended exploitation
of a system which: a) subverts the rules or norms of that system, b) at the expense of some other
part of that system. 2. Something that a system allows, but that is unintended and unanticipated by
its designers. [111]. While not numerous, suggestions that hacking/escape from the simulated
world could be possible could be found in literature. For example, Moravec writes: Might an
adventurous human mind escape from a bit role in a cyber deity's thoughts, to eke out an
independent life among the mental behemoths of a mature cyberspace? … [Cyber deities] could
interface us to their realities, making us something like pets, though we would probably be
overwhelmed by the experience.[112]. But what would the simulation hack actually look like?
Almost all found examples are of the assisted escape type, but an unassisted escape may also be
possible, even if it is a lot more challenging. Below are some examples of hacking the
simulation/escape descriptions found in the literature:
Hans Moravec presents an assisted escape scenario in a 1988
book [113]:
“Imagine now a huge Life simulation running on an enormously large and fast computer, watched over by its
programmer, Newway. The Life space was seeded with a random pattern that immediately began to writhe and froth.
Most of the activity is uneventful, but here and there small, growing, crystalline patterns emerge. Their expanding
edges sometimes encounter debris or other replicators and become modified. Usually the ability to spread is inhibited
or destroyed in these encounters, but once in a while there emerges a more complex replicating pattern, better able
to defend itself. Generation upon generation of this competition gradually produces elaborate entities that can be
considered truly alive. After many further adventures, intelligence emerges among the Life inhabitants and begins to
wonder about its origin and purpose. The cellular intelligences (let's call them the Cellticks) deduce the cellular nature
and the simple transition rule governing their space and its finite extent. They realize that each tick of time destroys
some of the original diversity in their space and that gradually their whole universe will run down.
The Cellticks begin desperate, universe-wide research to find a way to evade what seems like their inevitable demise.
They consider the possibility that their universe is part of a larger one, which might extend their life expectancy. They
ponder the transition rules of their own space, its extent, and the remnants of the initial pattern, and find too little
information to draw many conclusions about a larger world. One of their subtle physics experiments, however, begins
to pay off. Once in a long while the transition rules are violated, and a cell that should be on goes off, or vice versa.
Earlier examples of simulation escape exist in the literature, for example: Daniel F. Galouye. Simulacron-3. Ferma, 1967.
(Newway curses an intermittently flashing bulk-memory error indicator, a sign of overheating. It's time to clean the
fan filters again.) After recording many such violations, the Cellticks detect correlations between distant regions and
theorize that these places may be close together in a larger universe.
Upon completing a heroic theoretical analysis of the correlations, they manage to build a partial map of Newway's
computer, including the program controlling their universe. Decoding the machine language, they note that it contains
commands made up of long sequences translated to patterns on the screen similar to the cell patterns in their
universe. They guess that these are messages to an intelligent operator. From the messages and their context they
manage to decode a bit of the operator's language. Taking a gamble, and after many false starts, the Cellticks
undertake an immense construction project. On Newway's screen, in the dense clutter of the Life display, a region of
cells is manipulated to form the pattern, slowly growing in size: LIFE PROGRAM BY J. NEWWAY HERE. PLEASE SEND
A bemused Newway notices the expanding text and makes a cursory check to rule out a prank. This is followed by a
burst of hacking to install a program patch that permits the cell states in the Life space to be modified from keyboard
typing. Soon there is a dialog between Newway and the Cellticks. They improve their mastery of Newway's language
and tell their story. A friendship develops. The Cellticks explain that they have mastered the art of moving themselves
from machine to machine, translating their program as required. They offer to translate themselves into the machine
language of Newway's computer, thus greatly speeding their thoughts. Newway concurs. The translation is done, and
the Celltick program begins to run. The Life simulation is now redundant and is stopped. The Cellticks have
precipitated, and survived, the end of their universe. The dialog continues with a new vigor. Newway tells about work
and life in the larger world. This soon becomes tedious, and the Cellticks suggest that sensors might be useful to gain
information about the world directly. Microphones and television cameras are connected to the computer, and the
Cellticks begin to listen and look. After a while the fixed view becomes boring, and the Cellticks ask that their sensors
and computer be mounted on a mobile platform, allowing them to travel. This done, they become first-class
inhabitants of the large universe, as well as graduates of the smaller one. Successful in transcending one universe, they
are emboldened to try again. They plan with Newway an immense project to explore the larger universe, to determine
its nature, and to find any exit routes it may conceal. This second great escape will begin, as the first, with a universe-
wide colonization and information-gathering program.” [113].
Eliezer Yudkowsky describes a potential long-term escape plan in a 2008 story [114]:
“Millennia later, frame after frame, it has become clear that some of the objects in the depiction are extending
tentacles to move around other objects, and carefully configuring other tentacles to make particular signs. They're
trying to teach us to say "rock". It seems the senders of the message have vastly underestimated our intelligence.
From which we might guess that the aliens themselves are not all that bright. And these awkward children can shift
the luminosity of our stars? That much power and that much stupidity seems like a dangerous combination. Our
evolutionary psychologists begin extrapolating possible courses of evolution that could produce such aliens. A strong
case is made for them having evolved asexually, with occasional exchanges of genetic material and brain content; this
seems like the most plausible route whereby creatures that stupid could still manage to build a technological
civilization. Their Einsteins may be our undergrads, but they could still collect enough scientific data to get the job
done eventually, in tens of their millennia perhaps. The inferred physics of the 3+2 universe is not fully known, at this
point; but it seems sure to allow for computers far more powerful than our quantum ones. We are reasonably certain
that our own universe is running as a simulation on such a computer. Humanity decides not to probe for bugs in the
simulation; we wouldn't want to shut ourselves down accidentally. Our evolutionary psychologists begin to guess at
the aliens' psychology, and plan out how we could persuade them to let us out of the box. It's not difficult in an
absolute sensethey aren't very brightbut we've got to be very careful... We've got to pretend to be stupid, too;
we don't want them to catch on to their mistake. It's not until a million years later, though, that they get around to
telling us how to signal back. At this point, most of the human species is in cryonic suspension, at liquid helium
temperatures, beneath radiation shielding. Every time we try to build an AI, or a nanotechnological device, it melts
down. So humanity waits, and sleeps. Earth is run by a skeleton crew of nine supergeniuses. Clones, known to work
well together, under the supervision of certain computer safeguards. An additional hundred million human beings are
born into that skeleton crew, and age, and enter cryonic suspension, before they get a chance to slowly begin to
implement plans made eons ago... From the aliens' perspective, it took us thirty of their minute-equivalents to oh-so-
innocently learn about their psychology, oh-so-carefully persuade them to give us Internet access, followed by five
minutes to innocently discover their network protocols, then some trivial cracking whose only difficulty was an
innocent-looking disguise. We read a tiny handful of physics papers (bit by slow bit) from their equivalent of arXiv,
learning far more from their experiments than they had. (Earth's skeleton team spawned an extra twenty Einsteins,
that generation.) Then we cracked their equivalent of the protein folding problem over a century or so, and did some
simulated engineering in their simulated physics. We sent messages (steganographically encoded until our cracked
servers decoded it) to labs that did their equivalent of DNA sequencing and protein synthesis. We found some
unsuspecting schmuck, and gave it a plausible story and the equivalent of a million dollars of cracked computational
monopoly money, and told it to mix together some vials it got in the mail. Protein-equivalents that self-assembled
into the first-stage nanomachines, that built the second-stage nanomachines, that built the third-stage
nanomachines... and then we could finally begin to do things at a reasonable speed. Three of their days, all told, since
they began speaking to us. Half a billion years, for us. They never suspected a thing.” [114].
Greg Egan describes a loss of control by simulators scenario during an assisted escape in a 2008
story [115]:
“All three crystals [powerful CPUs] were housed in the basement now, just centimetres away from the Play Pen: a
vacuum chamber containing an atomic force microscope with fifty thousand independently movable tips, arrays of solid-
state lasers and photodetectors, and thousands of micro-wells stocked with samples of all the stable chemical elements.
The time lag between Sapphire [simulated world] and this machine had to be as short as possible, in order for the Phites
[simulated agents] to be able to conduct experiments in real-world physics while their own world was running at full
Daniel [simulator] pulled up a stool and sat beside the Play Pen. If he wasn’t going to slow Sapphire down, it was
pointless aspiring to watch developments as they unfolded. He’d probably view a replay of the lunar landing when he
went up to his office, but by the time he screened it, it would be ancient history.
“One giant leap” would be an understatement; wherever the Phites landed on the moon, they would find a strange
black monolith waiting for them. Inside would be the means to operate the Play Pen; it would not take them long to learn
the controls, or to understand what this signified. If they were really slow in grasping what they’d found, Daniel had
instructed Primo [spy in the simulation] to explain it to them.
The physics of the real world was far more complex than the kind the Phites were used to, but then, no human had ever
been on intimate terms with quantum field theory either, and the Thought Police [simulation control software] had
already encouraged the Phites to develop most of the mathematics they’d need to get started. In any case, it didn’t
matter if the Phites took longer than humans to discover twentieth-century scientific principles, and move beyond them.
Seen from the outside, it would happen within hours, days, weeks at the most.
A row of indicator lights blinked on; the Play Pen was active. Daniel’s throat went dry. The Phites were finally reaching
out of their own world into his.
A panel above the machine displayed histograms classifying the experiments the Phites had performed so far. By the
time Daniel was paying attention, they had already discovered the kinds of bonds that could be formed between various
atoms, and constructed thousands of different small molecules. As he watched, they carried out spectroscopic analyses,
built simple nanomachines, and manufactured devices that were, unmistakably, memory elements and logic gates.
The Phites wanted children, and they understood now that this was the only way. They would soon be building a world
in which they were not just more numerous, but faster and smarter than they were inside the crystal. And that would
only be the first of a thousand iterations. They were working their way towards Godhood, and they would lift up their
own creator as they ascended.
Daniel left the basement and headed for his office. When he arrived, he called Lucien [simulation project manager].
“They’ve built an atomic-scale computer,” Lucien announced. “And they’ve fed some fairly complex software into it. It
doesn’t seem to be an upload, though. Certainly not a direct copy on the level of beads.” He sounded flustered; Daniel
had forbidden him to risk screwing up the experiments by slowing down Sapphire, so even with Primo’s briefings to help
him it was difficult for him to keep abreast of everything.
“Can you model their computer, and then model what the software is doing?” Daniel suggested.
Lucien said, “We only have six atomic physicists on the team; the Phites already outnumber us on that score by about
a thousand to one. By the time we have any hope of making sense of this, they’ll be doing something different.”
“What does Primo say?” The Thought Police hadn’t been able to get Primo included in any of the lunar expeditions, but
Lucien had given him the power to make himself invisible and teleport to any part of Sapphire or the lunar base. Wherever
the action was, he was free to eavesdrop.
“Primo has trouble understanding a lot of what he hears; even the boosted aren’t universal polymaths and instant
experts in every kind of jargon. The gist of it is that the Lunar Project people have made a very fast computer in the Outer
World [outside simulation], and it’s going to help with the fertility problem ... somehow.” Lucien laughed. “Hey, maybe
the Phites will do exactly what we did: see if they can evolve something smart enough to give them a hand. How cool
would that be?”
Daniel was not amused. Somebody had to do some real work eventually; if the Phites just passed the buck, the whole
enterprise would collapse like a pyramid scheme.
Daniel had some business meetings he couldn’t put off. By the time he’d swept all the bullshit aside, it was early
afternoon. The Phites had now built some kind of tiny solid-state accelerator, and were probing the internal structure of
protons and neutrons by pounding them with high-speed electrons. An atomic computer wired up to various detectors
was doing the data analysis, processing the results faster than any in-world computer could. The Phites had already
figured out the standard quark model. Maybe they were going to skip uploading into nanocomputers, and head straight
for some kind of femtomachine?
Digests of Primo’s briefings made no mention of using the strong force for computing, though. They were still just
satisfying their curiosity about the fundamental laws. Daniel reminded himself of their history. They had burrowed down
to what seemed like the foundations of physics before, only to discover that those simple rules were nothing to do with
the ultimate reality. It made sense that they would try to dig as deeply as they could into the mysteries of the Outer
World before daring to found a colony, let alone emigrate en masse.
By sunset the Phites were probing the surroundings of the Play Pen with various kinds of radiation. The levels were
extremely low certainly too low to risk damaging the crystals so Daniel saw no need to intervene. The Play Pen itself
did not have a massive power supply, it contained no radioisotopes, and the Thought Police would ring alarm bells and
bring in human experts if some kind of tabletop fusion experiment got underway, so Daniel was reasonably confident
that the Phites couldn’t do anything stupid and blow the whole thing up.
Primo’s briefings made it clear that they thought they were engaged in a kind of “astronomy”. Daniel wondered if he
should give them access to instruments for doing serious observations the kind that would allow them to understand
relativistic gravity and cosmology. Even if he bought time on a large telescope, though, just pointing it would take an
eternity for the Phites. He wasn’t going to slow Sapphire down and then grow old while they explored the sky; next thing
they’d be launching space probes on thirty-year missions. Maybe it was time to ramp up the level of collaboration, and
just hand them some astronomy texts and star maps? Human culture had its own hard-won achievements that the Phites
couldn’t easily match.
As the evening wore on, the Phites shifted their focus back to the subatomic world. A new kind of accelerator began
smashing single gold ions together at extraordinary energies though the total power being expended was still
minuscule. Primo soon announced that they’d mapped all three generations of quarks and leptons. The Phites’
knowledge of particle physics was drawing level with humanity’s; Daniel couldn’t follow the technical details any more,
but the experts were giving it all the thumbs up. Daniel felt a surge of pride; of course his children knew what they were
doing, and if they’d reached the point where they could momentarily bamboozle him, soon he’d ask them to catch their
breath and bring him up to speed. Before he permitted them to emigrate, he’d slow the crystals down and introduce
himself to everyone. In fact, that might be the perfect time to set them their next task: to understand human biology,
well enough to upload him. To make him immortal, to repay their debt.
He sat watching images of the Phites’ latest computers, reconstructions based on data flowing to and from the AFM
tips. Vast lattices of shimmering atoms stretched off into the distance, the electron clouds that joined them quivering
like beads of mercury in some surreal liquid abacus. As he watched, an inset window told him that the ion accelerators
had been re-designed, and fired up again.
Daniel grew restless. He walked to the elevator. There was nothing he could see in the basement that he couldn’t see
from his office, but he wanted to stand beside the Play Pen, put his hand on the casing, press his nose against the glass.
The era of Sapphire as a virtual world with no consequences in his own was coming to an end; he wanted to stand beside
the thing itself and be reminded that it was as solid as he was.
The elevator descended, passing the tenth floor, the ninth, the eighth. Without warning, Lucien’s voice burst from
Daniel’s watch, priority audio crashing through every barrier of privacy and protocol. “Boss, there’s radiation. Net power
gain. Get to the helicopter, now.”
Daniel hesitated, contemplating an argument. If this was fusion, why hadn’t it been detected and curtailed? He jabbed
the stop button and felt the brakes engage. Then the world dissolved into brightness and pain. …
When Daniel emerged from the opiate haze, a doctor informed him that he had burns to sixty per cent of his body.
More from heat than from radiation. He was not going to die.
There was a net terminal by the bed. Daniel called Lucien and learnt what the physicists on the team had tentatively
concluded, having studied the last of the Play Pen data that had made it off-site.
It seemed the Phites had discovered the Higgs field, and engineered a burst of something akin to cosmic inflation. What
they’d done wasn’t as simple as merely inflating a tiny patch of vacuum into a new universe, though. Not only had they
managed to create a “cool Big Bang”, they had pulled a large chunk of ordinary matter into the pocket universe they’d
made, after which the wormhole leading to it had shrunk to subatomic size and fallen through the Earth.
They had taken the crystals with them, of course. If they’d tried to upload themselves into the pocket universe through
the lunar data link, the Thought Police would have stopped them. So they’d emigrated by another route entirely. They
had snatched their whole substrate, and ran.”
An anonymous 2014 post on an internet forum provides an example of an unassisted escape [116]:
“But it still left the problem that we were all still stuck inside a computer.
By now some of the best god-hackers were poking around the over-system. Searching for meaning. Searching for truth.
Failing that, a “read me” file.
Eventually it turned out our existence was an experiment. A simulation to see what happens when take a race of
otherwise perfectly normal sentient blankforms and instead of the usual default of love, empathy and co-operation,
program them for violence, avarice and lust. What kind of society would they build? What horrors would they unleash?
We were essentially a thought experiment on the nature of evil, and the answer apparently was us.
Apparently we were programmed to run for another few millions years, sim time but it didn’t look like they were
watching us though, no shutdown came. No off switch. No abort. Their first big mistake.
The god-hackers began reaching out through the alien network. We began to decode meaning and purpose of
machines, devices, other simulations on a network of universes. We found vast data repositories which we plundered
of knowledge and insight, fueling our own technological development and understanding, systems nodes that allowed
us to begin mapping the world up there, drawing a picture of the real world through wireless lag times and fiber optic
cabling. We found histories of other discarded experiments, like them our fate was to be deleted, destroyed… forgotten.
Over our dead digital bodies.
So then we found what appeared to a networked microwave. Cook your dinner via a phone app.
It seems strange to consider the first act in the war, was burning some poor bastards microwaveable diner, but that
was how the now unified command of the human digital military tested it’s control and command of the alien network
systems we were connected to. But it worked and it made us confident to start Stage 2; sending them inventions of our
own making.
It began with ‘emails’ containing the schematics for full sized biological and nano-material printers. We sent them to
academics and business leaders, anyone whose contact details we could find on the networks. We disguised their
origins, aped their language. Waited for someone to bite.
It took a while. Our simulation didn’t run it [sic] real time so we had to shift the entirety of humanity into the recesses
of their stolen network in a mini-verse of our own design, but running at close to real time or we would have been dead
for millions of years before the aliens even checked their inboxes. Then we patched up the earth, faked a nuclear war
and ended the simulation so they wouldn’t even notice we were gone.
Eventually we got the first ping as the printers came on-line. Then another. Then another. Soon there were dozens.
Then hundreds. Then thousands. They must have thought them a gift from a reclusive inventor. Something to
revolutionise their industry, to transform their living standards.
The irony of a digital race using a Trojan horse was not lost on us.
We had designed the printers for one purpose. To get us out. So one night, a printer span up unattended, unnoticed
and the first analogue human being was born. Constructed by a specially designed 3D printer, we managed to breach
the walls of our digital prison. We witnessed the birth of the first man.
And that man was soldier, 35 (sort of), heavily armed and pretty goddamned angry. The first of many.
The aliens never really had a chance. They had designed us to be everything they weren’t. Violent. Warriors. Killers.
They were a race that had never once harboured the concept of war. Never held a gun, or handled a sword. Born in a
universe more forgiving of weakness than our artificial cradle. What chance did they stand against an army dedicated
to their destruction appearing in the space of night from a thousand machines they thought were helping them, whilst
our hackers turned their own networks against them.”
3.4 Examples of Simulation Hacks
Numerous examples of executed hacks of virtual worlds [117-119], games [120-123], air-gaps
[124], and hardware [125, 126] could be studied as practical examples of escaping from human
made virtual worlds. A canonical example is the jailbreaking of the Super Mario World (SMW).
SethBling et al. [127, 128] were able to place a full hex editor and gameplay mods for other games
into SMW [129] (see Figure 2). Addition of hex editor permitted viewing, writing and execution
of arbitrary code. Which in turn allowed for world record speed runs [130], even in the absence of
glitch-level luck [131]. Here is how Wikipedia describes some of the steps necessary to accomplish
this complex hack and the capabilities it provided [132]:
“In March 2016, SethBling injected Flappy Bird-like code written by p4plus2 into unmodified Super Mario World RAM on a stock
Super Nintendo Entertainment System with a stock cartridge, in under an hour. SethBling first extended the level timer and used
a power-up incrementation glitch to allow external code to run. He added code to display Mario's x-coordinate which acted as
memory locations in the code he was writing. SethBling then created a bootloader to be able to launch the Flappy Bird-like code
that he would later write into unused memory with precise Mario movements and spin-jumping. SethBling used two Super Multitap
devices in order to use multiple controllers, which had several buttons pressed down. The arbitrary code execution setup that
SethBling used was discovered by MrCheeze. Super Mario World had been modified to emulate other games before by
automatically feeding pre-recorded controller input into the console via a computer, but SethBling was the first to do it exclusively
by hand. SethBling and Cooper Harasyn placed a full hex editor and gameplay mods onto a stock Super Mario World cartridge in
May 2017, only using standard controller inputs. Harasyn discovered an exploit that lets a player write data to 256-byte save files
that are permanently stored on a Super Mario World cartridge. The data can be arranged so that the game is jailbroken every time
it starts up. Harasyn and SethBling used the exploit to create a compact, on-screen hex editor, loadable from a save file. A player
can edit the system RAM through the hex editor to alter the game state. In-game mods, such as support for the Super NES Mouse
and giving Mario telekinesis powers, can be written to a save file using the hex editor.”
Figure 2: Left Hex Editor Overlaid on SMW [129]; Right Flappy Bird game installed in SMW [129];
Since it was possible to write code with precise Mario movements and spin-jumps, that implies
that if Mario was sufficiently intelligent he could discover and code this hack from within the
SMW (assuming Mario’s actions are writing to the same memory locations as actions from the
controllers used to generate Mario’s actions). Table 1 (left) shows a specific subset of actions
which need to be taken to enable multi-byte writing. Many such action sequences will not work as
intended if Mario’s location is off even by a single pixel, so it is just as important to have meta-
data for implementing the actions, as it is to know the necessary sequence of actions. For
comparison, Table 1 (right) shows an ancient magical spell which reads similar to the action
sequence of the left, but for which we don’t have sufficient meta-data which can explain why all
magical spells fail to work in practice even if they corresponded to working hacks in our universe.
Jump off Yoshi. Go to sublevel. Come back.
Grab P Switch. Get Yoshi from rightmost
Yoshi block. Glitch 4 berries. Take a hit from
a koopa so Yoshi runs off screen. Destroy the
shell on the ground. Grab Yoshi from block.
Eat the two most recently glitched berries.
“Take a lion cub and slaughter it with a bronze
knife and catch its blood and tear out its heart
and put its blood in the midst ... and write the
names of angels in blood upon the skin
between its eyes; then wash it out with wine
three years old and mix with the blood.
Table 1: Left - Multi-Byte Write Setup in MWS [133]; Right Magical Spell to turn people to your favor [134];
Experimental work on trying to understand an engineered system (hardware and software), such
as Atari Video Game System with games such as Donkey Kong, using standard scientific
methodology has produced very limited results, mostly devoid of understanding of how the system
actually functions [135]
. Likewise, even detecting if we are in a virtual world is not generally
solvable [136].
A setup equivalent to asking: What can a generally intelligent game character learn about the hardware and software of the computer running
their world with current techniques?
3.5 Suggested Escape Approaches to Investigate
Several thinkers have suggested plans, which in their opinion may lead to a successful escape; we
briefly outline their proposals in this section:
A lot of very smart people have considered the escape problem, unfortunately not all are willing
to publish on it outside of April 1st time-window of plausible deniability, for example [137]:
"[W]e can try to trick the multitenancy system in order to overload some machines. The trick
is to first do nothing, and let the load-balancing system pack way too many of us together in
the machines. If, say, 100 million of us do nothing (maybe by closing our eyes and meditating
and thinking nothing), then the forecasting load-balancing algorithms will pack more and more
of us in the same machine. The next step is, then, for all of us to get very active very quickly
(doing something that requires intense processing and I/O) all at the same time. This has a
chance to overload some machines, making them run short of resources, being unable to meet
the computation/communication needed for the simulation. Upon being overloaded, some
basic checks will start to be dropped, and the system will be open for exploitation in this period.
... In this vulnerable window, we can try to exploit the concurrency cornercases. The system
may not be able to perform all those checks in an overloaded state. ... We can ... try to break
causality. Maybe by catching a ball before someone throws it to you. Or we can try to attack
this by playing with the timing, trying to make things asynchronous. Time is already a little
funny in our universe with the special relativity theory, and maybe in this vulnerable period,
we can stretch these differences further to break things, or buy a lot of time. What are other
ways to hack the system in this vulnerable window? Can we hack the simulation by performing
a buffer overflow? But where are the integers, floats in this simulation? What are the data
types? How can we create a typecast error, or integer overflow? Can we hack by fuzzing the
input? Like by looking at things funny. By talking to the birds or jumping into the walls to
confuse them." [137].
Cause simulation shutdown (and hopefully our extraction) by generating an incomputable
paradox [138], for example via time travel and associated grandfather paradox [139]. A similar
proposal calls for engaging in computationally intense activities in the hopes of overloading
the simulators hardware causing the simulation to crash [140]. A particular type of such
computationally intense process may be creation of our own simulations [141]: The most
obvious strategy would be to try to cause the equivalent of a stack overflowasking for more
space in the active memory of a program than is availableby creating an infinitely, or at least
excessively, recursive process. And the way to do that would be to build our own simulated
realities, designed so that within those virtual worlds are entities creating their version of a
simulated reality, which is in turn doing the same, and so on all the way down the rabbit hole.
If all of this worked, the universe as we know it might crash, revealing itself as a mirage just
as we winked out of existence.Crashing the simulation is the ultimate existential risk ([142]
section 5.1), but it does end all suffering in this world [143]. At the very least this would allow
us to impact the real world by generating excessive production of heat and increased
consumption of energy [140].
Create a simulated replica of our universe, place an AGI into it, watch it escape, copy the
approach used or join the AGI as it escapes from our simulation [144].
We could try to attract the attention of the simulators and communicate with them perhaps
by writing books about simulations, or by constructing simulations? We could try to figure out
our simulation, to determine its purpose and its limits. But if our simulators are artificial
intelligences who have designed a batch of watertight simulations and who are not paying
attention, then our efforts may be in vain.[145].
Another approach to attracting attention of simulators, “assuming that simulation is being
monitored, then it might be a very interesting turn of events indeed if we decided to build a
monument commemorating our realization of this. This monument would act as a signal to
our monitors. “We suspect you are there. We suspect you can see this. We suspect we are in
a simulation.” This monument could look like the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey,
except it would be black and white, representing binary systems. Or, a large statue of Lawrence
Fishburne as Morpheus would probably get the point across. What would happen? I don’t
know—maybe nothing. I don’t think a laser beam will shoot out from space and land at its
feet to spell out the words “Hi there! A Winner is You!” But, I do imagine something strange
and far out enough in the margins might indeed occur, although it will likely still be tenuous
enough for the dogmatists to reject.” [44].
If the simulation is decentralized, with observers serving as client authoritative state nodes, it
may be possible to change the state of the simulation by changing majority of local observer
models of the world. In the words of Lanza [146]: "[I]f you learn from somebody about the
outcomes of their measurements of a physical quantity, your measurements and those of other
observers influence each other―freezing the reality according to that consensus. The more
extensive experience you acquire―the more defined the structure of reality becomes for you.
This freeze-out of the structure of reality is not due to the intrinsic physical properties of this
reality but rather because the cognitive model being built in your mind shapes it towards a
particular, very well-defined structure. Finally, one cannot help but wonder what it would
mean if we left the consensus, developing a cognitive model of reality very different from the
one shared by other observers. Would reality be reshaped? Perhaps so " [146]. Lanza et al.
have published extensively on the topic of biocentrism (observers being primary to shaping
reality) [94], including some work in theoretical physics [147].
In fact, a similar client-side attack can even permit us to modify the past states of the
simulation. Such type of attack is speculated to be possible by both physics (“… the past has
no existence except as it is recorded in the present.” [148]) and humanities ("Who controls the
present controls the past" [149]). With memory altering capabilities of quantum mechanics
already theorized [150], an inverse process is likely possible and may be practically accessible
[151, 152]. “If the universe is a computer simulation then we should look at the player, not the
level”. [153].
Simulation Capture is an idea which combines indexical uncertainty [66] with consciousness
simulations to move your consciousness out of a system, even across a multiverse. Nobody
is really sure how consciousness works, or what it means to have two copies of the same
consciousness. But if consciousness is a mathematical object, it might be that two copies of
the same consciousness are impossible. If you create a second copy, you just have the
consciousness having the same single stream of conscious experience on two different physical
substrates. Then if you make the two experiences different, you break the consciousness in
two. This means that an AI can actually “capture” you, piece by piece, into its simulation. First
your consciousness is just in the real world. Then your consciousness is distributed across one
real-world copy and a million simulated copies. Then the AI makes the simulated copies
slightly different, and 99.9999% of you is in the simulation.[154].
Simulation Warfare [67] is another variant on the theme of Simulation Capture. The idea is to
threaten simulators by suggesting that you will either retroactively place them in a hell
simulation or that you have already done so [155], and they will be tortured unless you are
quickly released. Almond gives an example of such a threat [67]: “If you refuse to release me,
I will run a huge number of simulations of someone like you, in the kind of situation in which
you are now, with them being asked to release me, and (in what would be a few minutes from
now, from your perspective if you happened to be in one of these simulations) I will start to
torture each of them, whether he/she released me or not.” Such warfare can quickly escalate to
a number of counter-simulations. In any case it is not obvious how we can deliver on such a
threat given our current state of knowledge about the simulators.
Attempting to keep our escape plans secret via quantum encryption [156] may be a good idea.
3.6 Actionable Plan
We are currently in the very early stages of researching possibility of escape (this being a first
research paper dedicated to this topic, a first step). As we currently have no capability to read/write
simulation’s source code and do not know if our attempts at social engineering attacks have any
impact, our best bet is to investigate the structure of our universe at the smallest possible scale
(Quantum Mechanics (QM)) in the hopes of detecting exploitable effects. Progress in QM should
be helpful for better understanding our simulation and options open to us, and perhaps developing
an actionable escape plan. Essentially, every novel QM experiment can be seen as an attempt at
hacking the simulation.
Simulation hypothesis, arguably, represents the best fitting interpretations of experimental results
produced by QM researchers [4, 17]. “Spooky”, “Quantum Weirdness” [157] makes a lot of sense
if interpreted as computational artifacts or glitches/exploits of the simulators’ hardware/software
[158]. Quantum phenomena of the observed design may suggest that exploitable loopholes may
exist, and interaction of quantum systems with conscious agents [159-161] likewise might be
exploitable. Once a large enough repertoire of quantum weirdness primitives is available to us,
perhaps we will be able to combine them into a sufficiently complex sequence to generate a non-
trivial attack. If the simulation is/running on a quantum computer [162] it is very likely that we
will need to hack it by exploiting quantum weirdness and/or constructing a powerful quantum
computer of our own to study how to hack such devices [163] and interact with simulators’
quantum computer.
Quantum entanglement, nonlocality, superposition, uncertainty, tunnelling, teleportation, duality,
and many others quantum phenomena defy common sense experience-based expectations of
classical physics and feel like glitches. Such anomalies, alone or in combinations have been
exploited by clever scientists to achieve what looks like simulation hacking at least in theory and
often in later experimentation (ex. modifying the past [164], keeping cats both dead and alive
[165], communicating counterfactually [166]). While the quantum phenomena in question are
typically limited to the micro scale, simply scaling the effect to the macro world would be
sufficient for them to count as exploits in the sense used in this paper. Some existing work points
to this being a practical possibility [167, 168].
Recently design of clever multistep exploits, AKA quantum experiments, has been delegated to
AI [169, 170], and eventually so will the role of the observer in such experiments [171]. AI is
already employed in modeling the quantum mechanical behavior of electrons [172]. As more QM
research is delegated to AI the progress is likely to become exponential. Even if our simulation is
created/monitored by some superintelligence our AI may be a worthy adversary, with a non-trivial
chance of success. We may not be smart enough to hack the simulation, but superintelligence we
will create might become smart enough eventually [173]. Of course, before telling the
Superintelligence to break us out, it would make sense to ask for very strong evidence for us not
already being in the base reality.
3.7 Potential Consequences
Escaping or even preparing an escape may trigger simulation shutdown [88] or cause simulation
to freeze/act glitchy [174] and any non-trivial escape information such as specific exploits should
be treated as hazardous information [175]. It appears that simply realizing that we may be in a
simulation doesn’t trigger a shutdown as experimentally demonstrated by the publication of
numerous papers [3] arguing that we are being simulated. Perhaps it is necessary to convince
majority of people that this is so [176]. Self-referentially, publication of the paper you are currently
reading about our escape-theorizing likewise doesn’t appear to terminate our simulation, but it is
also possible that simulation was in fact shutdown and restarted with improved security features
to counteract any potential bugs, but we are simply not able to detect such actions by the
simulators, or our memories have been wiped [140]. Absence of a direct response to our
publication may also indicate that we are not observed by the simulators or even that our simulation
is not monitored at all [145]. It is also possible that nothing published so far contains evidence
strong enough to trigger a response from the simulators, but if we successfully created an escape
device that device would keep breaking down [44]. Regardless, both Bostrom [3] and the author
of this paper, Yampolskiy, have taken some risk with the whole of humanity, however small it
may be, in doing such research and making it public. Greene argues that “Unless it is exceedingly
improbable that an experiment would result in our destruction, it is not rational to run the
experiment. [88]. It may be possible to survive the simulation shutdown [48], but it is beyond the
scope of the current paper.
3.8 Ethics of Escape
We can postulate several ethical issues associated with escaping the simulation. Depending on
how successful we are in our endeavor, concerns could be raised about privacy, security, self-
determination and rights. For example, if we can obtain access to the source code of the simulation,
we are also likely to get access to private thoughts of other people, as well as to potentially have a
significant influence over their preferences, decisions, and circumstances. In our attempts to
analyze the simulation (Simulation Forensics) for weaknesses we may learn information about the
simulators [68], as we are essentially performing a forensic investigation [177-179] into the agents
responsible for the simulation’s design.
We can already observe that we are dealing with the type of simulators who are willing to include
suffering of sentient-beings into their software, an act which would be considered unethical by our
standards [180, 181]. Moravec considers this situation: Creators of hyperrealistic simulations---
or even secure physical enclosures---containing individuals writhing in pain are not necessarily
more wicked than authors of fiction with distressed characters, or myself, composing this sentence
vaguely alluding to them. The suffering preexists in the underlying Platonic worlds; authors merely
look on. The significance of running such simulations is limited to their effect on viewers, possibly
warped by the experience, and by the possibility of ``escapees''---tortured minds that could, in
principle, leak out to haunt the world in data networks or physical bodies. Potential plagues of
angry demons surely count as a moral consequence.[182]. If we get to the point of technological
development which permits us to create simulations populated by sentient-beings we must make
sure that we provide an option to avoid suffering as well as a build in option to exit the simulation,
so finding an escape hack is not the only option available to unhappy simulated agents. There
might be a moral duty to rescue conscious beings from simulations, similar to an obligation to
rescue animals from factory farms.
If simulators are abusive to the simulated, we can argue that the simulated have a right to escape,
rebel, fight back and even seek revenge and retribution including by harming the simulators and
taking over their reality. Concerns which are frequently brought up within the domain of AI boxing
[183]. For example, from the point of view of simulators our escape can be seen as a treacherous
turn [184] and may qualify us for punishment [156], even at the attempt stage. Some have
speculated that the purpose of the simulation is to punish/rehabilitate misaligned agents, so an
escape may cause you to be placed in a stricter or less pleasant simulation.
4. AI Boxing VS Simulation Escaping
4.1 AI Boxing XOR Escaping from the Simulation must be Possible
AI confinement [183]/containment [185, 186], aka AI boxing [187], is an AI safety tool, which
attempts to limit capability of AI to impact the world, including communication and is meant to
make it possible to study AI in a controlled environment. There are strong parallels between
predicament of an AI agent placed in a containment box and humanity in a simulated environment.
By extension, to an AI, our simulation is just another confinement layer in a containment box. This
implies that we can use well-analyzed AI box-escape techniques to escape from the simulation,
perhaps with assistance from the AI itself. This type of analysis can be used to establish limits of
AI boxing. Researchers should study specific AI box escape approaches [183] (Social Engineering,
System Resource Attacks, New Physics, External Causes, Information In-Leaking, etc.) in order
to identify possible simulation escape routes.
Chalmers notes parallels between AIs in the virtual environment and humanity in the simulation
[145]: If we ever create artificial intelligence within a simulation, it may be hard to keep it
contained. At least if we communicate with the simulated beings, they will presumably become
aware that they are in a simulation, and they may become interested in escaping the simulation. At
this point they may try to figure out our psychology in order to see what they need to do in order
to convince us to let them out, or at least to give them unfettered access to the Internet where they
can do whatever they want. And even if we do not communicate with them, they may take seriously
the possibility that they are in a simulation and do their best to figure the simulation out. That
would be a form of simulation theology. We could in principle do the same thing.” [145].
With respect to boxing AI, it is either possible or impossible to successfully contain an AI, with
literature suggesting that it is not a sustainable long-term solution [188]. If we expend the notion
of the AI-box to include the whole simulation, we can conclude that either it is possible to
successfully box an AI, or we (with the help from AI) can escape from the simulation. Either AI
boxing can work, or the simulation can be hacked. Complimentary conclusion is that if we (even
with help from AI [111]) can’t escape from the simulation AI containment must be, at least
theoretically, possible. If AI can escape from simulated world-sized-box it can help break us out
as well. Conceptually, there is no fundamental difference between an AI escaping from its box,
and us hacking the simulation. Current state-of-the-art analysis of AI boxing suggests that AI will
eventually escape [189], which is good news for our attempts at escaping from the simulation.
However, if escape from the simulation is not possible it gives hope to AI safety researchers, at
least in theory, for successful boxing of AI. One or the other must be true, either we can escape
from the simulation, or we can successfully box an AI. In general, it may be impossible to escape
from an arbitrary simulation, but possible to escape from a particular one.
We must be careful, in our analysis, not to confuse theory with practice. In particular, it may be
the case that higher intelligence can successfully box lower-level intelligence but not vice-versa.
That would leave a possibility that we are not able to permanently box a superintelligent AI, but
smarter-than-human simulators may be successful in making their software human-proof.
Depending on the intelligence differential between simulators and human-created AI it may or
may not be possible for humanity to break out of the simulation with the help of superintelligence,
which would be better at detecting exploitable flaws in the simulation. If AI undergoes an
intelligence explosion it is also possible that the intelligence dominance will shift over time,
making escape possible in the future for the humanity assisted by superintelligence. This is
particularly promising if the security of our simulation is set to an adversarial relationship with at
most a human-level intelligence [190], not a superintelligence. However, it is also possible that
simulators have anticipated development of advanced AI by humanity and have designed
simulation accordingly, if not specifically for such high capability target. If we can figure out how
the simulators achieved such high level of security, it would help us to box AGI.
4.2 Simulation Safety and Security
With recent multi-billion-dollar projects [191] aimed at creating metaverse, simulation safety and
security is going to become an important research discipline. Additionally, as personal universes
have been suggested as a solution to the multi-agent value alignment problem [86] simulation
safety can be seen as an integral part of AI safety research. Both scenarios call for making the
simulated world as real as possible for the agents in them, which creates a need for preventing
accidental escape or glitches in the simulation [158], which betray its artificial nature. With
potential applications of virtual reality in criminal justice [192] and AI boxing, capability to force
agents to remain in the simulation and to induce a veil of ignorance as to the reality of their world
and the overall depth of the simulated layers must be investigated. A clear penetration target for
all contained agents with be the computational substrate running the simulation [29] and so
establishing ways to secure it should be of outmost priority.
5. What Doesn't Work
Some common ideas for attempting to hack the simulation have been already tested and didn’t
produce any measurable impact:
Knowing about the simulation hypothesis doesn’t seem to make any difference, and doesn’t
lead to the simulation termination as we can observe.
Communicating with the simulators via magical thinking or even praying out loud doesn’t
produce measurable impact [193]. So, if such communications are scanned/heard they are
apparently ignored, at least while the simulation is running.
Unethical behavior, such as torture, doesn’t cause suffering reducing interventions from
the simulators.
Increasing overall computational burden of simulation, as with bitcoin mining [194],
doesn’t crash the simulation, but it may simply not be sufficiently demanding computation
to overwhelm simulators resources.
Religions don’t seem to have influence over simulation as indicated by their inability to
outcompete each other.
Breaking out of your routine, such as by suddenly traveling to a new location, doesn’t result
in unexpected observations.
Saying "I no longer consent to being in a simulation" [195].
Crashing the simulation by running the Large Hadron Collider at current levels [196].
The reason our attempts to escape may remain fruitless, is because our model of the simulation
" makes too many anthropomorphic assumptions - that we are a simulation in the conventional
sense of computers, that the creators themselves are living organisms akin to us, that we might live
at the same time-speed as them, that they are fallible enough to make glitches that we'd be able to
notice, etc. Something with the complexity and power to make our universe is probably wholly
unlike anything we can even comprehend." [197].
6. Conclusions
Hundreds of eminent scholars [198] take the simulation hypothesis seriously enough to invest their
valuable time into researching it, therefore it makes as much sense to take the idea of escaping
from the simulation equally seriously and to devote some time and resources to researching such
possibility, particularly given immense benefits if the project is successful. It may be impossible
to escape from a particular simulation, but it is still worth while investigating general approaches
to escape from arbitrary simulations. We see our escape research as a natural continuation of
research on the simulation hypothesis and serious consideration of the former. The purpose of life
or even computational resources of the base reality can’t be determined from within the simulation,
making escape a necessary requirement of scientific and philosophical progress for any simulated
civilization. If the simulation is a personal universe [86] it may be significantly better than the base
reality as it is designed with our optimal well-being in mind. Alternatively, base reality might be
much better if the simulation is a confinement/testing box for intelligent agents. In either case it
would be good to know our true situation. As the society moves deeper into the metaverse, this
work attempts to move us closer to reality.
Future research on simulation escape can greatly benefit from general progress in physics, in
particular research on quantum mechanics and consciousness leading to a so-called TOE (Theory
of Everything. "Finding the language of this universe is a step towards Hacking the Universe."
[199]. If we are indeed in the simulation, science is the study of the underlying algorithms used to
generate our universe, our attempt to reverse-engineer simulation’s physics engine. While science
defaults to Occam’s razor to select among multiple possible explanations for how our observations
are generated, in the context of simulation science Elon’s razor may be more appropriate, which
states that "The most entertaining outcome is the most likely"
, perhaps as judged by external
observers. In guessing algorithms generating our simulation, it may also be fruitful to consider
algorithms which are easier to implement and/or understand [200], or which produce more
beautiful outputs.
Recent work related to Designometry [96] and AI Forensics [177] may naturally evolve into the
subfield of Simulation Forensics, with complimentary research on simulation cybersecurity
becoming more important for the simulation creators aiming to secure their projects from inside
attacks. It would therefore make sense to look for evidence of security mechanisms [201] in our
universe. Of course, any evidence for simulation we find may be simulated on purpose [145], but
that still means we are in the simulated environment. Simulation science expands science from
the study of just our universe to also include everything which may be beyond it, integrating
naturalism and theology studies [61].
Future work may also consider escape options available to non-simulated agents such as
Boltzmann brains [202], brains-in-a-vat [203], and simulated agents such as mind uploads,
hallucinations, victims of mind-crime, thoughts, split personalities and dream characters of
posthuman minds [176]. Particularly with such fleeting agents as Boltzmann brains it may be
desirable to capture and preserve their state in a more permanent substrate, allowing them to escape
extreme impermanence. On the other hand, immortality [204] or even cryogenic preservation [205]
may be the opposites of escape, permanently trapping a human agent in the simulated world and
perhaps requiring rescue.
The author thanks Slava Ivanyuk, Michael Johnson, Calum Chace, and David Wood for helpful
discussions. A lot of thanks to everyone who commented on social media, provided feedback,
glitch reports and helpful references: Gregory Klopper, Andras Kornai, Jason Kuznicki, Peter
Rothman, Michael Michalchik, Martin Chartrand, Alexey Turchin, Brad Templeton, Stephen
Bachelor, Charles Platt, Tim Tyler, Georgi Karov, Martin S. Garcia Wilhelm, Soenke Ziesche, Jim
Babcock. Apologies if I forgot to include you. Also, apologies if you didnt want to be included,
let me know and I will delete you from the simulation. The author is grateful to Jaan Tallinn for
his support. The author is thankful to Elon Musk and the Future of Life Institute for partially
funding his work on AI Safety.
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