What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

There's a 20% Chance We're All Sims.

August 3, 2011, 12:00 AM

What’s the Big Idea? 

Depending who you ask, there’s a 20 to 50 percent chance that you’re living in a computer simulation. Not like The Matrix, exactly – the virtual people in that movie had real bodies, albeit suspended in weird, pod-like things and plugged into a supercomputer. Imagine instead a super-advanced version of The Sims, running on a machine with more processing power than all the minds on Earth. Intelligent design? Not necessarily. The Creator in this scenario could be a future fourth-grader working on a science project.

Oxford University philosopher Nick Bostrom argues that we may very well all be Sims. This possibility rests on three developments: (1) the aforementioned megacomputer. (2) The survival and evolution of the human race to a “posthuman” stage. (3) A decision by these posthumans to research their own evolutionary history, or simply amuse themselves, by creating us – virtual simulacra of their ancestors, with independent consciousnesses.


Meanwhile, in the world we know (virtual or not), some computer experts predict we’ll have such computing power by the middle of this century, though our ability to model the minds of even our most remote ancestors lags woefully behind. At present, virtualization technology enables us to run multiple “virtual computers” on a single computer, each with a different operating system, each completely isolated from crashes or viruses that disable the others.  This will soon make Cloud-based computer processing (not just storage) possible on a massive scale. And with advanced simulation, we can perform virtual autopsies on virtual victims of virtual car crashes, or predict the devastation a magnitude 7.8 earthquake would cause in downtown Los Angeles.

Daniel Burrus is one of the world’s leading technology forecasters and business strategists. Among futurists, he has the unique distinction of having accurately predicted – in 1983 – the twenty technological developments that still drive global markets today. Burrus says the e–commerce age is over, and the v–commerce age is about to begin.

What’s The Significance?

Virtualization and advanced simulation will have an enormous, and largely invisible, impact on our lives for a long time to come. Invisibility’s kind of the point – these technologies enable us to study, experiment, explore, and take action on a global scale while minimizing or erasing altogether the physical resources we use in the process. Medical students will be able to practice heart surgery on virtual patients before assisting in life-or-death operations. World stock exchanges will no longer require physical trading floors full of shouting people waving their hands – as a result, economic centers like New York and Tokyo may depopulate and be supplanted by “lifestyle hubs” chosen and developed for executive-class comfort.* These evolving technologies will streamline and reshape the way we do business, accelerating the integration of global markets.

New risks will accompany these changes, too. Home computers are vulnerable to viruses and malware, of course, but centralized, Cloud-based processing and storage exposes us to new risks, including large-scale data-theft and sudden loss of access to, say, our Great American Novel-in-progress. And as we come to rely deeply on sophisticated advanced simulation, dangerous disconnects will continue to arise between our online and offline worlds.

*For more on this intriguing concept, see Daniel Altman’s new book: Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends that Will Reshape the Global Economy.

NEWS FLASH: IBM produces a "thinking" computer chip modeled on the human brain.



There's a 20% Chance We're ...

Newsletter: Share: