In 2003 Oxford University philosophy professor Nick Bostrom published The Simulation Argument. This states that "at least one of the following propositions is true": "The chances that a species at our current level of development can avoid going extinct before becoming technologically mature is negligibly small. Almost no technologically mature civilisations are interested in running computer simulations of minds like ours. You are almost certainly in a simulation."
As Ross Baker, the lead character in Christopher Brookmyre's brain-tickling novel, remembers it, this argument "suggested that if the human race survived long enough, in its endeavours to understand itself, it would surely develop 'ancestor simulations': hyper-realistic virtual-reality environments in which the minds inhabiting these worlds were themselves part of the simulation. Such advanced civilisations would … be able to implement billions of ancestor simulations, each containing billions of minds. Therefore, the vast probability would be that you are one of those billions of simulations rather than the single original reality that spawned them."
This argument matters to Ross particularly because his "mind" has somehow been rerouted into a computer game: "specifically, a 1996 first-person shooter called Starfire". He has recently woken up on Graxis, a planet with a sky of regally luxuriant purple where American marines are doing bloody battle with hideous flesh and metal cyborgs. More disconcerting still, he is one of the cyborgs, complete with grafted armour plates and so much wiring and metal on his face that he looks as though he has "faceplanted the clearance sale at Radio Shack".
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