Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, is never shy about predicting things, and he’s not a fan of superintelligent computers. Just recently he stated that we’re basically headed toward a Matrix-like existence if we’re not living in one already, an opinion he is not alone in holding.
40 years ago we had Pong; two rectangles and a dot. Now we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously, and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality, augmented reality. If you assume any rate of improvement at all, then the games will become indistinguishable from reality. Even if that rate of advancement drops by a 1000, then it might happen 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.
In other words, if we’re capable of creating these tools, if we don’t already live in the Matrix, sooner or later we’re going to. So if we might be living in a simulation in the future, is there any chance that we’re actually living in a simulation already? And would that even matter?
Are We Living In The Matrix?
Musk is edging around what’s called the “simulation hypothesis” — first proposed in 2003 by philosopher Nick Bostrom. It essentially rests on the idea that any sufficiently advanced civilization will start creating simulations, and over time those simulations will get larger and more complex. Eventually, they will begin simulating life forms with full intelligence, and for all intents and purposes, that simulation would be reality to them. Take that theory a little further, and there’s no real way to disprove that’s not exactly what’s happening to us, that Earth and reality are a simulation created by a device we have no awareness of.
If this sounds ridiculous, keep in mind that Sony is shipping a video game that creates entire galaxies and the lifeforms that live there on the fly for the PS4 before summer’s end. So yes, we’re already doing exactly this for fun, while simultaneously arguing over whether to even bother saving our real-life biosphere if it means we’ll have to make less money.
Bostrom’s argument is more or less inductive logic. For the universe we live in to not be a simulation, one of three things has to be true: The fraction of civilizations with sufficiently advanced technology to run what amounts to the Matrix is very close to zero; the fraction of civilizations interested in running those simulations in the first place is close to zero; or if somebody, somewhere, is running a simulation it would essentially be a carbon copy of our current universe, so basically the simulation of us and the real us is interchangeable. But does this hold up?