BY: DUSTIN BATTY
As augmented reality and virtual reality technology continues to improve, concerns have arisen that in the future, we won’t be able to tell what is real and what is computer-generated. According to some people—including well-known innovator, inventor, and entrepreneur Elon Musk—there is a very good chance that we are all living in a computer simulation.
I know, I know; it sounds crazy. We’ve all seen The Matrix, and most of us are aware that it’s just science fiction. But this theory isn’t just senseless balderdash. Musk and the others who hold this theory, such as philosopher Nick Bostrom, make fairly compelling points to corroborate their arguments.
At Code Conference 2016, Musk points out the fact that video games have advanced from Pong to 3-dimensional near-realistic graphics in just over 40 years. It follows that in a few more decades, if we continue at our current rate of technological advancement—or in a few millennia, if our advancement slows by a factor of a thousand, but eventually—we will reach the level of technology necessary to create a fully realistic-seeming virtual reality.
One of the strongest counter-arguments to the computer simulation theory, as posited in an IFLScience article, is that running “a truly lifelike simulation of a city, with all its trillions of interactions, would require a city-sized computer.” In other words, the amount of computing power that would be required in order to process all of the human minds that are currently alive—as well as the environment in which we all exist and the visible universe that we can detect—would be impossible to develop.
After a lengthy build up in the paper he wrote on the subject, Bostrom claims that developing the computing power required to allow for the lives of 100 billion people, as well as the surrounding environment, is not actually impossible. It would, however, require a computer with the mass “of a large planet,” which is obviously something that we’re not even close to building. He says that the technology will become available eventually, if we are able to survive as a species long enough to become what he calls “posthuman.”
He describes the “posthuman” as those who are alive when “humankind has acquired most of the technological capabilities that one can currently show to be consistent with physical laws and with material and energy constraints.” It will probably take us thousands of years to reach a posthuman state, but Bostrom and Musk both point out that the time-frame doesn’t matter. As long as the possibility of realistic simulations exists, then we are most likely in one.
The reason for this is simple logic. A simulation this advanced contains sentient beings that can create their own simulation; like in the movie Inception, there would be simulations within simulations within simulations. The chances that we are in the base reality rather than in one of the Inception layers is unlikely because there is only one base reality, but many simulated realities. And there would be no possible way to tell the difference.
So what does this mean for us? How do we move forward, knowing that there’s a decent chance that we are in a computer simulation rather than in base reality? Well, we just keep on as if nothing’s changed. Because, if you think about it, nothing has changed. The world is just as real as it always was, and our reasons for living our lives the way we do are still true. We have simply been given a possible answer to the question about life, the universe, and everything. And I, for one, think it’s fascinating.