The Verge – “There’s a billion to one chance we’re living in base reality,” Elon Musk said tonight on stage at Recode’s Code Conference, meaning that one of the most influential and powerful figures in tech thinks that it’s overwhelmingly likely we’re just characters living inside a simulation.
The Verge co-founder Josh Topolsky got half-way through asking Musk if he thought our existence was simulated before the Tesla CEO jumped in to finish his question for him. “I’ve had so many simulation discussions it’s crazy,” Musk explained. “You’ve thought about this?” Topolsky asked. “A lot,” Musk replied. “It got to the point where every conversation was the AI / simulation conversation, and my brother and I agreed that we would ban such conversations if we were ever in a hot tub.”
His argument — one presumably honed in the soothing waters of many a jaccuzi — goes that the incredibly fast advancement of video game technology indicates we’ll be capable of creating a fully lifelike simulation of existence in a short span of time. In 40 years, Musk explained, we’ve gone from Pong to massively multiplayer online games with millions of simultaneous players, games with photorealistic graphics, and stand now on the cusp of a new wave of virtual and augmented reality experiences.
“If you assume any rate of improvement at all then games will become indistinguishable from reality,” Musk said. “Even if that rate of advancement drops by a thousand from what it is now, let’s just imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.” Given that we’re on that trajectory and that these games are increasingly playable on any device, Musk said, the odds that we are living our lives in base reality — that is, “real” reality — is one in billions.
So the gist here is that because of the rate of improvement of video games, Elon Musk thinks that it’s very likely we’re all pixels in some highly advanced society’s virtual reality. And the thing is even though it’s so out of left field, there’s really no way to disprove what he’s saying here; So what you if you can use a superpowered microscope from Earth to break down the atoms of everything around us when that microscope itself is inherently a construct of our virtual reality? And if our world IS the equivalent of a game, wouldn’t the guy who figured out it’s a game also happen to be the richest, most brilliant, and socially competent human around? That just means he’s the best at the game. He’s leveled up enough to be able to get all the games’ points in the form of our currency, created cars that don’t use gas like every other basic character, and he’s even figured out how to fly a spaceship into the air. Elon Musk is a living Game Genie so if I’m going to trust anyone’s opinion on this matter, it’s his.
But fundamentally does it really matter if we’re living in a simulation or not? You can say it diminishes the huge importance we put on everything if we’re the equivalent of a high tech snow globe somewhere but does it really? At the time you’re living it, everything seems so important, like you’re the star of your own show where everyone around you plays a part. But the experience itself hasn’t changed in anyway just because we suddenly know we’re a fancier Pac-Man. You still love, you still lose, you still grow and change. So who cares? My only hope is that the bright white light at the end is just the game that is my life resetting while this sound effect plays:
PS despite Elon Musk being our equivalent of Neo in The Matrix, we all know how it’s turning out with a couple dudes in a hot tub once we remove the distraction of talking artificial intelligence and reality: