By: Arjun Vir Kapoor
Elon Musk: The chance we are not living in computer simulation is ‘One in Billions’
According to Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, the odds that we are living in face reality is “one in billions.” He believes that our existence is almost like some advanced version of the game “The SIMS,” where we are being controlled by some form of an advanced civilization. As bizarre as this theory may sound at first, Musk does give a worthy argument to defend his belief:
“The strongest argument for us being in a simulation is the following. 40 years ago, we had pong, two rectangles and a dot. That is what games were. Now, 40 years later, we have photorealistic 3D simulations with millions of people playing simultaneously and it’s getting better every year. Soon we’ll have virtual reality and augmented reality, and if you assume any rate of improvement at all, the games will become indistinguishable from reality.”
With the rapid growth in A.I over the last few years, it is not out of the realm of possibility for technology and reality to reach a stage where the two are, as Musk says, completely indistinguishable. Musk was not the first to propose the Simulated Universe Hypothesis. Some argue that Rene Descartes, in the 1600’s, proposed ideas that could be branched under this hypothesis, but it was only in 2003, when Swedish Oxford University Professor Nick Bostrom wrote a paper “Are you Living in a Computer Simulation?” that we saw a formally explicated version of the theory.
If one were to imagine ourselves thousands of years in the future, chances are that human civilization would cease to exist due to some calamitous event. This disaster could include global warming, a mass epidemic, war over resources or any or any other such catastrophe. These possibilities are relevant to Bostrom, as only if civilization ends, will civilization stop advancing, from a technological perspective, that is. Another possibility, however, is that if we keep advancing, and assuming everything in the physical world can be simulated, eventually, we will simulate ourselves. Getting enough computing power to run multiple ancestor simulations could be a problem, but Bostrom thinks we would send tiny, self replicating robots to other planets, which would in turn turn these planets into huge computers. Some of these simulations could then start creating their own simulations, creating a ripple effect, leading to a scenario with billions of universes that will be indistinguishable from our own. If this theory were to be true, chances are, that we are in one of these simulated universes.
Given the other possibility of civilization inevitably ceasing to exist, Musk hopes that we are in a simulation. Bostrom does present a third possibility, in which future civilizations choose not to run ancestor simulations. This could be due to multifarious reasons. It could be for ethical reasons, not wanting to create a world with so much pain and suffering as there is in ours. It could be also be possible for future civilizations to advance to such an extent over few generations that they would lose interest in creating what are essentially ‘video games’ of the past.
Although the theory is difficult to fathom for many, it is evident to see the reasons used by Bostrom and Musk in an effort to to justify the theory. To recap, Bostrom’s paper allows for three plausible explanations for the nature of the universe, one of which, according to him, is definitely true:
- Human beings go extinct due to some calamitous event before they’re able to advance to the point where they are technologically capable of simulating consciousness.
- Human beings choose not to run simulations
- The most plausible one, according to Bostrom and Musk – We are currently living in a simulation.
It is significant to note that most fail to acknowledge Bostrom and Musk’s theories as plausible. They are considered to be radical and even eccentric thinkers. It is unfair however, to completely write off what they are proposing. In the course of history, those with the biggest breakthroughs were almost always initially labelled the same as Musk and Bostrom are today. Their works were later seen as indisputable truths.
Wall, M. (September 2018) We’re probably living in a simulation, Elon Musk says. Space.com. Retrieved from: https://www.space.com/41749-elon-musk-living-in-simulation-rogan-podcast.html
Bostrom, N (March 2003) Are you Living in a Computer Simulation? Philosophical Quarterly, Oxford University Press. Retrieved from: https://www.simulation-argument.com/simulation.html
Rothman, J (June 2016) What are the odds we are living in a computer simulation? The New Yorker. Retrieved from: https://www.newyorker.com/books/joshua-rothman/what-are-the-odds-we-are-living-in-a-computer-simulation