I am in a simulation played by an advanced civilization suggests Musk

I am in a simulation – a video game – played by an advanced civilization whose science and technology are thousands and perhaps millions or even billions of years ahead of ours, suggests Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, chairman of SolarCity, co-chairman of OpenAI, as well as co-founder of PayPal and Zip2.

Musk says it is very possible that human reality is nothing more than an advanced being’s computer simulation, or an augmented reality game.

Regarding simulations, Musk said earlier this week:

“I’ve had so many simulation discussions, it’s crazy. My brother and I finally agreed we would ban such conversations if we were ever in a hot tub.”

From Pong to a modern SimulationIn just forty years we advanced from the simple table tennis game called Pong, to amazingly life-like virtual reality games. Imagine what kind of simulations we could produce in one thousand or one million years’ time?

When asked if he had ever considered the philosophical debate that looks at the notion of whether we are part of a video game or simulation created by a civilization light-years ahead of us, Musk’s eyes lit up, he sat on the edge of his chair, and was quick to answer.

We have come far in just four decades

He pointed out that four decades ago we had Pong, a basic table tennis sports game featuring simple two-dimensional graphics. Today we are able to produce lifelike graphics and are breaking into the field of virtual reality.



The South African-born Canadian-American inventor, business magnate, engineer, and investor explained:

“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 thousand from what it is now. Then you just say, okay, let’s imagine it’s 10,000 years in the future, which is nothing on the evolutionary scale.”

Computer simulation audience producer engineerIf we are in a simulation is there (3) an audience – are we their entertainment or part of their school course material? Is there a director (2), and is the AI engineer (1) a robot?

“So given that we’re clearly on a trajectory to have games that are indistinguishable from reality, and those games could be played on any set-top box or on a PC or whatever, and there would probably be billions of such computers or set-top boxes, it would seem to follow that the odds that we’re in base reality is one in billions.”

“Arguably we should hope that that’s true, because if civilization stops advancing, that may be due to some calamitous event that erases civilization. So maybe we should be hopeful this is a simulation, because otherwise we are going to create simulations indistinguishable from reality or civilization ceases to exist. We’re unlikely to go into some multimillion-year stasis.”



The Cosmic Ray Test

Nick Bostrom, a Swedish philosopher at the University of Oxford, suggested in 2003 that we may all be living in a computer simulation run by our descendants. In 2013, Discover magazine published an article which said that physicists can determine whether we live in a simulation by studying radiation from space.

It is called the ‘Cosmic Ray Test’ and was developed by Silas Beane from the University of Bonn (now at the University of Washington, Seattle). It involves a team of scientists building up a simulation of space using a grid or lattice.

According to Beane, the ‘simulators’ who control the Universe could themselves be simulations – a dream within a dream. If that were the case,, there would be no point in doing the study because the findings would be meaningless.

Beane said:

“If we’re indeed a simulation, then that would be a logical possibility, that what we’re measuring aren’t really the laws of nature, they’re some sort of attempt at some sort of artificial law that the simulators have come up with.”

Reality or a simulation which is whichIf my life on Earth is a simulation, does the real me exist? If so, am I asleep or in a coma? If I am asleep somewhere, how do I know that is not a simulation too?

Am I a simulation?

When Musk, Beane and others suggest we could all be part of a simulation, do they mean we were invented from scratch, that we are no more than part of a programme, or that we are avatars of our real selves, as in the movie The Matrix – in other words, are our real selves in a deep sleep somewhere, or would we cease to exist completely if somebody switched off the simulation?

The thought that we could be nothing but code in a software programme is horrifying.

I think, therefore I am

René Decarte (1596-1650), a French philosopher, mathematician, and scientist, once said ‘je pense, donc je suis’ (I think, therefore I am), which is often quoted in Latin ‘Cogito ergo sum’.

Decarte’s proposition became a fundamental element of Western philosophy – in the face of radical doubt, the notion forms a secure foundation for knowledge… for one’s own existence.

Aliens laughing at simulationWho knows? Maybe we are all part of a child’s school project!

While other knowledge could be a deception (simulation?), mistake or figment of imagination, Decartes asserted that the very act of doubting your own existence served – at minimum – as proof of the reality of your own mind; there has to be a thinking entity – in this case the self – for there to be a thought.

How does Decarte’s suggestion fare if we really are in a simulation? I know that I think, that is the only thing I am completely sure about. I cannot be sure you or anybody else thinks.

In a simulation, wouldn’t I become aware that I was not really thinking for myself? Or are artificial intelligences of civilisations millions of years more advanced than we are able to override Decarte’s suggestion?

How intelligent would a future person be if humans prevail for the next billion years. In one billion years’ time, would the IQ of an individual be double, triple or a hundred times that of an average human today.

Would the difference between my IQ and that of a squirrel be less than my IQ and that of a human one billion years in the future? If so, they would be able to make me think whatever they wanted – and I would never know.

Whether I am in a simulation or not, I am not sure I would like to know the answer. If it is so real that I cannot distinguish it from reality – it really is a reality as far as I a concerned.

Video – Is life a video game? Elon Musk

As the video shows, Elon Musk has thought about this a lot.