This mind-bending quote from Elon Musk will stop you in your tracks

He just broke the Internet...again

What is the nature of reality? Why do we exist? Are we living in a simulation?

Those questions came up at a tech conference talk last night when the audience started asking Elon Musk for his opinions on artificial intelligence and many other topics. In his usual rapid-fire thought experiment style, Musk explained why we might all be living in a computer simulation, and he wasn’t joking.

The thought experiment involves the idea that computer technology is advancing rapidly. He explained how, just 40 years ago, we were playing the game Pong with two lines on a screen and a ball. Today, we have photorealistic games.

He said it follows then that we are already living in a simulation because of how rapidly technology has already advanced. Maybe the simulation we’re in now is just a version of the world created by a far future society. He said there’s a one in a billion chance it has happened already. Then, he said something that went one big step further.

Here’s the quote:

“Either we’re going to create simulations that are indistinguishable from reality or civilization will cease to exist, those are the two options.”

In other words, we’re either living in the Matrix now or we should be, because if the world around us is not a simulation, then it could end at the next apocalyptic event. I tend to think he’s totally serious, even though he was joking about never discussing these topics in a hot-tub. The guy is not really an eccentric as much as he is thinking on a different plane than most of us. We have to ponder what he says at times and mull it over a bit. He seems to think of these brilliant ideas in a matter of seconds as a throwaway comment. The question is: Could he be right?

It’s a fantastic idea. Like the Hyperloop, a high-speed vacuum tube currently under construction in Nevada that was the brainchild of Musk, I could see Hollywood running with this idea, gaming companies like EA or Ubisoft jumping on the thought experiment, and science fiction authors writing short stories that exploit the idea. It’s been done before, but not in a serious way that would suggest that it is now possible due to how quickly technology has advanced in 40 years. What will technology be like in 10,000 years if we keep progressing at this current rate? It’s not inconceivable to think that we won’t be able to distinguish between a video game and reality. In some ways, VR headsets like the HTC Vive are proving that already. If you play a VR game for a while, you get sucked into that reality.

Musk is basically suggesting that it is more than possible -- it might already be our reality. Not to digress, but I couldn’t help but think about the spiritual overtones here. If you believe in a Creator, then we are in a Matrix already, one that is in some ways a simulation. What came into existence can suddenly stop at the wave of a hand.

I’m curious what you think about the Elon Musk quote and if the idea is completely ridiculous or entirely possible. Let’s get a discussion going in comments.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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