Elon Musk Says We’re Probably Living in “The Matrix”

The Matrix

Tesla CEO Elon Musk has previously expressed his fear of artificial intelligence (A.I.), and recently offered another tidbit to that.

The billionaire business magnate recently said that we may already be living in a simulated world, a la The Matrix ... or in someone's else video game. In fact, during the Code Conference last week, Musk told attendees that there's only a small chance our reality is even real.

Read his argument below:

The strongest argument for us being in a simulation probably is the following. Forty years ago we had pong. Like two rectangles and a dot. That was what games were.

Now, forty 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, augmented reality.

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.

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.

Tell me what’s wrong with that argument. Is there a flaw in that argument?

Musk's outlook on A.I. appears to have been inspired by a book called Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom, which tells the story of an A.I. uprising. After reading the book, Musk once tweeted that A.I. is "potentially more dangerous than nukes."

That's not stopping him from creating his own A.I. though. Musk founded OpenAI last year, an A.I. research non-profit that aims to develop friendly A.I., instead of harmful A.I.

  • Starderup

    But I took the blue pill.

  • Alden Wilner

    Too bad you're color-blind.

  • Peter

    But if every subatomic particle in this reality must be stored in a computer, that computer would be LARGER than our reality itself. Forget about it!

  • walker123456

    That logic assumes that more advanced technology doesn't exist outside our perceived reality.

  • Chris Kelly

    Your argument is quite rational. But what if rationality itself is a simulation?

  • Chris Kelly

    I took the blue pill, too. Is that why I have to go to the bathroom every fifteen minutes?

  • jp

    or that the real reality follows the same laws of physics. no reason to assume that is the case

  • nuc

    only one tiny flaw - those "matrix masters" probably already know, that no simulation is as perfect and interesting, as real life evolution event chain, and keep us as pet-piranhas in our aquarium.

  • lsochia

    I took the blue pill that's why I'm getting laid.

  • Corporate Serf

    Ah, but nothing says a second in our simulation isn't 1,000 years in the host universe. We run at a slower clock rate than that of host universe (unless we are running in real-time). They could pause and resume at any time. Like in Eve online, if too much starts going on, they just slow down our clock rate. We wouldn't notice it.

  • This fool crazy but wouldnt surprise me tho

  • Kees

    If we regard interactions at the quantum level as computations, then the universe is a computer, just one with a program that wasn't written but evolved. In that view our reality is akin to an executing genetic algorithm.

  • Glowingbearfeet

    They are using this universe to power their space ship car battery.

  • Paul Daigle

    That's the core of the argument, that we will one day be able to build simulations that are indistinguishable from our reality, suggesting that either we will build computers the size of the earth (at a minimum) or that we can simulation multiple particles with one particle. Sure we could do that by simulating them in series rather than parallel, but that would bring up its own problems. The argument is not well founded, and there is a huge amount wrong with it.

  • nutstothis

    I think you mean 1 second in their world would equal 1000 years in our simulation.

  • Corporate Serf

    That's exactly right, only stated in reverse. The point is they could take 1,000 years to process 1 second of our universe.

  • jp

    You mention about simulating particles would take the same amount of particles but who is to say the simulation we are in simulates the real reality. In the real reality there might be no such things as particles or even matter

  • Paul Daigle

    Your point is correct, and it isn't relevant to Musk's argument. The argument he is making is that we will one day be able to create simulations that are indistinguishable to us from the reality that we live in, which means that a particle physicist would not be able to tell the difference with any toolkit if he were moved from the real reality to the simulated reality. In that case, we would have to be able to simulate particles and matter at exactly the same fidelity in the simulation as outside the simulation. Musks entire argument rests on the premise that we will one day be able to do this, which means that we will one day have the desire and wherewithal to build computers the size of a star for the purposes of simulating a star, which seems unlikely.

    Once you allow for different physics, you are making an entirely different argument than the one that Musk is making.

    If we allow for radically different physics outside the simulation as inside, than sure, that isn't a problem. But it's critical to understand that the mathematical argument being made hinges on the idea that the physics inside the simulation is exactly the same as the physics outside, because otherwise there would be some way to at least mathematically predict the existence of the super-universe and we would no longer have no way to know.

  • jp

    I'm saying there is no need to believe this is a simulation of the real reality. It could be a simulation of a theoretical reality. My point the real reality need not bear any resemblance to this. Somebody could have made up the law of physics we know and if somebody came into this with a memory of that they could easily know the difference cause physics are different. It seems limiting to assume we are simulating something really existing the creators could be imaginative as such the requirements of the physics to build that simulator might not be true

  • nutstothis

    So in the time it takes me to watch Game of Thrones, it takes them over 3.5 million years to process that? That's the most woefully inefficient supercomputer in any universe I think, especially one as advanced as to be able to simulate a completely different one.

    I believe it's the other way around. I mean I pushed the day forward button on my Sims when I played it.

  • Paul Daigle

    Yes. I understand what you are saying. The thing you are saying is not the same thing as the thing that Elon Musk is saying. You do not have to repeat what you are saying, because I understand that you are saying that the physics of the simulating reality could be different than the physics of the simulated reality. I get what you are saying. It is not the same thing that Musk is saying.

    Elon Musk is making a specific case which is different than the case you are making, and that case leads to a specific probabilistic argument. Your case has different implications and different probabilities. They point you are making is interesting, but it doesn't apply to the case that Musk is making.

    Musks argument absolutely requires that a person from the simulating reality would not be able to distinguish between it and the simulated reality. In your case, a being from the simulating reality would absolutely be able to distinguish between the two.

  • MewCat100 .

    Leon is just engaging in solipsism. He's not a very deep thinker

  • John Carter

    or that there are no more realities beyond the real reality. It's another assumption similar to that against the Flat Earthers' belief (tic, of course) that it's elephants all the way down. Or against the Gnostics' (Matrix again) belief that there is a greater God beyond Jehovah, and that Jehovah's performance is being assessed by that unnamed God, for future judgement.

  • John Carter

    a simulation of what, though? I've tried for years, to get this idea out of my mind, but it seems to me that all our notions about simulations and logical causes-and-effects are simply our crazy human-centered perspectives on a simple physical fact: that 13.8 billion years ago, the universe began with a huge big bang, and that the expansion of the universe through non-linear, thus continuously evolutionary pathways and structures of energy distribution, is all that needs to be considered. We humans create our own realities, from the ideas of unseen gods of ancient times, to today's scientific beliefs, all based on what we have to hand as tools of understanding. We are not separate from that process; we only imagine in our egotistical way that we are "a cut above" - that we are demigods.

  • Nathan Mashman

    Elon Musk is borrowing from Nick Bottom.

    The simulation hypothesis was first published by Hans Moravec. Later, the philosopher Nick Bostrom developed an expanded argument examining the probability of our reality being a simulacrum.[4] His argument states that at least one of the following statements is very likely to be true:

    1. Human civilization is unlikely to reach a level of technological maturity capable of producing simulated realities, or such simulations are physically impossible to construct.

    2. A comparable civilization reaching aforementioned technological status will likely not produce a significant number of simulated realities (one that might push the probable existence of digital entities beyond the probable number of "real" entities in a Universe) for any of a number of reasons, such as, diversion of computational processing power for other tasks, ethical considerations of holding entities captive in simulated realities, etc.

    3. Any entities with our general set of experiences are almost certainly living in a simulation.
    In greater detail, Bostrom is attempting to prove a tripartite disjunction, that at least one of these propositions must be true. His argument rests on the premise that given sufficiently advanced technology, it is possible to represent the populated surface of the Earth without recourse to digital physics; that the qualia experienced by a simulated consciousness is comparable or equivalent to that of a naturally occurring human consciousness; and that one or more levels of simulation within simulations would be feasible given only a modest expenditure of computational resources in the real world.

    If one assumes first that humans will not be destroyed nor destroy themselves before developing such a technology, and, next, that human descendants will have no overriding legal restrictions or moral compunctions against simulating biospheres or their own historical biosphere, then it would be unreasonable to count ourselves among the small minority of genuine organisms who, sooner or later, will be vastly outnumbered by artificial simulations.

  • Martin Lydon

    Maybe it's the first of it's kind in some immortal geeky kids bedroom cupboard......and he or she is just making a nice timelapse to show the (great x 10^34) grandkids on Youtube one day over dinner? ;)

  • Martin Lydon

    An interesting concept...... one question though...... what happened in 13.8 billion years of universal evolution that resulted in Donald J Trump?

  • Chris Kelly

    Congrats on working with the Iron Bar. Insurance cover it?

  • Chris Kelly

    I'm with you most of the way... that we're incredibly self-oriented beings, and therefore makeup theories, stories, mythologies, and religions all based on that. There are ways to attack that, but I'll leave that to others, since I want to go watch more sci-fi movies.

  • walker123456

    Physics doesn't limit technology.

  • jp

    well in our world if we wanted to build a computer that perfectly simulated earth we would need as many particles as the earth has at least in our server to record each particle in the simulation perfectly. barring of course some new understanding of physics that would be hugely revolutionary. so yeah in our universe physics does limit technology in a lot of ways

  • jp

    have you tried playing emulators in their early stages. they often struggle to get 2-3fps on the most advanced gaming computers of the day. so yeah nothing says that a simulated universe has to be processed in realtime and if their physics are the same as ours and our universe is a perfectly accurate representation of theirs i would say i don't believe it would be possible. of course they only need to render it accurately enough so that we don't notice it so the simulation could solve a lot of processing problems by only simulating what we perceive but still say we are in a simulation that only gets 1-2 fps would there in fact be anyway for us to perceive it

  • nutstothis

    Who says their emulator is in it's early stage? And would we notice if they had to pause, save, and resume the simulation for their later date, say, to upgrade their hardware or software for faster processing?

  • jp

    i was referring to the possibility of it taking some large amount of time to process a few seconds of our time. and no we would not notice if they paused saved and resumed

  • John Carter

    ..so self-oriented beings, I suspect, as to be totally self-oriented. At times like this I think of the closing lyrics of "Hotel California" - "Last thing I remember, I was running for the door; I had to find the passage back to the place I was before. "Relax, " said the night man, "We are programmed to receive. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave!" (The Eagles reckoned there was no significant meaning in those lyrics, but I don't believe that.)

    No matter what we do, we can't leave this reality that is imposed on us by our own relative ignorance of all attendant circumstances.

    You've reminded me to view the entire series of Star Trek's "Voyager" again. I need to become more familiar with Data's compulsion to be fitted with his Emotion Chip, to experience and understand humanity, including Picard's often-supercilious amused sneering at Data's strictly techno-approach to life. I can't recall whether Data found his eventual new understanding enriching to him, or simply a waste of his time.

  • walker123456

    You think when weather models are simulated in a computer that all the particles of all the weather in the world is inside the computer? A digital image of a $1 bill doesn't actually contain matter.

  • jp

    i think they are not perfect simulations where if someone from reality was placed inside they would be unable to tell the difference. to be a perfect simulation it would require more particles than what you are simulating. you'd have to record the exact position and energy of every particle being simulated. now if we accept the simulation doesn't need to be that perfect than you can dramatically reduce the requirements but per musk's idea it has to be indistinguishable

  • walker123456

    You don't know it's not perfect because your only frame of reference would be the simulated world you were born into
    To you.... it's normal.

  • Paul Daigle

    @walker123456:disqus what you are saying is true, but there is a lot of distance between what Musk is saying and what you are saying. Musk is arguing for a simulated reality that would be indistinguishable from the simulating reality to a person from the simulating reality. Weather simulations do a fair job of capturing the likely overall behavior, over the short term, of very large systems, but no weather simulation operates even at the resolution of Doppler radar.

    The digital image of a $10 bill requires quite a lot of matter--it has to be stored, which requires matter, it has to be processed in order to be output, it has to have an output device, which requires matter, etc. To display an image of a dollar bill requires far more matter than is in a dollar bill. If you wanted to capture its characteristics as it folded, the sounds and chemical reactions it makes when being burned, the texture, the aging process, stress reactions, etc, you require exponentially more matter, because you have to run these programs on some sort of hardware and output via some channel. To simulate a dollar bill in such a way that you could not tell that you were interacting with a simulated dollar bill... to be honest, I'm reasonably sure that it is not possible to provide you with that kind of tactile, olfactory, and visual input with todays technology. And that is one dollar bill that we aren't even putting under a magnifying glass.

    The point isn't that we won't one day be able to simulate satisfying realities by figuring out what resolution we can drop and using our human ability to suspend disbelief, it is that in order to be undetectable as simulation to a person from the simulating reality, you have to do so much more that you start running into the problem that you need at least one subatomic particle to simulate a subatomic particle.

  • Paul Daigle

    @walker123456:disqus that is an excellent point, and it utterly demolishes the point that Musk is trying to make. Musk's idea requires that the simulating reality and simulated reality cannot be distinguished, even to a person from the simulating reality.

  • Bharat Ratan Sharma

    What he means is that the world we are living in is simulated. what we call Gods were the creators of this universe/software. They created the simulation and are still playing a game on us. U think that god to be the creator of this world game. All these stars are the power generators and the processors which it is being run from i.e. the energy the driving force. And if u will take a galaxy it will b a pretty big computer for the purpose... So don't think that u will have to build a computer that big. U r already in one.